14/12/2011 - 11:24

No bonanza likely for state MPs

14/12/2011 - 11:24


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State politicians are unlikely to see any benefit from changes to the way their federal counterparts are remunerated.

State politicians are unlikely to see any benefit from changes to the way their federal counterparts are remunerated.

IT promises to be a truly happy Christmas for federal MPs, who are about to get a hefty pay increase. But state MPs expecting to share in the spoils are likely to be sorely disappointed.

A pay decision by the federal Remuneration Tribunal is imminent. It is tipped to award federal politicians salary increases of more than 25 per cent, taking their new base salary close to $200,000 – that’s a jump of about $60,000.

But before you start reaching for the phone to register your disgust on talkback radio, it must be noted there will be a trade off. The MPs will lose a range of perks which have enabled them to fly below the radar when it comes to quantifying just how much they have been paid annually.  

The pay decision comes after lengthy examination as to what politicians are paid, the value of ‘perks’ associated with their office, and whether their payments should be readjusted to make them more transparent.

Special Minister of State Gary Gray, who initiated the process, says there are too many extra payments to both serving and former politicians. He wants them reined in.

The issues that the tribunal will rule on will include the future of the life gold pass, which enables long-serving former MPs to make up to 25 business-class return trips annually, anywhere in Australia, for life. This includes travel with their spouse or partner.

There is also ‘severance’ travel. Former MPs who don’t qualify for the life gold pass can get special travel rights for between six months and five years after leaving parliament. This provides up to 25 return trips within Australia. 

And serving MPs are entitled to one study trip per three-year term, receiving one first-class round-the-world ticket, or its equivalent, valued at about $30,000. The benefit accrues if not fully used.

These are just some of the ‘add ons’ to the MPs’ basic salary of $140,910, which looks extremely modest in the circumstances.

Pay increases for MPs are never popular; that’s why the basic rate for a backbencher is relatively low. Politicians have for years encouraged increases that have been roughly in line with the rise in the consumer price index, while getting extra in the form of increased or new allowances that are harder to quantify and attract less public attention.

Referring to the travel entitlements, Mr Gray says: “I think that even if that perk were appropriately used, it’s inappropriate to say ‘instead of giving parliamentarians a proper salary we’ll give you a bunch of aeroplane tickets’. It’s more appropriate to work out what a parliamentarian should be paid and to pay that amount, and get rid of these opaque non-salary payment mechanisms that give the impression of parliamentarians obtaining a benefit that isn’t publicly justified and isn’t transparent.”

Perks for state MPs are miserly by comparison. The best is the Imprest travel scheme, which entitles each MP to a travel budget equivalent to an around-the-world business class ticket every four years for educational or other parliamentary related travel.

Retired premiers can get a chauffer government driven car for certain official functions, but access to a special office cuts out six months after a former premier leaves politics. Other perks have been pared back by successive Salaries and Allowance Tribunal decisions.

With regard to salaries, it must be noted that the average enrolment in federal electorates is about 85,000, compared with about 25,000 in state seats. 

That points to a smaller workload for state politicians. And Premier Colin Barnett has already moved to dampen expectations of his colleagues.

But, as always, it pays to be vigilant. If federal MPs get a big increase, and lose certain perks, keep an eye out for adjustments over the next few years. My tip is that various perks will creep back in again, via the back door, and the whole issue of transparency will start all over again.  

Battle at the cove

A THIRD-GENERATION member of one of the state’s most prominent political families has emerged as a frontrunner for Liberal Party endorsement in the southern Perth electorate of Alfred Cove. 

He is former bank executive Dean Nalder, whose grandfather, Sir Crawford Nalder, was leader of the Country Party and served as deputy premier between 1962 and 1971 in Sir David Brand’s coalition government.

His father, Cambell Nalder, toppled former Court government minister Peter Jones in the 1986 state election in the seat of Narrogin, but died after serving just over a year as an MP.

Dean Nalder lives in the electorate and is a vice-president of the Liberal Party’s Tangney division. 

Alfred Cove is nominally the safest city Liberal seat south of the Swan River, but it has been held since 2001 by Independent Janet Woollard who, aided by Labor preferences, beat the former Liberal minister Doug Shave.  

Mr Shave had been criticised for his handling of the finance brokers’ row in which many retirees lost millions of dollars through questionable investments made on their behalf. 

Labor has threatened to withhold preferences from Dr Woollard at the next election because of her voting pattern, including failing to support a move opposing the privatisation of many services at the new Fiona Stanley Hospital in Murdoch. If preferences were withheld, she would almost certainly lose.

However, senior Liberals have dismissed the threat, claiming it is just a tactical ploy by Labor to bring pressure on Dr Woollard to support similar motions on new hospitals being built, including at Midland and the children’s hospital in Nedlands.  

There has been speculation that former Liberal leader Matt Birney would be a contender for the Alfred Cove endorsement. But Mr Birney, who also lives in the electorate, has consistently declined to comment on the issue.

The Liberals have decided against setting a closing date for nominations in Alfred Cove. Party hopefuls in about 30 safe and marginal seats will have to declare their intentions by early February for the next state election due in March 2013.

The Liberals are also moving on federal seats. Former CSIRO scientist Denis Jensen, who has been the subject of several tough endorsement contests in the past, has been re-endorsed unopposed for the first time. But no decisions have been made in Pearce and Moore where the sitting Liberal members, Judi Moylan and Dr Mal Washer respectively, are retiring.

The Liberal timetable is ahead of Labor’s.  The ALP was expected to open nominations for marginal state seats at its executive meeting this week, and move on its safe and upper house seats about next March.

Labor’s more immediate challenge has been to resolve an internal issue linked with the recent reaffiliation of the 10,000-member Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union. Questions have been raised over technical aspects of the move. 

At stake is whether the union will be entitled next year to 14 votes on the executive, which could be vital in the selection chances of some federal and state candidates.



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