The Soap Box: New Chief Justice's eye-watering salary and super scheme

Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 18 December 2018, 10:33AM
Justice Helen Winkelmann has been appointed the new Chief Justice. Photo / Supplied
Justice Helen Winkelmann has been appointed the new Chief Justice. Photo / Supplied


There's a lot of poppycock used to argue that top public servants are being paid extraordinary salaries because they could go out and earn more in the private sector.

The truth is a lot of public servants have been pushing a pen for so long they've become institutionalised - and competing on the open market would be beyond them.

As it is they're paid much more than their political masters and that certainly wasn't always the case. The Prime Minister's paid around the same as the head of the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, although "Vulnerable" no longer forms part of the name because it was seen as insensitive.

Jacinda Ardern doesn't come within cooee of the boss at ACC for example, who's on well over $800,000 a year - and he's not alone at that level of remuneration.

There's one appointment she's just made to a top public service role though who'll earn a good deal more than her, but who could earn even more in the private sector. That's the Chief Justice's job which has gone to 56-year-old Helen Winkelmann who'll now be cushioned for the rest of her career to ensure she doesn't have to think about what they're earning on the outside.

We're told a Queen's Counsel can expect to rake in more than a million a year.

Dame Sian Elias, the current Chief Justice, has been in the job for almost 20 years and will leave her Supreme Court office next March as a very wealthy woman, not that she isn't already.

The taxpayer cushion provided to judges is gold-plated, like no other super scheme. They're allowed to contribute up to 5 per cent of their salary, which is topped up by the taxpayer by a staggering $7.50 for each dollar they contribute.

It means the money Elias may have contributed over the years could see her walking away with subsidies close to $3 million. But that's conservative with the Herald on Sunday predicting she could retire with $6.5m in the bank.

Several years back Andrew Little, who's now Justice Minister, described the judicial super as one of the most generous he's ever heard of. Not surprising considering the MPs get a piddling $2.50 for each dollar they invest.

But of course the politicians can't interfere with the judiciary's pay and conditions, it's called judicial independence and it means they're a law unto themselves.

The moral to the story is, law is the vocation to follow.

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