NEWSFLASH! In September I will join The Conversation as its Business and Economy Editor. I have been honoured to work at The Age for the past ten years, originally alongside the legendry Tim Colebatch, and for the past four years as economics editor in my own right.

At The Conversation, my job will be to make the best thinking from Australia's 40 univerisites accessible to the widest possible audience. That means you. From the new year I will also write a weekly column.

On this site are most of the important things I have written for Fairfax and the ABC over the past few decades. I recommend the Search function. The site is a record for you, as well as me.

I'll continue to post great things from The Conversation and other places here, and also on Twitter and Facebook. Enjoy.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Tony Abbott's pension. The myth that won't die

Some stories are too good to die, like the one about Tony Abbott's prime ministerial pension. Apparently he would have been able to get one if he had been in office for just three more days.

It is said that the pension is only available to prime ministers who have been in the job for two years. Abbott became prime minister on September 18, 2013. He was replaced just short of two years, earlier this month on September 15. If only he had held out another three days he could have retired on serious money, or so the story goes.

His treasurer is said to have done much better. Joe Hockey was sworn in on 18 September, 2013 and left office on September 21 - a period of just over two years.

It's so delicious it ought to be true, which might be why the ABC recycled it several times on the night of the spill and one of the News Corporation papers reported it as a fact the next day. And it could be why I am still getting emails berating me for overlooking it when I totaled Abbott's entitlements on the night of the spill.

I didn't overlook it. I checked it out and found it wrong. But I was unwise not to say so, figuring that there was not much news in something that was wrong.

I'm still getting emails. So rather than reply to each one, and to the others that are bound to come, I'll set the record straight.

The story is almost - but not completely - baseless.

The small amount of truth lies in a document some of the believers keep circulating on the internet. It's an account from the Parliamentary Library of the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Act. The account notes that in 1959 the "period of service for prime minister to attain eligibility reduced from three years to two years".

Proof, right? But eligibility for what? For a small supplement to the pension worth at the time 2000 to 3000 pounds per year.

It's not the pension itself, it's an add-on for ex-prime ministers.

And that's where the believers stop reading, having found what they were looking for. But further down in the same document it says the provision was repealed in 1978 and the "discreet prime ministerial benefit discontinued".

The Library is right. Today section 19A of the renamed Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Act refers to a supplement only available to prime ministers who held the office before 1978, none of whom are alive.

If Abbott retires, he will get around $300,000 per year, based on his length of service and the jobs he has held. The provisions don't step up with every two years of service.

But I'm sure I'll be told again that they do. The internet has both made it easier to find out the truth and easier to be fooled by dated information that looks as if it is truth.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald