A well deserved payrise for these upstanding citizens
Just when we thought that politics had started its summer holidays, and the “big questions” were put aside for a while, the Remuneration Tribunal released its report on Commonwealth parliamentary salaries and entitlements. The public reaction was immediate, and in the overwhelming majority, intensely negative.
The cause of the anger was the proposal to lift the basic salary of a member of parliament from $141,000 to $185,000 per year. The Tribunal provided its justification: the need to “remunerate them sufficiently so as to attract and retain men and women of appropriate capacity”. No argument about the aim. We would all like our representatives to have the “appropriate capacity” to serve us.
Currently many people who would be good parliamentarians could not tolerate the party apprenticeship demanded to win pre-selection, especially for a safe seat. In the Labor party, the gene pool of “capacity” seems increasingly restricted to those showing dedicated service to the party, a union and/or faction, and often service as a ministerial minder.
The Liberal party seems to be moving in a similar direction (except for the union component). For the Tribunal’s aim to work, it will need the parties to open their “welcome door” much wider.
Politicians will be pleased with their payrise. Up to now, politicians have bolstered their financial situation with a raft of allowances and entitlements. This softened the impact when they were unable to get increased salaries.
But the Tribunal has correctly had a close look at some of these, and the tactic is definitely over. One reason is that the Tribunal has, for the first time, divided parliamentary entitlements into two baskets.
One is remuneration, the personal benefit side. The other has been put under “business expenses” – the costs incurred in undertaking their duties and responsibilities. This has been the growth area, and much of it could be categorised as perks. The Tribunal has made some major cuts.
One perk abolished is the famous Life Gold Pass. Currently, any MP who retires after 20 years of service receives 25 free Australia-wide business-class flights per year for life. MPs with less than 20 years receive between six months and five years of free flights.
This was first introduced in 1913 (when it was free train travel), and it has become a major perk. The Tribunal has proposed that, as a transition stage, for existing Pass holders the perk should be reduced from 25 to 10 flights. This is not strong enough. It should be abolished for all current MPs and all current Pass holders as well.
A second perk, which has certainly slipped over the edge to a rort, is the MPs entitlement to free first class world travel once every three years. This is officially called “overseas study”, but its justification has been severely tested.
Not only have some “study tours” increasingly been to famous tourist destinations, but there has been a growth in numbers of retiring MPs who took “a lap of honour”. The Tribunal has cancelled this entitlement completely.
I have always held that if a member of parliament is doing the job properly, he or she has been underpaid. So I am not as upset as some people have been about the salary rise. On the other hand, it would be good to see fewer party hacks enjoying the rise. Parties choosing more “appropriate capacity” representatives would help.
The Tribunal could have gone further in cutting more of the allowances and entitlements, such as free printing and postage for party propaganda. That is where some “fat” can really be found. But the payrise? Probably deserved by most members of parliament.
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