The Politics of Politics

Politics is an unescapable entity, an element that is omnipresent in every aspect of life. Despite holding such a status on society, it is a topic that has garnered a significant amount of misconceptions and stigma. The remuneration of a politician has come to become a paragon of this and over the last year the discussion was truly agonous, precipitating in the resignation, demotion and importantly (especially in Canberra) embarrassment of officials. While historically having plagued politics, only is it since very recently has the mainstream media, fuelled by the solidarity of interest in it, painted the system as a chrysocrasy, with politicians being illustrated as cosherers. Yet, it is my belief, such reporting and belief are unjustified, as an advantageous remuneration is not only important yet also necessitated to ensure the proper running of government. Fortunately, numerous commentators with roots in contrasting expanses of the political spectrum mellifluously support this. Rightfully so, as there are numerous often obscured, reasons why politicians should get paid well.

The first argument is arguably the most cited, yet causes the greatest adverse palaver. It is formed on the premise that a higher remuneration will entice a greater calibre of character. Despite its stigmatised aura, it is the most viable. A politician is the soldier of democracy, a concept so revered bloody wars have resulted in defence of it. Considering its importance, should the position not go to someone of high calibre? It draws analogous comparisons to the private sector, whereby expedient wages are offered to attract an employee of a quality in order to create the greatest outcome for the company. Following this logic, superior remunerations should inextricably lead to the greatest outcome for the country or state. Is it not in our best interest to ensure this occurs?

The second argument, while intimately correlated with the previous, remains different. A high remuneration is required for the purposes of competing with the glitz and benefits of the private sector. A scientific analysis is not required to denote the current parliamentary breakup, whether state of federal, is composed of people who would have excelled in other professions. For instance, Senator Penny Wong the methodological and perspicacious worded Leader of the Opposition in the Senate would have been a barrister in South Australia. Leader of the Greens, Senator Richard Di Natale, a refreshing figure to the traditionalist view of the Greens was a successful medical practitioner following a stint as a professional footballer. Likewise, former Education Minister, Peter Garret, a rock n roll star, took a hiatus from composing and vocalising politically charged music to having a direct influence over it. The former Prime Ministers of Australia from the current through to Bob Hawke all possessed extravagant careers in Law. The point being, these are all well calibred characters, who departed from high earning professions to serve the public. Would the inclination to have done so been present, if the entrance to the realm of politics was also marked by a lack of financial security or with an acceptance of a lower standard of living. While this seems supercilious and somewhat aristocratic in nature, the same reasoning can be applied to remarkable people who submit to politics from the middle and working classes. Would they want to leave their present employment to enter a field that will bear no reasonable financial benefits or security? Most likely not! Former Prime Minister Paul Keating, who hailed from a working-class family with no formal tertiary education exemplifies the importance of high remuneration levels for people not as fortunate as the higher classes.

Another argument follows an academic route, as a great volume of literature highlights the correlation between corruptibility and remuneration. A higher level of remuneration lowers the temptation and possibility of malversation, in other words, behaviour that is corrupt. The evidence supporting this is somewhat overwhelming, as testified by the Singaporean system, which is touted as being impeccable. The Singaporean lawmakers enjoy a supremely comfortable salary; with the Prime Minister raking in $2.32 Million AUD. Conjoin this with the fact Singapore consistently receives remarkable grades in the World Justice Project, which accounts for five different elements, including government corruptibility (Singapore ranks seventh on this account), access to justice, etc and the correlation becomes irrefutable. It should be noted that this is not to say that higher wages will eradicate corruption, because that is fundamentally untrue, as a few bad apples will always exist yet the evidence is overwhelming. Difference this to Cambodia, where public officials receive atypically low wages, with the Prime Minister banking less that $1,000USD per month. Moreover, considering that Cambodia, unlike Singapore, consistently places low on reports into corruption, often taking the gong for the most corruptible in the Asian region- the argument is further propagated. This rationale further propels into the retirement life of politicians, where in Australia, a loaded retirement superfund is one of the many remuneration benefits that waits upon retirement after a certain number of years of duty. The purpose of this is to circumvent incumbent politicians acting in a manner that will create benefits for themselves following their conclusion of public service. In Japan, partly in thanks to the close relationship between the public and private sector, politicians often receive senior positions in large companies, often conducting half the work entailed by such a position for similar wages. Again, this is not to say that politicians do not retire to comfortable executive positions, yet when they do they become subject to greater scrutiny as evidenced by former NSW Premier Mike Baird retiring to an executive position at NAB or Former Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb AO, who was partially subject to a damning investigative report by ABC’s 4 Corners after taking an $888,000 consultancy role with a Chinese company; a company whom were granted a substantially large lease under his ministership.

To conclude it should be noted that no amount of pen-dabbing can change the opinion of some and it should also be noted that when a politician’s salary package is formulated, it is done so by an external body, a body in charge of setting salaries for all federal employees. Mandatory to this process is the publication of a report supporting the allocation of taxpayer funds to salary. Encapsulated within are many practical reasons supporting the high remunerations, reasons such as volatility of employment (you might be seated in the 43rd parliament but not the 44th) and constant exposure to public scrutiny; elements that usually would not exist in other professions. So next time an argument about this comes up and you enjoy taking the underdog’s side – remember these and you should be held in good stead.

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