For federal politicians, 1 July is going to be a good day for the bank balance. The misnamed Independent Remuneration Tribunal has found it fitting to increase their salaries by 2 percent, meaning that Scott Morrison will get an $11,000 pay rise – his third pay rise in a year – bringing his annual salary to $549,229. The pay of Peter Dutton, the special minister for raiding media offices, will go up by $7,000, to $364,247. Other MPs, on a baseline salary of $207,100, will land an increase of $4,000.
Of course, official salaries remain the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the parliamentary gravy train. A key perk of the job is access to entitlements. Although ostensibly for “official parliamentary business”, a loose definition of the concept “official parliamentary business” is culturally entrenched amongst Australia’s parliamentarians.
This gives them access to unlimited domestic travel, including chartering a plane if commercial flights are not available; accommodation, meals and other incidentals while travelling; cost of spouse travel; costs of one privately owned vehicle; and use of a COMCAR. Parliamentarians can also claim expenses related to the upkeep of their offices: postage, stationery, printing costs, computers, laptops, TVs, office furniture, phones. In 2016 while opposition leader, Bill Shorten spent $237,775 on office facilities and admin.
Parliamentary entitlements have supposedly come under increased scrutiny since “Choppergate”, the 2016 incident involving then speaker Bronwyn Bishop chartering a helicopter on the public dollar to fly from Melbourne to Geelong to attend a Liberal Party fundraiser. However, the ensuing review seemed more focused on restoring public confidence in MPs than it did on ending such rorts.
Visit the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (IPEA) website, and you will see hundreds of thousands of dollars spent every quarter on all sorts of activities with only marginal relevance to needs of the mass of the population. You will find, for example, that then Liberal MP Jane Prentice spent $13,059 on a week-long trip to Belgium as part of a parliamentary delegation. Or that Anthony Albanese between October and December 2018 spent $14,665.74 on “other car costs”.
The Independent Remuneration Tribunal itself is a gravy train for the already wealthy who spend their days sitting on corporate boards. It is independent, it seems, only from anyone outside the ruling elite. The tribunal’s current president, John Conde (AO, no less), takes home $128,922 per year (exclusive of travel allowances) for his part-time role, and has enjoyed this nice little earner for the past 25 years.
While “independent” bodies like the IRT and the IPEA continue to promote a culture of entitlement amongst Australia’s political class, another “independent” body – the Fair Work Commission – has been cutting entitlements for workers. Those dependent on penalty rates have been hardest hit, with further cuts kicking in on 1 July. Over the next three years, workers in the hospitality, pharmacy, fast food and retail sector will collectively lose $2.87 billion from the penalty rate cuts.
So while politicians’ salaries get fatter and fatter and their jaunts to Belgium continue, further declines to workers’ living standards proceed with a dull regularity.