The Herald reports:
Greens co-leader Metiria Turei is backing a plan to expand the travel perks for MPs’ children which potentially opens the way for MPs to claim for taking their children on holiday.
Parliament’s Speaker, Lockwood Smith, revealed last week that he was considering changing the rules to allow the children to travel anywhere in New Zealand to join their MP parent rather than just between their home and Wellington.
School-aged children now get four return trips to Wellington a year to allow them to see their MP parent while he or she is working in Parliament.
However, Dr Smith said most children could travel only during the school holidays – when the House was in recess and few MPs were in Wellington.
He believed more flexibility was warranted but said he did not intend to make it more expensive or expand it beyond the equivalent of four trips a year. A financial cap was one possibility.
The current policy seems reasonable to most people. The job requires MPs to spend half their year in Wellington, so their school age kids can travel down once per term, or more likely once per school holidays.
It is tempting to then go along with the argument that as few MPs are in Wellington during school holidays, the travel policy should be more flexible and wllow them to travel to other areas to be with their MP parent.
However I think this does change the nature of the policy, from a clearly work related policy, to something that could end up subsidising private holidays – and that is something which I don’t think is appropriate.
Any rule change could stipulate that the perk was to be used only when the MP was on work trips rather than private holidays.
She said MPs often spent the holiday recesses working elsewhere around the country rather than in their hometowns.
Ms Turei said she had no issue with limiting the number of trips, but it made sense for children to travel to wherever their parents were, rather than just Wellington.
“That’s the point, really. Especially for those who have younger children, it can get difficult to see them.”
If the Speaker does change the eligibility, then Metiria’s suggestion of only allowing it to accompany an MP on a work trip has merit, as that would be more palatable than what will be seen as a subsidy for private holidays.
Something that the Speaker may wish to reflect upon, is how the Remuneration Authority currently treats the policy on dependants’ domestic air travel.
You see the Remuneration Authority calculates a total remuneration level for an MP, and then deducts off that total package, the private value of some of the perks.
For example 5% of the average cost of MPs’ air travel is deemed of private benefit, as is 45% of the average costs of spouses’ air travel and 100% of MPs’ international air travel. So these are all deducted from the total remuneration package to calculate an MPs salary.
What I find interesting is what the Remuneration Authority said in their last detailed determination in 2003 on dependents’ air travel:
Dependants’ domestic air travel
4.5 The average cost of this per member is $2,208. The IRD has assessed that all of this constitutes remuneration. The Authority has made no allowance for this in the calculation of the package value as it believes that members should be able to have their children visit them in Wellington at the taxpayers’ expense.
So unlike even an MPs own air travel (which is deemed 5% private) the Remuneration Authority had determined that allowing children to travel to Wellington (four times a year for school age) is a legitimate 100% work related necessity.
But if this is changed to include travel to outside of Wellington, then I would suggest the Remuneration Authority would find that there is now a private benefit to this, and deduct a portion of the cost off an MPs salary calculation (as they do for 45% of spouses travel).
So if the Speaker does make the change, then it may result in MPs having it effectively deducted off their salary – regardless of whether they use it or not.