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16 Jan

PM Malcolm Turnbull increases salary of ministerial staff

Renee Viellaris, Federal Political Editor, The Courier-Mail
January 15, 2018 8:00pm

PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull has personally approved almost $1 million in pay top-ups for senior staff, including those who work for him, boosting some staffer salaries above the pay of a backbencher.

The Prime Minister has exercised his power under MOPS, the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act, to grant up to 30 ministerial staff higher pay than under the enterprise agreement.

It puts the staffers above the range in their band, at a time when Australians are struggling with the lowest wage growth on record and facing significant cost-of-living pressures.

Under their workplace agreement, government staffers can be paid a maximum ­salary of $259,000, which is already well above the $203,000 wage of most federal MPs.

But Mr Turnbull has used a special power in the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 to hand an average of $28,000 each to the 30 staffers, leaving taxpayers to foot an $840,000 bill.

Nick Xenophon Team Leader Nick Xenophon questioned why there was secrecy around paid political advisers and called for accountability.

“If staff are paid above the band than the Government needs to go above and beyond to be transparent about it,’’ Mr Xenophon said. “If we are talking about salaries that are more than an elected Member of Parliament, then it should be transparent.”

But Mr Turnbull’s office and his Government, which is demanding the ABC disclose the salary of its highly-paid reporters, are refusing to identify the staff members and how much extra they are being paid.

It is likely the payrises are worth tens of thousands of dollars – and in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars extra – and will be on top of the thousands staff will paid in enterprise bargaining payrises in April this year and in 2019.

Staff wages will already automatically increase between $6000 and $10,0000 over the next 18 months.

Mr Turnbull’s former chief-of-staff Drew Clarke was paid almost $700,000, well above the principal adviser band 10 which pays $254,000 and more than Mr Turnbull. A backbencher earns about $205,000.

His new chief-of-staff Peter Woolcott, an experienced diplomat and public servant, is likely to be paid at a similar rate as Mr Clarke.

Mr Turnbull has 52 staff, including three principal advisers and 21 senior advisers, who are paid between $127,000 and $195,000.

Under Section 12 of the MOPS Act, the employment of ministerial staff is at the discretion of the prime minister.

The MOP(S) enterprise agreement imposes salary bands. An individual employee cannot be paid more than the maximum permitted under the relevant salary band unless the prime minister intervenes.

MOP(S) Act annual reports which list staff who are being paid above the band, have not been published since Tony Abbott won Government in 2013.

If staff were promoted to another classification it would trigger reporting to Estimates hearings but payment above the band does not automatically force disclosure.

The most recent reports show that under Labor, two staff members were employed at salaries above the range as of June 30, 2012, and three a year later.