Friday, March 5, 2010

Pay Peanuts, Get Jackie Kelly

If you’re having trouble making ends meet, if you find the struggle to pay for the groceries each week is becoming harder, if you’re busy working flat out only to go backwards, spare a thought for our poor overworked and underpaid politicians. That’s right, the poor dears are just barely able to get by on their parliamentary salaries and at least one former politician found the going so tough that she felt she had no choice but to get out of politics before she went broke. That’s right, according to the former Liberal Party Minister Jackie Kelly it was actually costing her money to remain in Parliament. She is quoted by the Telegraph as saying, “In the end, the financial cost of staying in Parliament was a compelling reason in my decision to leave parliamentary service…”

Heavens above, how could we have been so cruel as to expect tireless and dedicated service from our politicians under such Dickensian conditions? It is beyond belief that such sweat shop conditions could exist in the Parliament in this day and age. No wonder so many of them end up making poor decisions, and struggle to manage even the simplest tasks such as erasing their white boards. Oh, sorry that was a different Kelly in a different government, but you see what I mean. Obviously the sheer stress of fulfilling expectations while secretly fretting over failing to make the mortgage payments has been taking its toll.

Jackie Kelly is suggesting that parliamentary pay should be increased to “better match the salaries of comparable positions in the public and private sectors.” It is often suggested that this disparity of pay means that capable people are less likely to be attracted into politics in the first place, and that better pay would attract better people. Of course, the modest amount of money available to politicians didn’t seem to discourage Malcolm Turnbull, or a number of other independently wealthy people from putting their hands up to serve the community in the Parliament. If the “pay peanuts, get monkeys” argument was valid people such as Mr. Turnbull and Mr. Rudd, both wealthy beyond the dreams of most of us, would never have bothered going into politics in the first place.

While the Parliamentary salary is considerably less than the super salaries paid to the CEOs of big banks for example, even the lowest paid back bencher receives $130 000 a year, before you even think about any of the allowances and benefits that come with the job. That’s around double the average wage, and even that is a misleading figure when you consider that it’s a mean average, not a median. That means far more people have to get by on less than the average than those who make more. Plenty of “average” Australians who have full time work have to make do with $30 000 a year or even less. Any person who can’t make ends meet on $130 000 a year is either incompetent, or just downright greedy.

There’s nothing wrong with anyone wanting to improve themselves, to do better, to earn more, and to advance their position in life. There is even substantial merit to the idea of paying senior politicians such as the Prime Minister more to reflect the level of responsibility which they must bear. But any politician who whinges about their pay, while so many ordinary Australians will never see that kind of money in their lives, has forgotten why he or she was elected in the first place, which is to serve the community, not themselves.

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