ALEX MITCHELL: NSW Parliament is a politicians’ tuck shop

All Liberal and National MPs in the NSW Parliament get a prize. Their basic salary is topped up by appointing them as junior ministers, assistant ministers, parliamentary secretaries or committee chairpersons.

There are 46 Liberal MPs in State Parliament and 19 Nationals. Their basic salaries are $170,000-a-year which is a tidy sum when you consider the average salary in Australia is $91,600-a-year while 25% of the working population earns $46,000 or less.

MPs’ salaries are publicly funded by us, the taxpayers. So far, so good. That is how it should be. It keeps private vested interests at bay and stops developers, banks, casinos, pubs and clubs from “buying” MPs to represent them in parliament.

Buying MPs is more-or-less how the American system works. The gun lobby, represented by the National Rifle Association (NRA), “Big Pharma”, the arms industry and foreign embassies “own” Capitol Hill representatives from all sides of the aisle. They pay them directly for speeches, policy advocacy and inside information. Most representatives arrive in Washington burdened by mortgages and loan repayments: they leave as multi- millionaires.

By topping up the basic salaries of NSW MPs, State Parliament has developed a policy which is Washington “lite”. It is amazing to watch former critics of a Premier suddenly become ultra-loyalists if they are given a minor parliamentary job with a higher salary.

Over the years, new-fangled parliamentary jobs have been invented by the score. Once there was a Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and a President of the Legislative Council.

These days the Speaker is Jonathan O’Dea, Liberal PM for the North Shore seat of Davidson, on a cool $309,621-a-year and the President of the Legislative Council is Bulli-born John Ajaka, a former Liberal councillor on Rockdale Council. Deputy Speaker is Nationals MP Leslie Williams, on $253,788 and assistant Speaker Mark Coure, Liberal MP for Oatley, is on $226,717.

The number of party Whips has grown as well. Once there was a Government Whip and an Opposition Whip, one Liberal and one Labor. But since the Nationals have increased their numbers to achieve party status, they have their own Whips. There are now Deputy Whips as well who each trouser a total package of $199,647.

Being appointed a Parliamentary Secretary is a step away from the Ministry and the salary of a backbencher jumps to $203,030-a-year. What does a Parliamentary Secretary do? Not much. Their role is strictly limited by the Constitution Act of 1902.

The biggest salary grab of all is for MPs who become chairmen or chairwomen of committee. Currently there are 15 MPs who receive $190,342-a-year to be chair of a committee which may only hold sessions once or twice a year.

There are chairmen and chairwomen for the committee on law and safety, the standing committee on investment, industry and regional development, the joint committee on road safety and the standing committee on Parliamentary privilege and ethics. If the committee deems it necessary to travel interstate or overseas, then off they go at 35,000-feet at the pointy end of the plane. Conscientious MPs learn from their travels and promote serious reforms. For others it is a lurk and a rort for them and their families.

In his brief premiership from 2005 to 2008, Morris Iemma was persuaded to promote restless backbenchers to higher paid jobs to strengthen his control of Caucus. It didn’t stop them from gunning for him over electricity privatisation and he lost the premiership.

Under the NSW Coalition which has been in office since 2011, “jobs for the boys and girls” has developed into an art form. Uninspiring backbenchers have been promoted way beyond their ability simply to provide support for the current Premier.

Anyone watching the $100 million “sports rort” scandal unfold in Canberra knows the enormous damage that the corrupt misuse of public funds can inflict on a government’s credibility. It may not bring down Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government but Federal Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie has lost her job and unforgiving voters will take their revenge at the ballot box whenever the next election is called.

Liberal Premiers Barry O’Farrell, Mike Baird and now Gladys Berejiklian have marketed the extension of jobs among backbenchers as a boost to parliamentary democracy and women’s representation. While that appears to be a consequence, the truth is that the main purpose is to strengthen executive control of what the Liberals call “NSW Inc”.

The real power in NSW has shifted from State Parliament to Governor Macquarie Tower (GMT) where the Office of the Premier and Cabinet is located. Power is being centralised in NSW, not liberalised. And providing meaningless jobs to

self-important time-servers is PR fakery behind which an authoritarian state is beginning to take shape.

Alex Mitchell is our regular NSW political correspondent. His commentary appears

every Friday. A former Sydney Sun-Herald State Political Editor, his most recent book is Murder in Melbourne: The untold story of Aiia Maasarwe. For more information or to purchase see http://www.cometherevolution.com.au/murder-in-melbourne/

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Alex Mitchell is a former Sydney Sun-Herald State Political Editor whose commentary appears every Friday. His latest book is Murder in Melbourne – The Untold Story of Palestinian exchange student Aiia Maasarwe.

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