Greens wrong on Ministerial funding

Tracy Watkins reports:

The Government has been told to boost political party coffers with more taxpayer funding and it probably should. But if MPs want the extra money, they are going to have to swallow some very big dead rats first.

The first is agreeing to come under the Official Information Act, just like the rest of the public service.

This would then allow people to OIA e-mails between opposition MPs, and between opposition MPs and their staff.

I think the OIA should apply to Parliament for financial information, but not communications.

Anyway to the main point:

The ARC is a panel convened once every parliamentary term to review funding for Parliament and MPs. It usually comprises former MPs (on this occasion John Carter and Rick Barker, who have respect across the political spectrum) and an accountant or similar to lend it the air of independence. Its job is to poke into every aspect of parliamentary and state funding for political parties represented in Parliament and decide whether more money, or any other tweaks, are required.

These areas include the costs of running electorate offices, staff pay rates, support staff funding and political party funding, which largely comprises the leader’s budget. Controversially,the leader’s budget is one area where the ARC proposes a boost in funding – controversially because “leader’s budget” is really just a euphemism for slush fund. Millions of dollars in taxpayer funding disappear into these slush funds every year with little public accountability.

The ARC points out that these budgets have not been increased since 2007, so have fallen in real terms thanks to inflation.

Overall funding has not increased – as is the case for most of the public sector.  That is how we have managed to get out of deficit.

But a breakdown of how the funding is divvied up between the parties shines a light on the problem .

National gets by far the biggest cut, receiving $3.7 million in leader’s budget funding. Labour trails by $800,000 on $2.9 million. Parliament’s third biggest party, the , get $1.3 million.

The reason for the disparity is obvious – National got easily the most seats at the last election so qualifies for the most funding as it’s on a per-MP basis.

Note you only get leaders office funding for MPs who are not Ministers. Otherwise National would get twice as much as Labour.

But that’s not where the problem is, according to the Greens and ARC.

As the governing party, National also has a large number of staffers funded by Ministerial Services. And that budget has not been squeezed to anywhere near the same extent.

Figures supplied to the Greens by the Parliamentary Library show support funding for ministerial offices has risen from $26 million in 2007/2008 to about $38 million now.

This is incorrect. Totally incorrect. In fact funding for ministerial office has fallen.

The 2007 Budget allocated $26.72 million for Support Services to Ministers (M47). It came in slightly over that at $26.84 million.

In the 2008 Budget, $27.28 million was allocated. So that was Labour’s last Budget.

Now we turn to the 2015 Budget. And here is where the Greens have made a mistake. There is a total called Services supporting the Executive which is $38.22 million but that includes VIP Transport and Official Visits. The actual comparable line item is Support Services to Ministers and in 2015 is $25.84 million. If you look back at the 2007 and 2008 estimates, you will see VIP Transport and Official Visits are separate items there also. The Greens have compared a sub-total to a line item. This is a basic fail.

So in fact National’s latest Budget has support services for Ministers $1.44 million less than in Labour’s last budget – a 5.3% reduction in nominal terms. I think most taxpayers would be pleased that they have reduced their own support budget by 5.3%.

So the Greens has misled the media with their press release. I look forward to their apology.

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