Members’ remuneration and entitlements
Review of Parliamentary Entitlements
The Committee of Review of Parliamentary Entitlements was appointed by the Government in 2009, following a report by the Australian National Audit Office that had been critical of the administration of parliamentary entitlements.
The committee found the existing arrangements to be complex and ambiguous, and made recommendations which aimed to ensure that Members and Senators are given relevant and adequate resources to do their jobs within a simplified, transparent and accountable framework that has regard to contemporary community standards. In its report the committee separated remuneration from ‘tools of trade’ such as office facilities and transport. Among the committee’s recommendations were that remuneration be set by Remuneration Tribunal determination and not be subject to disallowance by the Parliament, that the base rate of electorate allowance be incorporated into parliamentary salary, and that tools of trade entitlements be regulated by a single piece of legislation. It also made specific recommendations in relation to various entitlements.
As noted below, legislation was introduced in 2011 to implement some of the committee’s recommendations. Information in the following paragraphs is likely to be subject to further change as other recommendations are implemented.
The authority for payment of salaries to Members of Parliament and Ministers was expressly provided for in the Constitution, which reflected the practice followed by various State Parliaments. Thus, while it was not an innovation, Australia nevertheless preceded in this regard the UK House of Commons which did not make permanent provision for the payment of Members until 1911. For a summary of the earlier history of remuneration arrangements for Members see pages 181–3 of the second edition.
Remuneration of Members of the House of Representatives and Senators is set by the Remuneration and Allowances Act 1990. The Act was amended in 2011 to provide for the parliamentary base salary to be determined by the Remuneration Tribunal, to require the Tribunal to publish reasons for its decisions in relation to parliamentary remuneration and to remove the Parliament’s ability to disallow parliamentary remuneration determinations made by the Tribunal. Information on the current rates of salary can be found on the Remuneration Tribunal’s website.
Ministers and office holders receive an additional salary, and in some cases additional travelling allowance, as well as the basic parliamentary salary and allowance payable to all Members. The Remuneration Tribunal determines the additional salary paid to holders of a number of offices, including the Presiding Officers and their Deputies, Opposition Leaders and their Deputies, whips, shadow ministers, Manager of Opposition Business, members of the Speaker’s panel, and chairs and deputy chairs of parliamentary committees. The Remuneration and Allowances Act 1990 provides that, for the purposes of the provisions, ‘parliamentary committees’ means committees concerned with public affairs rather than the domestic affairs of Parliament, and provides that increases in the rates of additional salary occur at the same time and in the same proportion as increases in the basic salary payable to Members. Where new offices are established or the title of an existing office is varied the additional salary payable is determined by the Remuneration Tribunal. The Remuneration Tribunal advises the Government on the additional salary payable to Ministers.
A Member is paid salary and allowances from and including the day of the election, to and including:
- the day of dissolution, if not seeking re-election; or
- the day before the election, if re-nominating but defeated at the election.
A Member who is re-elected is paid continuously.
The additional salary payable to the Speaker continues to be paid until and including the day before the next Speaker is elected, even if the Speaker does not seek re-election at an election as a Member, is defeated at the election or resigns. These payments are continued because certain administrative functions continue to be performed by the Speaker between the date of dissolution or resignation and the election of a new Speaker. For the purposes of exercising any powers or functions under a law of the Commonwealth the incumbent Speaker is deemed to continue to be the Presiding Officer for this purpose under the terms of the Parliamentary Presiding Officers Act 1965.
In the case of the Deputy Speaker, entitlement to additional salary ceases:
- at the date of dissolution, if he or she does not seek re-election as a Member; or
- on the day before the election, if he or she is defeated at the election.
If the Deputy Speaker is re-elected as a Member, additional salary continues to be paid until and including the day before a successor is elected, as he or she may also have administrative functions to perform under the Parliamentary Presiding Officers Act.
The additional salary payable to whips, members of the Speaker’s panel and chairs of parliamentary committees ceases at the date of dissolution. The additional salary payable to Ministers continues until a new Ministry is selected and sworn in by the Governor-General.
Electorate allowance and other entitlements
The Remuneration Tribunal determines Members’ electorate allowances and certain other entitlements. The electorate allowance is a special allowance for expenses necessarily incurred by a Member in the performance of parliamentary duties. The rate of electorate allowance is set by the Remuneration Tribunal. Three rates are applicable, depending on the size of a Member’s electorate. A Member’s electorate allowance is not taxed at source; however, amounts not expended for electorate purposes may be assessed as part of a Member’s taxable income.
A travelling allowance is paid to cover expenses incurred in overnight stays away from the electorate on parliamentary business, which includes nights spent in Canberra during the sittings of the House, overnight stays in connection with meetings of parliamentary committees and a limited number of overnight stays within the electorate, the actual entitlement depending on the size of electorate. Travelling allowance is also payable, on a limited basis, for meetings of a Member’s parliamentary party and for meetings of party committees. Members are entitled to a number of other benefits in matters such as travel, telephone and postage services and motor vehicles. Depending on their length of service, Members may also have entitlements to travel at government expense after they cease to be Members of Parliament.
Members are provided with office accommodation in Parliament House and in their electorate and are entitled to employ three full-time staff members, or equivalent part-time staff. One staff member may be located in Canberra. In some of the larger electorates a second office and an additional staff member are provided. Each Member also has a limited budget to employ casual staff. The number and level of Members’ staff, the location and extent of office accommodation outside Parliament House and the nature of office furniture and equipment, including computer services, for these offices are determined by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. Electorate staff are employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984.
Compensation for Members (and their families) in the event of death or injury in connection with official business is by means of ex gratia cover. Payments have paralleled the entitlements Commonwealth employees receive under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988.
The Parliamentary Superannuation Act 2004 introduced new parliamentary superannuation arrangements for persons who first became members of the Federal Parliament, or returned to the Parliament after a previous period in Parliament, at or after the 2004 general election. Under these arrangements employer contributions of 15.4% of total parliamentary salaries (but not including certain allowances such as electorate allowance) are paid into a superannuation fund or retirement savings account nominated by the Member or Senator. These Members also have access to salary-sacrifice arrangements in respect of superannuation contributions.
Members and Senators who were sitting members of Parliament immediately before the 2004 general election were not affected by the new arrangements while they continued to remain in Parliament and remained covered by the former defined benefits scheme described in earlier editions, established by the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Act 1948.
A Member whose place becomes vacant through the operation of section 44 paragraph (i) of the Constitution, concerning allegiance to a foreign power, or paragraph (ii) concerning treason or conviction for an offence, or through section 45 paragraph (iii) as it relates to services rendered in the Parliament, is entitled to a refund of employee contributions only. Under the Crimes (Superannuation Benefits) Act 1989 a similarly restricted entitlement may apply to a Member convicted of certain offences, including a Member so convicted after resignation.