[Updated on 27 February 2018 to incorporate material canvassed at Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee Estimates on the evening of 26 February]
Philip Ruddock, Chair of the Federal Government’s Panel on Religious Freedom, is being paid $1440 a day for the role, according to documents tabled this week on behalf of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC).
The rate is equal to the highest daily fee paid to holders of part time office, and is well in excess of the daily fee paid to such office holders as the chairs of the Administrative Law Council, Family Law Council and National Mental Health Commission.
Ruddock, entitled to a Parliamentary pension estimated to be worth $215,000 a year, also attracts a mayoral allowance of $65,230 in his capacity as Mayor of Hornsby, after his election to that position in September 2017.
On being appointed to the religious freedom role, Ruddock reportedly told Sky News that “he did not know if he was getting paid for the role and he was not interested in the money.”
While there is legislative provision for a parliamentary pension to be reduced where the recipient holds an office of profit, this is not held to apply to a part time office like the one Ruddock holds. However, according to evidence given at Senate Estimates, the DPMC and Ruddock have negotiated an arrangement where he will receive $31,000 for his duties on the religious freedom review without affecting his pension, and then receive half the maximum allowable fee for every sitting day thereafter.
At the rate of $1440 a day, the $31,000 threshold would amount to approximately 21.5 sitting days, before the per diem was reduced to $720 a day. According to Andrew Walter, the DPMC officer responsible for the review, the current schedule will likely see Ruddock attend 20 meetings of the review panel. Walter advised Estimates that Ruddock is not claiming for any work, such as liaison with the secretariat or media appearances, for the review outside of formal meetings.
The panel was established in November 2017, in the midst of the debate on the marriage equality legislation before the Commonwealth Parliament. It has been asked to “examine whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion.”
The Panel has invited submissions, and is undertaking consultation by way of a series of private meetings with selected stakeholders, in preference to public hearings. It is due to report to the Prime Minister by 31 March 2018. However, each member of the panel has been appointed to a term expiring on 27 April 2018.
Documents tabled in the Senate this week by Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, James McGrath, report that in addition to Ruddock’s payment, panel members Annabelle Bennett, SC (part-time President of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and retired Federal Court justice); Jesuit priest and academic, Father Frank Brennan; and University of Queensland law professor, Nicholas Aroney are being paid $1152 a day for their work on the panel.
Rosalind Croucher, President of the Human Rights Commission, does not receive a stipend for serving on the panel, as she already holds a substantive public sector position.
The collective per diems for the panel amount to $4896 a day.
The rates paid to Ruddock and the panel members are at the highest paid for a daily fee for holders of part time office, as set by the Remuneration Tribunal. The $1440 for a committee chair is presently set only for the Chair of the Companies Auditors Disciplinary Board, and the chairs of the Department of Health’s Professional Services Review’s committees and determining authority.
Chairs of such bodies as the Administrative Review Council, Family Law Council and the National Mental Health Commission are entitled to $1120 per day.
The payment of the daily entitlement for part time office holders is calculated against whether it is a meeting day or not. If the panel has a meeting day, and at least three hours is spent on attending the meeting, attending to authority business and/or travel, the full entitlement is paid.
Forty per cent of the entitlement is paid if the time spent on these is less than two hours. Sixty percent of the fee is paid if the time spent amounts to between two and three hours.
Members are also entitled to claim 20 percent of the daily fee for non-meeting days for every hour spent on panel business, up to a maximum of five hours. (That is, the full daily fee can be paid upon a claim that five hours was spent on panel work away from a meeting.) Normal preparation time for meetings is not to be counted towards the calculation of time spent on business.
Ruddock, who was appointed as a special envoy on human rights in 2016 as he was preparing to leave Parliament, was reported to have been entitled to a per diem payment in his envoy role on top of his pension once he had left Parliament. (According to the most recent determination of the Remuneration Tribunal, the per diem for the special envoy role is $960.)
In 1978, amidst furore over Sir John Kerr’s proposed appointment as Ambassador to UNESCO, which would have attracted a salary in addition to his vice-regal pension, Ruddock lobbied then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser to put an end to “double dipping” by retired public figures.
[Article added to on 24 February 2018, with additional information about Remuneration Tribunal determinations, and method for claiming.]