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Public pays for service

THE corporate world may make the running when it comes to big salaries and employment packages, but that’s not to say the public service doesn’t pay well.

Heads of departments might not be handed a wad of stock options for their performance, but many still take home thousands of after-tax dollars each week.

Thirteen of WA’s top government executives earn more than $200,000 per year, and three of these men earn more than $300,000.

While it is best known for its role in setting salaries for parliamentarians, the governor and the judiciary, the Salaries and Allowances Tribunal (‘the tribunal’) has responsibility for setting the remuneration for what is known as “special division” appointments – in essence, heads of departments. It has no control over pay rates in the greater public service.

Leading the list of government executives is the managing director of Western Power, David Eiszele, who in 2001 earned between $570,000 and $580,000, or nearly 2.5 times the salary of the Premier, Dr Geoff Gallop, who earns about $232,000 before allowances.

Other senior executives in the $200,000-plus category include the police commissioner Barry Matthews, head of the Water Corporation, Dr Jim Gill, and Department of Justice director Alan Piper.

Like his predecessor Bob Falconer, Mr Matthews is actually employed under a special agreement, according to Brian Moore, executive officer of the tribunal.

Where the heads of departments are recruited from outside the public service, a 20 per cent loading is added to their base salary to compensate for the fact they have no right of return to their previous job.

In Mr Matthews’ case, the tribunal took advice that even the loaded remuneration for the commissioner’s position was insufficient to attract the right person, so it applied what it calls a “special case” situation, which provided an additional 15 per cent attraction and retention allowance to the prescribed salary.

“If someone had come through the WA ranks and they were employed as a commissioner for a five-year term, and at the end of that term they had a right of return to their previous position – maybe inspector or commander – in the police service, then they would get the determined salary (about $190,000),” Mr Moore said.

Not all public executive salaries are set by the tribunal, however. While it determines remuneration for most government departments and authorities, where a department has been corporatised – for example Western Power and the Water Corporation – the minister responsible for the department sets the salary, based on the recommendations of the board of that department.

Nonetheless, Mr Moore’s experience in remuneration matters – he does not actually sit on the tribunal – has allowed him to provide personal advice to ministers in their determinations when they have asked.

“Without being critical, ministers are not necessarily experts in remuneration,” Mr Moore explained.

Under the Salaries and Allowances Act 1975, the tribunal is obliged to review department heads’ salaries every 12 months. The last review occurred in December 2001 and did not recommend any changes to current pay rates.

The tribunal did, however, indicate it would undertake another review in the first six months of 2002. This process has begun, and Mr Moore said across-the-board increases were likely, given there had been no remuneration increases in nearly two years.

The 2002 WA Book of Lists shows that on a salary-per-staff-member basis, WA’s best-paid government executive is Peter Reading of the WA Grain Pool.

Mr Reading is paid up to $385,000 for overseeing 51 staff – this works out to just more than $7,500 per staff member.

At the other end of the scale, Health Department director general Michael Daube earns about $8.15 for each of the 27,000 staff he is responsible for.

There are no women among WA’s top 20 government executives, a situation that the Community and Public Sector Union described as “pretty appalling”.

“There’s been a little bit of improvement, but you’d really expect the proportion of women at those levels to be much higher than it is,” CPSU branch secretary Toni Walkington said.

Ms Walkington said many government CEO salaries were on the high side, and in some cases exorbitantly high.

She said pay rises for top executives were of a much greater proportion than those of regular employees.

“There seem to be two rules: one for the employees and one for the chief executive officers and senior executive service,” she said.

Ms Walkington said arguments in favour of comparing government salaries with those in the private sector were spurious, and in any case it was short-sighted to think that high salaries alone would attract high-calibre staff.

“There’s a whole range of factors, and I think that’s one of the reasons women are so poorly represented at those levels, because it’s not necessarily a salary that will make a difference to women,” she said.”

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