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Are politicians public servants?

By Max Wallace - posted Friday, 18 September 2015

It is frequently said that politicians are public servants. Are they?

It would appear that while we elect politicians as supposedly our representatives in the legislature, we do not employ them.

Legally speaking, politicians receive their salaries through decisions made by state and federal statutory independent Remuneration Tribunals, creatures of the parliaments, not by way of the legislation that determines the pay and conditions of public servants.


In effect, I suggest, this means politicians are not public servants.

As if to make this point, on 20 May this year the Queensland parliament passed retrospective laws linking politicians' pay rises to public servants' pay rises ('Queensland parliament passes laws linking politicians' pay to public servant wage rises', ABC News, 21 May, 2015).

Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said this was one of her key election promises, the inference being that Queensland politicians were doing rather too well, relative to other politicians.

Her concern was well placed. According to the federal parliament's website page concerning remuneration, from 1 July 2013 Queensland politicians were on a base salary of $194,630, much the same as a federal politician on $195,130. The other annual salary figures for politicians were:

  • Tasmania $118, 466
  • ACT $125,259
  • NT $138,953
  • Victoria $140,973
  • NSW $146,251
  • WA $148,638
  • SA $153,130

The Sydney Morning Herald 15 September 2015 has reported that Tony Abbott will receive an annual pension of $307,542 if he decides against receiving a lump sum plus smaller pension when he retires.


Depending on how long they serve, other politicians can also leave with generous pensions or packages. If federal, they can receive very generous free travel for the rest of their lives. ("Cutting politicians' perks will not save the budget, says Malcolm Fraser', Sydney Morning Herald 29 April, 2014.)

While in the parliament they have generous domestic and overseas travel entitlements.

Also, consider the Turnbull-Abbott /Gillard-Rudd coups. They demonstrate that politicians are a law unto themselves. Politicians can change prime ministers as they see fit, with no reference to the electorate.

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About the Author

Max Wallace is vice-president of the Rationalists Assn of NSW and a council member of the New Zealand Assn of Rationalists and Humanists.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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