Speaker’s view on MPs expenses

The Speaker put up a compelling defence for MPs expenses on Q & A this morning.

I can see both sides of this argument (see, the economic liberal in me didn’t last long).  I know from some of my friends who’ve worked in the Beehive and Parliament that the hours are horrendous, and that’s just for the staffers.  At least most of the staffers get to go home and cuddle up to their loved ones (albeit late at night).  The politicians on the other hand don’t just have a job, they have a lifestyle.

I sometimes compare it to being a Police Officer (yeah, yeah, without the danger to life).  Even when a cop is off duty they can still get called back to work immediately, especially if they are AOS.  Politicians have a similar lifestyle job.  They are nearly always available at the end of a phone, are expected to spend large amounts of time away from family, and the public expectation is that they (and to some degree their families) are public property.

So, may be there is an argument for higher salaries or bulk funding?  Personally, I just don’t think the public could or would stomach it.  At least at the moment MPs and Ministers’ expenses are paid out on a ‘use’ basis.  That means that if they’re not out and about doing their job then they can’t just pocket the money.

One aspect of this expenses debate that perplexes me is that two of the higher profile naysayers aren’t exactly squeaky clean themselves.

Let’s start with Paul Holmes.  In his interview with the Speaker today he said:

PAUL But hang on the rest of us don’t get subsidies, the rest of us don’t get money left right and centre.

DR SMITH What salary are you on?

PAUL That’s my private business.

Hmmmm… is it really your private business, Paul?  Ok, so I can accept that your salary might be commercially sensitive in some circles but aren’t we the taxpayers paying it?  Just because our taxes have churned through several wheels of bureaucracy before they get to you, shouldn’t you still appreciate that we pay you?

Oh, and before you say that salary is so different to what we’re talking about with MP and Ministers’ expenses, it might pay to think very carefully about who pays your costs to travel from the Hawke’s Bay to Auckland.  Does that come out of your salary?

And then there is Paul Henry, who was positively feral on Breakfast last week.  Simple questions for a simple man (and yes, I mostly love you, Paul).  Who paid for your trip to New York? Did you stay in budget accommodation? Did you pay for your expenses (such as dry cleaning, food, etc) out of your own salary OR did the tax payer pick up your tab, via TVNZ?

Where does this get us? Should we expect an overhaul of all public expenses or accept that some expenses need to be paid out by the taxpayer to assist our MPs, Ministers and television personalities to do their job?

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