Wednesday, June 19, 2013

politician's salaries

Today I had a conversation with someone who plans to vote for Clive Palmer's party in the coming election. This was the first time I've met a Palmer supporter in the flesh and it was an interesting experience. A big issue for her is the obscene amount of money that politicians are paid. In her mind, politicians don't deserve pay rises and shouldn't get any 'perks'. They are already ridiculously overpaid.

Her comments have gotten me thinking. Why does she have a problem with what politicians are paid but no problem with what Clive Palmer earns? CP earns the PM's annual salary in around about 1 hour (according to the billionaire wealth calculator)!

Here are my thoughts.

1. Politicians market themselves as being like 'the rest of us'. Being too 'other' is not a vote winner.
2. Politicians are like 'the rest of us' in that they have 2 arms and 2 legs, but apart from that, they are not like many of us. They work long hours - much longer than the average shop keeper, they have lots of responsibility, they are generally well educated and have a drivenness about them that would give them big earning potential in the private sector.
3. People buy the propaganda and don't see the very real differences between their work and the work that politicians do.
4. Because politicians are 'like us', they should be paid 'like us'. And for this woman, that would mean a salary well under 50k.
5. It hurts us when people 'like us' get paid much more than us. We feel cheated. It's like we are in competition with them and we're losing.
6. Mining magnates are not 'like us'. They never said they were and it's obvious to us that they're not. Because of this we don't feel cheated when they are paid more than us. They are playing a different game.

It's all very curious. I think politicians have a dreadful job. However much you paid me, I'd never do it.



  1. I agree with number 2: many politicians could earn much more in the private sector so they are actually choosing to earn less so as to be able to be in politics. But like you, they could pay me a million dollars and I wouldn't want to do it!

  2. I think it is reasonable to expect a different pay standard for a politician compared to private business. You expect maximum salaries in private business (capitalism and all that), but I would like to hope for better in "public service". True that your point #2 may mean it is hard to entice highly competant, greedy people away from private sector without a high pay packet. I guess I see a scale with private sector at one end, charity/church at the other, and public service in the middle. I would be more appalled at charity and church workers getting too high an income, but still appalled if politicians' incomes seemed too high :)

  3. I think one of the things people forget is that to be in politics, especially if you have a family, you make a heap of other kinds of sacrifices - privacy, regular hours, living near home, giving up your old occupation or business for an uncertain future, stress etc. Of course politicians should be paid very, very well. It should be a job we attract the best and brightest to and it should be a job were there is enough money to off-set some of these other sacrifices. So you can't get home very often? But you can afford to fly your wife and kids in to visit you more often or vice versa. So you work hideous hours - you should be able to afford good food prepared for you by someone else and a cleaner etc and the very best child care so you can do your job without a nervous breakdown. People gripe about politician's pay rises but we are a great country with lots to spend and we should renumerate our public officials properly.

  4. I agree with Deb and I'd add that the best public servants aren't necessarily motivated by money, (and I'd also argue that the best in the private sector often aren't motivated by money either, contrary to popular belief).

  5. I agree with you all re politicians pay. In general, they earn much more after they leave Parliament than while they are in it, especially the higher profile ones like Ministers. And all the ones I've met work their bums off for it. I think what bothers us is the sense that their ethics get tangled by money - that if they are concerned about their own wealth they won't be thinking about the general welfare.

    MPs started to be paid as a result of the work of the "Chartists" in the UK in the 1840s, with their influence resulting in Australian legislation from 1870 onwards in the different states. Before this they weren't and the Chartists argued that this meant (a) that only wealthy people could afford to enter parliament; and (b) while there they would be looking out for their own business affairs not for the public good. Paying them a decent salary meant people of all social classes could enter parliament (paving the way for a politically active labour movement) and they were then free to quit their jobs and put other business on hold, and focus exclusively on their representative role.

  6. I don't have a problem with paying politicians a fair wage...while they are in office. What I object to are: (a) we continue to pay them after we boot them out of office - if they were so bad in the job that we got rid of them, why oh WHY are we still paying them! and (b)the superannuation rules applying to them are different from those applying to the rest of us.

    I also wouldn't do the job because of the lack of privacy issue.

  7. I don't have a problem with the politicians' pension - especially for former prime ministers. Once they leave politics their earning capacity is extremely diminished - it's not like they can just go and get a regular job (it's the same for high ranking CEO's once they leave) - sure they might jump on the speaking circuit or something but they do sacrifice an awful lot. Regardless of our personal opinions, they've held the highest office in Australia and it's vital they can be be active in contributing to the broader dialogue in Australia without them having to worry about money so much - they've earned the right.