Sorry ex-premier, I’m not paying for your lunch
Australia is very generous to its prime ministers. They get a car and driver, domestic air travel, and an office with administration costs covered.
They have a huge responsibility for the country’s economy and its security. The country’s biggest headaches find themselves on their desks eventually. And their considerable perks after they’ve served the country cost our more-than-a-trillion dollar economy around a million dollars in 2010-11.
But do premiers who have served their states for more than a few years deserve their perks? Each state is different. Queensland’s new Premier refused Anna Bligh a couple of months of having funding for her office Blackberry and iPad after she being kicked out of office. The South Australian cabinet voted to give former premier Mike Rann a car, driver, office and security detail for six months last year and stirred outrage.
Retired premiers in Tasmania get nothing. Former NSW premiers have gotten a whole lot out of the government for life.
Last financial year, three former NSW premiers sucked $1.6 million out of their state coffers, while five former prime ministers cost the federal government almost $1 million over a similar period. The premiers get a car, a driver, an office plus related expenses, two staff, and domestic airfares. Former NSW premier and now-Foreign Minister Bob Carr spent $438,683 of taxpayer money in his first year out of office. According to Fairfax in 2010-11, he spent $298,224, most on his staff and office. It’s a similar story when it comes to the state’s former premier Nick Greiner.
It was reported yesterday that the NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, is trying to cut those benefits for its three eligible former premiers down to a more reasonable $1.1 million a year.
State leaders, like prime ministers, deserve respect. But they still don’t have a prime minister’s global-scale responsibilities, and they don’t need looking after when their term is up.
Frankly, being a state premier looks great on the CV. If you can’t parlay that kind of work experience into a decent private or even public sector gig, then really, what’s wrong with you?
There is a semi-reasonable argument for financially supporting ex-premiers. An annual stipend allows them to leverage their high profile to do a variety of good deeds for assorted worthy causes.
But all three former NSW premiers could surely afford to do their good works without taxpayer assistance. Carr worked for Macquarie Bank as a consultant, Greiner is the chairman of Infrastructure NSW and was a highly paid company director beforehand, and Neville Wran was a merchant banker. These guys are not picking up 5 cent coins in the gutter.
At the very least, any support for former premiers should be means tested. If they’re doing some public interest work and can prove that they’‘re doing it, fine. You can get some limited resources if you don’t have them, if you’re retired and just want to do public good. But if you’re eating lunch at a restaurant 40 floors up a shiny glass tower, it’s a fair sign you don’t need the people in the food court downstairs bankrolling your lunch.
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