One again the populist wing-nuts have been unleashed. After your sober and rational look at changes to MPs’ remuneration – one of the few media outlets to do so – the laughing hyenas of hysterical populism just couldn’t resist baying at the moon (Monday, Comments).

Barry Houlihan and Michael Irons wanted the “full list of perks”. Well, Bazza, as a Federal MP you get you salary, an Australian-made car, and an electorate allowance which, if you don’t spend it, is treated as taxable income. That’s it. Finito. Nothing else. No other allowance is fungible for an MP’s income. So when you say that you’ll “shout a lunch if this doesn’t come to at least 75% of the base salary”, I’ll be happy to see you at Ottoman with your Visa card in a non-sitting week. Maybe Christian can join us.

Mark Byrne wrote that he has “serious doubts with the assumption that the level of remuneration is the critical determinant for recruiting the best leadership. Above a foundational level of comfort, people often move to careers for higher order reasons. Altruism, stimulation, wellbeing, prestige, conviction or authority are some of these motivations”. Fine. On that basis, perhaps nobody being paid for a job which they actually enjoy should get more than average weekly earnings? I well recall volunteering to work for my PhD supervisor for free. Being an old Labor man, he scolded me and reminded me that, however much you may enjoy a job, you should demand to be paid what you are worth. Good enough for pollies too, comrade?

Andrew Stuart laughably suggests that one of the features of an MP’s life is “job security”. Three years is job security? He also says “There are also no key performance indicators and no formal accountability procedures in place”. Ah, those would be called elections, where good members are routinely removed by the arbitrary, fickle and totally unsupported prejudices of a bare 50% plus one of the electorate. As for his suggestion that “perhaps politicians’ and public service wages should be compared with leaders of charities rather than leaders of industry”, all I can say is OK – let’s compare what a Cabinet Minister gets with what the CEO of Greenpeace gets.

Michael Irons says he “can only dream of a job where I get to set my own level of remuneration”. You dropkick. If Mikey had bothered to, say, like, investigate the facts, he would have seen that MPs’ remuneration is set by the cunningly named Remuneration Tribunal – an independent statutory authority. Thus when he says “they are probably the only employees in the whole of Australia who get to do so” he demonstrates the usual pig-ignorance of populist pollie-bashers. As for his query “who would give Wilson Tuckey or Bill Heffernan a job?” All I can say is both of these men were, before they entered parliament, self-employed businessmen and earned sh-t-loads more than they do as pollies.

Nick Shimmin claims “They vote for THEIR OWN super package”. Which is true. Because it’s a friggin’ Act of Parliament introduced by Labor in 1948. Now, of course, the remit of the Remuneration Tribunal could be expanded to include MPs’ superannuation. But guess what? If the Rem Tribunal linked MPs’ Super to Australian Public Service Super, just as they do for MPs’ salaries, then MPs would be getting the public service standard of… ta dah… a 15.4% employer contribution! Exactly what they are getting under the new arrangements. Exactly what the public service is getting. Exactly what MPs’ staff are getting. Is that too much to ask?

Now for some personal invective. If it is so friggin’ easy to be an MP, then I look forward to seeing each of these wackers running for public office. If the remuneration is so healthy, then why don’t you sign up and run in 2007? Go on, put your money where your mouth is.

But, of course, they won’t do so. Far too easy just to sit on the sidelines and whinge, from a firm position of uninformed prejudice and wilful ignorance.

Peter Fray

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