Politicians are always telling us to tighten our belts, the age of entitlement is over and crackdowns on welfare spending are needed due to the current budget situation. The Australian people would take these statements more seriously if politicians practiced what they preached and shared in the burden with everyone else.
The announcement this week that all federal holders of public office would be receiving a 2% pay increase effective from July 1 this year will further the public cynicism of politicians as self-serving, born to rule aggrandizers. This decision to increase their pay was made by the Remuneration Tribunal which describes itself as an independent statutory body which sets the allowances and entitlements for federal Parliamentarians, judicial offices, Secretaries of Departments and other holders of various public offices.
Federal politicians when asked about their pay rise, given that Australian wage growth is now at record lows, they hid behind the alleged independence of the tribunal with Anthony Albanese telling the Today show “What I’m comfortable with is politicians not determining our own pay, it being at arms lengths of us”. Education Minister Simon Birmingham told Sunrise “It is an independent process. It was a 2 per cent pay rise this year after a pay freeze from last year”.
It is true that our federal politicians have gone through periodic pay freezes over recent years. But it should be noted that politicians’ salaries are already very generous with a backbenchers’ salary already close to $200,000 per year and the Prime Minister receiving a salary of over $500,000 per year. This is well above the median Australian wage which was $78,832 per year as at the second quarter of 2016. Plus let’s not forget the politicians are given generous travel allowances that many of them have become famous for abusing for personal use.
Their claim that it is an independent decision is a sham as the Remuneration Tribunal is a body that is established by politicians themselves under the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973. This is a piece of legislation they could override at any time and freeze their own pay. Politicians should not be allowed to wash their hands of this decision when they know it is one the Australian people do not approve off.
Some politicians might argue that interfering with the activity of the Remuneration Tribunal in this way is not the way we should be doing politics. But new Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan froze the salaries of MPs and senior public servants to help repair the budget situation (however he and his cabinet still received a pay increase). Politicians have the power to make a sacrifice themselves when the rest of us are required to do so.
One of the justifications the Remuneration Tribunal gave for their decision was that had to make sure that wages of public offices were competitive with the private sector “The tribunal considers it important that remuneration for offices in its jurisdiction be maintained at appropriate levels over the longer term to attract and retain people of the calibre required for these important high level offices”.
But isn’t being a politician supposed to be a public service? Which means that you should not care about the money. If a politician needs a higher wage to stop them going to the private sector I would rather see them join the private sector as it is clear that they lack dedication of serving the people if they need some extra sweeteners. A case study in that you don’t need high salaries to attract people to politics is the state legislators of New Hampshire in the United States only receive a salary of $100 a year yet the state is the freest and most fiscally responsible states in union.
Our federal politicians will now have hard time convincing the voters of the need for tighter welfare measures, an increased Medicare levy or any other budget repair measures. That is entirely their own fault, if they say they are not in it for the money it should be reflected by them only taking a modest salary.