The Dom Post has covered the story about funding a third staff member for MPs with very large electorates.
Their story is a significant improvement on the beatup on TV3 last night. They correctly identify that this was part of the confidence and supply deal made last year. What they failed to do though is to mention that it was implementing a recommendation made by an independent reviewer of parliamentary resources. That is a key ingredient in this story.
They also confirmed that Tamaki Makaurau did not get any extra resource as it is relatively small. I am glad of that, because that was part of my criticism of the agreement last November, that it should not go to all seven Maori seats.
The Dom Post does make one clear factual error:
Under the coalition deal with the Maori Party, National agreed to fund extra staff members for the large Maori electorates, but the Cabinet extended the funding to include others in the same boat, such as Mr English and Mr Auchinvole, whose Clutha-Southland and West Coast electorates were equally vast.
Nope. The coalition deal always specified that extra resources should go to both the Maori electorates and electorates over 20,000 sq kms. Cabinet did not extend the funding beyond that deal. And that coverage is exactly what the Goulter Review recommended. Cabinet actually restricted the funding by excluding Tamaki Makaurau.
Having corrected the facts, it is worth now considering the merits of the decision. It is certainly open to criticism about whether or not it is a priority with belt tightening elsewhere due to the recession. But I would suggest some caution about just seeing this as a perk for MPs.
When you are an electorate MP, your electorate staff spend a huge amount of time working on constituent issues who are having problems with Immigration, WINZ, ACC, and other agencies. People might be amazed at how much time a good MP and their staff spend on constituent assistance.
Now people do like to actually go into an MPs office and meet with the MP or their staff. In urban areas this is easy as you can get to the office within minutes.
In rural areas it can take over an hour to get to the closest office – sometimes well beyond that. And almost every rural MP already has two offices (as they get funded for two staff) so constituents have less distance to to travel. More offices actually means more travel for the MPs as they have to make appearances at all of them, but less for constituents needing assistance.
Now six of the Maori seats are huge. Te Tai Tonga is the entire South Island and Wellington. So a third staffer means you can have an office in Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington. Even then constituents can end up having to drive hours to get to their MPs office.
The West Coast-Tasman electorate can take 13 hours to drive from one end to another.
Now as I said, one can criticise this as badly timed with the recession. However it is worth considering that in a recession more constituents end up needing to enlist the help of an MP when trying to get assistance from various govt agencies.