Tuesday, 5 September 2006
Remuneration and Allowances for Holders of Public Office and Members of Parliament
Motion for Disapproval
Senator Carr says I am wrong. Maybe I am wrong now, because, fortunately, teachers’ wages have increased since I was in the profession. That is a good thing—a worthy and proper thing—because teaching is one of the most difficult jobs there is. We have also seen, over the last short while, massive tax cuts for parliamentarians. No doubt, others too noticed that there was a lot more in their monthly pay packet on 1 July than there had been in the past. We have also been given a very substantial handout in our retirement benefits. If we retire at age 60, no tax will apply to the benefit we derive from superannuation.
That is also, I think, the community’s understanding of what is going on in industry. We have seen massive increases for CEOs of businesses. Even businesses that go really badly—that show a loss at the end of the day—seem to still reward their CEOs. So I am uncomfortable with an increase which is out of step with community expectations. I should not say ‘community expectations’, because there are many people who think we should not be paid at all or even that we should pay for the privilege of being in this place and that we do not deserve a decent wage at all. I also agree with my colleague who said that ministers, because of their responsibility, are underpaid in some people’s eyes, because you can compare them with business managers, who probably do not even make such substantial decisions. I would argue that we all in this place make substantial decisions. Even to decide on this disallowance is a substantial decision. So we do have a great responsibility in this place. If you were to argue that we should be rewarded appropriately for that, that is one thing; but, of course, on the other hand it is also a great privilege to be in this place. One can understand that in those jurisdictions where there were no wages for parliamentarians because the reward was the job—and that used to be the case in quite a few countries—that then attracted wealthy people to the role. So this is a complex issue.
It is problematic as well that, because of our links with public servants, to disallow this is to also disallow the increase for those public servants. Having not been party to the reasoning by the Remuneration Tribunal, I am certainly at something of a disadvantage. The minister says this is about catching up with a gap. If you look at the schedule of increases over time, it is hard to see that gap emerging. We have consistently tracked at a higher rate since being linked with public service wages. We have consistently tracked at a higher rate than CPI or wage price indexation. So I cannot see the sudden leap that the minister says explains why this was necessary and explains why this is a seven per cent increase and not a four per cent or a three per cent increase. I will continue to listen to the debate and will be in a position, I hope, to make up my mind by the time we come to this vote. Just to reiterate, this is a difficult question. I am pleased that my colleague has put a motion forward calling for a more holistic review, if you like, looking at entitlements across the board, because I think that is necessary.
I recall the debate about superannuation. We said it was not good enough just to ask the tribunal to reform the parliamentary superannuation system, because the tribunal will, more or less, keep with the current entitlement regime. They needed to be instructed at that time, we argued—and I still stand by that. The tribunal will effectively maintain the status quo but increase entitlements over time. With superannuation, what we were calling for was a major reform. We argued that the government would need to take the step of giving that very strong instruction. It did not happen. We had a kind of reform which affects those people who come into this place after the decision makers have already made the decision but it does not affect them. But that is another story. I am expressing my thoughts on this bill and my difficulty with dealing with the decision making associated with it. I would much sooner have seen this increase more in line with wage price indexation; even CPI would have been sufficient I think. I will leave it at that. I will continue to listen to the contributions to this debate. My guess at this stage is that I probably will not support the disallowance.