Vernon Small on Greens

Vernon Small writes:

The Green Party needed a mini-scandal about its accommodation allowances like it needed to lose a senior MP with thwarted ambitions or have its kuia head for the hills before the next election.

Challenging times indeed. Despite that I think the are fairly well positioned to grow their vote at the next election. They can point to successfully advocating the home insulation scheme to both Labour and National, and make a case that while they are a left wing party, they can “green” the Government, regardless of who it is.

As the party making all the noise about reviewing parliamentary perks, it has exposed itself badly with the revelation that two of its MPs were essentially – if accidentally – double-dipping on rent for the Thorndon house owned by the party’s superannuation fund.

At this stage, just how the information came to light is unclear.

The Greens are sure they spotted it when they did an annual market rent review on the property in May or June and were preparing their disclosure of expenditure before the general release of MPs’ spending by Speaker Lockwood Smith in July. That was an attempt at a public relations coup that now looks hollow.

This is easy to resolve. The Greens simply need provide the e-mail or correspondence to The advising them of the “error” they discovered.

Ms Turei does concede that if they had provided a rent review of the house in February, as Parliamentary Service requested, the mistake would probably have been avoided.

So why was it not done?

But the failure to pay back the extra $6000 when it was discovered in June – even if that required a special meeting of the superannuation fund trustees – ceded a lot of the moral high ground. (More so, because when asked about it weeks ago by The Dominion Post after a tip-off from within Parliament, the Greens said there had been only a minor adjustment – not, as it turned out, an overcharging of $500 a week – and implied it was at the Greens’ own initiative.)

This is the part that spells very bad judgement to me. If I was advising the Greens, I would have insisted that it be paid back within days, and then do a press release advising of the error. That would have been a minor minor story.

From Parliamentary Service’s perspective, general manager Geoff Thorn could not be clearer.

“The double payment was identified when the service was reviewing processes for dealing with claims for Wellington accommodation in May of this year.

This is quite contradictory to what the Greens say. Now again, there is an easy way to resolve this. The Greens merely need provide the e-mail or correspondence where they alerted The Parliamentary Service to the error.

It is an important distinction. The party that found a mistake, corrected it and paid back the difference? Or the party that was caught out and reluctantly handed over the cash three months later?

Indeed, and in fact there is a lot of murkiness now. We have:

  1. How did the error occur in the first place?
  2. Who decided the level of rent to charge for Delahnuty after she moved in with Fitzsimons?
  3. Why was a market valuation not done in February, when the Parliamentary Service asked for it?
  4. Is there any proof of the assertion by the Greens they spotted the error, rather than the Parliamentary Service tell them about it?
  5. If not, why did they assert they found the error?
  6. Why did they tell the Dominion Post it was a minor adjustment, when it was almost $500 a week?
  7. Why did they not reveal the error, at the time they were trumpeting their commitment to transparency?
  8. Why did they wait three months to pay the money back – in fact only paying it back when TVNZ started asking about it?

Now I am not suggesting foul motives for the above, but it does suggest incredibly poor and sloppy management – both political, but also administratively.

Either way, the news has turned the spotlight back on the Green MPs’ pension scheme which buys houses and flats for its MPs and charges Parliamentary Service for their rent.

It is within the rules, and Mr Donald made sure of that when he set it up in 1998. (Ever aware of perceptions, he went around the press gallery to tell reporters what he had done, so there could be no accusations of underhand dealings.)

Rod was a very smart man.

But the scheme was always a ticking time bomb of bad perceptions, especially when, in the wake of the Bill English accommodation furore, the public is attuned to MPs using the perks of office to build up their own nest eggs.

It is a nest egg for the Greens that has already been depleted from four houses to two, as retiring MPs have withdrawn their entitlement.

It will take another big hit when MP Sue Bradford leaves later this month and an even bigger one when former party co- leader Jeanette Fitzsimons quits before the 2011 election.

Not necessarily. The new MPs may move into the houses used by the retiring MPs.

Comments (36)

Login to comment or vote

Add a Comment

%d bloggers like this: