Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned Australians will need to tighten their belts as the nation recovers from the “coronavirus pandemic.”
By Australians, we presume he means everyone but he and other politicians. You see ScoMo has recently announced the government will be rolling back dole payments in September to where they were before this “pandemic” started, which is half of what it is today.
So if you finally thought you had room to breath with the extra payments, you’ll be back to square one come September, living in poverty on struggle street, which is ok with ScoMo, him being a practicing Christian and all that.
Anyway, we though we’d look into how much politicians are paid and how financially “struggling” they are these days. Just like welfare recipients, we pay politicians, except that politicians are “suppose” to work for us.
We looked into it and discovered that Australian politicians have become increasingly disconnected – financially speaking – from the people they represent. Below we contrast the remuneration of politicians with people on Newstart.
Newstart is a support payment for people who are unemployed and aged 22 or over. There were 850,558 people on Newstart before the “pandemic.” A single adult with no children on Newstart received $277.85 a week, regarded as being well below the poverty line of $433 a week, so people on Newstart are generally unable to cover the basic costs of housing, food, healthcare and transport. Beyond the economic pressures, people living in poverty can experience malnutrition and social exclusion. Vulnerable communities are particularly impacted, for example people with living with physical and mental disabilities. The governments coronavirus stimulus package meant these figures doubled, but will come to an end in September.
There has been no significant raise in the Newstart rate for more than 25 years. From 1993 to 2007 Newstart stagnated, as did the Australian minimum wage and the aged pension. Since 2007 the Australian median wage has also stagnated along with these other support payments; the continued rise in average wages points towards widening inequality between the richest Australians and everyone else, with people on Newstart at the very bottom. If this wasn’t worrying enough, Australia’s welfare system has become heavily conditional over a similar period, with people forced on to questionable programs and the cashless welfare card know as the Indue card.
So what about politicians – are they struggling too? Not financially they aren’t.
The base salary for a member or senator of the Australian parliament, set by the Parliamentary Remuneration Tribunal, is $207,100. This is almost three times more than the median wage and about 15 times as much as people on Newstart. Members of parliament get a number of allowances on top of this base salary, including for travel, accommodation, communications, electorate offices and staff. Ministers and other office holders get a whole lot more, with shadow ministers earning at least $248,520, cabinet ministers $357,247 and the prime minister $548,460. Whereas most working Australians get 9.5% superannuation, politicians elected since 2004 receive 15.4%. Those elected before 2004 receive an annual pension of between $150,000 and $200,000 a year.
Since the early 1990s the salaries of Australian parliamentarians have generally risen in a similar fashion to the average wage. Their base wage also leapt by 31.3% in 2012, from $140,910 to $185,000. In real terms, the base salary of members and senators of the Australian parliament has risen by almost $80,000 since 1933. In itself that is more than the current total average wage, let alone the more indicative median wage – or the tiny amount people on Newstart are expected to live on, $13,926 a year.
More than 770,000 people receive Newstart at a cost of approximately $11bn, an average of around $14,500 a person. In comparison 226 members of parliament take home almost $73m a year in taxpayer dollars in base salary and additional salaries for roles such as being a minister or chairing a committee, at an average of $243,035 for each politician. On top of their generous superannuation allowances, they receive an office/communications allowance of $109,370 to $243,144 a year and an electorate allowance of $32,000 to $46,000, depending on the size of their electorates.
There is evidence that higher salaries for politicians increases the education level, type of profession and political experience of people in office; this presumes that society needs and wants people now in high-paid jobs to become politicians. The question here is, do we want an elite-driven model of parliamentary democracy or a representative one? Australian politicians are increasingly career politicians, members of a disconnected political elite.