Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the unpopular leader of a middle-ranking power of 22 million people, will soon earn more than United States President Barack Obama, who oversees a US$14.5 trillion ($19 trillion) economy.
She will also be paid far more than Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, the world's sixth-largest economy, following large increases in politicians' salaries understood to have been approved by the Remuneration Tribunal that sets parliamentary pay scales.
Although the details of the tribunal's determination have yet to be confirmed, Gillard's annual salary is expected to rise by A$90,000 to about A$470,000 ($616,494) - a rise that alone is about 20 per cent more than the nation's average pay packet.
The tribunal's decision will flow down through Parliament, handing all federal MPs large increases before a Christmas that for many Australians is looking grim. This week Treasurer Wayne Swan announced more than A$11 billion in cuts that will extend from the baby bonus paid to new mothers, to tax reforms and federal services.
Public servants are warning of massive job losses. The economy has also been hammered by global forces that have seen many regions isolated from the resources boom and hit by high unemployment and rising costs.
Morgan Research yesterday said its latest poll had shown a steep plunge in consumer confidence, with only 28 per cent of Australians now looking forward to good economic times in the coming 12 months.
The expected parliamentary salary increases also come as the nation's poorest workers struggle to survive: their latest pay rise of about A$20 a week brings the minimum wage to A$589.30 a week. In comparison, backbench salaries for federal MPs will rise to more than A$3400 a week.
The most recent Newspoll puts Gillard's satisfaction rating at 60 per cent, and Opposition leader Tony Abbott's at 57 per cent.
MPs have no say in deciding pay rates. These are determined independently by the Remuneration Tribunal. But there is little chance that they will refuse pay rises.
The base salary for backbenchers is expected to rise from A$140,910 to at least A$180,000. Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Wayne Swann's pay is tipped to increase from A$287,000 to A$370,000 .
But a number of lucrative perks will be axed, including lifetime travel Gold Passes and overseas study allowances that have provided MPs with first-class tickets to pursue interests and pleasure around the world.
Parliamentarians and other supporters of higher pay for MPs argue that the nation's politicians are underpaid in comparison to competing occupations and that increase are needed to attract real talent.
The average pay for the chief executives of Australia's 20 biggest companies is about A$10 million, and the income for the chiefs of the nation's four biggest banks averages about A$11 million.
Gillard's pay is less than that of her top public servants, who earn up to A$800,000.
Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens receives more than A$1 million - more than the combined income of the heads of the European Central Bank and US Federal.
In contrast, Gillard's new salary puts her in the range of a senior executive of a large company, while MPs' new pay packets are roughly the same as those for Melbourne- or Sydney-based national sales and business development managers.
Greens leader Bob Brown attacked the system that removed politicians' pay decisions from parliamentary oversight. "The big parties stopped the Parliament having to face the embarrassment of debating salaries."
MPs' expected pay rises have also been attacked by social services organisations and hammered on talkback radio, where listeners slammed "politicians' hypocrisy". Victorian Council of Social Services chief Cath Smith said MPs should be required to face the same kind of productivity and efficiency gains they demanded of others.
On news.com.au, "Mel" said no-one needed almost half a million dollars to live on. "Steve of NSW" said: "Politics seems to be the game to be in, especially if you are useless to society in any other role."
On Fairfax websites, "Ben" said: "Cut spending on one hand, give themselves more with the other." "Lefty" said: "Let them eat cake. Pay peanuts - get monkeys. Pay bigger peanuts - get bigger (and greedier) monkeys."
What leaders get paid
* Julia Gillard: A$470,000 (NZ$585,948)
* Barack Obama: A$408,580 (US$400,000)
* John Key: A$330,079 (NZ$411,510)
* David Cameron: A$229,616 (£142,500)
* MPs Australia: A$180,000 (NZ$224,405)
* MPs NZ: A$113,740 (NZ$141,800)