Hooton defends Ardern’s spending

Matthew Hooton writes at RNZ:

Ms Ardern is under fire for the alleged $80,000 cost of her one-and-a-half day trip to Nauru for the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ retreat and dinner.

More mysteriously, Mr Bridges was attacked for apparently spending a similar amount on land transport for his tour of 70 provincial towns. Newshub judged both matters worthy of leading its 6pm TV news.

Whoever is Prime Minister in some sense personifies New Zealand. We expect them to attend all the most important events from one end of the country to another.

She or he will be rightly criticised if they fail to speak at major industry conferences and award ceremonies, wherever they are held.

They are expected to visit a fair range of schools, hospitals, police stations, community projects, universities, early childhood centres, housing developments, factories, farms, orchards and other businesses to remain in touch with every aspect of the nation’s progress.

Which is why it is petty to criticise their travel expenses, as Labour often did of John Key.

All this comes at a significant cost but it is miniscule compared with the approximately $85 billion of spending the Prime Minister and Cabinet oversee each year.

Moreover, for military aircraft or VIP cars, the “cost” reported in the media is a mere transfer from one government account to another, with the exception of fuel and a bit of wear and tear. From the taxpayers’ perspective, it costs more if the money goes to Avis, Uber or Emirates.

This is a fair point – it tends to be a notional cost. The actual cost to the taxpayer of someone using VIP Transport is basically the petrol.

Part of the criticism of Ms Ardern is that her 757 is making a special trip back to New Zealand to pick her up, on account of her being a breastfeeding mum of a two-and-half-month-old baby.

But, for better or worse, Ms Ardern is our democratically elected Prime Minister and we pay what it takes for her to fulfil her duties, based on her individual circumstances.

This is hardly new. If a Prime Minister lives in Dipton, Ashburton or Te Kuiti, like Bill English, Jenny Shipley and Jim Bolger, their travel costs more than if they live in Parnell or Mt Albert, like John Key, Helen Clark and Ms Ardern.

If we are lucky enough to elect a Franklin Roosevelt as our Prime Minister, he will come with the cost of getting his wheelchair on and off the plane.

A very good defence of the PM’s spending.

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