Pay rise for politicians: Remuneration Tribunal chairwoman Anne Cahill Lambert.

Pay rise for politicians: Remuneration Tribunal chairwoman Anne Cahill Lambert. Photo: Vikky Wilkes

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher says while she argued against a big pay hike for Canberra politicians, she will not stand in the way of the increase of more than $7500 a year from July, awarded on Friday.

The ACT Remuneration Tribunal foreshadowed a similar increase again next year. The base pay rate for Assembly members will increase from $125,300 to $132,800.

But they will lose other perks to make up for the pay increase, with Remuneration Tribunal chairwoman Anne Cahill Lambert confident the cuts would cover the increase in pay.

Ms Gallagher said she had asked for a smaller increase in line with the pay rise for public servants, but the rates were set by an independent tribunal and "it is what it is". "I don't think there's ever a good time for a pay increase for a politician," she said, but insisted the politicians worked hard for their money. 

The deputy leader of the opposition is the big loser. To date, the deputy’s position has attracted a 45 per cent loading on top of the base salary (an extra $56,000 this year), but from the next election the loading will be significantly curtailed, to 15 per cent (or $20,000). Most jobs in the Assembly attract a loading – and the amounts remain the same under the new pay scheme, at 110 per cent on top of the base salary for the chief minister, down to 10 per cent for a committee chairperson.

The Remuneration Tribunal has also abolished travel for ministers’ spouses and the $24,000 travel allowance for non-ministers – a decision it brought forward last month after news that Liberals Giulia Jones and Vicki Dunne were spending most of the allowance on a visit to Europe to study prostitution laws. The tribunal wanted to ensure no one else would use the money before its decision came into effect, and in the process it put an end to a planned visit by Liberal Nicole Lawder to Britain to study community housing. It pointed out that members were also using this money to pay for staff travel, which was not envisaged.

It has banned Assembly members from using public funds to travel on party political business – a decision that will presumably put an end to the practice of many of claiming travel to party conferences and meetings.

It has abolished the $4000 mobile phone allowance and the $10,000 office allowance, and replaced it with a $15,000 “communication allowance”. The office allowance has been the subject of much controversy, with members using it for large-scale mailouts to voters in the lead-up to elections. The tribunal makes it clear the new allowance must not be used for political activity and warned it should not be saved up for using towards election time.

Instead of a car, Assembly members will get an allowance of $21,500 a year, plus a $2500 annual allowance for taxis and hire cars for official business.

And the tribunal has introduced a “resettlement allowance”, saying Assembly members who lost their seats could face significant hardship and difficulty finding work, and others who were “burnt out” might be put off resigning by the lack of redundancy pay. They will get two weeks’ base pay for each year in the Assembly, up to 12 weeks.

The tribunal’s decision pointed out that at $132,775, the base pay for Assembly members would still be the lowest of any MP in the country except Tasmania, and lower than senior executive members of the ACT public service. It had taken a “cautious” approach, given the expected increase in the number of politicians from 17 to 25 at the next election. But it foreshadowed a likely 6 per cent increase again next year.

Assembly pay rates have climbed steeply in 10 years, up $45,000, or more than 50 per cent on the base pay in 2004. 

Electoral Commissioner Phillip Green also won his bid for a pay rise, his pay brought into line with the members of the Human Rights Commission and others. Mr Green’s pay rises from $161,600 to $191,300, the same rate as the human rights, discrimination, health services and children and young person commissioners and others. Other statutory officer holders and the Public Service executives received 2 per cent.

The retired master of the Supreme Court, David Harper, received a further extension of his salary while he completes judgments outstanding since his retirement a year ago. The tribunal said there were six remaining judgements, which Mr Harper expected to have completed by the end of June. His extension expires at the end of October.