What Australian politicians could learn from the Europeans
Turnbull, our richest prime minister by a long shot, used to make a big deal of catching the train in Sydney.
It made him appear a man of the people.
Good luck to him but I have severe doubts that a few minutes of strap hanging gave him too many insights into the real world which most of us inhabit.
As well as his own money bin, Turnbull (and his successor) enjoyed one of the highest political salaries in world, well over $500,00 a year.
I have long been a proponent of top salaries to encourage our best people in political life and - faint hope - less reliance on the lurks and perks of office.
However, I am coming to believe that our munificence is not only abused but is counter- productive.
Our pollies get a base salary of more than $207,000 a year, a sum vastly increased every time they win parliamentary or party promotion or take on some committee work. The average cabinet minister - and some are very average - is paid more than $350,000 and opposition counterparts about $250,000.
For this we deserve excellence but we settle for mediocrity and, in a lamentable number of cases, incompetence.
Worse, this infusion of massive salaries and endless entitlements seems to starve them of the oxygen of commonsense and the nourishment of humility, modesty and frugality.
And it propels them into the orbit with some of the great grifters of Australian life and makes them dangerously susceptible to dodgy deals and decidedly suspicious friendships.
Does it have to be like this?
Not according to Brazilian journalist Claudia Wallin in her book Sweden: The Untold Story.
We all know a bit about Sweden. It makes excellent cars, pretty good submarines and punches above its weight in many ways.
What we probably didn't know is that it is run by a bunch of bus-catching ordinaries who receive very average salaries.
The take-home pay of a member of the Riksdag (parliament) is about two times more than that of an elementary school teacher.
The prime minister's salary is just $317,000 a year and he is the only minister to have an official car.
And, unlike here, Swedish politicians enjoy no parliamentary privilege and can be dragged into court by any aggrieved citizen.
Wallin has a fair amount of idealistic socialist baggage, but she writes: "This is a society that elects politicians whomust be in touch with the day-to-day realities and pains of citizens.
"Politicians are not allowed to place their personal interests ahead of those of the people, in a society that demonstrates that political power can be exercised within the boundaries of decency.''
Similar modesty in Australia might quickly sort out the servants and the self-servers.