Serving themselves, and their masters

The expenses scandal grows deeper by the week. Expenses for going to friends’ weddings. Expenses for going to the AFL grand final. Expenses to attend the Melbourne Cup. Expenses for ski trips. Expenses to attend the Tour de France. Expenses for cartoon and cook books.

MPs are rushing to repay “disputed” claims. This is a PR exercise, not a new-found commitment to honesty, driven by the fact that so many members have been found with their snouts in the trough.

Parliamentary “entitlements” amounted to more than $100 million last year. This is for people with starting salaries of almost $200,000. Add in all the perks and allowances and, according to an analysis by Fairfax media, “each MP and senator gets a minimum of more than $500,000 a year”. They received pay increases totalling almost 40 percent over the last three years.

It’s struggle street in Canberra all right.

The standard justification for this obscenity is that the parliament has to be able to “attract talent”. Gluttonous self-serving slobs with a sense of entitlement more like it. Their appetites are insatiable.

Liberal former minister Peter Reith forcefully defended the claims, appealing, “Since when is that not being part of being a politician, you know, going out for lunch with a shock jock or going to his wedding?” This is the sort of culture that thrives in the parliamentary ranks.

We’re reminded of former Labor MP Mark Latham’s diary notes from one particular overseas junket. Sitting in a flash restaurant lamenting the obstacles to a thoroughgoing political change that would enable a better life for workers, he casually noted the side order of potatoes he ordered with a main course of duck. And this was a man the Murdoch press denounced for trying to start a class war. Things have really deteriorated since then.

While the politicians gorge themselves, workers and the poor go hungry.

Getting to and from work, international study tours, etc. – most workers get no such benefits. And the standard line for pay rises is that anything above 2.5 percent is totally irresponsible. Without moderation, the unions are lectured, rampant inflation would surely ruin the country.

Single mothers chucked off the parenting payment are expected to survive on the dole to aid the cause of fiscal responsibility. More than 100,000 people homeless while the “servants of the public” stay in $300 per night hotel rooms and are driven about by chauffeurs.

Yet the main crime of the politicians isn’t rorting their own expenses. The greatest rort in the system is the everyday exploitation of workers by bosses. All the magnificent wealth that exists comes from the labour of workers, yet the rich get richer and everyone else is told to work harder and sacrifice more.

Week in and week out, the politicians ensure that the bosses get what they want – keeping down corporate taxes, passing laws that restrict union organising and generally doing what they can to enable the smooth running of capitalism. This is the great obscenity: the institutionalised “entitlement” of the ruling class to rip everyone else off.

The great crime of politicians is that, while serving themselves, they serve their masters more.