THE latest pay rises for federal politicians and senior public servants may have been sugar-coated with assurances of cuts to non-salary perks, but it’s unlikely they’ll taste sweet to the taxpayers who have to foot the bill.
Nanjing Night Net

In the midst of all the stern talk about trimming back services to the public in order to keep the government on track for its much-vaunted budget surplus, a $2200-a-week pay rise for prime minister Julia Gillard might seem audacious.

Similarly, while the Coalition seldom lets a week go past in Parliament without moaning about the industrial relations system’s alleged “inflexibility” and onerous overprotectiveness of wage earners, an extra $1600-a-week in opposition leader Tony Abbott’s pocket could raise an eyebrow or two.

Even the lowly backbenchers will be taking home an additional $846 a week, which could easily prompt many ordinary Australians to wish they could have a chance at earning just the pay rise component of the politicians’ salaries.

Top public servants are sharing in the largesse, with the treasury secretary, for example, to receive a series of pay increases from the present $540,000 a year to $805,000 by mid-2014.

That mightn’t rankle much, if it weren’t for the perception that the increasing politicisation of the public service has resulted in some senior roles taken, not by long-term career public servants with a thorough grounding in their areas of responsibility, but by short-term contractors connected to the politicos by partisan or family relationship.

Much is being made of counterbalancing savings being made by the planned axing or trimming of some of the most notorious perks that politicians have been enjoying. The much-abused “gold pass”, is just one example.

Many taxpayers may question the bona fides of these cuts, when hundreds of past recipients will retain their entitlements, albeit with a reduction in the number of free trips they are allowed to make.

Most Australians will never be comfortable with politicians’ regular hefty pay rises unless some evidence begins to emerge – and none has, so far – that paying higher salaries attracts better candidates.

It’s just not fare

WHILE one government-funded independent tribunal recommends paying more money to politicians and senior public servants, another is advocating more increases in public transport fares.

The standard dance-step, where the Independent Prices and Remuneration Tribunal recommends a certain fare increase (up to 10.6 per cent) but the kindly state government approves a smaller one (5.4 per cent), is being performed by the Coalition just as neatly as its Labor predecessor ever did it.

In the Hunter, where motorists pay a registration levy to fund transport improvements in Sydney, where infrequent buses wind through time-consuming routes and passenger trains struggle to find spaces between coal trains, the fare rises are just another nail in public transport, driven by a distant and misguided hand.