Bigger carrots needed for a stagnating democracy

The question of whether or not we pay our politicians enough in Australia has been asked and re-asked so many times in recent years that it has practically become a cliche. Like all good cliches, this one made the Sunday papers yesterday, courtesy of a column from Melissa Fyfe. It would all be a bit ho-hum really, except for the fact that the point Fyfe is making is still a damn good one.

Despite all the questions asked about how much we pay our pollies, I don’t think we have seen any conclusive answers emerge about whether we pay them enough. This is no doubt partially because the issue is a divisive one indeed. Those who view politicians in a generally negative light – perhaps the majority of the population on a bad day – are for obvious reasons reluctant to consider the possibility that we should be paying our pollies more. Every news story that emerges about the admittedly quite considerable allowances our members of parliament also serves to reinforce the perception that politics is all about snouts being neck-deep in the trough, first and foremost. When one considers all the issues of the day and the possible measures that public money could be spent on, the dire financial situation that our politicians supposedly find themselves in is certainly quite a way down the priority list, if indeed it represents an issue at all.

For me, it really is quite simple. Do we value the health of our democracy? Yes. Should we be interested in increasing the size of the talent pool and competition for preselections? Yes. Would our democracy be better if more people were involved or interested in becoming involved? Yes. Do the benefits that the average politician receives really weigh up against the considerable costs they incur, such as having effectively a 365-days a year x 24-hour job, sacrificing family time, and enduring media scrutiny on a day-in day-out basis? Frankly, it is difficult to see how this could be the case.

If we want the best to run our country, perhaps its time to consider paying members of parliament a salary that is genuinely competitive in today’s global job marketplace and commensurate with the responsibility that public life entails. We don’t pay our politicians peanuts right now – certainly in comparison with the average wage – but we should be looking to pay our politicians whatever reasonable amount of money that will most effectively encourage people to engage in our democracy. The alternative does little but limit the size of the talent pool available to serve the nation, and ensures that many of our best and brightest remain ensconced in the private sector, selling off their brilliance for the sake of a decent life.

3 thoughts on “Bigger carrots needed for a stagnating democracy

  1. Naaaa. Call me skeptical, but I’ll go with Plato’s Republic, modernized to give the MPs merely expenses (well audited) and the average of pensions and minimum wage. Then watch self-servers exclude themselves from public life, and the living conditions of the most vulnerable improve REAL fast.

    If we want democracy to move past the current paradigm that encourages back-room deals and opportunism, then it needs more participants from the citizenry.

    If “Gov2.0” procedures evolve enough, policy development could be done by many as a hobby, decreasing the scope for corruption, and even the number of people with a “vote” on particular policies of interest could increase beyond the archaic structures of representative democracy required when jurisdictions moved beyond city states but before development of the web and remote conferencing.

  2. If we want democracy to move past the current paradigm that encourages back-room deals and opportunism, then it needs more participants from the citizenry.

    Dave, this is true – but at the moment, as we know, the citzenry just isn’t turning up and playing a part, apart from the odd nerd or two (we’re guilty as charged). I am not sure that reducing wages is likely to entice people in – even if it encourages some people who shouldn’t be in politics to leave. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that increasing the salaries of parliamentary members is a panacea for the problem, but as one measure amongst several, it might get a few more ordinary citizens thinking that all that effort is actually worth it at the end of the day.

    Hardly any kids want to be politicians when they grow up. More money in itself won’t solve that problem, but reconstructing the politician as a job that people should aspire to be (rather than grumble about) is something that we need to do as a society.

    Armagny, that’s a fair call, but maybe tougher to fix? How do you prevent a politician – ostensibly something of a political beast – from involving themselves most hours of the day in their work? I guess I also don’t know if reducing the workload of our parliamentarians is going to either endear them more to the rabble or encourage the right sort of people into the job. It’s a tough job for hardworking people, no doubt about that.

  3. To suggest that somehow you will filter out the self-serving by minimising the renumeration package of our public representative body would be naive, especially when considering the significant number of obnoxious and domineering individuals who volunteer to coach football teams run hobby groups etc, Ultimately these individuals will always be attracted to the most effective aphrodisiac of all, power and no amount of money will ever remove the powerful relationship of government over its people!

    In regards to Plato’s republic, this reminds me of the amateurism debate that occupied and dominated the philosophical approaches of the olympics, tennis, rugby and many other sporting organisations for most of the twentieth century. It will effectively factor out the poor from being involved in public life, for they can’t afford the privelage. We must remember that despite all the democratic ideals of the Ancient Greeks the majority of their populations were never represented, since they were either slaves or women or both.

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