February 14, 2004 | Peter

Politics, Power and Pay

This whole debate about politicians’ pay and superannuation is a classic example of self-interest being peddled as economic logic or public interest. There is enough hypocrisy flooding the airwaves on this to make even the most cynical politics watcher want to spew.
So let me say this: most politicians would do the job for free. The reason is that being elected to high political office is just about the biggest validation, or ego boost, that any normal person can enjoy in this life. And if you are lucky, you can even get to exercise real power. The money is a bonus.
Let’s consider some aspects of a Federal polly’s day. Picked up in the morning by a gleaming big Comcar driven by a deferential driver who takes you to the airport where you hang out in the VIP lounge until your first class flight is ready. Then there is more of this in Canberra. After that you head off into that monument to political self-regard, the new Parliament House. There you, as a polly, are a member of the only group not wearing an ID badge. Yep, the attendants have to learn what you look like. How’s that for personal recognition!
You go to your luxuriously appointed office to be met by your own attentive staff. Or you just hang out in this magnificently appointed and huge building until you decide to actually enter the inner sanctum, the chamber of the House of Representatives or Senate. Then you sit at your carefully designed seat, and act important. After all, you might be on TV.
There is sometimes a bit of work involved, but always the people you meet and the surroundings you are in send you the constant message – YOU MATTER!
And of course if you become part of the governing executive, then you can add all this extra stuff.
It is an incredible affirmation of you as an individual. I have yet to meet an elected politician who did not grow hugely in self-regard.
Pollies used to be the rich and powerful who did it to protect their own self-interest, particularly in terms of evolving property law (usually in opposition to spendthrift kings). This rationale still applies to much of the Liberal Party, of course. It was the emerging representatives of the less wealthy classes, and even labour, that eventually demanded pay so they could live. Now this has got totally out of hand.
Greedy people do not make good legislators because they are ultimately looking out for themselves, not the general good. Politicians should not be punished for public service, but nor should they be financially rewarded beyond what an ordinary citizen could claim.
So perhaps we should peg the basic rate for backbenchers at the average national wage, similar for super. We will get better quality politicians than ever because the simple careerists would go and only the seriously committed would participate.
Certainly Mark Latham would still do it, and most likely also John Howard. You see, it’s the power…

Posted by Peter at 5:05 pm | Comments Off on Politics, Power and Pay |
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