How Much Does A Leadership Change Cost?

Following the dual change of leadership in the Liberal Party and the National Party, the Hawke government minister Senator Robert Ray had some fun in Senate Question Time about the costs involved.

Earlier in the day, the Liberal Party toppled John Howard from the leadership and replaced him with his predecessor, Andrew Peacock. Simultaneously, the National Party overthrew Ian Sinclair and replaced him with Charles Blunt.

Ray was the Minister for Immigration, representing the Minister for Administrative Services. He was asked a Dorothy Dix question by the ALP’s Senator Bob McMullan about the administrative costs of the leadership changes.

  • Listen to Senator Ray (2m)

Hansard transcript of a question in the Senate.

Senator McMULLAN —Will the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services outline to the Senate the costs involved in the changes of leadership that occurred this morning in the Liberal and National parties? Will the Department of Administrative Services need to seek supplementary funding to cover those costs?

Senator ROBERT RAY —In no way does the Government begrudge those costs. Every time we change a Minister, similar costs occur. There will be a variety of costs to be met by the Department of Administrative Services. The first cost will be incurred in simply moving offices. For instance, the former Leader of the Opposition, Mr Howard, will have to be moved from the eighth or ninth floor in Phillip Street to the top floor or he may, of course, choose to move back to his electorate-in which case the cost would be much higher. Obviously, we will have to upgrade the Melbourne office of the new Leader of the Opposition, Mr Peacock, to the status that the Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia would require. The former Leader of the National Party of Australia, Mr Sinclair, will have to move out of his Phillip Street office. He may choose to move upstairs or back to Tamworth where, in 1984, after 21 years, he finally established an electorate office. In any event, moving the new Leader of the National Party, Mr Blunt, into his office will not cost much. However, it may be difficult to get the key and the car park pass back. Apart from that, no great costs will be involved.

The biggest costs will probably be in termination payments. I do not think anyone treats this subject with much humour. Some 18 staff were attached to former leader Howard, each of whom is entitled to termination expenses. As well, as a former Leader of the Opposition, Mr Howard will be entitled to an assistant private secretary. That will be no bother for the Government because the then former Leader of the Opposition and now Leader of the Opposition had that entitlement and will forfeit it. In actual fact, we will break even on those costs. We never recognised Mr Sinclair as a leader, in spite of six years of intense lobbying by him to get all of the rights to which he thought he was entitled. In 1975 he managed to deprive the Labor Party of those rights. Over all of those years he applied for those extra entitlements but we refused his requests, so the cost of his termination is nowhere near as expensive as it would have been had we been soft during those years. We now have the strange situation of not having a Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Representatives-yet.

Senator Chaney —Don’t hold your breath.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Very well. In those circumstances I would think that Mr Blunt is probably entitled to what the new Leader of the Opposition had before he replaced the former Leader of the Opposition today, and should be entitled to pick up what we denied Mr Sinclair. I have noted that Senator Chaney has always been a frugal Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, so his costs will not increase. We all know him, and there is no way he will double-dip his entitlement as Opposition Leader in the Senate and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. So there will be no increased costs there.

The final cost concerns letterheads. Unfortunately, with a change of leadership we have to change a variety of letterheads. We will definitely be keeping Mr Howard’s letterhead. We will not make the same mistake twice. He might be back in a few weeks, a few months or following the next election. Unfortunately we did not keep the letterhead for Mr Peacock. In a statement made immediately after the election of Mr Howard Mr Peacock, when asked, ‘Would you have not abandoned your ambitions?’, said:

Well, I haven’t. Maybe a decade or so hence … may take me another twenty years mightn’t it? But the important point is that John Howard has to know that he can go to the next election and maybe beyond with the full support of his Parliamentary team.

Four pages later Senator Chaney endorsed that principle but, unfortunately, the late arrival of Senator Austin Lewis cut off the rest of his words for posterity. I would love to know what they were to be. Unfortunately, we have missed the boat with Mr Peacock’s letterhead. We will not be required to supply very much more equipment as a result of today’s events. However, I suggest that we send a polygraph to Mr Peacock’s office so that when Senator Chaney goes there and professes his loyalty to the leadership he can at least be tested on the matter. One has to acknowledge that the costs involved in these matters are just part of political life. We will not be seeking additional appropriations. It would also be churlish not to congratulate Senator Chaney on his promotion to Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party but I remind him of the immortal words of Sir Winston Churchill that it does not take much courage to rat, but it takes a lot of courage to re-rat.

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