, SYDNEY, Dec 15 – Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard got an early Christmas present on Thursday when she was recommended for a bumper 31 percent rise to take her salary past US President Barack Obama’s.
Gillard, whose support in opinion polls is near rock bottom, was handed the gift by the independent Remuneration Tribunal, which recommended pay hikes for most politicians and public servants.
Parliament needs to approve the changes before the new scale comes into effect, but once that is done Gillard will earn Aus$481,000 (US$476,000).
Cabinet ministers will see their salary rise from Aus$224,300 to Aus$319,125 while federal MPs will also get pay hikes, with the base salary for even the most junior parliamentarian jumping from Aus$140,000 to Aus$185,000.
Altogether it will cost taxpayers an extra Aus$20 million a year. In exchange, politicians will lose some of their perks, such as being able to fly first class for overseas study tours.
Australia’s controversial gold pass scheme, under which an estimated 300 former MPs travel for free, will also be phased out.
Tribunal president John Conde said of Gillard’s projected pay rise: “In our view that is not an unreasonable salary for the prime minister of Australia, whoever he or she may be.”
It was important to have good pay to attract people to parliament, he added.
Asked whether it was the right time in the economic cycle to be thinking about pay rises, with unemployment creeping up, Conde said: “There is never a right time for this.
“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve concluded our work and this is our conclusion.”
According to the White House, Obama earns a salary of US$395,188 as president.
While Gillard’s earnings – currently a yearly $367,000 – are significantly more than the average annual wage of less than Aus$55,000, her salary pales in comparison with some of the country’s top chief executives.
BHP Billiton chief Marius Kloppers earns more than Aus$11 million, while the head of Westpac Bank, Gail Kelly, takes home more than Aus$8 million.
The tribunal’s report found that the pay rises for MPs were justified by the advent of email and social networking.
“Email, Facebook, Twitter and the like have increased community expectations on members as regards their availability to their constituents,” it said.
“As some members at interview noted, this means that they are now never off duty.”
The very same sites were quickly filled with outraged responses.
“I’m so glad Aussie politicians/ministers got a pay rise. I mean, it’s not like we have poor people living on the streets in our cities,” one woman wrote on Twitter.
Another user said it was a “disgrace” that the politicians got a pay rise “but we can’t pay our health care professionals, our police or even our baggage handlers properly”.
Some defended the rises as just reward for the years politicians had not received pay rises and the perks that would be lost under the new deal.
Resources Minister Martin Ferguson told reporters he did not need a pay rise, although he accepted the tribunal’s decision.
“I actually think my ministerial salary is pretty good,” he said.
Greens Senator Bob Brown was also hesitant about politicians getting a boost, saying MPs should take a pay cut if they continued to sack hard-working public servants.
“There’s a very strong argument politicians should be paid the average wage of Australians,” he told reporters.