24/02/2004 - 21:00

A super opportunity

24/02/2004 - 21:00


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WHENEVER controversies surface at the national level that impact, even indirectly, upon State affairs it’s hard to hold back premiers and/or State opposition leaders from commenting.

WHENEVER controversies surface at the national level that impact, even indirectly, upon State affairs it’s hard to hold back premiers and/or State opposition leaders from commenting.

Not so, in Western Australia at least, during this month’s Mark Latham-inspired row about MPs’ superannuation.

Neither Premier Geoff Gallop nor his left-liberal counterpart Colin Barnett could be seen, let alone heard.

You’d think both would have had something constructive to say because, once Prime Minister John Howard had moved to defuse the issue by back-flipping to slash the overly-generous super benefits on future MPs, several commentators claimed this followed changes to politicians’ super in WA in 1999.

But that claim wasn’t closely scrutinised.

So let’s do it now.

During the November/December 1996 State election campaign Premier Richard Court found himself in a bind similar to that Mr Howard was placed in by the Latham calls for super reforms.

However, the man who sparked WA’s short-lived row wasn’t (then) Opposition Labor leader Dr Gallop, who even then was remarkably silent on generous MPs’ perks.

No, it was Bruce Collier, who retired as chairman of WA’s Salaries and Allowances Tribunal in November 1996, just as the campaign moved into high gear.

Mr Collier had earlier been chief commissioner of WA’s Industrial Relations Commission, and therefore was familiar with remuneration and equity questions.

Then, in the middle of the campaign, he publicly claimed WA MPs’ super scheme was clearly out of step with what the average battler received.

The day this was highlighted in the press I’d been assigned to a press conference Mr Court had called on another issue, but pressed him on Mr Collier’s equity concerns.

My question was: “Why aren’t MPs on the same scheme as all other West Aussies?” – now 9 per cent.

Unfortunately, a noticeably uncomfortable Mr Court never answered.

But on winning the election he initiated a review of MPs’ super that was headed by former Ansett-WA chief Ted Karasek.

Others in the Karasek team were: former State Superannuation Board chief executive Stuart Tindale; former Legislative Council president George Cash; former Labor MLC Jim Brown; and former Legislative Assembly speaker George Strickland.

The Karasek review recommended that WA’s generous parliamentary scheme should be shut down for new MPs, and that they be placed on the 9 per cent taxpayers’ contributions, the level that applies to the rest of the workforce.

This happened in 1999.

Interestingly, the Karasek review also recommended the Western Australian judges’


non-contributory pension scheme also should be shut down. But that never happened. Why?

What this means is that members of WA’s judiciary, after just 10 years’ service, qualify for 60 per cent of the current judicial salary for life, which, undoubtedly, pleased judges.

But clearly the new MPs were displeased at being put on the same playing field as voters.

What followed was that many of these new or post-1996 MPs complained bitterly behind closed doors about doing the same work as those who’d won at the 1993 and earlier elections but who qualified for 60 per cent, not a nine per cent, taxpayer top-up.

Eventually all their complaining bore some fruit because the 9 per cent taxpayer contribution to their scheme was boosted to 12.5 per cent, a leap of over 30 per cent.

What this means is that when people such as Messrs Howard or Latham claim they’ll place future Federal MPs on to WA’s level, let’s hope they mean as it existed here between 1999 and 2002, not the present 12.5 per cent, which is so much better than what the average West Aussie receives.

Let’s not see George Orwell’s telling line of “some being more equal than others” prevailing at the national level as it continues to do in WA.

One would have thought that perhaps Dr Gallop or Mr Barnett would have gone out of their way to correct this misapprehension. Perhaps not.

That said, there’s another issue, which State Scene raised on July 3 2003, well before we’d heard of Mark Latham, which is an even a bigger rort than the present disparities between MPs’ super and what workers receive.

Here’s how State Scene reported it then.

“It’s a benefit that Australia’s 76 senators and 149 members of the House of Representatives are qualifying for and which should be immediately abolished.

“If nothing else it’s a blatant rort, one Prime Minister John Howard, with his love of being seen as a backer of Aussie battlers, would have difficulty publicly justifying.

“Called the Members of Parliament (Life Gold Pass) 2002 Act, it qualifies MPs who have served 20 years for 25 (yes, 25) free business class airfares annually, with their spouses, and for life.

“This rort should in fact be dubbed the Members of Parliament (Life of Riley) Act.

“Moreover, after retired MPs die their spouses qualify for 10 free flights annually until death.

 “In other words many of the now serving 225 Federal members will reap this rort, costing taxpayers up to about $100,000 per ex-MP annually on retirement, or nearly the same that a working WA backbencher presently earns.

“Can you believe it?

“Scrap this blatant gravy-train rort immediately Mr Howard, Mr Simon Crean and this call includes the leadership of the Nationals, Greens and Democrats.”

Until Mr Latham highlights this one, as State Scene did last July, to shame Mr Howard into scrapping life-long gold passes immediately, neither national party leader can be taken seriously on such issues.









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