Key Points:

Everyone knows politicians aren't in it for the money.

But the aspiring, and skint, world leader looking for a country to run in these belt-tightening times should head for Asia, particularly Singapore or Hong Kong.

The salaries on offer there far exceed anything even the White House can manage.

Ambitious Australian pollies in straitened circumstances should head not east but west. Western Australia's leader is the highest paid premier in the nation, and the WA backbencher earns more than his federal counterpart in Canberra.

If that seems nonsensical, Australia also pays its governor-general more than its prime minister.

But in the leadership salary stakes, no one can hold a candle to Singapore, the tiny island nation which believes in rewarding its public servants big time.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong earns the equivalent of A$3.8 million ($4.55 million) a year.

That's six times more than Barack Obama will earn when he takes office in the United States next month, nine times more than Britain's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and almost 12 times Australia's Kevin Rudd.

Singapore's PM will actually take a 19 per cent pay cut next year in response to the global financial crisis, but should still be able to scrape by.

Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang swings a mean pay satchel, too, pulling down A$775,000 a year.

But one of the world's top pay-per-population earners has to be Ireland's Brian Cowen, who draws some A$624,000 for running a country of four million.

Vladimir Putin's official stipend is tiny - one fifth of the Irish PM's - but the Russian leader's personal fortune is said to be considerable.

The US evidently sees little need to offer massive financial rewards to its president, who usually has to be a multi-millionaire to run for office in the first place.

The president's A$597,000 pay cheque is skimpy considering he is running the world's biggest economy, and it was half that until 2001. Some presidents, including John F. Kennedy and George Washington, have been sufficiently wealthy not to require a cent of it.

But self-denial among leaders doesn't come much greater than Bolivia's Evo Morales, who made good on a campaign pledge to halve his salary when he won office in 2006. He takes just A$32,000 a year, still fairly handy for a coca farmer and former llama herder.

Rudd will never be short of a dollar, thanks principally to his wife's considerable wealth, but his A$330,000 pay packet also puts him in a respectable position.

He earns more than many other regional leaders, including those in Malaysia and Thailand, but only a smidgen over John Key.

Rudd falls A$30,000 short of Governor-General Quentin Bryce, a peculiarity caused by her remuneration formula being tied in part to the salary of the chief justice.

Governors-general have enjoyed a meteoric increase in recent times, and now earn tenfold what Sir John Kerr got in the 1970s.

Rudd is only A$30,000 ahead of the highest earning premier, WA's Colin Barnett.

Federal backbenchers also earn a couple of thousand dollars less than those in Barnett's economic boom state.

Nathan Rees, leader of Australia's largest state, earns less than three other premiers - Barnett, Anna Bligh in Queensland and Mike Rann in SA.

MPs do okay, earning twice the average weekly wage. But WA federal MP Wilson Tuckey believes politicians are worth A$100,000 more, saying: "If you pay peanuts you get monkeys."

Remuneration Tribunal president John Conde agrees with him.

Conde said that in the late 1960s a federal Cabinet minister was paid around the same as a secretary of a government department. Yet a Cabinet minister now is on A$219,000 while the salary of a lower-level departmental secretary is A$365,000.

This year the Rudd Government cancelled the tribunal's recommendation that MPs get a 4.3 per cent pay rise, saying parliamentarians should show wage restraint as an example to the community.

Salaries of political leaders don't take into account things like travel, accommodation, electorate and living expenses, but some could be earning 10 times more in the private sector.

The perfect example is Malcolm Turnbull, who amassed a personal fortune of around A$120 million from a career in merchant banking, business and the law.

His A$235,000 salary as federal Opposition leader puts him below all state premiers bar Tasmania's, and if he does reach the highest office in the land financial reward will be the least of his motivations.

Macquarie Bank's Allan Moss earned more than A$33 million in 2006 - 100 times the wage slave in the Lodge.

- AAP