adios NSW Labor

SMH March, 23 2011: Don’t cry for me, Argentina, the truth is I never left you. And so, as we farewell retiring NSW MPs today, we must not cry too hard. In a very real sense, they will never leave us; not in our hearts, nor in our wallets.

MPs elected before the last election who have served seven years will receive a generous taxpayer-funded pension of at least 48.89 per cent of the current basic parliamentary salary of $130,540. For long timers, this rises 0.2 per cent for every month served beyond the seven-year period. Those who have served more than 20 years will receive the maximum weighting 80 per cent of the basic salary.

But wait, there’s more. MPs who have been ministers will have their annual payout adjusted upwards to reflect their increased salary during that time.

It is estimated the retiring Labor MP John Aquilina, who racked up 29 years, will walk away with an annual salary of about $150,000, almost three times the average annual wage, or roughly equivalent to the entire superannuation of the average male retiring today (women on average accumulate about half as much).

According to the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, a single person requires a retirement income of $21,132 a year to maintain a “modest lifestyle” and $39,302 for a “comfortable lifestyle”, the latter including $220 a week for “leisure”.

To his credit, the former premier Bob Carr closed this generous defined benefit scheme to all new MPs entering Parliament from the last election. But not before the total cost of the scheme for past and present MPs could blow out to $373 million on the latest count.
The latest report of the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Fund showed that, as of June 30 last year, there were 257 former MPs drawing a pension, and 94 still making contributions.

One argument for providing a comfy retirement for MPs is to guard against them “feathering the nest” while in power by giving special treatment to companies or organisations that could be potential future employers. But if you make life too comfortable, the golden handcuffs encourage politicians to keep their heads low, not attempt too many bold reforms and cling to power long enough to secure a pension.

Many an unremarkable politician will be shown the door by voters today. We’ll remember most, of course, their more colourful counterparts; their indiscretions so numerous they could not all be neatly summarised in the above table.

Lest we forget, the former ports minister Paul McLeay also resigned last September after admitting to using a parliamentary computer to access gambling and adult sites. One wonders how such people had any time left to run their portfolios properly. But the answer is, of course, they didn’t.

So peace be to you tonight. I’ll be at a Lionel Richie concert, open-air, but dancing on the ceiling nonetheless. And with your indulgence, I’ll give Lionel the last word from his 1979 Commodores break-up song Sail On:
Sail on down the line,
about a half a mile or so,
and I don’t really want to know,
where you’re going.

THE IRVINE INDEX

$150,000
Annual benefit the long-serving NSW MP John Aquilina will enjoy in retirement after the election.

9 years
Minimum jail term being served by the former Swansea MP, Milton Orkopoulos, for child sex and drug supply offences.

26
Age of the Sydney woman Kate Neill at the time she revealed her affair with the then health minister John Della Bosca. He later resigned.

2
Weeks after 2007 election that the premier, Morris Iemma, sacked his nominee as sports minister, Paul Gibson, over allegations of domestic violence. No charges were laid.

19
Days between former Penrith MP Karyn Paluzzano telling a corruption hearing she did not
rort allowances and later admitting she did.

4
Days after Nathan Rees took power in 2008 that he sacked the Kiama MP, Matt Brown, for lying to him about allegedly dancing in his underpants at a post-budget party.

$39,302
Pension deemed sufficient to support a “comfortable lifestyle” in retirement by the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia.

2
Months that Tony Stewart spent in the ministry before being sacked by Nathan Rees after a report found he bullied a female staff member.

$30,000
Value of flight upgrades received by a former minister, Ian Macdonald, for his wife and two friends on a trip to Italy and Dubai that he failed to declare. He was sacked.

Sources: superannuation.asn.au, audit.nsw.gov.au, abs.gov.au

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