Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Wealthy And The Desperate

Apparently Tony Abbott forgot to update his Parliamentary register of interests to include the fact that he had refinanced his house a couple of years ago. You might remember that shortly after losing office in the 2007 election, Tony Abbott made the headlines complaining about the difficulty of making ends meet after losing about half of his income because he was no longer a Government Minister. At the time, it triggered a minor debate about whether or not politicians should be paid more, a discussion which returns from time to time along with the suggestion that we get what we pay for. The argument goes that if we pay more we would attract a better qualified type of person to politics. What we didn’t know at the time was that Tony was finding the going so tough that he had to borrow $710 000 against the family home.

Technically, the failure to update the Parliamentary register was a breach of the requirements, and the Opposition Leader’s office says that it was an oversight and nothing more. While it might be embarrassing, it is not exactly a career ending mistake, but it has revived once again the question of whether or not our politicians are paid appropriately. Some people think they are not paid well enough, but many people think they are already paid too much. In fact, the Telegraph ran an on-line survey and when I last checked the figures it showed that a little over 75% of people believe that politicians a paid enough, leaving just under 25% who believe that politicians should be paid more. Presumably, not all of those 25% are actually politicians themselves.

Of course, there will always be plenty of people who think that any amount is too much to pay politicians because of the cynical view that none of them are any good, and they’re all there just to hitch a ride on the gravy train. While it is certainly true that paying anybody a six figure salary to sit on their hands would be an insult to us all, surely it is reasonable to suggest that anybody’s remuneration should be set at a level which reflects the responsibility of their position, as well as their performance in that position, whether they are in politics or any other profession. To pay so little that only the wealthy or the desperate would bother entering politics could mean that we miss out on having the best people in the job. In fact, some say that is precisely the situation now.

At the same time, the starting salary for a backbencher is currently around $130 000, before all the benefits, allowances, and perks, so I still believe what I said a couple of years ago when Tony Abbott first raised the matter: anyone who can’t make ends meet on a salary that’s double the average wage and more than four times the minimum wage has such a lack of budgeting and management skills that perhaps they should not be running the country in the first place. And further to that, anyone who simply forgets to comply with the requirements of the Parliamentary rules might also be a poor choice for leadership. Those who would aspire to be Prime Minister can’t afford embarrassing “oversights”.

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