Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard hit the jackpot yesterday when she was recommended for a 31 percent pay rise to take her salary to A$481,000 (US$476,000) — more than US President Barack Obama.
Gillard, whose support in opinion polls is near rock bottom, was handed the early Christmas present 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.
Cabinet ministers will see their salary rise from A$224,300 to A$319,125, while federal members of parliament (MP) will also get pay hikes, with the base salary for even the most junior parliamentarian jumping from A$140,000 to A$185,000.
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 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 said.
Asked whether it was the right time in the economic cycle to be thinking about pay rises, 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,” Conde said.
According to the White House, Obama earns a salary of US$395,188 as president.
While Gillard’s earnings — currently a yearly US$367,000 — are significantly more than the average annual wage of less than A$55,000, her salary pales in comparison with some of the country’s top chief executives.
BHP Billiton chief Marius Kloppers earns more than A$11 million, while the head of Westpac Bank, Gail Kelly, takes home more than A$8 million.
The tribunal’s report found that the pay rises for MPs were justified by the advent of e-mail and social networking.
“E-mail, 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.”
However, Australian Minister of Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson told reporters he did not need a pay rise, but accepted the tribunal’s decision.
“I actually think my ministerial salary is pretty good,” he said.