pollie pay rises
(Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

We know they have to get paid, but we just don’t want to hear how much.

The public outing of politicians’ salaries generally produces a national response akin to the face we make while cleaning lumps of soap and hair from the plughole in the shower. It’s a blend of shock, awe and quiet admiration. It takes a lot of guts to put so little in and yet garner so much in return.

Brace yourselves.

Last week the independent Remuneration Tribunal announced a 2% pay rise for all public servants starting on July 1. That’s the same day Australian taxpayers will not be getting the tax cuts promised during the election.

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The PM has explained that this promise must be broken because it’s actually quite difficult with dates and writs and paperwork and stuff. But the good news is; he’s named himself Minister for the Public Service in order to get on with some “bureaucracy congestion-busting”.

So, this latest pay rise kicks in the same day penalty rates are slashed a further 10%. Weekend hospitality workers will be losing about $40 a week while the “congestion busting” public “servants” pick up a lazy 2%.

This is “The Promise of Australia”.

In his former life Scott Morrison was managing director of Tourism Australia. He was responsible for the “where the bloody hell are you?” campaign. He was on $318,031 in taxpayer dollars just before his contract was not renewed. Now he’s the PM (with a recent bump) he’s in the $550K Club.

Cue outrage from those of us who clean our own bathrooms and admonishment from those who hire in “help”.

“We get what we pay for!” 

“If we want the best, we have to pay!”

“If these people were in private enterprise…”

But they’re not. They chose to be politicians. This is a different business and so the rates are substantially different. $500,000 is small bananas if you are an actual CEO.

In my town, the CEO of City of Greater Geelong is pulling in $440,000-plus, and the vice chancellor at Deakin University is on $1 million plus.

Our recent royal commission put the spotlight on the blokes at the banks.

These bank blokes (and they are all blokes) are on a serious personal wealth loop: CBA’s chief executive has an $8.36 million package; Westpac’s boss took home $4.9 million in 2018; the CEO of ANZ got $5.25 million and the AMP’s Francesco De Ferrari has a package of $8.3 million. But if he meets “short-term and long-term targets” he can clip $17.7 million in cash, shares and prizes (sorry, options).

Today, our PM is already on more coin (comparatively) than the President of the United States, twice as much as Teresa May and about the same as NZ PM Jacinda Ardern. The big Canberra money is actually going to the congestion busters.

Here’s the rub. The problem with Australian pollie pay rises is not the dollars, it is the sense. Sometimes it’s wise to say: “No thanks… I don’t need any more right now.”

In August 2018, Ardern rejected a NZ pollie pay rise and legislated for a pay freeze. Ardern said the NZ Remuneration Authority got it wrong. She said she wanted to send

…a strong signal about what our government values … and our determination of course to make sure that the economy is working for everyone…

No election has ever been fought and won on the need for MP’s to get more money. The current pay rise is bad optics for a PM who secured votes on promises he has already broken.

In less than a month after winning office, Scott Morrison has walked away from July 1 tax cuts, shipped home a boat load of asylum seekers, dumped his former environment minister (despite telling the electorate that she would absolutely keep her job) and then flown off to present the Queen with a book about a racehorse.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the AFP is investigating journalists as Chinese war ships arrive in Sydney Harbour.

If this is burning for Australia, where the bloody hell are the fire extinguishers?

Should Scott Morrison order a pay freeze? How should Australia deal with its wage stagnation crisis? Send your thoughts along with your full name to boss@crikey.com.au.