Wednesday, 8 August 2007
Principal Executive Office Classification Structure and Terms and Conditions
Motion for Disallowance
That Determination 2007/04: Principal Executive Office (PEO) Classification Structure and Terms and Conditions, made pursuant to subsections 5(2A), 7(3D) and 7(4) of the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973, be disallowed.
This is, of course, the Greens’ motion to disallow the regulation to increase the pay of members of parliament. The two regulations before the Senate would increase the income of members of parliament by 6.7 per cent. That comes on top of a seven per cent increase this time last year. It will mean that this year the average pay of members of parliament on the back bench will rise by $8,000 to $127,000 per year—that is, if you do not take into account electoral allowances and all the other provisions for members of parliament. This 6.7 per cent would increase the Leader of the Opposition’s income by $15,000 to $235,000 per year and it would increase the Prime Minister’s salary by $21,000 to $336,000 per year.
Let’s do a comparison. The Prime Minister’s salary will go up by $21,000 per year, but the 1.2 million pensioners who made this country what it is are on a total of $13,652 per year. We are seeing an increase in the Prime Minister’s income that is almost double the total-year income for the 1.2 million pensioners of this country. That is unfair, that is unjustified, that is not right and it is no way to honour the people who have contributed so much to this country. We are proposing not simply a stopper on an unjustifiable pay rise to members of parliament but that the money go to giving a very necessary and justified lift in income to 1.2 million pensioners in this country—the Prime Minister’s 1.2 million forgotten Australians. They deserve the pay increase, not us.
When you look for justification for this 6.7 per cent increase on top of the seven per cent last year—a 14 per cent increase—there is none. The Remuneration Tribunal, which is said to be independent but is nothing of the sort in my book, gives no justification. It calls none of us before it. There is no increase in workload, greater demand on our services or productivity output improvement to justify this increase, which for all of us is $8,000 per year and for the Prime Minister is $21,000 per year. Certainly let us have an increase which keeps up with the cost of living in Australia. That is what the pensioners get. But no, that is not the case for members of parliament who represent those pensioners and, indeed, average Australians in their millions. While pensioners have had no real increase in their income during the 11 years of Prime Minister Howard’s government compared to the increase in the cost of living, the income of members of parliament has gone up by 85 per cent—pensioners, zero; members of parliament, 85 per cent. Who opposite, or indeed in the Labor ranks, is going to justify those figures? There will not be justification because there is no justification.
When we look at the measly pension—the $260 that pensioners get to make ends meet in this country—it is very easy to overlook the fact that the cost of living index does not reflect increasing costs for them in particular. As we all know, cheap imported goods—which we on higher incomes buy in great amounts—are largely beyond the reach of the people on the lowest incomes in the country, including pensioners. What is not beyond their reach—because they have to pay these costs—are the much more rapidly increasing costs of rent, food, transport and services. So in fact, when you take that factor into consideration, we see that pensioners have not only not kept up with parity but also are very probably losing ground. The pensioners I speak to, including a wonderful group of Greek Australians in Marrickville on the weekend, are finding it very tough indeed to make ends meet in this wealthy Australia of 2007. They do not like the fact that we parliamentarians get such things as gold cards when we retire for free travel. They note it but they cannot do anything about it. They feel cheated because they have worked for decades to put this country on the basis that it is on, and none of us can deny them that. Our wealth has come out of their labours. But they are not being rewarded for it; they are being overlooked and forgotten.
What we Greens are saying is, ‘Well, let’s put the parliamentarians’ pay increase towards giving the pensioners a pay increase instead. We are up 85 per cent. Let’s lift them from zero per cent and give them a break.’ If the current tax breaks for the mega-rich in this year’s Costello budget can put $3.5 billion into the pockets of people taking home more than $75,000 a year—and every member of this parliament is included in that bracket—then we have more than ample funds to give the 1.2 million pensioners, and indeed the 600,000 part-pensioners, a reasonable increase. What will it be? Will it be the $160 increase that we backbenchers are getting at the moment or the hundreds more for the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister? No, it will be $30 a week for pensioners—that is, one-tenth. Surely we can forgo this one pay rise and this one tax cut to give the pensioners of this country one-tenth of the amount that will land in our pay packets if we do not do this. One-tenth is $30 a week. Is it too hard in this age of wealth in this country to give the pensioners of this country $30 a week? We Greens say, ‘No, it is not.’ It is not only not too hard; it is warranted, it is right and we should be doing it. We cannot in good conscience put our hands into the taxpayers’ pockets to line our own and turn our back on the pensioners of this country, as the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition want to.
I realise how the numbers fall, but I make an appeal here—and maybe this will be heard by the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister in waiting. It is high time that we were debating the pensioners, who have been forgotten, rather than ourselves—who get thought about too often. It is a tough job being in here. We are open to all sorts of pressures that maybe quieter citizens do not have. But that is our privilege and that is our option. They have none. They are dependent on us. The budget this year left them out altogether save for one thing. There were big tax breaks right across the board which privileged the rich much more than the poor and the middle-income earners in this country. On top of that was $3.6 billion for those earning over $75,000—which we Greens oppose. Hidden in the budget was a one-liner saying, ‘Pensioners will get a once-off $500 in the run-up to the election.’ How tawdry is that? If that is not a ‘sit quiet, take the money and vote for us’ inducement for votes from this clever Prime Minister’s backroom thinkers then what is it? I was in Burnie the other day when an aged pensioner came up to me and said, ‘Well I’ve got $500 and I want to put it into your campaign because I think it would do better if Mr Costello knew it was coming in your direction.’ That was one person’s view of how she wanted to see the country go. It is my job to see that she is not out of pocket over that, but the thought was there.
We have many elderly or incapacitated Australians on the pension. They are not highly organised. They do not have an open door to the politicians’ offices like the big corporations and the big end of town to get the mega tax breaks. It is so easy here to take them for granted, and that is what is happening here. Australia’s pensioners are being taken for granted—and, I think, taken down. We can do better. We must do better. We Greens are taking a stand here today. This is not just about blocking an unwarranted, unjustified pay rise for members of parliament in 2007; it is also about remembering those who are struggling to make ends meet in 2007. Wouldn’t it be better if some of those mega tax breaks had gone into the public health system? What about a dental care system for this country? Prime Minister Howard cut out the concession card holders’ dental care system in his first year of office. Now we have pensioners waiting two years to get a tooth looked at in mega-rich Australia 2007. Is that the legacy of the Howard government when it comes to social justice in this country? We can and we must do better than that. This motion today is a very strong statement for the Greens saying to the big parties who hold office or are in opposition in this country; ‘Think again on this pay grab. Think again about the plight of those people who cannot make ends meet in 2007. They deserve some of the wealth of this country which they are being denied.’