6 Aug. 2007

Howard's Salary Rises $21,000 to $357,656 - Up 63% in 11 Years

In Saturdays' online SMH, Alan Ramsey had a good article about the looming pay rise for MP's, which will bring their pay up 14 per cent in just 18 months. Strangely, the article does not appear under Ramsey's SMH page and (according to my Mum, anyway) it was not in the Saturday print edition.

Maybe it was spiked? Or maybe Ramsey himself pulled it in favour of this article attacking Kevin Andrews. Anyway, you can still read the article here. It describes how Howard has slowly but stealthily taken over the government Remuneration Tribunal, which determines MP's pay:
This is the tribunal Gough Whitlam's Labor government set up in 1973 to adjust the salaries and allowances of federal politicians, federal judges and all Commonwealth public office holders, full-time or part-time. Its intent was to remove politicians entirely from the business of fixing their pay and their perks. And it worked.

The process was wholly transparent. The tribunal had its own small secretariat located outside the public service departmental structure. It had its own budget. The three tribunal members were headed by a retired judge who was paid nothing except his expenses. Its two other members were retired business- people or former senior bureaucrats. Every year the tribunal's secretariat sent a consolidated report to Parliament on all matters dealt with in the previous 12 months. It included details of what it had done and precise explanations of why. Parliament had the right to accept or reject its decisions. It could not vary them. It was all or nothing.

Any issue before the tribunal in any given year was advertised. Anyone had the right to make a written submission. The tribunal considered all submissions in private. It had the right to hear evidence in private. But all written submissions - including by individual politicians, judges, bureaucrats and by the government and the opposition collectively - were open to public scrutiny after the tribunal had dealt with them. You simply went to the tribunal's office in Canberra and asked for the files to read. You could copy what they revealed but you couldn't remove them. No file was out of bounds.

Then John Howard's Government came to power. Nothing has been the same since.
Ramsey describes how the old arrangement has slowly morphed into the present atrocity:
Within two years, Betty Collins, head of the small office of six to eight public servants who staffed the tribunal secretariat, had been eased out. She'd been in the job the better part of a decade. She never survived her new minister, Peter Reith. Neither did the entire secretariat staff. They were all moved or displaced.

The secretariat's office, in its separate, rented premises, was closed and the new secretariat was subsumed, first within the Department of Finance and later within the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations. There it got a new secretary, which had been Collins's title, but was henceforth overseen by a senior bureaucrat. The "independent" Remuneration Tribunal was now just another anonymous arm of the bureaucracy. And it was run as such in the new, well-paid bureaucracy that answered to John Howard, Prime Minister.

Parliament no longer gets an annual consolidated, detailed report on the tribunal's work tabled each year, as used to be the case. You can't pick up a copy that tells you exactly what has happened and why and what the changes are. Submissions to the tribunal are a closed shop. The secretariat now has a private media firm, on a three-year contract, to handle press inquiries. Getting past the gatekeepers is extremely difficult.
Those gatekeepers include John Conde, a member of the tribunal for nine years and its president for the last four years, who used to be Alan Jones's managing director at radio 2UE.
Howard's tribunal - and it is that - is simply another arm of the corporate world that is his constituency.

What it knows and understands about a public sector that is only a pale shadow of the apolitical public service it used to be, I have no idea.
The Greens are today introducing a motion to block the pay rise but it is almost certain to be defeated by the major parties. One more good reason to vote Green, I should think.