On May 14, the Senate upheld the parliamentary remuneration tribunal's decision to raise electoral allowances for federal politicians by $90 a week ($4700 a year). The vote was 38 votes to 7.
So you guessed it: Liberal and Labor senators united to give themselves a "back-door pay rise". At the same time both parties demand austerity and wage freezes for workers because of the economic crisis.
In response to an ACTU call for a mere $21 a week rise in the minimum wage, employers' organisations have demanded a wage freeze. A $21 rise would raise the federal minimum wage from $543.78 a week to $564.78 a week.
The recent federal budget raised single aged, disability and some other pensions by $30 per week. Yet unemployed people struggling to get by on the Newstart allowance, single parents, young people and students all missed out.
The Socialist Alliance has pointed out that these payments have always been below the age pension. Now they will fall further behind at a time when the costs of rent, power and food have been rising.
Many are struggling to survive on just $185 to $226 a week — well below the poverty line.
The lowest paid federal politician is paid $2443 a week ($127,036 a year) in salary plus $32,000 in electorate expenses, free domestic air travel (always business class), generous superannuation and many other perks.
The prime minister gets paid $6353 a week ($330,356 a year) and the opposition leader $4520 a week ($235,040 a year). This doesn't include other "expenses".
To justify getting more than 10 times what a person on unemployment benefits has to survive on, the politicians routinely complain that corporate executives get paid far more.
It is so unfair, you see. The CEOs of the biggest 50 corporations in Australia get paid 63 times the average earnings of full-time Australian workers. Talk about rubbing salt into the wounds of the poorest.
What would politicians and corporate CEOs know about the experience of low wage earners who have to spend more than half their income on housing, food, and transport?
Who face food costs up by 5.6% over the past 12 months; rents up 8.4% in the 12 months to December last year; petrol prices up 13.3% in late February-early March?
Australian politicians live in a different world from the rest of us. A necessary democratic reform is to put all politicians on an average workers' wage.
But the capitalist system needs its politicians to be as remote as possible from the daily pressures and worries of ordinary people.
Its useful for the system because it ensures politicians serve the interests of the ruling class, no matter which of the two big parties wins the elections.
Meanwhile, the real decisions are still made in the corporate boardrooms, where the perks of the pollies look like tea and biscuits.
Green Left Weekly campaigns for a change in the whole system that will end this expensive farce and put real power in the hands of the people. Please make a donation to our fighting fund at: Greenleft, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992. Or, send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or phone it through on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia).