11 January 2016
by Kaye Lee

People of calibre

In an attempt to show that politicians were sharing the pain of the 2014 Budget, Tony Abbott announced a freeze on politicians’ pay rises. Needless to say, that didn’t last long.

Federal politicians, judges and top bureaucrats received a 2 per cent pay rise from January 1 this year.

Malcolm Turnbull will pocket over $10,000 extra with an annual salary of $517,504 and the base salary of a parliamentary backbencher will rise to $199,040 a year. The incoming head of Turnbull’s department, Martin Parkinson, will earn about $603,000, though his total remuneration package, including superannuation and other benefits, will reach $861,700.

The president of the remuneration tribunal’s three-member panel, John Conde, said an increase higher than 2 per cent could be justified “when set against a background of no general increase having been determined by the tribunal since July 1, 2013” but that “the tribunal has moderated its assessment” due to the state of the economy.

What he neglects to mention is that when politicians received that 2.4 per cent pay rise in July 2013, it was their third rise in 16 months delivering a salary boost of $54,220 or more than $1000 a week since March 2012. The last increase in MP’s pay was in return for losing perks such as global study trips and the closing down of the Gold Pass for retired members.

Monash University Political scientist Dr Nick Economou said “Not many politicians do it for the money and if there wasn’t decent money on offer then only the wealthy would get involved in politics and that would be bad for democracy.”

The tribunal also warned it was important that the pay for parliamentarians and senior government officials “is maintained at appropriate levels over the longer term to attract and retain people of the calibre required for these important high-level offices”.

I agree that senior public servants should be well paid but, as Tony Abbott’s petulant fit of ideology in sacking four departments heads on his first day and his policy of replacing Labor appointments as their tenure expired shows, talent and experience are no guarantee of retention in the face of a Prime Minister intent on revenge.

And as for our politicians being “people of calibre”, many of them would be unemployable outside parliament. If they represent the best brains we can offer then we are in deep shit.