Adam Piggott

Gentleman adventurer

Canberra – your first world holiday destination.

President Trump sure is getting a lot done and he hasn’t even reached his first 100 days yet. This one in particular caught my eye.

President Trump signed an executive order instituting a federal hiring freeze, although there is an exemption for the military. A federal hiring freeze was the second point in President Trump’s “Contract with the American Voter.” During his inaugural address, the president said, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.

There is another capital city in the world that is flourishing at the expense of a nation’s citizens, and that city is Canberra.

I have to confess that I have never stepped foot in my nation’s capital. A city of public servants has no appeal to me. In days gone by Canberra was best known for its large number of heroin addicts as well as its legalised pornography. But more and more it is becoming known in Australia as a weekend getaway destination, at least amongst the upwardly mobile middle class.

During my weekly shopping last Saturday morning I bumped into a couple that I know socially. We ended up talking about their amazing weekend away which they had enjoyed a few weeks previously. I knew what was coming before they even said it as I have heard it so many times lately. Sure enough they had stayed in Canberra, and I stood patiently while they enthused about the fantastic hotel, the beautiful restaurants and bars, and the sheer amount of energy that the city enjoys.

“Much more going on there than here in Melbourne,” my acquaintance concluded with a wry smile.

That might have something to do with the huge numbers of well paid public servants that dwell in that city. Australia isn’t doing so well at the moment with living standards in decline due to wage stagnation.

There has not been such an extended period of stagnation in household incomes for 25 years, since the depths of Australia’s last recession, according to analysis by the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods researcher, Ben Phillips.

After allowing for population growth and inflation, household disposable income in the December quarter was actually 0.1 per cent lower than it was in the same period of 2011, the first such fall since 1991.

It’s fortunate for the government that the analysis included public sector wages. If it had only been private sector income included in the study then the figures would have been a great deal uglier. The latest figures from the ABS show a 3.1% average wage increase for public servants while the private sector increased by only 1.2%. Here’s a nice little graph from the link:

Notice the flat-lining trend in the private sector while the public sector is shooting up.

Perhaps you think that this is an anomaly. Back in May 2013 the private sector had a slightly larger increase of a 5.4% yearly change as opposed to a 3.9% increase in the public sector. But comparing the May 2013 figures to the November 2016 figures we find that the public sector average weekly wage has gone from $1269.70 to $1390.80, an increase of $121.10. The private sector has enjoyed an increase of $44.10 in the weekly wage over the same time period, going from $1066.30 to $1110.40.

The general analysis of this data from the ABS shows the following:

Average weekly total cash earnings for all employees was higher in the public sector ($1,489.00) than in the private sector ($1,170.00).

That’s more than I thought. I wonder which state in Australia enjoys the highest average income?

The average weekly total cash earnings of all employees was highest in the Australian Capital Territory ($1,461.90). The average weekly total cash earnings of all employees was lowest in Tasmania ($1,041.00) and South Australia ($1,077.00).

The ACT of course is comprised almost entirely of one city – Canberra.

When you consider that the public sector has a minimum superannuation of 15.4% compared to the 9.5% of the private sector then it becomes even more economically unhealthy. The kicker of course is that 15.4% superannuation is paid for by the taxpayer. The other kicker is the 9.5% private sector super is paid for by employers which adds to the constraint on wages due to its effect on company profits.

Perhaps there are so many wonderful places to eat and drink in Canberra due to the “salary sacrifice” perks that public servants enjoy for things such as meals and entertainment, the end result being that these are paid tax free which adds thousands of dollars to their average yearly wage. Add to that the amount of holidays and flexible working hours and it really is a dream job to go and work for the government, all while apparently “serving” the Australian taxpayer.

Like Washington DC, Canberra is flourishing but the rest of Australia is not sharing its wealth. On the contrary, a city that was intended to serve Australia is doing so well at the expense of the nation. This is simply obscene. But unlike the USA, we do not have a leader here who is committed to draining the swamp. Locked away in our nation’s capital, the people employed to serve the country enjoy ever greater largesse as Australia slips further and further behind.


He has risen.


Real life has a habit of punching you in the face.


  1. David Moore

    It’s interesting that in days gone past the expectation was always that public service paid less than private sector employment, the trade off being the job security and pensions.

    That has now reversed.

    You now have a population of Mandarins, living in an Imperial City. Better paid, better job security, and pensions disconnected to what the general population gets, all paid for by those lower paid, less secure people. Their jobs, increasingly, are not running the sewage systems, or making sure the post gets through, but instead telling that general population how to act and behave.

    That, as they say, cannot end well.

  2. Carl-Edward

    Clearly, Washington is a city of incestuous Mandarins.

    Anent Australia, when I lived in London, I had a neighbour who worked at the Australian High Commission – and my impression of her was that she wished she were English (she was fair, blonde, blue-eyed – and a perfect old maid; at home, she lived with her mother in an apartment overlooking Sydney Harbor). After a time, it became clear to me that there were two kinds of Australians: those who were proud to be Australian, and those who wished they were English. For example, my neighbour told me she disliked: ‘Advance Australia Fair’, and thought it a poor substitute for: ‘God Save The Queen’.

    As a libertarian, I am no lover of national anthems, and I am aware that I have strayed far from the point – but I now wonder which kind of nationalist slave my friend had wished to be.

    I must conclude with this. We went to the Elizabeth Hall to hear Carmel Kaine, who had been at the New South Wales Conservatorium with my neighbour. After the performance, Miss Kaine graciously received us in her dressing room, where my clearly envious acquaintance- rather than compliment her on what I had thought a superb performance – asked her for the loan of her iron!

    • Adam

      After a time, it became clear to me that there were two kinds of Australians: those who were proud to be Australian, and those who wished they were English.

      Barry Humphries’ comic creation Dame Edna Everage is based entirely on this premise.

  3. MarkT

    Canberra is my hometown, where I lived during my formative years from 1974-88 (ages 4-18), attending Canberra Grammar School – and I completely agree.

  4. Its completely weird to have the Government isolated entirely from the working Cities and the people. I used to cross call in to Canberra on my road trips up the east side. As soon as I got there I pulled back to Gundagai. or Goulbern. .

  5. “Much more going on there than here in Melbourne,” my acquaintance concluded with a wry smile.

    That doesn’t set the bar very high in my experience.

    • Adam

      It’s about as high as Australia gets, apart from Canberra of course.

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