There are many things that make Victorian Socialists stand out: our unique anti-capitalist politics; our army of dedicated volunteers; our refusal to do dodgy preference deals; our rejection of the limits of parliamentary politics; and our focus on grassroots movements as a means of changing the world. But one policy in particular makes other candidates recoil in horror—the pledge our candidates take to accept only an average wage if elected.
Currently, members of federal parliament receive a base salary of $211,250 a year. On top of this, they typically receive more than $50,000 in allowances and other entitlements. The base rate alone is more than quadruple the median salary of an Australian worker. But unlike wages, politicians’ salaries do not go backwards due to inflation. Instead, they get a pay rise every year through the Remuneration Tribunal. Workers, on the other hand, have to fight for their pay rises and usually get one only every three or four years—if they’re lucky.
Occasionally, the politicians’ huge drain on the public purse comes to light in some sort of scandal. Who could forget former Speaker of the House Bronwyn Bishop’s $5,000 taxpayer-funded helicopter ride to a Liberal Party fundraiser in 2015? And yet, shortly after “Choppergate”, Bishop retired from politics on a $255,000 annual pension with a Life Gold Pass for free travel. Meanwhile, the pension for the rest of us is a measly $25,000 a year. Workers who have spent their whole lives labouring, creating millions in profits for bosses, get to the end of their working lives and are forced to live on less than the minimum wage.
Politicians’ fat salaries, while of course making for a very cushy existence, also serve a broader purpose. They encourage politicians to feel they have a stake in the system—a system of extreme inequality, wage stagnation, privatisation of essential services, underfunding of schools and hospitals and everything else that leads to obscene privilege coexisting alongside grinding poverty.
Socialists are different. We consciously reject the bribes elected representatives are offered to accept the status quo. When we are elected to parliament, we are there to serve the working class and to advance working-class struggle. Being elected as a socialist is not a chance to advance a career or rub shoulders with elites. It is a chance to elevate and be a megaphone for working-class and social struggles.
All payments above an average wage will be put towards grassroots campaigns that fight for the things we stand for. Because change really happens only when ordinary people are mobilised to fight. The eight-hour day, marriage equality and countless other reforms were won, not by well-paid politicians, but by people striking, protesting and campaigning.
In a world of career politicians who serve only themselves and their corporate mates, candidates who believe our political representatives should experience life as those they represent do are a rare thing. Victorian Socialists hope to change that.
Belle Gibson is the Victorian Socialists federal election candidate for Gorton in Melbourne's western suburbs.
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