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There is no justification for politicians and senior public servants to receive massive pay increases, says managing editor David Donovan. Be outraged — be very outraged.


If you ever you wanted proof that Australia’s political system is fundamentally broken, then it came with the furious bout of bipartisanship that broke out after the Remuneration Tribunal decided to award Federal Parliamentarians an up to 67 per cent payrise.

 

Of course, the decision by the Tribunal is nothing more than the pea and thimble trick – a con job writ large on the Australian people – as politicians shrug their shoulders in unison, while looking toward the three Tribunal board members, and disingenuously declaiming:

“Don’t blame us, it’s all their fault!”


This is all brought into stark relief, to me, by a campaign spearheaded by contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence for the veterans of our armed forces — who have had to endure benefits tied to meagre CPI increases since the bankrupt Whitlam Government raided Australia's service personell superannuation piggybanks in the 1970s. Outrageously, ordinary Diggers (or their surviving spouses) are in many cases today somehow surviving on less than $20,000 a year from the Government. Reading the comments on their forum (1,172 of them, as I write this), it seems that their entreaties for fair compensation have fallen on stony, deaf, ears. On a daily basis, these Diggers receive letters from Government MPs telling them that that the budget couldn’t possibly accommodate a more equitable scheme – like those enjoyed by virtually every other public servant – in these straitened economic times. They’ll just have to make do — and die in poverty, after having risked their lives for their country.

 

Well, given the scale of the MPs' increase, they must be have far a inferior claim to those enjoyed by our incredibly hard-working and put-upon politicians.

Give me a break!

In the midst of a worldwide global recession, the imminent collapse of the EU, a massive Government debt and the apparently urgent need, according to the Treasurer, to find swingeing savings in the budget so as to achieve a surplus in 2013 that has been given an almost mythically important status for some reason no-one has ever properly explained, Federal politicians must have a monstrous sense of entitlement in granting themselves, in some cases, over $100,000 pay rises. Especially while they are telling other public workers, such as nurses and policeman, to tighten their belts. And, moreover, while the Occupy Movement is out on the streets complaining about income inequality and corruption of the 1%.

For heaven’s sake, Julia Gillard is now to be paid more than Barack Obama! Is she worth it? If the polls are any guide, you might find it hard to get someone in the street to agree with that proposition.

Where is the accountability?

Why have they done this absurd thing?

Why have they not immediately said,

“We have heard the Tribunal’s recommendations, but in this time of budget austerity, we plan to decline to accept any increase so as to set an example for other public sector workers – nurses, soldiers, policeman, firemen, teachers – who will be getting wage raises of 3 per cent or less in their current claims, and then only if they are fortunate.”


 

Now, we have heard some interesting claims by the Tribunal about why they have increased politicians salaries so much.

The president of the Remuneration Tribunal, John Conde, said yesterday is that they need to be paid enough to attract "people of capacity" and variety:

“We've concluded that it was important to have a level of remuneration sufficient to attract and retain people from all walks of life to serve in the Parliament,” said Conde yesterday, in an interview.

People of capacity…from all walks of life. Hmmm.

Perhaps it would be useful to look at the Remuneration Tribunal itself to see what “walks of life” they come from.

From its

The current Members are:

Mr John Conde AO – President - appointed on 19 June 2008 as Member and President for five years from 25 June 2008. Mr Conde was originally appointed as a member of the Remuneration Tribunal on 18 June 1998. Mr Conde is the Chairman of Ausgrid (formally EnergyAustralia). He is also Chairman of Bupa Australia Health Pty Ltd, Chairman of Whitehaven Coal Limited, Chairman of the Sydney Symphony, Chairman of Destination New South Wales and associated entities. He is a Director of Dexus Property Group and Chairman of the Dermatology Research Foundation at the University of Sydney and sits on the parent entity, Sydney Medical School Foundation. Mr Conde is also a member of the Sydney Children's Hospitals Network Board.

Mr Conde is Chairman of the Australian Olympic Committee (NSW) Fundraising Committee. Positions previously held include Director of BHP Billiton and Excel Coal Limited, Managing Director of Broadcast Investment Holdings Pty Limited, Director of Lumley Corporation, President of the National Heart Foundation of Australia.

Mr John B Prescott AC– appointed from 25 February 2010 for five years. Mr Prescott is Chairman of QR National Limited and a Director of Newmont Mining Corporation. He is Global Counsellor of The Conference Board (USA), and a member of President's Circle, AustralAsia Centre, Asia Society. Mr Prescott was previously Chairman of ASC (formerly Australian Submarine Corporation Pty Ltd) from 2000 to 2009 and from 1991 to 1998 was Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of BHP.

Ms Jillian Segal AM – appointed from 12 April 2010 for 5 years. Ms Segal is a Director of the National Australia Bank Limited, a Director of ASX Ltd and Deputy Chancellor of the University of New South Wales. Ms Segal is also Chairman of the General Sir John Monash Foundation and a Director of the Garvan Institute for Medical Research. Formerly, she was President of the Administrative Review Council and Deputy Chair of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. Prior to that Ms Segal sat on a number of industry and government boards and was a partner in Allen Allen & Hemsley (now Allens Arthur Robinson).


It should come as no surprise that the people administering this Tribunal come, effectively, from the well-heeled and well-connected – politically – mining and financial services sectors. What Conde is effectively saying is that politicians' pays should be more able to entice highly paid geniuses like him and his colleagues, so that we can all benefit from them committing to public life rather than commerce.

 

Well, I don’t agree. Not with any of this. Digging rocks out of the ground and charging excessive interest rates and fees is a very tricky business, I'm sure, but do we really need more overpaid fatcats with an overwhelming sense of their own self-importance and value to society to enter our Parliaments and bleed us dry.

In fact, seems to me that the very last people we want to take up public office are people who do it for the money. But if I'm wrong about that, why don’t we use Conde's argument for public servants who actually do make a difference — such as the teachers and firemen and nurses and soldiers? The ones who need to battle for every last cent — why don't we pay them more to attract the best people to those vital professions?

No, this so-called justification is simply a blatant red herring — political salaries will never approach corporate pays in mining or financial services (thank God!) The public will never swallow multimillion dollar politicians’ salaries, no matter how much politicians feel they deserve it — and I’m very sure they think they do! What we will end up with, instead, is more of what we increasingly have at the moment — people with absolutely no life experience, straight out of university, becoming political party apparatchiks in the hope of becoming career politicians.

“I was thinking about becoming a stockbroker, but I think I’ll become a politician instead — it pays better and the superannuation is fantastic,” you can hear young university students saying.

Spare me, please!

What politics needs is less people, not more, who are in it for the money — and many more people with wisdom and experience; we need village elders not village idiots. We need people who would do the job for nothing because they care about their community and want to make society, and the world, a better place for all of us. Instead, what we will end up with is more sleazebags like Craig Thomson, who have only one thing on their minds — their own gratification.

Of course, I’ve read the learned newspaper commentators – that is, the ones who are thoroughly compromised by being political insiders (i.e. good mates with lots of politicians) – who all seem to think this pay rise is justified.

Malcolm Farnsworth, for instance, in the Sydney Morning Herald, says

“It's true that there are no set hours of work for MPs, and no mandatory tasks, aside from attending parliamentary sittings. Their roles vary, depending on geography and electoral margins of safety, but the evidence suggests all MPs are inundated as never before, in part because of digital technology that makes them accessible, and in part because of a growing culture of entitlement.”


Growing culture of entitlement…could he possibly mean by us, the community! Is he saying, "how dare people impinge on the leisure time of their elected representatives"?

 

Oh Malcolm, what are you on?

It’s nonsense. Absolute codswallop! Claims about politicians being “over-worked” are simply apocryphal hearsay. Who tests these claims? Was Craig Thomson overworked when he plagiarised his report after his overseas trip on the public teat? Was Ian Macdonald so overworked he needed a massage? There are no set hours of work, as Farnsworth grudgingly admits — and rather than being overworked, you will find most backbenchers – who are usually in safe seats or backroom bodgied Senate spots – do their obligatory 3 months a year in Canberra, do nothing in Parliament but turn up for votes and mumble the odd Dorothy Dixer in Question time — then they go back home to their electorate offices for the rest of the year to sit on their big fat posteriors, while their electorate staff deal, by and large, with their constituents.

Of course, there are many who do work hard, who are ambitious, who have roles to carry out. But then, if you are a public representative, so you bloody-well should work hard! Most MPs aren’t there for long, and they are meant to be representing the people in their electorate or state — not having long lunches and holidays at the public expense.

I have no sympathy for the “overworked politician”. The truth is, politicians are paid well. Very well. They are given power, prestige and have their egos stroked as part of the bargain. They also get outstanding retirement benefits, even if they have served relatively short amounts of time in Parliament. To suggest they need more money is an outright deceit. If anything, they should be paid less.

Now, as for the real reason why politicians' pays have been increased so much, and which appears to have missed the attention – or been deliberately missed – by all mainstream media commentators. The reason is, purely and simply, because the whole senior public service gravy train depends on politicians having exorbitant pay-rises. It is an inside job, you see!

The way it works is that the salaries of MPs in most other states, as well as judges, directors of Government departments and, in general, all senior public servants are also determined by this Remuneration tribunal. And they are all tied together, in that only by increasing MP salaries can the salaries of all the other upper echelon bigwigs be similarly, exorbitantly, bumped up. And lost in the fineprint of this increase is the staggering concurrent salary increase for senior public servants. Of course, the link ends there, as senior public servants salaries are not tied to regular public servant salaries in any way whatsoever.

Towards the end of her report, Alexandra Kirk casually told listeners to yesterday's ABC PM programme, almost as a throwaway line:

“The nation's top bureaucrats will also get hefty pay rises. The most senior heads of department will be paid more than $800,000 by 2014.”


You can read what these people are paid here. In summary, they are doing much better than the politicians. And much, much, better than everyone else — apart from top executives in the private sector who are a law unto themselves. The politicians are complicit in all this, but ironically they are also taking the rap as the bureaucrats' increases slide under the radar. It's just like something out of the classic BBC TV comedy show 'Yes, Minister'.

 

In the olden days, the Prime Minister was paid the same as the top director general of a Government Department, but times have changed and the top public servants are now paid more — much more, for some reason. But only by keeping politicians’ pays remotely in touch with senior bureaucrats can establishment proxies such as Conde, Prescott and Segal justify the massive payrises they have arranged for their fellow Melbourne Club members — the technocrats who are their former and future colleagues and, without doubt, their friends.

And what will all these cascading payrises eventually cost taxpayers? That’s unclear, and won't be made clear, but it is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars per annum, I would suspect.

The truth is, these people – the richest and most privileged in our society – look after their own and must, by definition, regard us all as pitifully unworthy in comparison to themselves and their colleagues. They must, because that is the only possible way they could justify themselves being paid so many more multiples of pay than other members of our society. Is the top public servant deserving of a 15 times better salary than a policeman, or a nurse, or a teacher? Are their jobs 15 times harder? Well, that’s what they're saying, in not so many words.

We should be outraged by all this, but instead we, as a society, will simply sigh collectively and carry on — conditioned now to the unremitting venality of the privileged in our society. The time will come, though, as the system breaks down – as it is increasingly showing signs of doing worldwide – when politicians and people like Conde, Prescott and Segal will come to rue the plutocratic greed inherent in decisions like these. The sad thing is, there is nothing inherently wrong with our politicial or economic system — but by their actions, and by the actions of others like them in business and finance, our structures are being brought low, bit by bit, as ordinary members of society become outraged by the inequities arising from the greed and selfishness of the people who have put themselves in charge over us all.

 

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