Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 September 2006

Remuneration and Allowances for Holders of Public Office and Members of Parliament

Motion for Disapproval

5:13 pm

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That clause 2.2 of Determination 2006/11: Remuneration and Allowances for Holders of Public Office and Members of Parliament, made pursuant to subsections 5(2A), 7(1), 7(3), 7(3D) and 7(4) of the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973, be disapproved.

The reason that I have moved this motion is that the government announced a hike in the payment to members of parliament quite late on the Friday afternoon after we last left this place. In doing so, they gave recognition to the fact that it is wrong. They did not bring it in here or announce it during the Senate or House of Representatives sittings but waited until we were all on our way home—or at home—and then announced the deliberation of the so-called Remuneration Tribunal. The Remuneration Tribunal has made two determinations on pay rises. The first was No. 9, which was made on 23 May and was for a 2.5 per cent rise for MPs, and the second was made on 20 June and was for a 4.4 per cent rise. These came into effect on 1 July because of the government’s motion and were effectively retrospective. This motion of disallowance is dealing with that 4.4 per cent rise, the second rise, and would, if successful, leave MPs with the 2.5 per cent increase.

Effectively what the government announced was a seven per cent pay rise. The latest pay increases would put the Prime Minister’s salary up by more than $20,000 to about $309,000, and the Leader of the Opposition’s salary would go up by $14,000 to about $220,000. It is very easy to roll these figures off our tongues, but I want to put that $20,000 pay rise for the Prime Minister into context. There was an article in the Sunday Tasmanian a couple of weeks ago about cleaners who come in at night and clean offices, including those of state and federal MPs. Those cleaners would be lucky, for all their work, to go home with $20,000 for the year, let alone a $20,000 increase to $309,000. It is very easy for us to line ourselves up against the extraordinary emoluments and payments to CEOs, which are outrageous by any standard in our society and are multiples of what the average worker takes home—they cannot be justified—but, to gauge how MPs representing average citizens are paid, we should be looking at what the average wage is rather than looking at the top end of the bracket.

Ministers will take home an extra $13,455 and backbenchers an extra $7,800. The series of pay rises will deliver MPs increases totalling 18 per cent over the last three years, according to a Financial Review article in which Mark Davis said that this represented annualised pay increases of six per cent, well ahead of the general wages growth, which has been running at about four per cent. So this is up 50 per cent, in percentage terms, on what the average Australian has been getting. The pay rise is also well ahead of inflation, which is running at about three per cent. So it is double the inflation rate. Over the years from 1996 to this year, while the consumer price index has risen by 23.2 per cent, MPs’ salaries have risen by 39.1 per cent—almost double that.

The decision to apply Remuneration Tribunal determinations to MPs is made by the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews, and there is no doubt he would never do anything without the Prime Minister vetting it. He also has the power to set MPs’ salaries. It is not, as is commonly thought, the power of the Remuneration Tribunal. The minister considers what is said by the Remuneration Tribunal—which I think is slavishly adherent to government policy on these matters and not independent at all—but it is up to the minister to rectify decisions coming out of the tribunal which are unfair to Australians in general, as this decision has been.

At the same time as the seven per cent pay rise was approved for MPs, 1.6 million Australians on the minimum wage had their wages frozen, effectively, due to a delay of four months in the annual wage rise, which is now determined—under the iniquitous industrial relations legislation of the government—by the Fair Pay Commission. Fair, my foot! This is unfair. It is not right. Obviously politicians have found a way, through the Remuneration Tribunal, to keep moving ahead of the pack. At a time when the government’s own industrial relations legislation has put the brake on a fair go for families, for low-income earners and for medium-income earners, here we have the government putting a foot on the accelerator for politicians. It just is not right.

It is in the ability of the Senate to disallow this increase. My motion does not say, ‘Cut the seven per cent’; it says, ‘Put it back to 2.5 per cent,’ which is as close as possible to both inflation and the consumer price index, even though it is moving ahead of what low-income earners get—in percentage terms, not dollar terms. As I said before, just the increase in the Prime Minister’s salary is equivalent to the annual income of people on very, very low wages after 10 years of the Howard government. It is unfair. I know we will have calls from the opposite side of, ‘If you don’t like this, don’t take it; give your money back.’ If the disallowance motion fails, I can assure you I will be putting this extra money back into the community. I do not think it is right. I do not think this should be done in this fashion. I know that politicians feel very vulnerable with regard to debates like this, but the public has a right to have us debate and justify pay rises like this which accelerate us ahead at a time when the rest of the community has to deal with much more meagre increases indeed.


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