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The politics of pay packets

As the coalition government seeks to make savings – or “cuts” or “introduce austerity measures” [by all means, choose the description that best suits your personal party political preferences] – it’s not an ideal time from an optics perspective for the Remuneration Authority to recommend that MPs receive a 2.8 per cent salary increase every year until the next election.

The independent authority gets to set the pay rate for parliamentarians, and it has judged that they deserve an increase after six years of their salaries flatlining.

Although the authority is legally required to take “prevailing adverse economic conditions” into consideration when determining remuneration rates, its recent review concluded there’s not a case compelling enough to meet that legislative test.

“The Authority determined that alignment to this salary range met the legislated need to achieve and maintain fair relativity with levels of remuneration being received elsewhere,” it declared.

That means backbench MPs can look forward to an immediate bump of almost $5000 a year, to $168,000, while cabinet ministers get an $8000 top up, to a tad over $304,000.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon’s salary, meanwhile, will surge $13,000 to $484,200 in the first year and be more than $500,000 by the time the scheduled election rolls around [assuming, of course, that the coalition goes the distance].

While it is within Parliament’s power to pass legislation to override the authority’s decision, given it took Luxon a wee while [41 minutes from when he was first questioned about it, for the record] to realise that claiming a $52,000 annual accommodation allowance for the Wellington apartment he already owns was a terrible look, it’s inadvisable to hold your breath for this unless you want to turn blue and pass out.

At least Luxon has learned enough in the intervening two months to have a ready response for reporters regarding his financial windfall – “The Remuneration Authority runs an independent process to set MPs’ pay. The Prime Minister has indicated he does not want or need an increase so any increase he received would be donated to charity,” one of the PM’s spokespeople quickly clarified.

There is, of course, an argument for members of Parliament receiving a fair whack for their efforts – after all, it’s a tough, demanding job with extraordinarily long hours at times, especially for government ministers, and as has long been observed by zoologically-minded economists, if you pay peanuts, you’re going to get monkeys [take a brief pause to contemplate the sorrier a shower of simians that would be running the show if politicians’ pay packets really were padded with roasted and salted legumes].

And as the authority notes, it’s required to ensure MPs’ pay is roughly comparable to similarly demanding gigs. More specifically, it looks at the remuneration of parliamentarians in other Westminster-style democracies, as well as salaries paid in New Zealand in both the public and private sectors – although that does rather assume MPs would be as effective at convincing high-powered head-hunters to give them a job as they are with voters [the post-Parliament CVs of many suggest otherwise].

As it goes, this writer has more of an issue with the comparatively pathetic pay provided to elected local body representatives than with MP salary levels, especially given how central government has been offloading regulatory work on councils for yonks – although that’s obviously something that’ll have to wait until Wellington starts sharing its tax spoils with the regions…

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