De-murking the perks

Retiring MP Rodney Hide deserves our thanks for shining a light into the murk which surrounded MPs’ perks.

The perkbusting happened by accident . . . It was only when he inquired about the rules governing the expenditure of money by MPs that he discovered there were none, or very few.

“I asked ‘When can I use a taxi chit?’ – and no-one knew. It was basically “Whenever you think it’s appropriate”. I was stunned that you could stay in a hotel room and not present your expenses.”

So was the public when Hide blew the lid off the ruses politicians were using to pad out their relatively modest salaries – tax-free two-for-one superannuation subsidies, free domestic air travel for MPs’ families, subsidised international travel for MPs and former MPs and free home phone lines, not to mention a complete absence of anything resembling proper oversight. It was one rule for politicians and another for the rest of the country.

Hide’s disclosures outraged his fellow MPs. He’d shattered a cone of silence that had been observed for decades by MPs from all parties.

Whether or not the expenses were abused, there was huge potential for abuse which was lessened considerably when John Key opened them to scrutiny.

The introduction of the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill is another step along the path of further accountability and transparency.

Among changes proposed in it are:

  • Most travel and accommodation entitlements for MPs and ministers will be  set by the Remuneration Authority rather than Parliament’s Speaker or the  Minister responsible for Ministerial Services.
    • The current voluntary  disclosure regime for MPs’ travel and accommodation expenses will become a  statutory requirement.
    • The amount that can be deducted from MPs’ salaries  for non-attendance in Parliament will increase from a maximum of $10 a day to  0.2 per cent of a MPs’ salary – $270 a day at current rates.

MPs should be paid fairly for the job they do and have all reasonable work-related expenses covered, as other employees do. Since they are paid from the public purse the expenses should also be open to public scrutiny where possible and practical.

Whatever the make-up of the government after the election, this Bill should be enacted as soon as possible.

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