Much as it is not something I enjoy doing, I have to give an overdue hat-tip to Will Hodgman. While his federal colleagues make it appear that governing is a very difficult job, the state liberal government seems to be making it look a whole lot easier.
And I have to be fair to them, they haven’t got the easiest brief. While the response to the damage to the Basslink cable has been underwhelming (I will write a separate post about that when I get a second too) and their dealings with the public sector unions were quite disingenuous in 2014, I have to admit they seem to be negotiating the challenges that have arisen in their time in office without the blatant scandal (Jamie Briggs, Bronwyn Bishop), incompetence (Joe Hockey), infighting (Tony Abbott, Corey Bernardi, Eric Abetz, etc) and possible criminal activity (Mal Brough) that characterise their federal counterparts.
While they can’t take full credit for the gradual increase in economic activity and development, or the explosion in tourism in the state, they would certainly be seen to be at fault if results were less favourable- so I have to give them some credit for this too.
The recent decision by Will Hodgman not to support the industrial commission’s recommendation for a large pay rise for politicians was another example of good policy. With major renegotiations of awards for various public services looming within a financially constrained budget, he would have been making a rod for his own back were to accept it and then go into negotiations with a much lower offer to nurses and teachers. Such a double standard was not out of the questions, so I was quite impressed to see how quickly and firmly the premier acted.
The petulant response by members of the upper house demonstrated why many people feel we shouldn’t even have one. Mr Hodgman was accused of passing the buck to the upper house because the Legislative Council would also have to vote to reject the Industrial Commission’s recommendations. Whilst I can understand why the MLCs would have preferred to be given their generous payrises without acting towards it, that’s not passing the buck. That is making the upper house accountable for either agreeing with the government or taking responsibility for the payrises themselves.
Considering most professions earn less in Tasmania than interstate, it would be a hard argument to convince most workers that politicians are underpaid for the actual work they do and there are only a couple of main arguments MLCs in support of the payrise have to work with. The first is the, “Pay peanuts, get monkeys,” argument that implies that if we don’t continue to make remuneration attractive enough we will not attract the best political candidates. This is often linked to suggestions that pay parity with mainland Australia is required to prevent the continued loss of talent interstate. This argument about the ‘brain drain’ is regularly used to push for increased pay across many industries, but it ignores the fact that lower cost of living and the unique lifestyle of Tasmania counteract significant differences in salary to many.
It is also claimed that holding back from implementing the recommended payrise just increases the required increase in the future, but this relies on a debatable premise that politician pay is significantly too low and ignores the fact that a more modest increment would prevent salaries dropping too far below recommended levels and allay any concerns of the required rise ballooning in the future.
For my mind neither of these arguments are at all compelling. It is just the upper house blustering. If they vote for the payrise, you can be pretty sure that it is not over any belief that it is somehow needed to safeguard the quality of Tasmanian political representatives. It will be to feed the legendary greed of the Legislative Council.