Society should reconsider whether politicians should further receive retirement benefits given some take up lucrative lobbying jobs, a director of the Centre for Public Integrity, barrister Geoffrey Watson, SC, said after it was reported that former prime ministers Paul Keating and Tony Abbott may be on the payroll of billionaire box king Anthony Pratt.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reported on Monday that documents showed Mr Pratt, whose fortune from paper recycling and box-making is estimated at $23 billion, paid Mr Keating $25,000 a month and Mr Abbott $8000 a month for consultancy services.

The precise nature of the services performed by the ex-prime ministers and how long the payments have lasted is unclear, although Mr Keating is a supporter of Mr Pratt’s long-standing desire to convince superannuation funds to loan to businesses like his.

“If Keating’s getting $25,000, how much is John Howard worth? Mr Watson said. “If Abbott and Keating are getting money, who else?”

“There seems to be a weakness in our system insofar we have historically set aside substantial sums to pay pensions to our politicians.

“We don’t know what services he [Mr Pratt] is getting, seeking or receiving from these powerful politicians who are receiving this money but he wouldn’t be doing it out of altruism. It is presumably to obtain some kind of advantage in either his commercial or private life or more probably both,” suggested Mr Watson.

Mr Pratt was not immediately available for comment.

Giving evidence

Pensions are no longer paid to federal politicians, unless they were elected before 2004, although some may be eligible for termination payments when they leave. All receive 15 per cent superannuation contributions.

Mr Abbott declined to comment. Mr Keating did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Separately, Mr Pratt could be compelled to give evidence against Donald Trump in a trial to determine if the former US president illegally removed classified documents from the White House. Mr Pratt is listed as a potential witness and has been interviewed by federal prosecutors, The New York Times reported.

US prosecutors provided the Times with messages between Pratt and Trump employees that showed how the Australian businessman built a relationship with the president by paying for membership and accommodation at Mr Trump’s Florida home, Mar-a-Lago.

“If Potus is having his election party at Mar Lago I’ll book as many rooms as available,” one message from Pratt said, referring to a common acronym for president of the United States.

Written by Aaron Patrick, originally published in the AFR on October 23