The base salary for senators and members: 2016 update

9 June 2016

PDF version [297KB]

Cathy Madden, Deirdre McKeown, Politics and Public Administration Section
Sue Johnson, Statistics and Mapping Section

Contents

Introduction

Constitutional and legislative basis for payment

Remuneration Tribunal

Parliamentary base salary—a brief history

1901–1973
Remuneration Tribunal
Reference Salary—under the PEO Classification
2011–present

Percentage increases in the base salary from 1996

Increases in the parliamentary base salary compared with average wages from 1968

 

Introduction

Senators and members receive an annual allowance by way of basic salary—$199,040 from 1 January 2016.[1] This research paper explains the legislative basis, fixing and linking mechanisms for the allowance. Adjustments to the base salary since 1968 are provided in Table 1 and Graph 1.

Information on the base salary of state and territory members of parliament is available in a companion Research paper, Parliamentary remuneration and entitlements: 2016 update.

Constitutional and legislative basis for payment

Section 48 of the Constitution provides for the payment of Members of Parliament:

Until the Parliament otherwise provides, each senator and each member of the House of Representatives shall receive an allowance of four hundred pounds a year, to be reckoned from the day on which he takes his seat.

Since 1901, the Parliament has enacted legislation to define the parliamentary base salary for the purposes of Section 48 of the Constitution.

The Remuneration and Allowances Act 1990 defines a parliamentary allowance which is consistent with the arrangements whereby the Remuneration Tribunal determines the remuneration of parliamentarians.[2] Section 8 provides that salaries and allowances are to be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

Section 8A of the Remuneration and Allowances Act 1990 allows the Governor-General to make regulations necessary to give effect to the Act. Remuneration and Allowances Regulations 2005 are now in force.

Remuneration Tribunal

The Remuneration Tribunal is an independent statutory body established by the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973. This legislation allows the Tribunal to inquire into and determine allowances paid out of consolidated revenue to senators and members.[3] The Tribunal’s Report 1999/01 states that ‘the Government can choose to accept or reject the Tribunal’s advice on these matters …’.[4] In 1974 Parliament disapproved the Tribunal’s determination increasing the base salary to $20,000 per annum. In the decades since then Parliament has also modified determinations, postponed increases and enacted reduced allowances previously determined by the Tribunal as an example of wage restraint.[5]

The commencement of the Remuneration and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2011 restores the power of the Remuneration Tribunal to determine parliamentary remuneration. The legislation also removes the power of the Parliament to disallow parliamentary remuneration determinations made by the Tribunal.

The base salary for senators and members is $199,040 per annum from 1 January 2016

The applicable Principal Remuneration Tribunal Determination is Determination 2016/10, Members of Parliament–base salary, additional salary for parliamentary office holders, and related matters. The applicable regulations are Remuneration and Allowances Regulations 2005, SLI 2005 No. 308

Parliamentary base salary—a brief history

1901–1973

At the Constitutional Convention at Sydney in 1891, Sir Samuel Griffith said:

One of the first things to be done by the parliament of the commonwealth in its first session would be to settle the salaries of ministers, and a great number of other matters of that kind. We have, therefore, given them power to deal with this subject. We did not think it necessary to make this in any sense a payment of members bill. We lay down, however, the principle that they, are to receive an annual allowance for their services, and we thought that it should start in the first instance at £500.[6]

At the Adelaide Convention, however, the draft constitution bill debated specified an amount of £400 and this was the annual allowance subsequently enacted in the Constitution.[7]

In 1907 parliamentarians made themselves liable to the payment of State income taxes.[8] Tax concessions for electorate expenses were allowed from 1925.[9] In 1907 the Parliament also enacted the Parliamentary Allowances Act 1907, raising the base salary from £400 to £600.

Between 1901 and the establishment of the Remuneration Tribunal in 1973, Parliament adjusted allowances following decisions of executive government or as the result of recommendations from committees of inquiry.[10] In 1971 Justice Kerr noted that during this time there was ‘no fixed pattern of approach’ to the timing and method of reviewing base salaries—a process that invariably attracted criticism.[11] The Kerr Inquiry suggested the establishment of a ‘Salaries Tribunal … authorised by legislation to review salaries and report at regular stated intervals.’

Kerr also wrote:

Nothing … should prevent the Parliament or the Government from rejecting recommendations or from taking action not in accordance with what is recommended.[12]

Remuneration Tribunal

From its establishment in 1973, the Remuneration Tribunal, using a range of evidence and indicators, determined the base salary with reference to second division officers of the Commonwealth Public Service.[13] Adjustments were then made by applying National Wage Case decisions. In 1979 the Government legislated to remove the Tribunal’s determination that these adjustments be automatic.[14]

In 1987 the Tribunal convened a conference for interested parties to examine parliamentarians’ salaries.[15] An independent review was consequently conducted for the Tribunal in 1988. The resulting report recommended increases based on work value and community pay standards. The review strongly recommended that there be no linkage between the base salary and Australian Public Service (APS) salaries.[16] Increases determined by the Tribunal at that time were deferred.

With the Remuneration and Allowances Act 1990, the Government removed the Tribunal’s power to determine base salaries and allowed a phased increase to the allowance over three years. The legislation also provided a link with Senior Executive Service (SES) Band 1 salaries in the APS—in contrast to the recommendation in the 1988 review. Adjustments to the base salary were made by means of national wage case decisions and, from 1992, agreements between the Government and public sector unions.

Legislation enacted in 1994 ensured that the base salary was equivalent to the minimum APS SES Band 2 salary level. The then Workplace Relations Act 1996 enabled SES salaries to be set through individual Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), thereby removing the standard against which the base salary was determined. With the expiry of the final APS Enterprise Agreement at the end of 1996, the mechanism by which adjustments were made to the base salary ceased.

Legislative changes to the APS in 1999, among other matters, amended the Remuneration and Allowances Act 1990 and the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973.

Reference Salary—under the PEO Classification

In Report 1999/01 the Tribunal recommended that the base salary be linked to a reference salary under the Principal Executive Office (PEO) Classification Structure.[17] The Government accepted this recommendation and introduced the Remuneration and Allowances Regulations 2005 to create the link. The Regulations provide for the reference salary to be 100 per cent of the rate determined by the Remuneration Tribunal for Band A of the PEO Classification.

The Remuneration Tribunal’s amending Determination 2008/10 increased Reference Salary A in the PEO Classification by 4.3 per cent to $132,530 from 1 July 2008. Consequently, for the purposes of the base salary in 2008–09, the Remuneration and Allowances Regulations reduced Reference Salary A by 4.3 per cent.

On 26 May 2008, the Rudd Government introduced the Remuneration and Allowances Amendment Regulations 2008 (No. 1) amending the Remuneration and Allowances Regulations 2005 to freeze the base salary at $127,060 per annum. Rather than 100 per cent of Reference Salary A, Regulation 5 described the percentage as:

Regulation 5 Remuneration and allowances of Senators and Members of the House of Representatives

(2) For the financial year commencing on 1 July 2008, and for each subsequent financial year:

(a) the percentage is the percentage of the reference salary which, when applied to the reference salary, reduces the reference salary by the amount (in whole dollars) by which the reference salary was increased by the Remuneration Tribunal for the financial year commencing on 1 July 2008

For the purpose of calculating the base salary, Regulation 5 had the effect of reducing Reference Salary A in the PEO Classification by the percentage necessary to arrive at the rate payable at 30 June 2008, that is, $127,060.

On 20 June 2011 the Remuneration Tribunal released Determination 2011/11 Principal Executive Office (PEO) Classification Structure and Terms and Conditions which set Reference Salary A at $146, 380. On the basis described above, that is Reference Salary A less $5470, the parliamentary base salary increased to $140,910 with effect from 1 July 2011.

Under the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973, the Tribunal had wide scope to consider factors when reviewing the PEO Classification. The Tribunal indicated that these factors included: key economic indicators; other specific indicators such as the Wage Price Index; salary outcomes in the public (and to a lesser degree) private sector; the principles of wage determination and decisions of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.[18]

2011–present

In 2009 an Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report, Administration of parliamentarians’ entitlements by the Department of Finance and Deregulation, highlighted shortcomings in the management of MPs’ entitlements.[19] In September 2009, in response to the ANAO report, the Government set up a committee to review parliamentary entitlements, chaired by former senior public servant, Barbara Belcher.

In 2011 the Government accepted the recommendation of the Report of the committee for the review of parliamentary entitlements to restore the power of the Remuneration Tribunal to determine parliamentary base salary.[20] The legislation, the Remuneration and other Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, also removed the power of the Parliament to disallow parliamentary remuneration determinations made by the Tribunal. The Bill passed both Houses on 23 June 2011 and received assent on 25 July 2011, commencing on 8 August 2011.

On 15 December 2011 the Remuneration Tribunal issued its initial report on the work value assessment of parliamentary remuneration.[21] The Tribunal also issued a Statement outlining its recommendations and next steps.[22] The main recommendations included:

on the basis of a work assessment of parliamentarians, that parliamentary base salary should be set at $185,000

On 13 March 2012 the Tribunal issued the first Determination setting the base salary of $185,000 for Members of Parliament to take effect from 15 March 2012.[23]

On 19 June 2012 the Tribunal issued Determination 2012/15: Members of Parliament – Base salary, entitlements and related matters which increased MPs’ base salary by 3 per cent to $190,550 from 1 July 2012.[24]

On 18 June 2013, the Tribunal issued Determination 2013/13: Members of Parliament – Base salary, additional salary for Parliamentary office holders and related matters which increased the base salary by 2.4 per cent to $195,130 from 1 July 2013.[25]

In its 2014 Annual review of Remuneration for Holders of Public Office, the Remuneration Tribunal determined that there would be no annual adjustment to remuneration for offices in its jurisdiction from 1 July 2014 for one year. This includes parliamentarians and office holders as well as other principal executive offices.[26] Determination 2014/10 Members of Parliament–base salary, additional salary for parliamentary office holders, and related matters gives effect to this decision.[27]

In May 2015 the Tribunal deferred the determining of an annual adjustment until later in the year.[28] On 9 December the Tribunal determined that all offices in its jurisdiction would receive a 2.0 per cent increase.[29]

Percentage increases in the base salary from 1996

Since 1996, the base salary has increased by the following (in actual dollars):

  • 7 March 1996—1.6 per cent
  • 17 October 1996—1.2 per cent
  • 7 December 1999—4.45 per cent, the first stage of a 9.95 per cent two-stage increase
  • 1 July 2000—5.5 per cent, the second stage of the 9.95 per cent increase
  • 1 July 2000—2.2 per cent by virtue of an adjustment to the PEO Classification Structure
  • 1 July 2001—3.9 per cent
  • 1 July 2002—3.35 per cent
  • 1 July 2003—4 per cent
  • 1 July 2004—3.9 per cent
  • 1 July 2005—4.1 per cent and
  • 1 July 2006—7.01 per cent
  • 1 July 2007—6.8 per cent
  • 1 October 2009—3.1 per cent
  • 1 August 2010—3.8 per cent
  • 1 July 2011—3.6 per cent
  • 15 March 2012—31.3 per cent
  • 1 July 2012—3.0 per cent
  • 1 July 2013—2.4 per cent
  • 1 July 2014—0 per cent
  • 1 January 2016—2.0 per cent

Increases in the parliamentary base salary compared with average wages from 1968

During the 1980s the MPs’ base salary failed to keep up with inflation resulting in a decline in value in real terms. This was in contrast to the average which kept ahead of inflation and grew, in real terms, at an annual average rate of 0.3 per cent.

As a result the base salary, which had been three times the average wage in 1975, was only twice the average wage in 1991. During the 1990s MPs were given increases to their base salary which allowed some catch up with average wages. However, despite this by 2011 the base salary was still only 2.2 times the average wage.

In March 2012 MPs received an increase to their base salary of 31.3 per cent. This resulted in a significant increase in the value of the salary relative to average wages. At 2.8 times the average annual wage it is at its highest level in 37 years.

The freeze on MPs’ pay for a year (beginning 1 July 2014) reduces the gap with average weekly earnings. There was no increase in MPs’ base salary in 2015.

Table 1: Base salary compared with average wages 1968–2016

Base salary
($ per annum)

Male total average wages
($ per annum) (b)

Ratio allowance to average wages

Year

Date of effect

Current prices

Real prices  (2014 dollars) (a)

Current prices

Real prices (2014 dollars) (a)

1968

1.12.68

9 500

109 353

3 525

40 572

2.7

1973

1.4.73

14 500

134 697

5 256

48 823

2.8

1975

1.3.1975

20 000

138 431

6 987

48 359

2.9

1975

15.5.1975

20 720

138 876

7 597

50 918

2.7

1975

9.9.1975

20 000

133 208

7 659

51 014

2.6

1976

1.6.1976

21 250

127 140

8 739

52 284

2.4

1977

1.6.1977

24 369

128 392

9 656

50 876

2.5

1978

1.7.1978

25 692

125 382

10 637

51 908

2.4

1979

1.7.1979

26 720

119 900

11 606

52 081

2.3

1979

23.11.1979

27 575

117 277

12 091

51 424

2.3

1980

1.7.1980

28 816

116 474

13 139

53 109

2.2

1980

1.8.1980

30 026

121 365

13 139

53 109

2.3

1981

1.7.1981

36 000

134 239

14 771

55 080

2.4

1981

1.7.1981

33 013

123 101

14 771

55 080

2.2

1982

1.7.1982

36 000

121 029

17 201

57 828

2.1

1982

1 10 1982

38 500

125 066

17 602

57 181

2.2

1983

6.10.1983

40 156

119 453

18 875

56 147

2.1

1984

1.5.1984

41 802

121 951

20 011

58 380

2.1

1985

1.7.1985

42 889

117 060

21 018

57 365

2.0

1986

1.7.1986

45 543

114 561

22 796

57 341

2.0

1986

10.3.1987

46 065

107 688

23 176

54 180

2.0

1987

1.7.1987

47 815

110 078

23 828

54 856

2.0

1988

1.7.1988

49 180

105 642

25 350

54 455

1.9

1989

1.1.1989

55 000

113 760

27 483

56 845

2.0

1990

16.11.1989

55 000

105 516

28 156

54 016

2.0

1990

1.7.1990

58 300

108 126

29 339

54 414

2.0

1991

1.1.1991

61 798

110 922

30 533

54 804

2.0

1991

1.7.1991

64 768

116 253

30 001

53 850

2.2

1991

15.8.1991

66 387

118 556

30 001

53 577

2.2

1992

17.12.1992

67 715

119 318

31 258

55 078

2.2

1993

11.3.1993

68 663

119 990

31 868

55 690

2.2

1994

1.1.1994

68 663

118 814

32 619

56 443

2.1

1994

10.3.1994

69 693

120 008

32 619

56 168

2.1

1994

15.12.1994

74 460

125 562

33 620

56 693

2.2

1995

12.1.1995

75 949

128 073

33 990

57 318

2.2

1995

6.4.1995

77 438

128 537

34 115

56 627

2.3

1995

13.7.1995

78 987

129 285

34 240

56 044

2.3

1996

7.3.1996

80 251

128 377

34 949

55 909

2.3

1996

17.10.1996

81 856

129 575

35 507

56 207

2.3

1999

7.12.1999

85 500

131 034

38 657

59 244

2.2

2000

1.7.2000

92 000

138 786

39 522

59 621

2.3

2001

1.7.2001

95 600

135 893

41 034

58 329

2.3

2002

1.7.2002

98 800

136 592

42 963

59 397

2.3

2003

1.7.2003

102 760

138 451

45 310

61 047

2.3

2004

1.7.2004

106 770

140 285

46 248

60 765

2.3

2005

1.7.2005

111 150

142 503

48 907

62 703

2.3

2006

1.7.2006

118 950

146 645

51 045

62 930

2.3

2007

1.7.2007

127 060

153 428

53 861

65 038

2.4

2008

1.7.2008

127 060

146 896

55 738

64 439

2.3

2009

1.10.2009

131 040

147 944

60 623

68 443

2.2

2010

1.8.2010

136 040

150 382

61 702

68 208

2.2

2011

1.7.2011

140 910

150 427

64 471

68 826

2.2

2012

15.3.2012

185 000

196 111

66 995

71 018

2.8

2012

1.7.2012

190 550

200 988

67 000

70 670

2.8

2013

1.7.2013

195 130

201 014

70 754

72 888

2.8

2014

1.7.2014

195 130

195 130

71 171

71 171

2.7

2016

1.1.2016

199 040

199 040

71 693

71 693

2.8

Annual average percentage change

 

 

 

 

 

1968 to 2016

1.1

1.0

1.1

1.0

 

1970 to 1980

11.7

0.6

14.1

2.7

 

1980 to 1990

6.7

-1.0

7.9

0.2

 

1990 to 2000

5.3

2.8

3.4

1.0

 

2000 to 2010

4.0

0.8

4.6

1.4

 

2013 to 2016 (c)

0.7

-1.3

0.4

-1.5

 

(a) adjusted for inflation with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to December 2015 prices
(b) average weekly wages annualised; male average wage is used as the measure as it provides a long term, relatively consistent time series on average earnings data back to 1968
(c) wages growth to November 2015 and MPs’ base salary to 1 January 2016
Sources:
Data on MP’s allowance from Commonwealth Acts and Remuneration Tribunal Reports and Determinations.
Average wages and deflators from ABS, Consumer price index, Australia, March 2016, cat. no. 6401.0. Average weekly earnings, Australia, November 2015, cat. no. 6302.0.
Real values calculated by the Parliamentary Library

Graph 1: Base salary for members of parliament and average weekly wages index—real terms

Graph 1: Base salary for members of parliament and average weekly wages index—real terms

Graph 1 provides data until January 2016, but the axis labels are set to show every two years from Dec 1968

Table 1, Graph 1 and commentary on the comparison of MPs’ base salary and real wages by Sue Johnson, Statistics and Mapping Section.



[1].         The choice of phrase to describe the allowance payable under Section 48 of the Constitution is a difficult one. ‘Basic salary’ is commonly used in an informal sense and serves to distinguish it from salaries paid to ministers and office-holders. The authors have chosen to use ‘parliamentary base salary’. Federal parliamentarians are also entitled to other benefits and allowances described in legislation. See C Madden and D McKeown, Parliamentary remuneration and entitlements, Research paper series 2015–16, Parliamentary Library, 2016.

[2].         See Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973 s3 and ss 7(1), accessed 19 April 2016.

[3].         Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973, subsection 7(1).

[5].         Remuneration Tribunal, 1982 Review, pp. 18–21 and Report 1999/01, op. cit., pp. 1–5.

[6].         S Griffith, Official Report of the National Australasian Convention Debates, Sydney, 2 April 1891, p. 654.

[7].         Official Report of the National Australasian Convention Debates, First Session, Adelaide, 22nd March to 23rd April 1897, pp. 1032–34.

[8].         Commonwealth Salaries Act 1907, Act no 7 of 1907.

[9].         E Page, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 June 1947, p. 3355. An Electorate Expense Allowance, not subject to income taxation, was paid from 1952.

[10].      Including—Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Salaries and Allowances of Members of the National Parliament (Nicholas Report), 1952; Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Salaries and Allowances of Members of the Commonwealth Parliament (Richardson Report), 1955; Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Salaries and Allowances of Members of the Commonwealth Parliament (Richardson Report), 1959; Salaries and Allowances of Members of the Parliament of the Commonwealth: A Report of Inquiry by Mr Justice Kerr, (Kerr Report), 1971.

[11].      Mr Justice Kerr, ibid., p. 12.

[12].      Ibid., p. 16.

[13].      With the enactment of the Public Service Reform Act 1984, the Second Division of the Commonwealth Public Service was replaced by the SES. See Public Service Reform Bill 1984, Bills Digest, no. 72, 1984, p. 2.

[15].      Remuneration Tribunal, 1987 Review, pp. 5–12.

[16].      Cullen Egan Dell, Report on the pay and allowances for members of parliament: prepared for the Remuneration Tribunal, 1988, pp. 18–19.

[17].      The PEO classification structure provides a framework for the negotiation of the terms and conditions of PEO employment.

[18].      Remuneration Tribunal, Explanatory Memorandum: Determination 2004/15 – Principal Executive Office (PEO) Classification Structure Terms and Conditions. WCI is a product of the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The Tribunal’s Report 1999/01 highlights some of the factors given consideration by the Tribunal during earlier deliberations.

[19].      Australian National Audit Office, Administration of parliamentarians’ entitlements by the Department of Finance and Deregulation, ANAO, 2009, accessed 19 April 2016.

[20].      Report of the Committee for the Review of Parliamentary Entitlements (the Belcher review), April 2010, p. 12, accessed 19 April 2016.

[21].      Remuneration Tribunal, Review of the Remuneration of Members of Parliament: Initial report, 15 December 2011, accessed 19 April 2016.

[22].      Remuneration Tribunal, Reports, Members of Parliament, Secretaries of Departments, Specified Statutory Offices, Statement, 15 December 2011, accessed 18 April 2016.

[23].      Remuneration Tribunal, Determination 2012/02: Members of Parliament—Base salary and related matters, 12 March 2012, accessed 18 April 2016.

[24].      Remuneration Tribunal, Determination 2012/15: Members of Parliament—Base salary, entitlements and related matters, 19 June 2012, accessed 18 April 2016.

[25].      Remuneration Tribunal, Determination 2013/13: Members of Parliament – Base salary, additional salary for Parliamentary office holders and related matters, 18 June 2013, accessed 18 April 2016; Remuneration Tribunal, Determination 2013/13  Members of Parliament – Salary statement of reasons, June 2013, accessed 18 April 2016.

[26].      Remuneration Tribunal, 2014 Review of Remuneration for Holders of Public Office, Statement, 12 May 2014, accessed 18 April 2016.

[27].      Remuneration Tribunal, Determination 2014/10: Members of Parliament—Base salary, additional salary for parliamentary office holders, and related matters, 14 May 2014 , accessed 18 April 2016.

[28].      Remuneration Tribunal, 2015 Review of Remuneration for Holders of Public Office, Statement, 31 March 2015; Remuneration Tribunal, Determination 2015/06 Members of Parliament – Base Salary, Additional Salary for Parliamentary Office Holders, and Related Matters, Reasons for Determination, The Tribunal, 11 May 2015, accessed 9 March 2016.

[29].      Remuneration Tribunal, Determination 2015/22, Members of Parliament–Base salary, additional salary of parliamentary office holders and related matters, The Tribunal, 9 December 2015, accessed 9 March 2016.

 

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