It is common for Australians to say that our politicians are overpaid, they set their own wages and conditions and that they don’t earn the money they get. Why should we pay them anything?

Last thing first.
Politicians are paid as a result of an initiative proposed by the Australian Labor Party in the very early days of our Federation. Before then, only rich people could afford to forego a few years income. Paying politicians, meant that ordinary people, ordinary workers could represent an electorate without starving their family. Consequently we were able to have a train driver as a Prime Minister, and a very good Prime Minister at that.

Politicians don’t set their own wages. There is a commission, a committee, that sets the wages of our judges. And politician’s wages are indexed to theirs. We pay our judges well, so that we can get the best legal minds to give up lucrative practices and serve the state and country. Most senior barristers (SCs or QCs) take a substantial cut in their income when they accept an appointment to the bench. Usually their pay cut is around 50%, sometimes more.

That they don’t earn the money they get, is a common opinion among the Australian public. An Australian public who has never seen how hard they work. Yes I’m sure, that there are some lazy sods out there, but they are the exception. Politicians on both sides can expect never to take more than a week off a year, and they can forget about having a weekend at the beach with their family. Somebody would take their picture, and there on the front page of the paper would be them sunning themselves in the sand with a caption sarcastically pointing out how hard they are working.

Imagine a job where you’d have to read the equivalent of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, every week. Every single week. Sick or well. Holidays included. Journalists frequently call them at 11 o’clock at night and start again at six in the morning. If they can’t get access to them by phone they will camp outside their house! You always have to be on your guard, you can’t say a sarcastic one-liner, or smile at an off-colour joke or have done something stupid in your past near a camera. You can’t trip on a step, drip a bit of tomato sauce on your shirt or wear anything remotely commentable. Everything you do, is watched, analysed and reported upon.
Further, when they’re finished with politics, when they’re voted out or retire, they are not really suited for much other work outside of universities or being on a board of directors even if you’re not too burnt out to contemplate doing anything but sleep and hug your family.

So the next time you’re at morning tea at some community group and you see your local politician turn up, drink a cup of tea, chat and leave. Imagine what it would be like to go to 6 of those every weekend. And then when you get back home there is a pile of reading to do and papers to sign. And woe betide you if you miss an important point or if you fail to grasp the ramifications of that letter in front of you, because that can mean the end of your political career. The end of your job. And you will be remembered as the idiot who did the unthinkable thoughtlessly.

Does that sound like a job you’d want?

(c) 2020 Paul Hannah


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