Shoddy story on TV3

TV3 just did a shock expose story on something that has been in the public domain since November 2008. Just because they didn’t do research doesn’t excuse them saying:

Had this not been leaked, it raises the question of whether National would have ever told anyone.

The issue is the agreement to fund an extra staff member in Out of Parliament offices of MPs whose electorate is larger than 20,000 sq km or is a Maori seat. I’ll come back to the merits of the policy later. But first the total beatup that this was some sort of secret only revealed by leaked documents. Have a look at the actual supply and confidence agreement signed by National and the Maori Party on the 16th of November 2008. It says:

The challenges of servicing the disproportionately large size of the Maori electorates will be addressed through immediate implementation of the recommendation from the March 2007 report of the Committee of the Third Triennial Review (Goulter report).

There is inequity in respect of the support that Parliament provides the very large electorates compared to the very small ones. One comparison is between Te Tai Tonga (147,000 sq km) and Epsom (22 sq km).

So this was as public as you can get. The supply and confidence agreement was massively reported on at the time. TV3 has stuffed up big time by painting this as some sort of hidden initiative.

The other aspect totally lacking in the TV3 story was what this decision was based on. As the supply and confidence agreement states, it was recommended by a neutral independent reviewer (John Goulter) in March 2007. And what did the Goulter review say. On page 92:

“That all Maori constituent Members of Parliament and each constituency Member of Parliament with an electorate in excess of 20,000 sq km in area be entitled to the services of an extra staff member to equate to three full-time equivalent out of Parliament support staff members”

So this was a open and public decision to implement the recommendation of a neutral expert reviewer. That does not mean it was a good decision (in fact I disagree with aspects of it), but TV3 were dishonest with their portrayal of it as National MPs voting them and their allies more money in secret. They even listed the MPs names with dollar signs next to them as if they were personally getting the money. In fact they are merely getting permission to hire a third staff member.

Now as it happens this issue has been reported on before – by myself and Home Paddock. Despite both being Nats we have been critical of the actual policy because of an inequality. The smallest Maori seat, as Home Paddock pointed out on 16 November is Tamaki Makaurau being only 730 sq kms in size. So why include that in extra resources?

I’d personally blogged twice on this issue previously. I actually commented when the agreement was announced:

I would rather decisions like this are made through the Parliamentary Service Commission. But this was recommended by the Goulter review, and two offices are not enough for some of those large electorates.

I didn’t like the idea of funding arrangements being decided bilaterally, but noted the fact it had been recommended mitigated that.

Then I linked to Home Paddock’s post and commented on 18 November 2008:

It is hard to justify a third staffer for Tamaki Makauru, when it is so much smaller than the other Maori seats.

I went on to propose the policy should be based on size only, so should be:

To be fair to all large seats, the agreement should be modified to be either:

  1. Only three of the Maori seats and four general seats over 20,000 sq km
  2. Five Maori seats, and four general seats over 15,000 sq km
  3. Six Maori seats and six general seats over 12,500 sq km
  4. All seven Maori seats and 27 general seats over 730 sq km

So you actually had a couple of Nats four months ago criticising the policy, before the media had even run a single story on it.

Really TV3 actually stuffed in every regard. The story they should have run is on the inequality of including Tamaki Makaurau when it is not a large seat. That is the legitimate issue you can criticise the decision over. I’d like to ask John Goulter (who made the recommendation) why he included them.

But instead of doing analysis they tried to portray this as some sort of secret hidden decision that only came to light due to a leak. They either did not know or decided not to mention that it had been announced four months ago. And they also neglected to mention it was implementing the decision of a neutral independent reviewer. A highly relevant fact.

UPDATE: looking more closely at the TV3 story, it looks like the Government decided not to fund Tamaki Makaurau for a third staff member (they only list the other six Maori seats), despite the recommendation and agreement it be all Maori seats. If correct, that is a good thing. It also means the story is then even more of a beat up.

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