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Remuneration for MPs

MATT PEACOCK: As many a politician has discovered, you can be a rooster one day and a feather duster the next. Or to put it another way, our Federal representatives want to be rewarded for failing to hold their seats. The Federal Labor Caucus sees it differently, of course. It says that MPs who fail to qualify for the generous superannuation entitlements of those parliamentarians who stay in office should receive a redundancy package, and they also want a chauffeur allowance to pay someone for driving them to and from engagements in their electorates. Well, is this another example of snouts in the trough or are they really doing it tough?

Pete Steedman was the Member for the Victorian seat of Casey and found himself being out-placed, so to speak, by the voters in the 1987 Federal election. Good morning, Pete.

PETER STEEDMAN: Good morning, Matt, how are you?

MATT PEACOCK: Very good. And yourself?

PETER STEEDMAN: It's been a long time.

MATT PEACOCK: It has, hasn't it?

PETER STEEDMAN: I met you in Darwin, 20 years ago, somewhere.

MATT PEACOCK: Tough life out of Parliament, do you think?

PETER STEEDMAN: .... I mean, you take a risk when you go in there. I mean, there's two things involved, as you said. It could be either - I mean, MP bashing, parliamentarian bashing is a sport in Australia and every time they raise their heads they get a kicking. But the other side of the coin is, is it legitimate? And I suppose it's from where you stand, because when you go into politics or go into Parliament, you usually go in there to change the world or, hopefully, for some idealistic reason. Whether you end up like that is another story or not, so when you go out, you really can't whinge about it.

But then again, some of the things they're saying have got some sense and I think should be examined further. I mean, the chauffeur one, whilst it sounds a bit of a joke, I nearly killed myself a couple of times, I was so tired trying to drive and ran off the road, and it happened ....

MATT PEACOCK: But this is after you lost your seat.

PETER STEEDMAN: No, no. This was while I was an MP .... And there is something with that, but the thing that I'd worry about then is that they say: Well, who would chauffeur people? And there's a tendency with some MPs and some people like that to put their families on the public payroll or something. You'd have to watch it. I think there's a lot of - it's worth looking into things like that but I don't think MPs can get paid for getting knocked off out of Parliament.

MATT PEACOCK: This thing about chauffeur driven. I mean, you know, I'm pretty tired sometimes when I come to work, too, but I don't get a chauffeur, and I mean, isn't the whole point of a parliamentarian meant to be that they're representative?

PETER STEEDMAN: Well, they are, but if you're doing a job properly - and some MPs do and some don't. Let's face it. MPs are like everybody else in the society; some are good and some aren't. But if you're working your guts out and you're on the public payroll and you're there for public service, let us say, then you can get tired if you've got to go to another function, and the electorate demanding yet another function, you get up ....

MATT PEACOCK: Yes, yes. But let's go back to salaries. Now, I mean, if you manage ....

PETER STEEDMAN: Oh, I'm sorry. I've got the picture, now. We're not MP bashing. It's okay. As long as I know what we're going to do, Matt, I'll play the game, right.

MATT PEACOCK: If you go back to when you stood for Parliament, you knew very well that if you stayed in for three terms, you were in clover. I mean, you have one of the most remunerative superannuation schemes that I've ever heard of in the world.

PETER STEEDMAN: I think that's legitimate. And the point you're saying is if you stay in for three terms. But the other thing is - and contrary to popular belief on MPs - quite frankly, Matt, I never knew what the superannuation was, when I'd get a pay-out or whatever. It didn't concern me; it wasn't one of my concerns. When I was rolled out of the Parliament and took $16,000 in my hand, I thought it was fantastic.

MATT PEACOCK: So your major concern, really, was to survive the next election and ....

PETER STEEDMAN: My major concern was to work for the people who'd elected me.

MATT PEACOCK: Well, there you go.

PETER STEEDMAN: Look, I'm sorry that I've got this problem with you, that I was actually a straight politician, but I really did try.

MATT PEACOCK: But I mean, surely, if you do survive an election, well, then, that's good, and if you don't, well it means they didn't want you. And that's the game you went into with your eyes open.

PETER STEEDMAN: Well, you get redistributed out from under you. But the point is that if you do do your three terms, you do get that money. The other thing - I think it's where MPs go. I mean, who wants a used politician? Who wants to give a used politician a job? The Liberals, quite frankly ....

MATT PEACOCK: Specially a Labor politician. Is this right?

PETER STEEDMAN: Well, the Liberals have been quite good at it. They put people who I could name, if we wanted to, into phoney PR jobs in large companies and marketing executives and all these phoney titles.

MATT PEACOCK: Did you ever think of going to the ACTU?

PETER STEEDMAN: Ah, no. No, I went back into journalism. But the thing - as I said - well, that's a good one, because where do the Labor politicians come from? Some of them come from the labour movement, from the union movement, and have an opportunity to go back, but then again, many of them have been put into Parliament to get them out of the union movement. I mean, the Senate, as you know, is the place where all parties dump the most useless people they can find, or they want to move on for other reasons - and no disrespect to the unrepresentative swill as Keating calls them. But the Senate is a place where you dump party hacks of both persuasions. You put Country Party people in there; you put Liberals who are no good any more or ex-State secretaries, and you move on union officials and others who you want out of the place to change over, so no one wants them back in the mainstream.

And the other side, of course, is if you have been an MP, it's sort of like getting 'leper' branded on your head, and as you walk around the streets trying to get jobs, it can be difficult. But then again, that's part of the racket, isn't it?

MATT PEACOCK: What happened to you? Did you have any idea when you ....

PETER STEEDMAN: I didn't have a clue. Quite frankly, I was relieved briefly. At that stage, I had a young family and things and it was suffering because of my time in the Parliament, and I was relieved and I went back into journalism. Actually, I was doing some work with the ABC and several other stations and newspapers when, about nine months after I'd been out or a year out, I got an offer to go and assist in advising a couple of government Ministers which I did for a couple years, and then I'm back in the private sector again.

MATT PEACOCK: Tell me, one question. I had a sneaking suspicion when I saw this story that the real motivation behind it is basic jealousy. I mean, politicians realise they might lose an election. They look at what they would be getting if they survived, and they think: Well, that's not right; at least, I should get more than this.

PETER STEEDMAN: Well, I think again, some do, some don't. If you go into politics for money, you've either got a very distorted view of what public service is, or you're on a very low income and you believe that that's the way to go. If you're a leader of a country, whether you're in the union movement of whether you're in private sector business or whatever you're in, if you're one of the people at the top - as an MP is supposed to be - most of them get more money than MPs, and that's the legitimacy of it. And in fact, the MPs salary is set to the lowest level of the senior executive service of the Public Service, so most of the public servants who an MP is dealing with, get more money than he does - he or she does.

And the case with this bit, I think, with the redundancy, they're trying to link it into Public Service structures. But I believe, if you're in politics, you take the punt, and politics is a game where you can't win. You give as good as you take, and if you can't cop it, you shouldn't play the game.

MATT PEACOCK: Okay. Pete Steedman, really good to catch up with you. Hope to talk again sometime.