Super Rort - speech for woodpeckers

John Pasquarelli, 28th August 1999

Thank you Ian, for inviting me to come along and speak to you today. I don't get many opportunities to do these sort of things as I've been more or less blacklisted by a lot of otherwise prospective employers because of my relationship with a certain redhead! - I hasten to stress that it was a working relationship! I must also stress that I was fully aware of the risks involved when I started working for Hanson so I can't blame anyone else for my present predicament.

Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge the generous and detailed help, documentation and advice given me by investigative journalist Paul Raffaele, Rob Chalmers from the Canberra Press Gallery and ex-Independent State and Federal MP Ted Mack, the only politician ever to have the guts to stand up and take on the big boys over this matter of great public importance I am going to talk to you about. I say 'public importance' because it involves an enormous amount of public monies.

Many of us belong to various sorts of clubs and other organisations and most of us contribute to superannuation funds but the very best club of all to belong to is that taxpayer funded club up in Canberra called federal parliament - that is the club of clubs - believe me! If one can't make it to this uno numero of clubs, the state parliaments make a passable second best choice.

Joining these clubs allows the lucky members access to the parliamentary superannuation scheme - one of the best super deals in the world where its members run their own scheme from behind a curtain of silence that would do the KGB proud and where they are at once employer and employee - what a wonderful industrial relations situation! Where are you on this one Peter Reith? As always, the ordinary, long-suffering Australian taxpayers pay the bills and as always, have absolutely no say in how their dollars are spent - or should I say squandered!

Of course, to gain access to this most exclusive of clubs, one has to become a Member of Parliament. Irrespective of what political party is chosen as the vehicle, this process involves a certain degree of self-sacrifice, abject humility and practising masochism like attending endless dreary branch meetings, risking developing ulcers by consuming all that dreadful food at dinners where you are rendered comatose by up themselves guest speakers, brown-nosing party officials at all levels, being seen to be a 'doer' and a team player, working like a navvy at election time and becoming an expert at creating and developing a resume of personal achievements within the community, that ends up looking like the criteria for being canonised!

Life and politics have made me a cynic but waves of shame and inadequacy sweep over me when I match my few humble, mainly self-indulgent deeds against the reams of community service achievements proudly paraded by candidates for preselection I have known. I know that it's terrible to think this way but I used to hang out with Barry Humphries at Melbourne Uni and a lot of his disdain for the pompous and self-serving amongst us rubbed off on me - thank God!

Well, after shedding most of your pride and this self esteem that we are always hearing about these days from the do-gooder industry, you make it through the preselection process and a late surge in the polls sweeps your party and you into power. You and your wife breathe a huge sigh of relief as you realise that for the present, your Machiavellian scheming to become a junior partner in the just-average law firm you work for, can be put on hold for the time being. A wonderful new vista lies ahead!

In 1948, Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley, recently exposed as the hirer of alleged Nazi scientists, decided that Federal MPs needed a little bit more security than they previously had. With the best of intentions his government established a modest pension scheme that was the same for ministers and backbenchers alike. Chifley was a good man and had no idea that he had created a monster that would lie dormant for many years before it burst its chains.

The scheme was ticking along nicely by the time Gough Whitlam came along and its scandalous aspects had been contained mainly due to a media concerned with the Vietnam War and its political repercussions in Australia and government ministers trying to hock Australia off to the Arabs! To his credit - and I don't like giving Whitlam any credit at all - he did try to clamp down on some of the 'double-dipping' aspects of the scheme but in the end he fought a losing battle. The 'club' syndrome prevailed and he met stern, covert opposition from within his own party.

It was during the Fraser-Hawke years that the monster finally rose from its hibernation in the parliamentary swamp and grew to huge proportions. Some fine tuning during the Keating era, studied disinterest during the Howard regime and today we have the system that spawned the Senator Colston, Senator Woods, MP Michael Cobb, ex-Senator Creighton-Browne, and Senator Nick Sherry affairs to name but a few.

It is my opinion and that of a lot more people better qualified than myself that this scheme is the prime reason that we get the politicians that we do or should I reword that and say 'the politicians we deserve.' - remember that we are the people who send the MPs off to Canberra and the other state parliaments.

In August 1999, just a fireworks display away from the 'millenium,' - another in-word that makes my skin crawl - politicians have slipped and slithered their way so far down the ladder of public acceptance over the last few decades that they now rest on almost the bottom rung. That is a sad indictment but a statistical fact that makes it imperative that irrespective of whether you are a republican or a constitutional monarchist, come this November you must vote NO! to the politicians' preamble and the politicians' republic! Generally speaking these people cannot be trusted and until the system changes they have to be regarded as one of the class enemies of ordinary Australians - strong words but I'm serious.

Alright, let's have a closer look at the pollies' super scheme which I call super rort and let's see how it matches up with what most of you have in the way of this sort of security, for the day when you retire to the bowling green or God forbid, a retirement village!

We will return to our fledgling politician who has just won Lotto by another name. Having heard all about the super scheme long before he entered parliament, one of the very first things he will do is seek extensive briefing from the Department of Finance and Administration - which is under the wing of the Liberal Minister and ex-premier of NSW, John Fahey. Our MP will receive detailed handbooks and other vital information about all his entitlements - from his super to the provision of a taxpayer funded vehicle for use in the electorate. The schedule of goodies reads like a dolebludger's wish list - about $150 to $250 a day tax free travelling allowance - the infamous TA - free phones and fax at home as well as a mobile, ISD facility in the electorate office - just the thing for seeing how the overseas ski resorts are performing! The Cabcharge card is a wonderful piece of plastic as are the credit cards for all the major petroleum suppliers and facilities for new tyres and comprehensive servicing for the vehicle. There are weird anomalies. When I was with Hanson I found out that car washing had to be at the member's expense - what a joke! I wonder why what must be a very annoying economic irritant, has not been removed?? I must check this out!

Our new MP is quickly alerted that if he survives for 8 years or 3 elections, whichever event occurs first and then loses the next election or retires, he will be entitled to a pension of about $50,000 per year FOR LIFE! - indexed, NOT to the CPI but to future parliamentary pay rises. As you and I know, the CPI can go up but it can also go down. Our MPs were too smart to be caught out as easily as this. When John Howard gets a pay rise, so do all former Prime Ministers - ditto for former ministers and ditto for former backbenchers. The pollies' index is an ever upwards index! After hearing what I have said to this point, you may or may not be amazed to hear that qualifying MPs can access their pension the day they leave parliament - they do NOT have to wait until they are 55 or older, like most of us mere mortals.

For those of you who are starting to feel their blood pressure rising, just take it easy and do some deep breathing - there's more to come. On the sad event of a pensioned MP departing and going to that big parliament in the sky, his or her spouse receives the annual pension for the rest of their lives. As a concession to some degree of fiscal accountability and responsibility, the Treasury reduces the spouse pension by one sixth.

If the worst happens to our MP and he finds himself out of parliament and out of a job but with his pension saving the day, all is not lost in the area of economic activity. During his time as an MP he would have built up and carefully cultivated contacts inside and outside parliament. If he had deferred properly to the odd minister or two, the taxpayer filled trough is still sitting there, waiting to be fed from for a second time. Remember that we are talking about taxpayers' money here. We are talking about a government's accountability to its citizens. We are talking about 'double-dipping' in its crudest form. Pensioned off MPs can get jobs as ministerial or parliamentary advisers or secure plum, government consultancies. Ex-ministers with good contacts, all built up during their parliamentary careers can earn up to $500,000 a year plus! For the 'double-dippers,' their old friends, the tax free TA, the mobile phone and the Cabcharge card are there, ready to be accessed again. Some of the really high flying ex-MP pensioners jet off to become Australian ambassadors abroad!

If our ex-MP fails to get back on the public purse gravy train, he may wish to do something really risky and get involved in a small business. Maybe he buys a newsagency or takes out a Jim's Lawnmowing franchise! Whatever he does, that pension will be a handy backstop.

At this point just let me comment on an interesting comparison. I will stress yet again that we are talking about the administration of taxpayer's funds here. Take an old digger who is on a pension and still wants to stay fit and useful. He paints his next door neighbour's house and accepts cash and takes the risk and doesn't declare the transaction. Somehow his heinous crime is revealed and more than likely he will feel the full weight of the law and more than likely suffer a degree of public and even media vilification. Sure, he has broken the tax law but who is the greater spiv? - the digger or the double-dipping pensioned pollie who exploits an arrogant and disgraceful system established by his political ancestors?

Former Labor Health Minister Neal Blewett is a prime example of the cynical and quite scandalous practice of 'double-dipping' into public funds and his post-parliament activity makes a mockery of the word 'retirement.' A clearer definition of 'double-dipping' in this context is politicians collecting a public pension and a public salary. Blewett was back in the employ of the Australian Government just months after he quit parliament in 1994 and was allowed to draw half his pension. In 1997 he was Australian High Commissioner to the UK and received a base salary of $129,333 on top of his part pension. Because of the bureaucratic 'curtain of silence' it is very difficult to itemise what Blewett's additional perks were.

Maybe there are some of you who are starting to think - hey! This sounds like the sort of job that I could do! Just to keep your level of interest up, let me give you some case studies of some people that you may remember.

Remember former Liberal New South Wales Premier, Nick Greiner? I think that he is now 51 or 52 - just a spring chicken really. Well, Mr Greiner as an ex-Premier is entitled to a pension of about $70,000 per year which is a pretty good start! Most of that pension is funded by the taxpayer, though one could argue that it is ALL paid for by the taxpayer as taxes paid for Greiner's salary and therefore his contributions, as they came from that source. To sweeten his pension, Nick Greiner at the last call of the card in 1997 sat on 12 company boards, operated out of a state-funded office in Sydney - one of his retirement perks - and was reportedly earning up to a million dollars a year on top of his pension.

In March, 1996, Robert Tickner, former Labor Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, now 47 was voted out after 12 years in parliament. He was confronted by two attractive pension options. Option 1 was an immediate annual pension for life of about $68,000 and Option 2 was a lump sum of $340,000 PLUS an annual pension for life of $34,000. Not bad after 12 years in the same job.

What about Michael Lavarch who was the Labor Attorney-General from 1993 to 1996? He was just 34 when he lost office after 9 years in parliament - whew! - he just made the qualifying time didn't he? During his time as an MP, Lavarch contributed about $82,000 to the parliamentary super fund and when he bowed out, he like his peers had the choice of two options. In Lavarch's case he had the choice between opting for a lifetime pension of about $52,000 a year or a lump sum of $260,000 PLUS $26,000 for life. Not bad for a 34 year old!

Okay, let's look at another comparison. Let's look at a 34 year old private sector executive who suffers 'downsizing' after 9 years and who has paid the same towards his super as did Michael Lavarch. The average lump-sum benefit would be about $275,000 and our dumped executive would normally have to wait until he was 55 to access his benefit. He would receive no annual pension after that so his final benefit is only about 20 per cent of the present value of Lavarch's package. Come on! after this I am sure that I will see some of you contesting preselections when the next election is called!

Now for another interesting case history - the history of a criminal ex-MP. Convicted rapist and sometime preacher Keith Wright who was once touted as a possible Queensland Labor premier, paid out just over $50,000 into his super fund between 1984 and 1993. Despite being sentenced to prison for 8 years he is still eligible for an annual lifetime pension of about $43,000. Wright is now out on parole and I saw him on TV the other day pompously defending his position and assuring the viewers that God was helping him!

How about we shift up a gear or two and look at the princes of perks - our former prime ministers? In 1997-1998, Australian taxpayers forked out $349,332 in retirement perks to Malcolm Fraser who was PM over 16 years ago - and that figure doesn't count his super! Fraser's lifetime perks include a fully staffed office, unlimited first class air travel around the country and access to a car and driver 24 hours a day. In 1997-1998, Malcolm Fraser spent $109,907 on limousine hire including one 15 hour rental that cost taxpayers $1174!

Paul Keating has his snout firmly planted in the trough. In the two months following his defeat in 1996, the man who smugly told Australians they were having the recession that they had to have and sneered at protesters telling them to 'get a job,' billed the taxpayer nearly $94,000 in perks to help him make the transition back into private life. In his first year out of office, up until July, 1997, Paul Keating received $620,000 in perks, $156,602 of this being for chauffeured limos. Not bad for a battler from Bankstown!

Let's have a look at some of the lesser lights. Like all federal MPs, Labor Senator Nick Bolkus is entitled to over $12,500 of taxpayers funds to take a quaintly described 'study tour' every 3 years. He can also carry forward half of any unused entitlement to take trips to the value of $19,000. Bolkus recently spent his grant on a tour through England and Wales, the main reason being to meet Britain's new Labour Government.

Disgraced Liberal Senator Bob Woods gave 'study tour' new meaning when he took his lover Roxanne Cameron on a trip to Europe. The later to be spurned Cameron happened to be also a dedicated diarist and she recorded that Woods justified their stay in France by reporting that he had 'studied wine and cheese.'

In 1996, Victorian MPs agreed in a bipartisan decision that they should be entitled to taxpayer-funded cars and have the option of customising them. According to media reports, 98 of the 132 MPs have since spent $220,000 of your money tarting up their Ford Fairmonts. Labor MP Doug Walpole really lashed out and fitted his car with a sunroof, body-styling kit, alloy wheels and sports suspension - total cost $7,800.

In 1995, Victorian Liberal MP Denise McGill accompanied by her husband undertook an 11 country trip to inspect garbage dumps. In the course of this 'study tour,' the couple took time out to visit Disneyland, see the musical Miss Saigon in New York and go on a 12 day coach trip through Europe. In her report to parliament, McGill said, 'one of the things I'll remember most about my trip is shopping at Bloomingdales' - one would expect this activity to be preferred over looking at smelly, international garbage!

Ex-Republican, Hanson supporter then declared enemy, ex-Labor MP and ex-Governor-General Bill Hayden gives us an inkling as to the degree of contempt that most of our elected representatives have for the voters who put them where they are. When interviewed by a journalist about a trip to New York where he ran up a hotel and limousine bill of $25,000, Bill Hayden said, 'I have no idea of what the costs were. I have nothing on record on this matter and I do not propose to go to the trouble of seeking to find out.' - end of argument!

Closer to home, Jeff Kennett has introduced a deal to award long-serving ex-premiers, including of course himself when the time comes, with the lifetime use of a car and driver, an office, two full-time staff and 12 first class domestic return air fares each year!

Cars play a big part in the lives of our MPs and other government fat cats. When federal MPs head off to Canberra usually at the beginning of the week, they leave their taxpayer funded cars at home to be used by spouses or other family members and make their way to the airport in a chauffeur driven Commonwealth car. Remember that on most occasions these commuters will return to their home base on Friday evening. Their private sector counterparts who have use of a company vehicle would often more than not leave their car in the long term car park at the airport.

Cars mean a lot to Nick Greiner - remember him? Scrutiny of the 1996 NSW Auditor-General's report reveals that the state's taxpayers are providing Nick Greiner with a driver and limo for life. Guess who handed out this choice perk via a little publicised decision? - none other than the then NSW Liberal Premier, John Fahey who is now the Federal Minister of Finance and whose department runs super rort and all the other associated goodies that go with it. Watch for a similar, reciprocal entitlement when Fahey decides to call it quits.

When one has the spare time as I do, to look closely at this matter, one quickly becomes very angry at the arrogance and contempt displayed by the overwhelming majority of MPs - even the ones who get caught red handed. A culture of somehow moving in a separate, almost mystical strata, suspended above the rest of us has infected most Australian MPs. It is amazing how ordinary, mostly mundane men and women undergo an almost transcendental change when they enter the portals of parliament - it is as if some strange, mind altering gas has been introduced into the air-conditioning system! Outwardly respectable men and women suddenly become amongst other things, sexual athletes and their staffers are infected as well.

Megalomania and paranoia reaches pandemic proportions. One new Liberal backbencher elected last year called in his adviser who had written a speech for him and asked for the finale to be changed. 'Why?' asked the staffer. 'Well,' the MP said, 'you've got me thanking the people for asking me to come and speak to them - they should be thanking me.' I kid you not! The same MP thinks it acceptable to have a current member of the Labor Party working in his electorate office despite the fact that she said she could handle the job except that she wouldn't be able to hand out how to vote cards for him on election day! Can you believe that? When I was working for Hanson, I had firm but polite words with the Liberal MP for Adelaide, Trish Worth, over a Labor inspired anti-Hanson motion seconded by Worth. Worth terminated the conversation saying haughtily, 'I don't speak with staffers.'

Super rort is a prize worth dying for and that is why all MPs, of all political persuasions take cover and defend it so fiercely. When preselections and elections are on the horizon, many MPs bunker down in their offices with their calculators, working out to the last cent what their entitlements will be if they lose office. The long suffering constituents get short shrift during these times.

I have given you plenty of food for thought but as that man in the TV ads says, 'there's more to come.' 'Inside Canberra,' a weekly newsletter that comes out of the Canberra Press Gallery, has estimated that a group of 18 former federal MPs have paid in a total of $1.7 million to their super fund, for which they can expect pension payments over the course of their lives to add up to more than $30 million! This incredible ratio of return almost defies belief doesn't it? It puts insider trading to shame! 'It's outrageous,' says Peter McDonald, National Director of the Australian Taxpayers' Association, commenting on super rort. 'A system that allows MPs to leave office with their pensions decades before most privately employed people retire, is misuse of the public purse.'

The more you look, the more the anomalies and bizarre results pop up. Ex-National Party Senator Bill O'Chee was beaten by the One Nation candidate at the last election. Now only in his very early thirties, O'Chee entered parliament to fill a casual vacancy created by John Stone stepping down. That meant O'Chee was appointed by his party and did not have to face the voters. At the next federal election, O'Chee was voted back in but he lost last year. He only faced the people twice but O'Chee satisfied the criteria of 8 years and walks away with his pension package worth well over $1.3 million. The longer O'Chee lives, of course the greater the total of his pension will be. Living until his eighties could result in a gross pay out by the taxpayer of over $3 million.

Alan Corbett, NSW Independent MP has really hit the jackpot! Now 44, he was elected to the NSW Upper House in 1996 on preferences for an 8 year term which of course is one of the qualifying periods for his pension. He received - wait for it - only 1.25% of the primary vote. When his term is up he can walk straight out of parliament with his pension windfall.

My old backstabbing mate David Oldfield is in the same box seat if he doesn't get charged and convicted for fraud and gets expelled from parliament. He recently won his NSW Upper House seat with just over 6% of the primary vote. In his 49th year, Oldfield too, will be able to walk away with his fat pension.

As I mentioned briefly before, I am convinced that super rort is the root cause of so many poor types getting into our parliaments - you may think that this a harsh assessment but it is based on a lot of first hand knowledge and experience. I was a member of the Liberal Party for 17 years until I resigned in 1996. This scandalous scheme panders to the basest of human emotions and like an invasive cancer it needs radical surgery and lots of intensive chemotherapy to check it but where are the surgeons and physicians to recommend this treatment?

Sad to say, we can expect no help from the Prime Minister down and I mean that! John Howard has said that he will not review the scheme and the Labor Party remains resoundingly silent. When asked in parliament in 1998 if he supported a review of the MP's super scheme, particularly relating to payouts before the age of 55, John Howard said, 'I do not think there is any answer that I as prime minister or anybody in this parliament can give.' What sort of gobbledegook is that coming from the man once known as 'Honest John.' On February 11, 1997, during question time, John Howard was asked whether he had supported an upgrade for one of Senator Colston's staffers just before Colston was to cast a crucial vote on the part-privatisation of Telstra. Acting on his departmental advice, the PM approved the upgrade. 'Any suggestion of bought votes is absolute garbage,' he said. Needless to say, the PM got Colston's vote.

In recent times, in response to some flak about the pollies' travel rorts, there were some absurd government responses that would provide the story line for an episode of 'Yes Minister.' For a brief period of time, federal MPs had their daily newspaper allocations cut from three papers to two but this draconian budget slashing has since been rescinded and another courageous, hardline fiscal decision was made when MPs had their office pot plant entitlements pruned! If it wasn't so serious it would be funny!

You must remember that both sides of parliament generally embrace the new theories of economic rationalism and globalisation and no doubt many of you agree with this - I don't - but that is another debate and I haven't come here to argue with you on those issues. These politicians continually hector us about the need for 'change' and they virtually foam at the mouth if anyone mentions the word 'protection' in an economic sense. The offenders are ridiculed and denigrated - it is a type of economic correctness that is widely used in the public arena and in the media but remember - these pollies don't want to live by the same rules that they decree for us- they don't want to accept 'change' and they want to remain 'protected.' They tell you and I that we can no longer expect long-term secure employment and they glibly toss words around like 'downsizing' and 'market forces.' Their hypocrisy is monumental!

The case for ordinary Australians to get their MPs to act decently and responsibly has been hampered and damaged by the absence of federal MPs like Ted Mack, Graeme Campbell and yes! - even Pauline Hanson. Today no MP will ask the hard questions with the limited exception of Peter Andren, the Federal Independent MP for Calare. Andren says that he was chastised by a former Cabinet minister complaining about Andren's attacks on 'the club.' He has publicly called for super rort not to become accessible until claimants reach the age of 55 but he has not ventured much further than that. To give him credit, Andren has acknowledged that whenever there is an outcry over super rort, MPs are 'practised in burying their heads in the sand until the storm blows over.'

Ted Mack has been the real hero in this largely underground war against our greedy politicians. Ted Mack has never belonged to a political party and was at first an independent North Sydney councillor, then an independent NSW MP and finally an independent federal MP. He has always spoken out about politicians rorting public monies. In 1988, he resigned from the NSW parliament 2 days - 2 days before he became eligible for a yearly pension for life of $40,000 in today's money. He got local headlines for a day! Eighteen months later, Mack was elected to the federal parliament and did an incredible thing! Our cunning politicians had made their years of political service cumulative so Ted Mack could have applied to carry his service as a state MP into the federal parliament. As he had resigned from the NSW state parliament only 2 days before he was eligible to claim his pension, he would have been able to re-claim it if he had wanted to, after sitting only 2 days in the federal parliament! Hero that he is, Ted Mack went to the then Department of Administrative Services and requested that his state parliamentary service NOT be credited to him!

As a federal MP, Ted Mack did not stand for re-election for a third term, once again walking away from a pot of taxpayer funded gold! I asked Ted Mack what he had achieved as a politician. His reply was typical of the laconic realist that he is. 'Bugger all!' he said. In a recent conversation, Ted told me that after a disastrous out-of-court settlement on a defamation matter he was going to be forced to apply for the aged pension! What a sad end for a man who took the bastards on but was unable to keep them honest! We could all do no worse than follow Ted Mack's example and vote NO to this silly referendum on November 6. We cannot afford to give these politicians in Canberra one more iota of power! No way!

Our MPs will lie, cheat and deceive to protect and nurture their super scheme. In NSW recently, legislation enabling increases to super benefits was pushed through in the early hours of the morning, all sides of politics being party to this sneaky subterfuge. A media outcry forced a retraction. The Kennett Government prides itself on taking the axe to public spending but at a late-night session in mid-June 1996, Deputy Premier Pat McNamara said that new pension laws would be tacked on to the Miscellaneous Acts(Omnibus Amendments), a bill totally unrelated to superannuation. No detail of the proposed changes was tabled for public scrutiny and the legislation was passed immediately and without debate, significantly increasing the average annual package for retiring Victorian politicians. Ted Mack summed up this reprehensible behaviour thus. 'The normal adversarial system of parliament drops away to be replaced by bipartisan, conspiratorial smugness when handling these sorts of bills. It apparently doesn't worry them that these new deals represents a significant additional burden for taxpayers.' Mack has also described these nocturnal parliamentary sessions where bills are sneaked through as being 'tantamount to corruption.'

It is now almost impossible to obtain information from the bureaucracy about super rort. MPs stonewall and one bureaucrat advised a researcher that, 'we are forbidden to give out such information.' Trying to use Freedom of Information is a joke. Earlier this year, the Melbourne Herald-Sun was quoted $1,251,995 to provide information about the overseas travel for federal politicians and their staff for the period 1994 to 1997! - some freedom! Politicians that get put on the spot try to bluster their way out of trouble. Some try to run the 'pay peanuts and get monkeys' argument but I am sure that you will now agree with me that this argument is an empty one, especially in the light of the rewards involved. Bob Charles, federal Liberal MP from Melbourne defended super rort this way. 'It does appear generous if you are a high flyer but in most circumstances the payouts are quite low.' I don't know about you but his comments don't make sense to me.

Following the 'Inside Canberra' report that exposed the ratio of $1.7 million contributions to $30 million payout, Treasurer Peter Costello announced that a 'review' of the federal scheme would be made by trustees of the MPs' super. Guess who the trustees are? - yes, all politicians! Peter Costello did not set a time frame for the review. The politicians know that they have the game sewn up - they only have to dodge and twist and turn and time is always on their side. After every election there is a flurry of media activity about the pension payouts to those MPs who lose their seats. The talkback and the letters-to-the-editor run hot for a couple of days and then the heat is off once again and our political masters can relax.

What should be done? The disgraceful practice of 'double-dipping' must cease. The retirement age should be raised to 55. Politicians must play by the rules that they expect the rest of us to conform to. No! on second thoughts the whole scheme should be dismantled and replaced by an independent tribunal given actuarial advice that will set parliamentary salaries at new levels that properly reflect the duties of their recipients. MPs must face the realities that confront the rest of us in this new economic era and they like the rest of us can go off to AMP, Westpac or one of the other financial groups offering super packages and organise their own retirement deals. The same solution should be applied to the provision of cars, travelling allowance and all the other perks.

The new political culture I refer to is helping create a new ruling class of political elites - our MPs are getting younger. Many of these political 'smarties' are the products of our incestuous and indeed increasingly becoming corrupt political system. They are spawned out of political offices on all sides of politics and they know the system inside out and what the economic benefits for themselves are. They are cynical and contemptuous of the voters and the present crop will throw up the leaders of the early decades of the next century - a scary thought! The other alarming feature of our parliaments is the rise of blatant nepotism - a reading of government and opposition staffing directories makes interesting reading and many familiar names crop up. Most of this new breed have never been off the bitumen and simply have no idea how ordinary Australians work and live. Constituents have to be endured - not served!

What can we do? The simplest and most effective tactic would be to stay home on election day but we won't do that will we? However, until we get angry and remain angry - nothing will be done. Victorians now have an election on their hands. Next time you are speaking to your local members, try them out with some simple questions about their super scheme. Tell them that it is a disgrace that their super benefits are forbidden - by them - to be put under public scrutiny despite the fact that every single cent comes from the public purse! Tell them that next election you will vote for any reasonable independent candidate who will make a stand on this issue of national importance. The Victorian parliament has two independents and it important that they both survive. If we can get even a couple of decent independents back into federal parliament, they could provide a vital rallying point. Sooner or later, decency and honesty will prevail but don't hold your breath.

As for me, I'm starting to hope that some of you will have seen the light and will one day make it to that Taj Mahal in Canberra. One of you may even feel sorry for me and put me on staff. I really miss that travelling allowance and the Cabcharge card that I once had!

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