Victorian state MPs get new pay rates set by independent tribunal

Published by the Herald Sun on 18 September 2019.

[Click here to go straight to Wayne Gatt's comments]

Premier Daniel Andrews has defended accepting an 11.8 per cent pay rise while demanding public sector workers tighten their belts, saying his salary is set by an “independent umpire”.

Mr Andrews said the government had changed the law last term to ensure that “never again would Victorian politicians set their own pay” and he would stand by that decision.

“I have had no involvement in this, no member of parliament has had any involvement in this,” he said.

The Premier also said he would stick by the government’s wages policy, which aims to cap public sector wage increases at 2 per cent, saying a “fair” deal would be reached with workers that will “leave enough money in the budget so we can keep growing services”.

“A balanced outcome is what we need to get to and I’m confident that we can,” he said.

“We will have a fair outcome for all of our employees.”

Mr Andrews said politicians were “well paid for the work that we do” but stopped short of saying he and wife Catherine would donate his pay rise to charity.

“We give to lots of different causes but we don’t make a fuss about that, that’s our business,” he said.

Earlier, Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien — whose pay will soar almost $40,000 — also defended the politicians’ pay rise, saying it was an independent process backed by all MPs.

The state’s politicians have pocketed two generous pay rises within months, taking backbencher salaries to $182,000 and making Mr Andrews the highest-paid premier in the land.

As the government puts the screws on hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, the Premier and Treasurer Tim Pallas will reap the generous 11.8 per cent wage hike.

The state’s new independent Remuneration Tribunal revealed on Tuesday Mr Andrews and his Cabinet would get massive pay rises worth up to $46,522. Mr Andrews will take home $441,439 a year from July, while government ministers and ­Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien are set to reap $352,057 a year.

This year, state MPs were already gifted a 2.92 per cent pay rise, which took their base salary and expenses to $176,244 and the premier’s basic package to almost $400,000.

The decision of the tribunal — designed by the government and made up of three career public servants — undermines a push by the Premier and Treasurer to rein in the wages of paramedics, firefighters, teachers and police.

It has already sparked anger from unions fighting back against the wage clampdown, and comes just 77 days after all state politicians received another 2.92 per cent hike. But some backbench MPs are still not happy, with the bulk of the $1.5 million in pay rises directed at ministers and assistant ministers.

“We thought we’d get a fortune … What a joke,” one MP said.

Some MPs are now eyeing a second review by the tribunal, which could deliver them a superannuation windfall when they leave parliament.

Australian Services Union state secretary Lisa Darmanin said Mr Andrews should reject the pay rise.

Entry-level backbench MPs in Victoria received a 3.5 per cent bump under the tribunal ruling, taking their salary to $182,413 — more than double the average worker’s wage of $86,000. A new $10,000 annual international travel allowance has been created, while a car allowance increases to $20,000 a year.

Tribunal chair Warren McCann said the decision was at the “lower end” of a salary range recommended by consultants and had come after a complex work-value assessment. Some Coalition and Labor MPs were expecting base pay packets to top $200,000, in line with South Australian colleagues, and were unhappy that government officeholders got the lion’s share of cash.

Police Minister Lisa Neville told reporters today she was surprised by the scale of the pay rise state politicians would get, saying she could see why people were upset.

“I understand most people don’t want politicians to get paid or not paid much ... I get paid well and I work hard for it, Victorians are working hard and doing it tough,” she said.

Ms Neville said the public had demanded an independent process was put in place to determine politicians pay rise.

If their recommendations were rejected “ you’re moving away from that system”, she said.

“You either have a process or you don’t,” she said.

A Labor MP said the tribunal “got it wrong” and failing to reward backbench MPs and ministers equally would create new divisions in parliament. A Liberal source said the outcome was “shonky” but was expected “given Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings had set up the plan”.

Unions took aim at the government, with CPSU state secretary Karen Batt warning about anger over double standards. Victorian Ambulance Union general secretary Danny Hill said paramedics would use the disparity at the bargaining table.

“I was told at one point the tribunal asked politicians how hard they felt they worked,” Mr Hill said.

“I’m assuming they said four or five times harder than a paramedic, because that’s exactly what they’ve been awarded.”

Ms Darmanin said Mr Andrews should follow the lead of former premier Steve Bracks, who “recognised that when politicians are restricting the wage rises of working people they should comply with the same restriction”.

The Police Association Victoria was offered a 2 per cent a year pay increase by the state government last month, which was labelled unacceptable at the time.

Today, association secretary Wayne Gatt said the politicians’ pay rise set a level of expectation across other sectors and he urged the state’s leaders to “pay it forward”

“Clearly our members are a bit complexed when they look at that (the pay rise of 11.9 per cent) and I think most members of the community would be too,” he said.

“I think it difficult to reconcile the two numbers to be quite honest.

“We don’t begrudge people that get a fair and reasonable pay rise, but indeed that’s all our members are asking for; a fair and reasonable pay rise that is in line with the work they do each and every day for the community of Victoria.”

Police are pushing for a 4 per cent pay rise — a quarter of what the premier and his ministers are set to receive — along with better work conditions, including a push for 10-hour shifts, and better work flexibility.

The current agreement ends in November.

Acting Greens leader Sam Hibbins said the Premier and Treasurer now had no choice but to lift Victoria’s low public sector wages cap.