A tough week for those affected

January 28th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

This week seems the ministerial reshuffle implemented, and it will be a tough week for many MPs and staff affected.

On the staffing front, you may be unaware that parliamentary staff lose their jobs if their Minister is demoted. But you also lose your job if your MP is promoted to be a Minister (as different employers). Also if your party loses an election you lose your job but also if your party wins an election you lose your job! Some get rehired, of course. But there are few jobs where you can learn at one hour’s notice you no longer have a job – no consultation, no notice, no appeal. As I say often, don’t choose to work at Parliament if you want stability.

It is of course equally tough for the Ministers involved. I know MPs are not the most beloved of creatures (even though most people like the local ones they actually know), but again not the most stable of jobs where you can learn with an hour’s notice you lose your job as a Minister, let alone everything that goes with the job.

Most MPs are pretty sympathetic to those who get demoted, but Hone Harawira was particularly ungracious with his comments on Phil Heatley:

Yesterday, Mr Harawira said on National Radio’s Morning Report that the sacking of Mr Heatley would be a welcome relief for low-income families.

He said Mr Heatley presided over policies which make it harder to access affordable housing and called him a smarmy p**** who put poor people down by making jokes about them.

Mr Heatley wasn’t too concerned about the insult, but said poverty was no laughing matter.

“Local people who know me and who know Hone are quite capable of making their own judgment on our respective characters,” the Whangarei MP said. “That aside, I take welfare policy seriously. Poverty is no joking matter.”

Phil’s one of the nicest guys around, in fact. And the way he (and Kate) has taken the demotion is totally absent any rancour or bitterness:

Mr Heatley’s demotion took everybody by surprise and the MP heard he was to be dropped only that morning.

He said he would now be able to put more time into issues affecting Northland and would be pushing for better infrastructure, including road and rail, better broadband coverage and speeds, electricity supply security and economic development.

Mr Heatley said he would be working closely with Northland MP Mike Sabin to help address those issues.

I have no doubt Phil and Kate are bitterly disappointed. You’d be inhuman not to be. But the way they both have taken the decision speaks volumes about their characters.

Dom Post on extra staff for big electorates

March 13th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

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.

Boxes everywhere

November 25th, 2008 at 4:31 pm by David Farrar

Just been over at Parliament catching up with a few people. There’s a huge amount of activity as boxes are being unpacked, computer geeks are installing PCs evereywhere etc. WIth hundreds of office moves, it will take a few days to bed down.

On one floor there were no phones yet, which was sort of blissful.

One of the National MPs has Winston’s old office. A building staffer explained that they had to near-fumigate the office to try and get rid of the smoke residue. I helpfully suggested an exorcism might have been more appropriate for that office 🙂

While it is nice to be in Government, a lot of people are missing the wonderful offices in the old Parliament Buildings. They are much nicer than Bowen House and the Beehive.

Lots of interesting tidbits about who is staying and going in all the parties, including Labour. There have been some excellent appointments made that I think will help settle things down. Might post a bit more on this in a few weeks.  As tempting as it is to announce staff appointments through Kiwiblog, I’ll leave it to the individual parties to do 🙂

Was interesting to have a look around the 9th floor, as I had not been up there since I was a staffer there in 1999, and it has been refurbished since then. The refurbishments are nice, but still nothing compared to Parliament House.

I referred to the PM’s personal office/room as “Jenny’s office” three times. It was weird – almost like some sort of flashback. It was just an automatic reflex basically. I was amused that many of the staff were suffering from the same problem I encountered in 1997 when I moved up there – getting lost on the floor.

All the other floors have more than one Minister so you just head into the office complex you want. But the enture 9th floor is PM’s Office and it is a circle around the entire way. And my first couple of days there I would sometimes circle the building two or three times until I realised I was passing the same office and had gone past my office.

While it is nice to pop in occassionally, it is even nicer not to work there. Eight years was more than enough for me, and the hours many of the Ministerial staffers work are just crazy – in some offices you don’t get home much before midnight. Bill Birch’s office was famous for that – if a meeting was scheduled at 12.00, you did actually have to check if it was midday or midnight.

12 Questions

October 30th, 2008 at 8:00 am by David Farrar
  1. Did Helen not notice her party president – the Labour Party Campaign Chair and Manager, was out of the country trying to dig up dirt on John Key from 20 years ago?
  2. Did no one notice he was absent from the daily campaign meetings he normally chairs?
  3. Why were taxpayer funded members of Labour’s Parliamentary Research Unit also in Australia with Mike Williams trying to smear John Key?
  4. Who paid for all their travel?
  5. Does the head of the research unit still report unofficially to Heather Simpson?
  6. Is the Batman who posted documents anonymously to Dominion Post reporters the same Batman who is an author on The Standard and posted on the H-Fee earlier this month?
  7. Why did The Standard delete the previous post from Batman?
  8. Does this not link The Standard to Mike Williams and the Labour Parliamentary Research Unit?
  9. Is it not time that Labour fronted up and revealed how many of the 15 Standard authors are parliamentary and ministerial staffers?
  10. Who from Labour told Winston about the smear so he could refer to it on Alt TV?
  11. Doesn’t it undermine Helen’s claim she had nothing to do with it, when her parliamentary strategist Pete Hodgson is trying to beat it up?
  12. Is Helen just pretending she knew nothing about the attempted smear, or has she lost control of her party, her party president and her own research unit?

MPs staff

September 8th, 2008 at 8:00 am by David Farrar

Some interesting answers to a series of parliamentary questions asked by Rodney Hide. Staff who work directly for an MP have a near unique clause in the employment contract which allows them to be dismissed for “irreconcilable differences” or a “breakdown in relationship” regardless of who is at fault. This recognises that an MP’s Office could not function with a a staffer an MP does not have total confidence in.  The staff tends to get three months salary if they lose their job under that provision.

The Speaker has confirmed that during this term of Parliament, 12 staff have lost their jobs under this clause. Now this applies to the 93 MPs who are not Ministers, so that that means around one in eight MPs have had a fall out with a staffer resulting in a job loss.

The total cost of payouts has been $117,561. This is on top of any personal grievance settlements.

Also of interest, one MP has been careless enough to have two staff terminated under this process.

And over the last three years, there have been three formal complaints of bullying from an MP against a staff member.

Incidentially the upcoming election means that hundreds of staff will lose their jobs, approx:

  1. 300 Ministerial staff
  2. 100 Parliamentary party staff (leaders office, research units, whips office)
  3. 90 Executive Secretaries
  4. 190 Electorate Agents

Many will get rehired, but there are no guarantees. Even if the MP you work for keeps their job, they are under no obligation to rehire you, and you only get a months payout.

UPDATE: Dom Post has a story also.

The growth in Ministerial staff numbers

May 29th, 2008 at 9:15 am by David Farrar

I blogged on Monday a summary of the Ministerial staff numbers as of May 2008. They were:

  1. 28 Managers
  2. 45 Communicators
  3. 111 Portfolio Advisors
  4. 35 Political Advisors
  5. 56 Administrators
  6. 286 Total Staff

This was to put into context the nonsense from Winston Peters about National having 36 staff (excluding the parliamentary secretary each MP gets) in the leader’s office to support its 48 MPs.

Now I mused out loud that it would be interesting to compare this to 1999, if someone had kept a copy of an old staff list. Well I am pleased to report that several readers are hoarders of such lists – one in fact having every list back to the 1980s! So I now have a copy of the June 1999 Ministerial staff list.

Now what were staff numbers in 1999 and how have they changed in eight years?

  1. Managers – up from 23 to 28 (22% increase)
  2. Communicators (spin doctors) – up from 26 to 45 (a whopping 73% increase)
  3. Portfolio Advisors – up from 62 to 111 (a 79% increase)
  4. Political Advisors – up from 25 to 35 (40% increase)
  5. Administrators – up from 52 to 67 (29% increase)
  6. Total Staff – up from 188 to 286 (52% increase)

So under Labour they have increased total staff in Ministerial Offices by 52%, and spin doctors by 73%.

Oh and in case you were wondering about numbers in the Opposition Leader’s Office, a handy reader also has a July 1999 staff list for Helen Clark’s office. And Helen had 30 staff for 37 MPs. That is 0.81 staff per MP. While that terrible John Key has 36 staff for 38 48 MPs which is 0.75 staff per MP.

One could argue that as the number of Ministers has increased from 23 to 28, one should look at staff per Minister. First of all even if one accepts this premise there has still been a massive increase in staff numbers.

But the number of Ministers is decided by the PM, and can be as small or large as she wants. The number of MPs is basically set at 120, and if one party gains more MPs, then there are less MPs elsewhere and total staffing numbers tends to stay the same. In fact MPs are bulk funded for most costs (excludes travel and phones) so their staff numbers have to be affordable within a limited budget.

Ministers are different. The Government sets the budget for Ministerial Services in their annual budget so can be as high or low as they want. Vote Ministerial Services has increased $12.7 million from 1999/00.

Hopefully John Key’s freeze on total number of civil servants will include Ministerial staff. 286 seems more than enough. Personally I would have a significantly smaller Executive – but that is a topic for another day.