Editorial misses key point

August 3rd, 2009 at 12:35 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald editorial misses a key point today. They are criticising the subsidised travel perk for ex MPs (and I agree with the criticism) and say:

Perhaps MPs become so accustomed to free air travel in their daily work that they think nothing of continuing to pay next to nothing to fly in retirement. They should think again. Those who make politics their career from an early age – quite a number these days – can be still quite young when they have served 15 or 18 years. The taxpayer can be picking up the tab for their private jaunts for another 20 or 30 years. …

Companies would not award it to their best executives. If Sir Roger Douglas’ embarrassment prompts a review of the perk it would not be before time. In fact, it would be a credit to him now if he were to call for it.

Nowhere in the entire editorial does it mention the perk was abolished in 1999 for MPs who entered Parliament from that year on. The editorial leaves the strong impression that current MPs can gain this perk. That is pretty misleading.

Now maybe they are trying to say it should also be abolished for those former MPs who “gained” it before 1999 – ie are grandfathered in. And that is a perfectly legitimate proposition to push. But they haven’t said that clearly.

Considering the inclusion of the sentence:

Any MP who survives for 15 years qualifies for a 90 per cent foreign travel subsidy from the taxpayer.

has no qualifiers, my conclusion is the leader writer actually does not know that the perk got abolished in 1999 for MPs who entered since 1999 (which is around 100 of the 122). And if so, that is a pretty big error in an editorial. Where are the fact checkers?

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40 Responses to “Editorial misses key point”

  1. andrei (2,664 comments) says:

    Agreed, the Herald has missed the point but you are also missing the point – that a bunch of patronizing Wellington elitists a slurping at the taxpayers teat while telling the rest of us that we have to tighten our belts.

    Talk about rank hypocrisy

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  2. tvb (4,430 comments) says:

    The perk for ex MPs before 1999 can end when they have had the perk for the same time as an MP

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  3. Adolf Fiinkensein (2,903 comments) says:

    David, they have all been fired and are now blogging:-) Bloggers have become the Antique Media’s fact checkers and they don’t cost a cent.

    Andrei, you’d better stick to analysing the Old Testament.

    Do you actually know how many executives in NZ are paid more than $500k per annum? I suggest you go and find out. When you have the answer, ask yourself why a Treasurer/ Finance Minister who actually can tell the difference between a Hornby Train Set and a real asset is worth anything less.

    Nobody is telling you you have to tighten your belt or get by on less. Perhaps you have to work a little harder or smarter to show your boss that employing you was a good decision. Do you consider the rorting beneficiary with the $400 hairdo has to get by on less? Well actually she doesn’t. All SHE has to do is take an interest free loan like everybody else, instead of a grant.

    Apply the same generous conditions to MPs and no doubt you’d be happy for Mr English to forgo his allowance in return for an interest free mortgage?

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  4. Jack5 (5,137 comments) says:

    The lefties attacking the English house subsidies seem to miss one point.

    The State owns ministerial houses – for ministers of the Government of the day. There is an opportunity cost in the capital tied up.

    If a minister chooses to live in a privately owned home, as English does, isn’t the state then able to rent out one of the ministerial houses, and without being taxed on the income of course? Given the presumably favourable localities and presumably high quality of the ministerial houses, wouldn’t they be able to command a high rent. Given there is no tax on this, and given other costs such as maintenance and local body rates, insurance, etc, and given the opportunity cost of the state capital tied up in a ministerial house, wouldn’t the English option then cost the state less than providing him with a free ministerial house?

    If so, WTF are the Herald and the grizzling lefties on about?

    Also, to avoid hypocrisy, let’s not forget the chunks of taxpayer money that the state-owned news media consume and the presumably free press gallery accommodation, and the state junkets round the world for journos. Put it all on the table.

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  5. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    Considering the inclusion of the sentence:

    Any MP who survives for 15 years qualifies for a 90 per cent foreign travel subsidy from the taxpayer.

    has no qualifiers, my conclusion is the leader writer actually does not know that the perk got abolished in 1999 for MPs who entered since 1999 (which is around 100 of the 122).

    This sentence needs no qualifiers.

    A bunch of other things in the editorial are wrong. This sentence is not. The sentence you are complaining about is this one:

    Any MP who survives for 15 years qualifies for a 90 per cent foreign travel subsidy from the taxpayer for life.

    Notice how this sentences does not appear in the editorial =)

    I refer you to the Directions and Specifications for Services and Funding Entitlements for the House of Representatives, its Members, Former Members, and Certain Electoral Candidates 2008 Part 3 cl 3.13.

    All MPs who have served at least one term receive subsidised private international travel. MPs with 4 terms under their belt get a 90% subsidy. The writer of the Editorial may have no idea what they’re talking about. It may be far more good luck than good sense, but the statement you complain about is accurate. 15 year veteran MPs gets 90% subsidised international travel from the taxpayer. Retired MPs? Perhaps not. But MPs do.

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  6. Anthony (796 comments) says:

    Didn’t the TV news (One I think) get this wrong the other night too?

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  7. Brian Smaller (4,023 comments) says:

    Where are the fact checkers?

    Please tell me that you are not that naive David.

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  8. Lawrence Hakiwai (119 comments) says:

    Is this anything more than sour grapes? “No one pays me a very generous accommodation/travel allowance, so why should MPs have it?”

    Well because it’s in their contracts dumb arse that’s why.

    People get jobs that pay very well and also have gold-plated benefits. Get over it.

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  9. alex Masterley (1,517 comments) says:

    Lawrence, I don’t regard MP’s as being paid well or consider their benefits to be gold plated. Very much the opposite in fact. Still I agree with you on the sour grapes issue.

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  10. village idiot (748 comments) says:

    Bill English is very, very rarely seen in Clutha/Southland.

    He don’t live here, any more.

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  11. Robert Winter (100 comments) says:

    There is enough heat and substance in this issue to require an enquiry, to report publicly, on the full remuneration package received by MPs. The point of the enquiry would be primarily to ensure that the package is reasonable, that is, as far as I am concerned that the current settings are broadly maintained and that any proposed changes should address matters of excess. This might put a happy end to the increasingly convoluted discussion across Left and Right. The pressure for an enquiry will come mainly from outside Parliament, for there seems to be little will internally to address these issues.

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  12. OldNews (38 comments) says:

    @Graeme Edgler Thanks for clarifying this. I thought the same as DPF that only MPs who were elected at or before 1999 got the private international travel subsidy at all. I was so sure that you were wrong, that I went to the “Directions and Specifications for Services and Funding Entitlements for the House of Representatives, its Members, Former Members, and Certain Electoral Candidates 2008″ to get the evidence to prove you wrong – and you are totally correct.
    The “1999 change” means MPs elected after 1999 don’t keep the travel rebate once they leave, but they can still have it while MPs.
    International air travel for private purposes
    3.13 Private international air travel
    A member is entitled to a rebate on any international air travel undertaken by the member on a scheduled air service in accordance with the following rules:
    (a) a rebate is payable in respect of expenditure incurred, or to be incurred, by the member personally, and a rebate is not payable where a member’s fare is paid from public funds or from any other source:
    (b) no rebate is payable in respect of any travel undertaken by the member for private business purposes:
    (c) the amount of rebate to which a member is entitled is the appropriate percentage of the fare that applies to that member as calculated in accordance with the schedule below:
    (d) the fare includes any tax and service fee payable in respect of the travel. It is calculated on the fare for the journey undertaken at the class of travel used. It does not include any amounts paid for cancellation fees or
    accommodation.

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  13. peterwn (3,277 comments) says:

    Village Idiot – Same with many other Ministers over many, many years. They effectively moved their households to Wellington upon Ministerial appointment and lived in a Government supplied Ministerial house. The Government used to own 20 or so houses around Wellington for that purpose, although some have been sold with the tendency to rent suitable houses and apartments nowadays. it is also worth noting that a previous PM years ago refused to live in the (then and now) Premier House for reasons of economy and instead lived in an ordinary Ministerial house, Premier House being used in the meantime as a training school for dental nurses (in addition to the main Willis St one). Kiwi Keith lived at 41 Pipitea St, Thorndon which, while nice, was hardly a decent house for a Prime Minister (Matt Rata lived there 1972-1974). It is now used as offices.

    Therefore there is nothing unusual about Bill being entitled to a Ministerial House in Wellington even though he and his family effectively live in Wellington. As Deputy Prime Minister a Ministerial house worth $2 – $3 million would be quite appropriate for him, but he is claiming an allownace pertaining to a $1.2 million or so house which is nothing out of the ordinary for a fairly decent house in Wellington City. His house, out of family necessity, also has extra bedrooms, so at that price the rest of the house seems very ordinary.

    There is another aspect. All things equal he would have ‘first option’ on Vogel House in Lower Hutt (it was gifted to the Crown so is effectively unsellable). However the Governor General is living there temporarily, so on that bais the present arrangements would be the most suitable all round. Incidentally the Basin Reserve Government House also serves as a ‘hotel’ for visiting heads of state and royal family – there is no NZ equivalent of Blair House, Washington DC.

    It must be remembered too that Ministers work very hard and for long hours. Their marriages and family relations are very severely tested. Their pay is only about 50% of what their departmental chiefs get. On this basis they thoroughly earn their ‘perks’ in the form of Ministerial Houses, CR cars, etc. The CR cars is one way that pressures are eased – AFAIK Ministers catch up with paperwork in the cars – there are very few times they can stick the ‘do not disturb’ sign on their office doors. Any re-alignment of ‘conditions’ is likely to see significant increases in such pay. It is very easy to score cheap points off publicising these ‘perks’, instead of focusing on the way they carry out their Ministerial duties which involves far, far more money than their renumeration and perks.

    IMO the one who had the rawest deal with Ministerial housing is Trevor Mallard – at the least Helen should have let him have a Ministerial house in exchange for renting out his Wainui house – he was worth his weight in gold to Helen and Labour.

    I strongly suspect that Labour spin doctors ‘fed’ the story about Bill English’s housing allowance to the main stream medi to knock the gloss off the National Party conference and the gutless media took it hook line and sinker.

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  14. Jeff83 (745 comments) says:

    Tim over at Tumeke has an interesting proposal regarding the funding of these sort of expenses which I found interesting. In summary it was that the funding should go directly to the parties, on the grounds that the parties will want to maximise benefit from it and personal interest should be limited should result in getting more for each $1 spent, tend to agree.

    In saying the above I do not think ministers who hold portfolios or local representatives do not work for what they get, I think list MPs may get a relatively sweet deal unless they get heavily involved in select committees etc.

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  15. Jeff83 (745 comments) says:

    Thought Bills comment was pretty good, liked it.

    “Asked what he thought New Zealanders would think, he said: “I think most people will think politicians are paid too much, that our staff is too big, that our VIP service is too expensive, we fly around the country too much. In the end we have got a job to do. We have been voted in to do it and I operate on the same rules as everybody else. In my case I have focused on making sure my family is together and it has some stability.”

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  16. James (1,338 comments) says:

    I see the Dipton dipshit has killed any further hopes of tacxcuts…..National breaks promises again….Socialist sellouts.

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  17. andrei (2,664 comments) says:

    You do have to feel sorry for poor old Bill.

    Fancy having to move your family because your new job is in another town. How many other New Zealander’s have had this hardship imposed upon them at one time or another I wonder?

    Still he shows his selflessness in foregoing a ministerial residence, which would have to be vacated at the end of his term, in favor of having the crown pay the mortgage on one he gets to live in and keep for as long as he wants and realize the capital gain on when sold.

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  18. spector (180 comments) says:

    Tax Cuts. Gone.
    Training allowances. Going.
    Public Service Expenditure. Being cut back.

    Politicians Allowances. Unchanged.
    Politicians remuneration. Increased.

    Is this picture clear enough for everybody?

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  19. Straight Shooter (135 comments) says:

    I reckon the Broadcasting Minister should release the perks that TVNZ journalists earn. I would like to know how much it costs for Guyon Espiner, Mark Sainsbury and Simon Dallow to fly around at will and appear in a new suit every time we see them.

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  20. Kapital (120 comments) says:

    Here is a plain and simple question

    Is it right for a minister (whether they be blue green brown red or orange hue)
    To get a $1000 per week paid to them from the taxpayer so they can live with a spouse in a house they already own ?

    I can say hand on heart that it is wrong and the answer is NO

    Anybody else prepared to give a honest straight answer?

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  21. Glutaemus Maximus (2,207 comments) says:

    Have we forgotten that Helen Clark organised for the purchase of a $7m station, Just so she could walk around it in private.

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  22. Kapital (120 comments) says:

    Not you then Gluts ?
    yes or no what doya reckon ?
    anyone else?

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  23. Glutaemus Maximus (2,207 comments) says:

    Labour were happy to Rort the system and the Lapdog media were silent.

    Why shouldn’t English live in a House of his choice?

    Oh I forgot, true socialists have multiple houses.

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  24. Kapital (120 comments) says:

    Look If Labour are rorting the system it is wrong
    if the greens are rorting the system it is wrong
    If any of the fuckers are rorting the system its wrong

    I have no problem with English living in a house of his choice and it is obviously his choice cos he owns the fucking thing

    So my question remains
    Is it right for a minister (whether they be blue green brown red or orange hue)
    To get a $1000 per week paid to them from the taxpayer so they can live with a spouse in a house they already own ?

    I say clearly NO No No NO

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  25. Inventory2 (10,342 comments) says:

    Kapital – where was your (faux) outrage pre 8 November 2008?

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  26. Kapital (120 comments) says:

    Its not faux outrage
    I had no idea I was, as a taxpayer paying a grand a week for someone to live in their own home
    I just had no idea that was possible , and I would venture to suggest a majority of people in NZ would have thought the same
    Now that the info is released, thanx to the minor parties..
    I am outraged not a “faux” in sight

    But I do understand if your loyalties to the National party prevent you from answering the question
    I will just take it that you think it is alright only because it has been highlighted by the “troughing” of a National minister
    Anyone else want to answer?
    Is it right for a minister (whether they be blue green brown red or orange hue)
    To get a $1000 per week paid to them from the taxpayer so they can live with a spouse in a house they already own ?

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  27. Jack5 (5,137 comments) says:

    Kapital is another of those who ignore the fact that Parliamentary expenses were set up so that ordinary working folk could be MPs, especially for remote areas like Southland, and Cabinet Ministers spending most of their time slaving away amid the Wellington bureaucracy.

    What would Kapital and his socialist mates do? Introduce means tests for Parliamentary expense accounts?

    Kapital again ignores the fact that the $1000 a week for the Englishes’ family home is probably cheaper in real costs than providing the ministerial house to which they would be entitled if they sold the family home.

    No wonder socialism is in its death throes: beyond the politics of envy it’s got nothing to offer modern society.

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  28. Kapital (120 comments) says:

    So that’s a Yes then ?

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  29. andrei (2,664 comments) says:

    Kapital is another of those who ignore the fact that Parliamentary expenses were set up so that ordinary working folk could be MPs, especially for remote areas like Southland, and Cabinet Ministers spending most of their time slaving away amid the Wellington bureaucracy.

    You mean ” ordinary working folk” like Helen Elizabeth Clark and Dr Michael Cullen?

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  30. Kapital (120 comments) says:

    I take that as a No ?

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  31. Glutaemus Maximus (2,207 comments) says:

    Bill English is being paid to live in the House of his choice, and it would attract probably more costs if he was to live in a Grace and Favour building.

    Those style of properties are rarely suitable for families.

    Fine for singletons, or estranged couples. Think that no senior MP/Minister should have to make their Family suffer.

    As a logic check just work out the opportunity cost of the money wasted on Sodor Rail. Cost out the interest actual, notional, and any other way that we can spot wasted money. Dr Cullen didn’t benefit from that deal. Yeah Right!

    The huge SI Station that was bought for the PM as a private hideaway, that was money well spent? Envy, envy, envy.

    That’ all you ever get get from Socialists. Who by the way, rarely donate any of their own money to any good cause.

    Just other peoples!

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  32. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    how is this for a ‘key point’..?

    “..Question to Mr Key: “When you said he changed the trust arrangement after the election, and that was the thing that qualified him for the Ministerial Services allowance, and yet he didn’t do it to qualify for the allowance, it was just a coincidence?”

    Mr Key: “That’s my understanding.”..”

    (hah..!..)

    “.. Mr English could have stayed with the same arrangement he had when he was an opposition MP, and not claimed any ministerial allowance.

    When that was put to Mr Key, he said Mr English could also have chosen to stay on the salary of deputy leader of the opposition..”

    (wha..?..

    ..and not got the gold-trougher-medallion..?..

    ..the key to the allowance-safe..?..)

    ..howzat for a coupla ‘key points’..eh..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  33. Kapital (120 comments) says:

    No then Phil ?
    3-2

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  34. Richard Hurst (859 comments) says:

    “Where are the fact checkers?”

    They got the sack. So these days its random chance if the writer actually gets their facts right these days. Sad times for the news.
    I think the Christchurch Press does still employ a library studies grad to do fact checking and info gathering for the editor. How long that lasts though, who knows….

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  35. Repton (769 comments) says:

    I am interested that the two main defenses for Bill English presented here are:

    – Labour did it too!

    and:

    – He could be costing us _even more_!

    I wonder if the same tactics would work in other situations?

    “Did you steal that TV?”

    “Yep. My mate in Aus nicked a few when he was here and he said it’s a good living. But be fair, I didn’t steal the stereo too!”

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  36. Kapital (120 comments) says:

    Yeah its just plain wrong
    They know it but the partisanship is just toooo strong

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  37. bchapman (649 comments) says:

    Next press conference when he starts railing about fiscal prudence could be interesting.

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  38. Mr Gronk (45 comments) says:

    I get the distinct impression that the accommodation allowance and other perks are offered in lieu of a much higher baseline salary.

    If that’s the case, criticising Bill English because he uses his accommodation allowance towards his own house instead of towards Vogel House or some other Crown-owned property (or having the Crown pay directly for the same) is a bit off base. It would essentially be demanding that he take a pay cut.

    Now, there may be good grounds to look into the whole question of MPs’ amd Ministers’ pay and perks. Some would say that it’s fairer to pay them the higher salary and let them pay for any expenses not directly incurred on Parliamentary or Government business out of their own pockets. Others (probably fewer in number) might suggest they should still pay out of their own pockets but be content with their current salary – how many of us, they may ask, get a $250k salary (or whatever the Deputy PM is paid) anyway? The “correct” amount and composition of “pay+perks” is an argument worth having. Attacking a Minister because he draws his full pay cheque less so.

    And before anyone thinks I’m supporting practices like the rorts in the UK: I’ll say categorically that I’m not. Maintaining a residence in Wellington is, I consider, part and parcel of being an MP and a Minister, unlike (say) cleaning moats or renting adult movies.

    How many people would think well of their employer who approached them and said they’re getting a pay cut because “you don’t really need all that money” and/or “we have to exercise restraint because of the recession”?

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  39. Murray (8,847 comments) says:

    There’s a few I’d be happy to subsidise to fly into retirement.

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  40. freethinker (691 comments) says:

    Now maybe they are trying to say it should also be abolished for those former MPs who “gained” it before 1999 – ie are grandfathered in. And that is a perfectly legitimate proposition to push. But they haven’t said that clearly.

    I don’t remember being grandfathered in when the Government decided to break the contract on my lifetime driving license so i’m more than happy – delighted even to break the contract with ex MPs travel perks – leave the job lose the perks – suck that!

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