‘Stopping the rot’

I get a lot of stuff in the email, and this example arrived, for the second time, the other day. I provide it in full, without the photo of Parliament House in Canberra. My interpolations are in square brackets, and I’ve shortened the text a little, too.

The politicians themselves, in Canberra, brought it up, that the Age of Entitlements is over: [So] The author is asking each addressee to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise. 

At least 20 if you can. In three days, most people in Australia will have this message. This is one idea that really should be passed around because the rot has to stop somewhere.

[The following are] Proposals to make politicians shoulder their share of the weight now that the Age of Entitlement is over.

1. Scrap political pensions. Politicians can purchase their own retirement plan, just as most other working Australians are expected to do.

2. Retired politicians (past, present & future) participate in Centrelink. A politician collects a substantial salary while in office but should receive no salary when … out of office. Terminated politicians under 70 can go get a job, or apply for Centrelink unemployment benefits like ordinary Australians.

3. Funds already allocated to the Politicians’ retirement fund be returned immediately to Consolidated Revenue.
This money is to be used to pay down debt they created which they expect us and our grandchildren to repay for them.

4. Politicians will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Politicians pay will rise by the lower of, either the CPI or 3 per cent [per annum].

5. Politicians lose their privileged health care system and participate in the same health care system as ordinary Australian people.  Politicians either pay for private cover from their own funds or accept ordinary Medicare.

6. Politicians must equally abide by all laws they impose on the Australian people.

7. All contracts with past and present Politicians men/women are void effective 31/12/14.
The Australian people did not agree to provide perks to politicians, that burden was thrust upon them.
Politicians devised all these contracts to benefit themselves. Serving in Parliament is an honour not a career. The Founding Fathers envisaged citizen legislators, so our politicians should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people, then it will only take three or so days for most Australians to receive the message. Don’t you think it’s time?

THIS IS HOW YOU FIX Parliament and help bring fairness back into this country! If you agree with the above, pass it on. If not, just delete.

This is angry stuff, and perhaps there are many who agree. My problem is that much of it is simply wrong, and really misguided. My comments on the text follow, using the numbers above.

1. You can read about parliamentary pensions at


The essence is that anyone elected from 2004 onwards nominates a super scheme, into which both the MP/Senator and the Government contribute, the latter as a quasi employer. Prior to 2004, MPs and Senators received as pension if their service terminated after three terms (effectively nine years for an MP or 18 for a Senator). That pension recognised the problems of a gap in one’s earlier career of nine years, let alone of 18.

2. This is an extension of the first point. MPs or Senators who were elected ten years ago, and are not returned, have to find employment like everybody else.

3. There is no such ‘Retirement Fund’, since both the old and the new parliamentary superannuation schemes are ‘unfunded’ — that is, their costs are covered by annual appropriation.

4. You can read about parliamentary salaries at:


Since 2011, parliamentary salaries have been set by the Remuneration Tribunal, a regulatory body which determines salaries for a wide range of office-holders. Parliament cannot alter the Tribunal’s determinations.

5. I am unaware of any special health benefit system for MPs and Senators. In this respect, as far as I know, they have the same status as the rest of us. I can’t find any reference to such a benefit in the obvious places, such as the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990, which set outs the entitlements.

6. Other than ‘parliamentary privilege’ (freedom from actions arising from anything said in the chamber of Parliament) politicians have no special dispensation from Australian laws of any kind. Ask Mr Slipper.

7. The proposed change requires retrospective legislation, which I would oppose at once. Retrospective criminal laws are illegal in Australia (we are party to human rights conventions which rule them out), and the High Court has recently quashed a Commonwealth law about benefits that sought to go back to 2000 from 2011, though the reasoning here did not touch on retrospectivity. In any case, introducing a law that makes something illegal that was not wrong or illegal when the act was done, is in my view very bad in principle, however much you might like to see it happen to a particular person.

I’ve spent some time on this matter because our first duty, surely, when we feel that something is wrong, is to make sure that we really understand the matter. The person who sent out this email did not do so, because so much of it simply isn’t the case, and it doesn’t take long to find out the truth.

As for stopping the rot, surely the rot starts with us. If we think that our politicians are crooks, or feather-bedders, we should support a man or woman whom we think well of, and would not act in this way. If that’s too hard — because for us it is party first —then we need to do some work inside the party.

This kind of missive seems like a real cop-out to me, and so much of what passes for discussion and debate in Australa has elements like it.

Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • dlb says:

    These sweeping statements based on unsubstantiated fact, would you call them lies, urban myths? One thing is that they are very common in the comment sections of internet discussion fora:)

    Don, do you think the ABC’s Fact Check is worthwhile?

  • margaret says:

    I don’t like chain letters so would never send it on if I received it but there’s a lot of satisfaction in reading the seven points – on brief perusal, I like them.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Does that mean that you rather dislike politicians, or believe that they don’t serve the country well? If so, how would you stop the rot?

      • margaret says:

        Australia’s a big country – too big to agree on so many things on government agendas. At a grass roots level most politicians serve their electorate well I’d think. At a federal level it all goes to custard.
        Hip pockets are affected in different ways according to where you live and it seems that those in Sydney’s north shore where the power base is, are least affected by Hockey’s budget. Canberra is buffered by being the nation’s capital.
        I’d like a party that shows some guts and real difference that makes Australians wake up and start thinking. I’d like Julia Gillard to re-enter politics (a la Birgitte Nyborg) by starting a new party free of old factional sh.. – Bill Shorten is hopeless and morally compromised in so many ways.
        I don’t hold JG up as a god – she also is just a politician. She was compromised the moment she took office as PM. But I found her personal values appealing.
        It’s not going to happen of course and the Murdoch press would destroy her once again along with that Canberra darling Larry Pickering.
        But that’s what we need to stop the rot – a new party.

        • Don Aitkin says:

          A new party — and that’s been tried before, with modest success. Would you work for it? I’m not pursuing you, but returning to my last theme, that if there is a rot, then it has to stop with us.

          • margaret says:

            Yes, I would if it was a party that espoused my values.
            I think though that you may have meant ‘stopping the rot’ in a rather clever way – as in the rot that comes into your inbox.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            If only…!

        • Gus says:

          New parties are seldom successful. There is a reason for this: their politicians, being new, lack the experience and finesse of their colleagues, who, one way or another, are associated with the establishment.

          I think that JG lost her position and ultimately the election (by proxy, that is, after she was replaced by Rudd at the last moment) deservedly. In politics, she behaved like a bully–perhaps this is what she is, generally. Australians saw through her and voted against her, her ideas, if she ever really had any, and her party. The defeat that the Australian Labor suffered because of her and the damage she did to the party were unfathomable. It’s really hard to do any worse, frankly, and, historically, it has never been.

          I believe that she’s finished as a politician and Australians will not see her again, neither will they see Rudd. You just don’t recover from something like this.

          • Margaret says:

            Oh boy Gus, JG is about as far from a bully as it is possible to be. Of course she won’t come back – she was bullied out of office. She didn’t bully Rudd out in 2010 but she was part of the machine that decided he was disastrous. My wish for a new party is based on idealism and of course a cynic is simply a disillusioned idealist.

  • Gus says:

    Don’t do chain letters. Margaret is right. If you have something to say, publish an article in a newspaper, or a letter, or write in your blog. The problem with chain letters is that they are no longer under your control, their content free to evolve once sent out, whereas your name remains attached and often flagged.

    About politicians’ salaries. Should they be getting any at all? In the past, when politics was restricted to gentlemen of independent means, politicians were expected to support themselves and not draw on tax payers. They would get per diems for the time they were obliged to put aside for their participation in Congressional debates and votes, but this was it. The idea of politicians being paid a salary does not enter American politics until 1855, although it was introduced briefly in 1815, but abandoned two years later. Today, US politicians receive an indexed salary, which is pretty handsome, $174,000 at present, but not exorbitant by the standards of “upper middle class,” definitely not in the CEO range. Remember, it’s taxed progressively. So what’s left of it is not this high. Then more is deducted for health and retirement benefits.

    I like the idea of “gentlemen of independent means.” If you’re rich already, you’re less likely to embezzle: why bother? So, I quite would like to see this kind of people in the Parliament. If it was up to me, I’d even restrict voting rights to people who own property: if you don’t own anything, you have no stake in making sure that the country is well managed, ergo, you shouldn’t vote.

    Well, I know, this is not going to happen, neither in the US nor in Australia.
    “Vested interests” and all that…

    • John BENNETT says:

      Gus, I rather think that being an MP is better as a paid position rather than a role for the landed gentry. Mind you, we have a well established landed gentry here in Oz, but not based on class and privilege – simply money.

      What evidence do you have that “rich” people are less inclined to embezzle – they may be less inclined to embezzle directly (that is “cook the books”), but their connections can be used to lawfully enhance their bank accounts (at arms length, generally by proxy).

      There are many examples of retiring MPs having tentacles of interests well beyond their tenure as an MP.

      But surely MPs should be paid as a simple employee – paid well but they operate their own superannuation fund – just like everyone else, fund health and medical insurance (beyond Medicare), etc – just like everyone else.

      If they become unelected, they line up for a job just like anyone else and take their chances based on their quals and experience. I fail to see why they are awarded GOLD passes and other post- tenure goodies. The past saw quite a lot of snouts in the trough.

      I suspect the aura of respectability MPs with which MPs have been endowed is an anachronism of early English times. Judging by the number of MPs named in various anti- corruption commissions of late, respectability seems to be in short supply.

      • Gus says:

        “>>> their connections can be used to lawfully enhance their bank accounts <<<"

        If it's lawful, it's not embezzlement. Virtually all wealth is created by connections, because connections are the cornerstone of business, and business is the cornerstone of wealth.

        From rags to riches, in particular, is the proof that the person who has managed it, knows how to do business, how to generate wealth, how to be useful to the society and knows intimately what the society needs; ergo, a good candidate for a politician.

        The ones who are rich by inheritance, on the other hand, don't garner my vote: they don't deserve it, you see. They are rich by the accident of birth, not because of their talent, insight and persistence. In a competitive society, their riches often dissipate within a generation or two, anyway. What protects this kind of wealth is feudalism: a system that, by edict, freezes social structures and disables social mobility.

        Observe, that quite on purpose, I did not use the phrase "landed gentry" in this context, preferring instead "gentlemen of independent means."

        Some examples: (1) Romney, ironically, a self-made man. Ironically, because he was born rich, very rich, but on his father's death, he gave all inheritance away to charity, and commenced to build his own wealth from scratch–an achiever in my books; (2) Kennedies–inherited wealth all, generally awful people, incompetent politicians, murderers, drug addicts. Luckily, no longer as rich as they used to be, but, sadly, too rich still, and with unhealthy interest in politics. Avoid!

        Now, regarding Romney, sure, having been born with a silver spoon in his mouth helped him get the right outlook, the best education, the best example: all this helps. Enormously. So, his achievement was not entirely his in this sense. His background helped.

        If you want a more genuine "from rags to riches," Howard Schultz, the co-founder and the current CEO of Starbucks, is a better example: he grew up in the Bayview projects of Canarsie, Brooklyn; by US standards, it's abject poverty.

        Another example, Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart. He was born on a farm in Oklahoma, milked cows and sold newspapers, as a boy.

        • John BENNETT says:

          Gus, I am sure there are many “rags to riches” stories, and a good proportion of them gained through honest means and from their own labour.

          I agree that inherited wealth is generally offensive simply because on waking up the day after the death of the benefactor, one can be very wealthy without lifting a finger, and its hardly worth getting out of bed, except to check the bank account for an enormous increase (which can be done in bed).

          I have no objection to wealth, provided a good proportion of it is invested into the betterment of a nation (infrastructure, education, medical research – something that improves mankind in general).

          I also agree that being born with a silver spoon in ones mouth gives so much advantage over being born with no spoon in ones mouth.

          Actually, I am opposed to income tax, and would rather have it replaced by a “wealth” tax. Not all income is wealth (and for many people their income is expended on receipt and never becomes wealth), but substantial accumulated wealth indicates the income far exceeded the personal expenditure requirements.

          Perhaps the accumulated wealth could be invested in public goods and services, or a proportion of it surrendered to the state so the state can invest in public goods and services – we want a defence force and very good roads don’t we ?

          Heavy duty superannuation should be compulsory in order to provide some security in older years.

          I grew up in Australia when the only history taught in schools was British History (mainly because no one had thought Australian History existed). We raised the Union Jack every morning, sang “God Save the Queen”, and observed mainly British events as public holidays.

          Morning tea at home was tea and Devonshire scones. The Commonwealth of Nations was alive and well (today it is no more than a social society).

          So I thought the British were just great. It did not occur to me that Australia was governed by an absentee landlord, who sent clapped out Governors General and Chief of General Staffs over to the colonies to see their final years out and teach the Aussies how to run a country decently.

          It was not until later that I came to see that while there were some good British bits, by and large it was a flawed society, driven by class and privilege.

          I well remember reading of a Welsh coal mine owner, who defied the Coal Mine Owners Association, and provided schools for his employees children, introduced safety measures that reduced the number of lost limbs to zero, and dust suppression measures, provided some health support, and provided subsidized housing for his employees He was Sent to Coventry by the other owners.

          And it is this class and privilege that causes me grief. Which turns to the original point of this post – I fail to see than an MP is “special” and is to receive greater taxpayer funded per grazia e concessione benefits than anyone else of a similar job description.

          Call me old fashioned, but I still believe that one should gain from the sweat of ones brow.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            I must be older than I thought — I remember it being the ‘Empire’!



          • Gus says:

            Yes, you must be older than I thought too. The Brits kicked out Australia in 1931, by a Statute of Westminster, which Australians refused to adopt until 1942, when it was backdated to 1939. A rather complicated divorce that the Australian side clearly did not want.

            Here is the great difference between the US and Australia: Americans fought for their independence in two bloody wars (1775-1783 and 1812-1815). Australians had their independence shoved down their throats over their objections!

            This resulted in different attitudes both nations had towards their “mother country.” The Entente Cordiale between the US and the UK did not take shape until WWI and even then was not fully embraced until WWII. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen’s Mother, apparently commented on feeling quite estranged during her first visit in the US on account of “all those Germans” who to this day constitute the largest American plurality (although Hispanics are now edging closer).

            In the end, who you are at heart, I think, is revealed by what you have for breakfast. If it’s coffee, consumed in a mug with half-and-half, you’re an American. If it’s tea, black like charcoal, with a spot of milk, sipped from a Royal Albert bone-china cup with a matching saucer, you’re a Brit. Anything else, you’re “Continental,” or “Hispanic.”

          • John BENNETT says:

            You must be an old fart Don. I can remember you on the front page of one of the big newspapers – dashing if I may say so, and rather intelligently and impressively outspoken. It was that memory which brought me to this blog.

            “Who was that Canberra bloke often in the news . . . . Don Someone . . . . . Don Wotisname . . . . . Bugger . . . . Ah that’s it . . . . . Don Atkinson . . . . .”

          • Gus says:

            What can I say. Life really wasn’t meant to be fair. The accident of birth does determine one’s future. It helps or handicaps. As a parent didn’t you do your best to make it better for your children than you had yourself? It’s natural and this is how it should be. The best a society can, and should, do is to help those whose handicap is too severe to get them a decent start in life. This is what scholarships and such are for. After that… it’s up to them. The “from rags to riches” stories are shining examples of what hard work, perseverance, ingenuity and, yes, luck, can accomplish. What the stories often fail to emphasize is that money is a measure of usefulness. You make it “from rags to riches” by delivering something that turns of genuine benefit to the society as a whole: take Steve Jobs, his chum Wozniak, and their first Apple Computer they built in a garage.

            The question that a society and its parliamentary representatives should seek to answer is “how can we have more of it?”

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