An independent regime for MPs travel

March 29th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

NZ Herald reports:

Travel perks for former MPs will now be protected in law under legislation debated by Parliament yesterday but the amount spent by each individual former MP will be revealed annually.

The Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill costs taxpayers about $1.3 million a year.

Former MPs elected before 1999 and their spouses and widows and widowers are entitled to rebates on domestic and international airfares.

I would’t say the bill will cost taxpayers anything. The existing entitlements are what cost the taxpayers.

Incidentally only 23 of the 121 current MPs will enjoy travel perks when they retire.

The bill shifts responsibility for travel and accommodation of MPs and ministers away from the Speaker and Prime Minister to the Remuneration Authority plus an additional person with knowledge in the area.

This is the key change, and very welcome. Under the joint leadership of John Key and Lockwood Smith there has been both a unprecedented level of transparency with travel expenses released every quarter and every single item on ministerial credit cards released. Key has also reduced some of the Ministerial entitlements such as spousal travel overseas.

The bill also sets in law a requirement by MPs to disclose their travel and accommodation costs quarterly, a practice instigated on a voluntary basis by Speaker Lockwood Smith.

And the bill contains what is known as the “Chris Carter clause” after the ex-Labour MP who went awol after his expulsion from caucus: it increases the penalty for being absent from Parliament without good cause from its present $10 a day to $270 a day.

I think Carter also went AWOL before his expulsion.

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Subsidised Stomach Stapling

January 25th, 2010 at 11:44 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

Momentum is building for more public funding for stomach-stapling operations, with at least four MPs showing the benefits of the procedure.

It is understood three National MPs have had the operation, which shrinks the stomach, dulls the appetite and usually leads to weight loss.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia led calls yesterday to boost public funding of the procedure after revealing she had already dropped 13 kilograms and shaken off her diabetes just nine weeks after having the $28,000 operation.

So many MPs have had stomch staples, I’ve quipped to a number of friends that I have found the solution to the MPs travel perks issues.

Instead of MP gaining greater and greater subsidies for international travel as they serve more terms, they should gain greater subsidies for stomach staple operations!

So after one term, an MP gets 25% off a stomach staple, 50% off after two terms, 75% off after three terms and after four terms (by which time the unhealthy lifestyle of an MP will have probably made such operation necessary) they get the operation for free!

And the public would be far happier seeing their MPs get stomach staple operations, than getting subsidised international travel.

I call it a win-win.

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Police probe of former MPs expenses

December 5th, 2009 at 2:07 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A former Government minister is being investigated by police for allegedly using his ex-MP perk of taxpayer-funded flights on business trips and then claiming driving mileage from the charity he headed.

Detectives have executed search warrants on the Auckland home of Roger McClay, a National Party MP for 15 years, and seized financial records from Keep New Zealand Beautiful, of which he was the chairman.

Former staff and fellow board members have also been interviewed by police.

Mr McClay, 64, is under investigation for allegedly invoicing the environmental organisation for the cost of driving mileage, but taking a taxpayer-funded flight instead.

As a former MP, Mr McClay is entitled to the 90 per cent subsidy for 12 domestic return flights each year. No charges have been laid and he has denied any wrongdoing.

He said he was disappointed at the length of the police inquiry but declined to comment further.

The inquiry has been on-going for a long time. It seems it was initiated between December 2008 and February 2009, and the search warrants referred to were executed in June 2009 – six months ago.

Not much comment one can make, without knowing if the allegations are true. The fact the case is unresolved after 12 months suggests it is not clear cut. No doubt at some stage the Police will either lay charges or close the file.

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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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Perks for former GGs and PMs

August 12th, 2008 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

I was an advocate of getting rid of the travel perks for former MPs, as there was little rationale for them.

However I do think that former Governor-Generals and Prime Ministers are in a different category. The Dom Post reports:

Former prime ministers and governors-general will rack up $920,000 in perks this year under a gold-plated scheme that provides unlimited free flights and annual payments.

The sum includes an estimated $520,000 in flights alone for one year, in a scheme that Internal Affairs predicts will cost taxpayers just over $10 million during the recipients’ lifetimes.

Former PM and GGs often have a continuing role in public life. They are asked to support various charities, speak at conferences etc. Jim Bolger says:

“One of the arguments [for the allowances] is you’re never not a public figure any more. You are always a public figure once you’ve been prime minister and-or governor-general. That carries with it certain responsibilities.”

The $10 million figure is the normal trick of take an annual figure and multiply it by expected years until death to make it sound much larger.

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Not all expenses are perks!!

April 12th, 2008 at 11:07 am by David Farrar

An article in the NZ Herald on whether MPs expenses should be more public.  I tend to favour more transparency in this area.

But the area I want to take issue on is this:

OUR MPS’ PERKS

* Up to $24,000 accommodation allowance for MPs who live outside Wellington.

* Rebates on private international travel – ranging from 25 per cent for second-term MPs to 90 per cent for fourth-termers.

* $400 to have security system installed in home, and $600 a year for monitoring.

* Domestic air flights for both MPs and their spouses/ partners, as well as related taxi and accommodation costs.

* Children over the age of 5 get four return trips to Wellington each year. No limit on free trips for those under 5.

The first one listed is not a perk.  It is a necessary expense. If your job requires you to stay overnight away from home, they pay for your accommodation. Every employer I have had, does that.

The international travel subsidy is a fair call as a perk. Not 100% perk as it will be used somewhat for work purposes, but also definitely some private benefit.

Calling a home alarm system a perk, is pushing it.  A bit of a grey area, but it is hardly something MPs get enjoyment out of, and is sadly necessary as part of the job.  However as many may already have home alarm systems, there is some private benefit as they can save money from it.

Domestic airfares for MPs is around 95% work expense, not perk. MPs do not fly around the country for fun. They do it because they have to as part of their jobs. There can be some personal benefit but it is relatively small.

The travel for spouses and children is a bit of a grey area. Again you don’t tend to see MPs using this to fly the spouse and kids to a beach resort. It is mainly used so that MPs actually keep their families together. Spending over 150 days a year away from your home is not a great lifestyle for a family.

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Piss Off

March 14th, 2008 at 10:04 am by David Farrar

I happened to be in Parliament on Wednesday when TV One showed their hilarious news item with Brian Connell telling Chris Faafoi to “piss off” as Faafoi asked Brian 18 times whether his wife was travellng with him to Europe.

A number of MPs inquired of assembled press secretaries whether this was now recommended response to media questions, and practised out loud this new form of parliamentary answer.

Faafoi deserves a prize for his tenacity, including waiting outside the toilet to carry on the questioning.  Mind you Duncan Garner would have probably followed inside :-)

I’m a bit surprised that Brian didn’t say “Yes my wife is coming with me, as we already spend half the year apart. And it will actually save the taxpayer money as two economy class fares is a hell of a lot cheaper than one business class fare”.

Faafoi did have a right to ask the question, and that answer would have been more constructive I suggest!

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The travellers grow in number

March 13th, 2008 at 2:59 pm by David Farrar

Press gallery reporters, who never look happier than when they are perk busting, have managed to find out seven retiring MPs have overseas travel this year.

It is a bad look. There are reasons you want to attend events such as IPU or CPU meetings, and it could well be the case that MPs restanding don’t want to be out of town in election year. But someone should have realised the perception problem would be significant.  It is hardly a new thing, that the media scrutinise such travel closely.

The Speaker ultimately was in the best place to see the composition of the trips, and should have suggested to parties they rethink their choices.  But to be fair to Margaret Wilson I understand she doesn’t particularly enjoy these trips herself and is probably pretty peeved she has to deal with it.  I hear rumours that she may announce later today that the Speaker’s tour trip will be cancelled.

As someone who has worked in Government, I also have a small degree of professional sympathy for the Government whose big Fast Forward research funding announcement was pushed to second segment status on all the news shows, with the overseas travel perks as the lead items.  Sometimes crap just happens to the best laid plans.

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