Advice for new MPs

October 2nd, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

As a helpful resource for new MPs, I’ve gone around a number of former MPs, former parliamentary staff and journalists and have compiled the collective wisdom into a set of tips or advice for new MPs. There will be companion posts detailing additional advice for new Opposition MPs and also a post with advice for new Ministers.

In no particular order, the tips are:

  1. If marginal, make seat safe. This should be your first, second and third priority in your first term. If you are a List MP and in with a chance to take the seat next time, then same advice – focus massively on the electorate. MPs who hold electorates do better generally than those on the List – at least in the major parties.
  2. As Keith Holyoake said to new MPs, “Breathe through the nose”.  Look, listen and learn before you talk too much.
  3. Choose a route early on for promotion and work on it. The three main routes are through the House, through Select Committees, or through the Whips Office. The good debaters should go House, the policy wonks select committees, and the well organised ones the Whips Office. Play to your strength. All three routes can lead to promotion and eventually being a Minister.
  4. Don’t do too many press releases. The media have the capacity to do two political issues a day generally. MPs who fire off a press release every two days on their pet topic just become jokes. Wait for a good issue you can jump onto, and listen to your media team.
  5. Do visit the gallery occasionally. Don’t drop in every week with your releases, but it is good to sometimes pop your own release around. You can pick up a lot chatting to the journos. Of course they will try and pump you for info also. Information is a currency to be traded.
  6. Develop a relationship with a couple of journos.  Ones you can trust to have a coffee or drink with, and develop a mutually beneficial relationship with. You should never be friends, but you can be friendly.
  7. The senior leadership team do not want your views on every issue, but don’t be mute if an issue around your electorate or which you have extensive background in
  8. The Leaders Office can be your best friend and resource. Be nice to them. Use them. They can make a significant difference to whether you succeed or not.
  9. Use the Parliamentary Library. You can ask them almost anything.
  10. Have your partner come down during the week sometimes. It can be miserable going home to an barren apartment at 11 pm by yourself. Nice to have someone to go home to during the week sometimes.
  11. Your classmates are the closest you’ll have to friends. Have weekly drinks with them, and turn up. But do not over indulge.
  12. DO NOT attempt points of order unless the Whips ask you to. It almost always ends badly.
  13. Learn at least the basic Standing Orders over time.
  14. Never ever sneak out of Parliament if you don’t have leave and always obey the Whips.
  15. Volunteering for house rosters and select committee substitutions can earn you brownie points. Like in any workplace, a helpful good attitude will take you far.
  16. Don’t screw the crew. No, not even the really hot ones. For the avoidance of doubt, crew includes staff, colleagues and media.
  17. Get to know the lobbyists and govt relations firms. They are massively well connected and can help stop you screwing up. However remember they do work for their clients, not you.
  18. If a blog gets something wrong on you, let them know and they’ll probably correct it. Most bloggers are reasonable.
  19. Do a members bill, once you get approval of caucus. if a Government MP, can be a good way to earn brownie points with a Minister by doing a minor reform for them. If an Opposition MP, then look for a wedge issue the Government won’t want to vote against.
  20. Don’t hassle Ministers directly on all issues – talk to their staff first, and then to the Minister.
  21. Never accept a journalist’s summary of what someone else said, to comment on. It is fine to tell media you’ll give them a call back after checking.
  22. You will not be a Minister in first term unless you are Steven Joyce
  23. Select Committees are important. Read the papers before the meeting
  24. Remember the old saying that you find your opponents on the other side of the House and your enemies on your own side. It is all too true.
  25. Do not hire friends – you may have to sack them one day. But do hire people who are professionally, politically and personally loyal to you if possible. You want staff who will work almost as long hours as you will.
  26. Hiring an existing experienced parliamentary executive assistant is a very very wise thing to do. Experience counts for a lot.
  27. Do not game expenses. If any doubt, pay for it yourself. Think of the Dominion Post front page test. Do you want the Taxpayers Union after you?
  28. Keep a record of all gifts – you’ll need them for the the Register of Pecuniary Interests.


Fairfax missing some Maori MPs

June 25th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Fairfax says (correctly) few Maori Mps have been elected in general seats. However they miss a few out.

Elected Maori Members of Parliament in NZ, excluding Maori electorates

1993: Sandra Rose Te Hakamatua Lee-Vercoe,  Auckland Central; Winston Peters, Tauranga

1996: Winston Peters, Tauranga

1999: Georgina Beyer, Wairarapa; Winston Peters, Tauranga

2002: Winston Peters, Tauranga

2008: Paula Lee Bennett, Waitakere.

2011: Paula Lee Bennett, Waitakere; Louisa Hareruia Wall, Manurewa

They missed out Simon Bridges (Tauranga), Mike Sabin (Northland) and Jami-Lee Ross (Botany).

UPDATE: Also missed out Ben Couch (Wairarapa) and Rex Austin (Awarua off memory). Also Sir James Carroll (Waiapu).

MPs on Twitter

May 13th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar


These social media stats for MPs were collacted by Brand Gauge, a social media metrics site and tool.

No surprise the PM has the most followers. Interesting that David Shearer still has more followers than David Cunliffe.

The top tweeters are Tau Henare, then Clare Curran and Trevor Mallard. Gareth Hughes and Kevin Haguge are also above the 10,000 mark.

MPs overall voting pattern

August 31st, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

It is very rare to have two major conscience issues in two days. The downside is it is exhausting. The upside is it means even more analysis! I’ve done a table showing how each MP voted on both issues.

I’ve applied labels of “liberal” for those who voted for marriage equality and 18 purchase age (on 1st or 2nd ballot). Yes I know I said you can be conservative and vote for same sex marriage. Labels are never wholly accurate. It’s just a convenient term in this case – not a tag for life.

Those who voted against marriage equality bill and for a 20 purchase age get the “conservative” label.

And those who voted for marriage equality but a 20 purchase age or against marriage equality and an 18 purchase age, I have cheekily labelled “confused” 🙂

So, applying the normal analysis to the Parliament, we have:

So overall 56 MPs voted “liberal”, 29 MPs “conservative” and 36 MPs were “confused” or as they might call it, moderate 🙂

What demographics stand out?

Electorate and List MPs are roughly equally liberal and conservative.

Female MPs are definitely more liberal. Male MPs are split almost three ways between liberal, conservative and confused.

European and Maori MPs are more liberal than Asian and Pacific MPs.

MPs aged in their 40s are more conservative then those both younger and older than them.

Wellington and Christchurch have almost no conservative MPs – just three out of 28.

Rural MPs are slightly more liberal than provincial MPs. South Island more liberal than North Island also.

The Cabinet has eight liberals, eight confused and four conservative.

There are no “conservative” gay or lesbian MPs – but three of them are confused 🙂

The MPs who entered in 1980s and 2002 are most liberal. The 2011 intake is the most conservative.

How they voted on the alcohol purchase age

August 30th, 2012 at 11:59 pm by David Farrar

Thanks again to the very efficient Table Office in the Office of the Clerk for the voting details. I’ve combined the votes into the table below.

All 121 MPs voted, which is good. The first vote was 50 for 18, 38 for 20 and 33 for split age. Of the 33 for split age, 18 then voted for 18 and 15 voted for 20 making it 68 to 53.

The four categories of votes are below:

Voted 18

Ardern, Jacinda
Ardern, Shane
Barry, Maggie
Bennett, David
Bennett, Paula
Browning, Steffan
Carter, David
Chauvel, Charles
Clendon, David
Curran, Clare
Dean, Jacqui
Delahunty, Catherine
Dunne, Peter
Dyson, Ruth
Faafoi, Kris
Fenton, Darien
Finlayson, Christopher
Genter, Julie Anne
Hague, Kevin
Henare, Tau
Hipkins, Chris
Horomia, Parekura
Hughes, Gareth
Huo, Raymond
Hutchison, Paul
Jones, Shane
Kaye, Nikki
King, Colin
Lee, Melissa
Logie, Jan
Mackey, Moana
Mallard, Trevor
Mathers, Mojo
McCully, Murray
McKelvie, Ian
Norman, Russel
O’Connor, Simon
Prasad, Rajen
Robertson, Grant
Roche, Denise
Ross, Jami-Lee
Sage, Eugenie
Smith, Lockwood
Tirikatene, Rino
Turei, Metiria
Walker, Holly
Wilkinson, Kate
Williamson, Maurice
Woodhouse, Michael
Woods, Megan

Voted Split then 18

Banks, John
Brownlee, Gerry
Cunliffe, David
Dalziel, Lianne
English, Bill
Goldsmith, Paul
Groser, Tim
Guy, Nathan
Joyce, Steven
Key, John
Lees-Galloway, Iain
Parker, David
Shearer, David
Smith, Nick
Tisch, Lindsay
Turia, Tariana
Twyford, Phil
Wagner, Nicky

Voted Split then 20

Adams, Amy
Borrows, Chester
Clark, David
Coleman, Jonathan
Collins, Judith
Goff, Phil
Goodhew, Jo
Heatley, Phil
Little, Andrew
McClay, Todd
O’Connor, Damien
Sharples, Pita
Street, Maryan
Tremain, Chris
Young, Jonathan

Voted 20

Auchinvole, Chris
Bakshi, Kanwaljit Singh
Blue, Jackie
Bridges, Simon
Calder, Cam
Cosgrove, Clayton
Flavell, Te Ururoa
Foss, Craig
Graham, Kennedy
Harawira, Hone
Hayes, John
Horan, Brendan
King, Annette
Lotu-Iiga, Peseta Sam
Macindoe, Tim
Mahuta, Nanaia
Martin, Tracey
Mitchell, Mark
Moroney, Sue
Ngaro, Alfred
O’Rourke, Denis
Parata, Hekia
Peters, Winston
Prosser, Richard
Robertson, Ross
Roy, Eric
Ryall, Tony
Sabin, Mike
Shanks, Katrina
Simpson, Scott
Sio, Su’a William
Stewart, Barbara
Taylor, Asenati
Tolley, Anne
Upston, Louise
Wall, Louisa
Williams, Andrew
Yang, Jian

In a separate post I’ll do an analysis of the voting by demographics.

Updated Social Media Details

April 15th, 2012 at 8:08 pm by David Farrar

Have updated the page listing social media details for MPs.

For those into stats, here are the percentage of MP on each social medium for the four larger parties:

  • Websites – National 86%, Labour 34%, NZ First 25%, Greens 14%
  • Facebook – Greens 100%, Labour 94%, National 83%, NZ First 63%
  • Twitter – Greens 93%, Labour 71%, National 48%, NZ First 38%

MPs Social Media Details

March 27th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

I’ve compiled a table of Internet and social media contact details for the 121 New Zealand Members of Parliament. This list is intended as a public resource. MPs are welcome, and indeed encouraged, to let me know of any corrections or change, via e-mail.

The table is a permanent page on Kiwiblog.

In terms of the data:

  • The e-mail addresses come from the official parliamentary contact list.
  • The websites come from searching on Google, and my 2011 candidates list.
  • The twitter details come from the @nzparliament twitter list of MPs. Incidentially the @nzparliament account has me blocked for some reason, which is strange. So does Charles Chauvel, but I presume that is because he sulked over something I wrote.
  • The Facebook details come from searching on Facebook. Sometimes there has been more than one page to choose from. Happy to change pages linked to upon request
It great we have so many MPs who make themselves accessible via the Internet. The purpose of the page is to allow people to follow, friend, e-mail and read about MPs they have an interest in.
I considered adding in extra columns for other social media such as Foursquare and Linked In, but don’t think many MPs use them. If there is demand, I could look at adding them in future.
A screenshot of the page is below, but note the actual page with hyperlinks is here.
I don’t have the capability to add on features such as how many followers an MP has on Twitter or friends on Facebook, but someone else might be able to do that, as a few people have said that would be useful.

The Durex MPs survey

February 2nd, 2012 at 5:54 pm by David Farrar

Been texted screen shots of the annual Durex survey about NZ MPs. They seem to have two additional questions this year. First the normal question:

Off memory John Key has won the male title for the last two years but with Winston back and a more prominent David Shearer, he may have competition. Also the addition of Jami-Lee Ross into the ranks. I suspect his harem in the Research Unit will be voting for him multiple times.

Nikki Kaye won the female award first time, and then Jacinda Ardern the following year. None of the new Green MPs are included (for which I am sure they are very grateful) so the old favourites may battle it out.

I suspect more women will answer this question, than men. But, hey who knows.

Another new category, with several different names there. I wouldn’t want to be the person who has to inform the winning MP, they have won.

MPs compared to the population

December 1st, 2011 at 2:27 pm by David Farrar

The Herald did a story yesterday based on my analysis, and said it showed there was little diversity in Parliament and the average MP was a straight, European man from the North Island aged in his 50s.

In fact only 10% of MPs are straight, European men from the North Island aged in his 50s. Five average characteristics do not make one overall average.

With the exception of gender, I think Parliament does quite well on the diversity stakes, as is shown above. I have excluded age from this comparison as I don’t think anyone really thinks that Parliament should have 21 MPs aged in their 20s and 20 MPs aged over 65.

Note the comparisons are to the adult (15+ or 18+) population.

On gender, there is a serious imbalance. Later on, we’ll look at the breakdown by party.

Ethnicity is very interesting. Maori are the most over-represented ethnicity followed by European. Pacific are slightly under-repreented and it is Asian New Zealanders who are the most under-represented.

Geographically Auckland and provincial cities are pretty spot on. However Wellington and Christchurch are over-represented at the expense of those who live outside a city.

The North Island v South Island balance is almost spot on.

The number of gay/lesbian MPs is also pretty proportional. There is no definite prevalance rate for gay and lesbian adults, but 5% is generally regarded as in the ballpark. In times past 10% was often cited, but this is now thought to be too high.

So as I said overall, I think Parliament does quite well on the diversity front. Now let us look at the breakdowns for the four main parties.

In terms of gender, the Greens are broadly balanced (their rules require it), Labour and NZ First have a 2:1 ratio for men to women and National a 3:1 ratio. National does need to select more women in winnable seats or in winnable list spots.

13% of the adult population is Maori, and 10% of National’s caucus if of Maori descent, 18% of Labour’s and around a quarter of the Greens and NZ First.

5% of National’s caucus is Asian, as is 3% of Labour’s. No Green or NZ First Asian MPs.

9% of Labour’s caucus are Pacific, 13% of NZ First’s and 3% of National’s.

In terms of geography, NZ First is very Auckland dominated, and the Greens relatively light.

Labour and the Greens both have heavy Wellington biases with three times as many MPs from Wellington, as you would expect from the population. Conversely NZ First has no Wellington MPs and National only 5% from Wellington.

The Greens do badly in provincial cities. In rural areas (outside cities), National is the only party with proportional representation. Labour and NZ First have less than half what the population share is.

Based on island, the Greens are out of kilter with only 62% in the North Island where 74% of the population live.

By sexuality, National’s rainbow representation is just 2%, Labour’s is 12% and the Greens at 15%. NZ First have none (known).

Finally, there are some interesting age patterns. National’s most common age is in the 40s. Labour’s most common is 50s, Greens also 50s and NZ First 60s. Labour have a lot in the 30s also.In terms of median ages it looks like NZ First is the oldest and Greens the youngest.

Parliamentary Demographics

November 30th, 2011 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

I’ve done an initial analysis of the demographics of the 50th New Zealand Parliament. This is based on initial results and is assuming Brendon Burns retains Christchurch Central, and hence Raymond Huo is not elected. I can update for final results.

The information is taken from public sources. Sometimes I have had to guess an age, where it is not documented. Happy to update with any corrections, if any details are wrong. Sexuality is of course based purely on public status. Only those who are openly gay or lesbian are classified as such, and all others are classified “straight”.


  • 83 Males, 69%
  • 38 Females, 31%


  • 90 European, 74%
  • 21 Maori, 17%
  • 6 Pacific, 5%
  • 4 Asian, 3%


  • 2 20s, 2%
  • 14 30s, 12%
  • 37 40s, 31%
  • 48 50s, 40%
  • 19 60s, 16%
  • 1 70s, 1%


  • 41 Auckland, 34%
  • 16 Wellington, 13%
  • 14 Christchurch, 12%
  • 22 Provincial Cities, 18%
  • 28 Rural, 23%


  • 90 North Island, 74%
  • 31 South Island, 26%


  • 114 “Straight”, 94%
  • 4 Gay, 3%
  • 3 Lesbian, 2%

I was disappointed the number of women in Parliament has dropped. But apart from that, overall Parliament looks pretty diverse and not too distant from what NZ as a whole is.

UPDATE: Two minor errors corrected.

Which MPs can not vote for themselves?

November 16th, 2011 at 8:35 am by David Farrar

Having seen some of the tension in Ohariu about who does and does not live in the electorate, it got me curious about which MPs are standing in a seat where they are unable to vote for themselves. Based on what I could find out, this is my list of MPs who will not be able to vote for themselves in this election:

MP Voting Standing
Tony Ryall Tauranga Bay of Plenty
Michael Woodhouse Dunedin South Dunedin North
David Parker Dunedin North Epsom
John Key Epsom Helensville
Ross Robertson Hunua Manukau East
Cam Calder North Shore Manurewa
David Clendon Tamaki Makaurau Mt Albert
Jackie Blue Auckland Central Mt Roskill
Phil Goff Hunua Mt Roskill
David Cunliffe Auckland Central New Lynn
Charles Chauvel Wellington Central Ohariu
Gareth Hughes Wellington Central Ohariu
Katrina Shanks Wellington Central Ohariu
Shane Jones Te Tai Tokerau Tamaki Makaurau
Pita Sharples Te Tai Tokerau Tamaki Makaurau
Shane Ardern Whanganui Taranaki King-Country
Rick Barker Tukituki Taranaki King-Country

In four electorates there are multiple MPs standing who do not live there – Mt Roskill, Ohariu, Tamaki Makaurau and Taranaki King-Country. I haven’t gone into the reasons for each case, but in some cases they have a very good reason. For example Shane Ardern has lived and farmed in Opunake for several decades and that was in the TKC boundaries when he first got elected. The boundaries has since shifted, so hence he is now just outside the electorate.

Some like John Key have never lived in their electorate, while others like Phil Goff lived there initially and then moved out.

The most geographically remote MP will be David Parker who is enrolled in Dunedin North but standing in Epsom!

Retiring MPs

August 29th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

A large number of MPs elected in 2008 are retiring at the 2011 election, or have already retired. By party I make it:


  • David Garrett (left 2010)
  • Roger Douglas
  • Rodney Hide
  • Heather Roy
  • Hilary Calvert


  • Jeanette Fitzsimons (left 2010)
  • Sue Bradford (left 2009)
  • Sue Kedgley
  • Keith Locke


  • Helen Clark (left 2009)
  • Michael Cullen (left 2009)
  • Winnie Laban (left 2010
  • Darren Hughes (left 2011)
  • Ashraf Choudhary
  • George Hawkins
  • Pete Hodgson
  • Lynne Pillay
  • Mita Ririnui


  • Richard Worth (left 2009)
  • Pansy Wong (left 2011)
  • John Carter (left 2011)
  • Sandra Goudie
  • Wayne Mapp
  • Simon Power
  • Georgina te Heuheu


  • Jim Anderton

So that is 25 MPs elected at 2008 and one MP who came in in 2010, who will not be standing in the 2011 election.

On top of that a number of incumbent MPs may fail to be re-elected, so the turnover may increase even more.

How some NZ MPs benefit from parliamentary expenses

May 18th, 2009 at 9:22 am by David Farrar

Political watchers around the world have been following the saga of the UK parliamentary expenses scandals. UK Labour has dropped to 22% in the latest poll, as the Telegraph reveals claims for mortgages that were paid off, moat cleaning and the like.

Most of these excesses are not possible in NZ, as MPs don’t get to claim accommodation expenses except rent and interest on mortgages. But even then, we have not been lily white.

Now many readers will remember the scams by Labour’s Marian Hobbs and Phillida Bunkle from the Alliance who were claiming such expenses, despite both being Wellington based MP with homes in Wellington. Bunkle did it by claiming her primary residence was a bach just north of the Wellington boundary, and Hobbs claimed her primary residence was in Christchurch, despite having stood for Wellington Central. This made the scam legal – but not ethical.

The point of such expense regimes, is that an MP is not left worse off for just doing their job. If an Auckland MP has to spend three nights a week in Wellington, then of course they should not pay personally for it. But the idea is not that an MP who normally lives in Wellington, can make some extra money.

But the Bunkle/Hobbs method is not the only way, an MP can benefit from the expenses claims.In the light of the UK revelations, I thought it would be useful to highlight other ways an MP can benefit.

Look at section 3.30(1)(b) of the expense directions and it states an MP can be reimbursed for actual and reasonable accommodation expenses in Wellington, if they live outside the Wellington commuting area for.

(i) accommodation owned by that member; or
(ii) accommodation rented by that member on a continuous basis for use in lieu of overnight accommodation; or
(iii) accommodation in commercial premises; or
(iv) other private accommodation.

Let us look at each of these in turn, and who benefits from what:

(iii) accommodation in commercial premises

This is where the MP stays in a Wellington hotel, as many do. They can claim up to $160 a night, up to a maximum of $24,000 a year. That means a maximum of 150 nights a year can be claimed – an average of three nights a week.

In this case the MP gains no benefit. It is nice and simple. Not that popular with some MPs though as it means they have to book in everytime, and have no permanent base where they can leave clothes etc.

(iii) other private accommodation

This is where the MP stays in a private residence not owned by them – probably owned by a friend. They can claim up to $50 a night, up to a maximum of $24,000 a year.

In this case the MP gains no benefit, but the home owner can benefit, and they may be related to the MP. Having said that I am not sure if any MP uses this option.

(i) accommodation owned by that member

This is a potential problem area, but note section 3.30(2) avoids most of the UK problems:

No principal component of any mortgage payment or any capital improvement to premises may be claimed under this clause.

So an MP can only claim the interest on their property. The maximum is again $24,000 a year, so if interest is at say 8%, then the maximum will be claimed if the principal is $300,000 or more.

This option does provide some potential benefits to the MP.

MPs can maximise benefits from this situation, so that the taxpayer pays the maximum$24,000. Let us say the MP buys two $500,000 houses with $600,000 of equity and $400,000 from the bank. House A is in Wellington and House B in the electorate.

Normally you may have House A and House B both with $300,000 of equity and $200,000 of mortgage. However at 8% interest it means the MP can only claim $16,000 from the taxpayer for House A. So the smart MP arranges their finances so that House A is $200,000 equity and $300,000 mortgage and House B is $400,000 equity and $100,000 mortgage.  This means they get an extra $8,000 a year from the taxpayer.

Now to be fair to said MPs, there is an opportunity cost of them living at their own place – it means they are not renting it out to someone else. They may be able to rent it out for $24,000 a year – or even more, if they did not use it at their second home.

But nevertheless they do have an incentive to keep the mortgage high on their Wellington home, so they get paid the maximum $24,000. One could arrange it so one is getting $24,000 a year on a $350,000 apartment. Not many landlords would be able to rent out a $350,000 apartment for $460 a week, so the MP does make a significant profit, plus they have a guaranteed tenant – themselves.

So a question to be pondered, is should an MP not be eligible to claim their interest payments as an accommodation expense? Otherwise you have an incentive for them to keep the interest payments high to maximise the expense they can claim.

Maybe a journalist could ask how many MPs are living in a place they own in Wellington, and what proportion of them are claiming the maximum $24,000 in interest payments? The Parliamentary Service won’t release individual details, but they might release summary information.

But for the really smart MP, there is an even better way to maximise your profits from the taxpayer. You see eventually the house you own will have the principal repaid, meaning the interest you can claim falls to under $24,000 a year. How do you ensure you keep it at $24,000 a year?

(ii) accommodation rented by that member on a continuous basis for use in lieu of overnight accommodation

This is where the MP either rents an apartment outright for their exclusive use, or is a flatmate in an apartment. The maximum you can claim is $24,000 a year, which is $460 a week. Many MPs do this, as it gives them a permanent base where they can leave clothes, have some food stocked up etc. The owner of the property benefits as they get a tenant, who generally will not cause any problems in terms of non payment, damage etc – and they will often be a guaranteed tenant for three years. MPs don’t tend to change apartments in Wellington a lot, as it is mainly just a place to sleep three nights a week.

On the face of it, the MP doesn’t benefit from such an arrangement – the landlord does. But what if the MP is effectively a landlord? How – you set up your own personalised superannuation scheme, and get your super scheme to buy the apartment, and rent it to you for the maximum $24,000 a year.

This way you can get $24,000 a year from the taxpayer, even long after the mortgage has been paid off. Now some will say, but if the MP was not renting it to themselves, they could rent it to someone else. Yes – but see above about the massive benefits of renting to an MP – guaranteed income with no breaks for three years. No having to pay a property manager to manage the property etc.

Now the Parliamentary Service will tell you that when an MP rents their own house through their Super Fund, they get an independent market valuation. This is true, but valuations are not a precise science. That would stop an absolute hovel being rented out for $460 a week, but really you know the difference between a $400 and $450 a week apartment is very subjective. And MPs will buy apartments that they know they can get the maximum allowance for.

No matter how much one tries to mitigate, there is a fundamental conflict in my opinion between the MP effectively owning the property through their Super Scheme, and being the tenant with the taxpayer paying the tenancy.

It is all within the rules, but so were most of the rorts in the UK. As David Cameron said, the issue is not the rules, but whether the behaviour is ethical and correct. And most of all, it is about whether the rules should allow an MP to maximise profit from their Wellington accommodation.

The Greens have been doing this for years, and they claimed a while back:

This is also what we are trying to do in the Green Futures Superannuation Fund, set up in 1997 by the Green MPs to invest our own savings. We started by investing in housing for MPs to live in that was close to Parliament so we can all walk to work.

Now this is just nonsense. They did not set up the super scheme to so they could live close to Parliament. There are hundreds of houses and apartments available for lease near Parliament. They set up the scheme so they could maximise the income from the taxpayer for renting the property to themselves. They almost admit this later:

With the security of the property market as a base we have now also invested in NZ’s only locally owned and made wind generation company … All very small stuff, as befits the amount we have to invest, but it has still outperformed larger funds over the last year.

Or maybe it outperformed the larger funds because it had a guaranteed taxpayer funded tenant – themselves.

How much can an MP benefit from the Super Scheme owning the rental property rort? Well here’s a typical example. Take this apartment in Thorndon which has rent set for $460 a week. Its GV is $340,000.

Now an MP’s salary is $131,000 a year. They get a super scheme subsidy of 2.5:1 up to a maximum 20%. This means they put in 8% and the subsidy is 20%, so 28% of $131,000 is paid into their super scheme every year – that is $36,680.

Now let us say the MP (through the super scheme) borrows the entire $340,000 to buy the property (we’ll ignore deposits for now and assume they have property elsewhere to guarantee this mortgage).The MP gets a 5.99% mortgage from Kiwibank. This means the interest in year one is $340,000 x 5.99% = $20,366. However their Super Fund puts in $36,680 plus the taxpayer again puts in $24,000 through the $460 a week rent. That means the interest of $20,366 is matched three times over with the $60,680 of repayments.

If you repeat this each year, then within seven years that MP’s Super Fund owns that $340,000 property outright (plus any increase in valuation).

This is not a new development. The Greens have been doing this since at least 2001. So do many other MPs. I’ll be honest – if I was an MP I would probably do exactly the same – why wouldn’t you?

It is all within the rules, but it is a loophole. If you own the property yourself, you can claim interest only. If you own it through a corporate shell such as your Super Fund, then you can get the taxpayer to pay rent on your behalf to yourself.

So the question we should be asking, in the wake of the UK experience, is should the rules be changed? Should we ban MPs from claiming accommodation expenses for properties they own (directly or indirectly), or have a beneficial interest in?

If an MP wants to have their Super Fund invest in property, then they still can. But they, like any other landlord, should have to go out and find tenants for it who are willing to pay the market price. For example let the “Green Futures Superannuation Fund” find its own tenants, rather than the guaranteed income of the Parliamentary Service!

While I have used the Greens Fund as an example, this is because it is in the public domain. This is not a criticism of the Greens only. I am sure MPs from all parties take advantage of the current rules, and this should not be surprising. Again the issue for me, is whether the rules should be changed to prevent MPs claiming accommodation expenses for any property they own – either directly or through a Super Fund. At the end of the day you should not be both landlord and tenant, when the taxpayer pays the bill.

They’re everywhere

November 12th, 2008 at 12:43 pm by David Farrar

My God, new MPs are everywhere in Wellington.

A few members of the vast right-wing conspiracy (and guests) had a victory dinner last night at Arbitrageur. And not one, not two, but three MPs turn up there during the night – and all in seperate groups.

It is like some giant rodent infestation!

Reserve Bank Forecasts

June 6th, 2008 at 9:50 am by David Farrar

I’ve been going through the data on which the Reserve Bank based their announcement today that they intend to lower the OCR later this year. It is not pretty:

  • Inflation projected to hit 4.7% by September 2008 – this will be the highest inflation has been since December 1990.
  • Economic Growth to slow to under 1% in 2009
  • The lowest level of house sales in 18 years
  • A drop in the TWI from over 70 to around 60
  • A rise in unemployment from 3.6% to 6%
  • A drop in house prices of 13%

I almost pity Bill English who is likely to inherit this. Not as bad as 1990 but nothing like the booming economy Dr Cullen inherited in 1999.

The summary is NZers will have almost big price rises, low economic growth, around $70,000 knocked off the value of their family home, and around 50,000 more unemployed

The MPS noted:

Faced with lower nominal income growth and higher consumer prices, households must decide whether to take on extra debt or lower their standard of living.

What a lovely choice. However the Reserve Bank hints at an answer:

Many households will need to devote a high proportion of their income to debt servicing costs, limiting their discretionary spending. High global food and energy prices will have a large impact on the spending power of households. The domestic prices of these goods will be pushed up further by a weaker New Zealand dollar. The tax cuts and increased transfers announced in Budget 2008 will provide some offset to these rising costs over late 2008 and early 2009.

So further tax cuts would provide further assistance to households facing a choice between extra debt or lower living standards. Labour is crying that further tax cuts will mean cutting of public expenditure. So they seem to be saying that households should cut their standard of living, rather than have the Government cut its expenditure!

Hayek Essay Contest

April 7th, 2008 at 12:26 pm by David Farrar

The Mont Pelerin Society has an essay contest which may be of interest to some readers:

In The Constitution of Liberty Hayek says that “we are probably only at the threshold of an age in which the technological possibilities of mind control are likely to grow rapidly and what may appear at first as innocuous or beneficial powers over the personality of the individual will be at the disposal of government. The greatest threats to human freedom probably still lie in the future.”

Has Hayek’s gloomy warning been borne out by events, or has technology become more a force for liberating people from government?

A very relevant topic. The top three entries will win cash awards of US$2,500, US$1,500 and US$1,000 respectively plus all three winners get travel and expenses paid for to attend the AGM of the Mont Pelerin Society in Toyko from 7 to 12 September 2008. The conference will be focusing on technology and freedom.

Entry details are on the link above. Entries close 30 April 2008.