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Support for boosting politicians' pay -

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Support for boosting politicians' pay

The World Today - Thursday, 4 December , 2008 12:26:00

Reporter: Simon Santow

ELEANOR HALL: The Commonwealth Remuneration Tribunal, the body charged with recommending salary
rises for MPs and Ministers suggests that our politicians are being ripped off when it comes to the
size of their pay packets.

Retired politicians argue that pay rises are urgently needed so parliamentarians can keep pace with
senior public servants and business people.

As Simon Santow reports.

SIMON SANTOW: Here's a quick quiz. What does an ordinary Federal MP earn each year?

At almost $130,000 it's a lot less than the reward for working equally long hours in business.

And a Minister? Their pay comes in at a touch over $220,000. Not as much as the public servants who
report to them and less than many people at the top of their professions or climbing the business

According to the Remuneration Tribunal, politicians are being asked to do more and are paid less
for the privilege of performing their duties.

Bruce Baird served in the New South Wales parliament as a Minister and then as a backbencher in
Canberra. All up 20 years in politics before his retirement at last year's election.

BRUCE BAIRD: Well I think it's progressively that heads of government are unwilling to put
themselves through the political flack when increases are paid out, so you know, I mean last time
the Prime Minister said we can't pay anybody, we've got to lead the community, show restraint and
know increases for any parliamentarian, and in fact what happened is the business community
continued to increase their salaries and parliamentarians fell further behind.

SIMON SANTOW: Bruce Baird says it doesn't have to be this way.

BRUCE BAIRD: I mean in Singapore they recognise the level of responsibility and pay them according
to what is appropriate within the business community.

SIMON SANTOW: The World Today spoke to many political wannabes and most were reluctant to speak
publicly about the obstacles they face in seeking a political career.

Silence, they said, was a safer option.

Especially if, with the mortgage paid off and the kids off their hands, there might be a chance of
revisiting that dream of a seat in parliament somewhere down the track.

Matthew Hingerty is an exception.

The managing director of the Australian Tourism Export Council believes fulfilling his dream is
just too hard.

MATTHEW HINGERTY: There's the normal obstacles that is going through a pre-selection going through
an election, but for me and I would be fairly typical, I have a Sydney mortgage, I have four
children, two of whom have just started a middle-of-road private school. My wife and I have looked
at our budget years ahead and you realise that by the time you're into politics, you won't be in
your prime, you won't be able to partake in the same political battles that your peers are
partaking in and it's extremely frustrating.

SIMON SANTOW: So for you have you closed the door on a political career at this stage?

MATTHEW HINGERTY: There will be a range of people on both sides of politics like me who will always
harbour an ambition, who will look for an opportunity if it arises but I'm a fairly traditional
conservative person, I won't sacrifice my marriage or my children's education to do so.

I'm making my way in the world but you know, I look at my peers like Joe Hockey, Maurice Payne,
John Brogden and people on the other side of politics, they're not frustrated because they're
making their mark on history, they're contributing to the community, I and many other people like
me of my generation have that same vocation but we find the way barred, this is going to sound to a
lot of people who believe that politicians do get paid a lot of money, this is going to sound
ungrateful but the salary at the moment is barring the way for us.

SIMON SANTOW: Doctor Norman Abjorensen lectures in politics at the Australian National University.
He says making money has never been a motivator for parliamentary recruits.

NORMAN ABJORENSEN: I think there is always a political class in the making and I don't think it's a
political class that's normally attracted just a financial reward, politics is not a place where
money is made, honestly, the... we've had many cases where talented people particularly lawyers have
sacrificed a lucrative private practice to go into politics.

Menzies is a shining example, our very first prime minister Edmond Barton found it very hard to
support a family on his prime ministerial salary after having given up a lucrative practice at the
bar in Sydney. Gough Whitlam and Neville Wran both had successful legal practices, made big
sacrifices to go into politics.

I don't think more money is going to attract better politicians, I think there are other things at
work there, probably the shrinking size of our political parties, the shrinking talent pool, that
needs to be addressed, it's not a financial issue it's a structural issue.

ELEANOR HALL: Dr Norman Abjorensen, lecturer in politics at the ANU, ending that report from Simon