Yesterday the NZ Herald started a story headlined Green MP’s 800km taxpayer-funded trip questioned by saying:
Questions are being asked about a taxpayer-funded trip for deaf MP Mojo Mathers to be interviewed on a small provincial radio station.
The Green MP says the 800km trip on the taxpayer dollar was essential, but a taxpayer group queries whether it was fiscally and environmentally responsible. . .
That sounds like the taxpayer group prompted the story by asking the question.
The story continues:
On Friday, Parliament’s only deaf MP flew from Christchurch to Wellington, then drove to Masterton, to participate in ArrowFM’s Wheels on Fire programme for people with disabilities.
ArrowFM is one of 12 Community Access Radio stations in New Zealand, and the only community station in Wairarapa. Its audience is not known, but its Facebook page has 132 “likes”.
Last night Ms Mathers said the journey was a necessary expense because it was “almost impossible for me to do live interviews over the phone”.
She needed to be face-to-face with the interviewer in order to lip read, she said, especially for a one-hour show.
“As the only disabled Member of Parliament it is really important I represent disabled New Zealanders, which make up one in five New Zealanders,” she said.
“MPs do have to fly a fair bit to get out to our communities. All Green MPs offset our air travel and try to minimise it as much as possible.
“I consider all requests to meet very carefully, including this one, and I felt it was really important to take this opportunity to speak to disabled New Zealanders living in rural communities.”
She did not know the cost of the trip, she said, but it would be declared as part of her expenses, and was planned in line with other work she had to undertake in Wellington.
Planned in line with other work in Wellington means the cost of the airfare wasn’t just for the trip to Masterton, so the extra expense was just the rental car.
The Taxpayers Union questioned whether it was value for money.
“It’s amazing that she has so little to do with her time to actually travel to a community radio that probably has as many listeners as you can count on your hand,” director Jordan Williams said. . .
That, with the headline and first paragraph strongly suggest this story came at the instigation of the Taxpayers Union. But it didn’t.
This morning there has been some criticism of my comments in a story on the Herald website about a trip Mojo Mathers took to Masterton from Christchurch apparently just for a short interview on a community radio station.
- The Taxpayers’ Union did not seek media attention on this story. There is no associated press release. The Herald called yesterday evening asking for comment, as happens often.
- The Taxpayers’ Union operate 24 hour media line for comment on taxpayer issues. Yesterday’s call came through to me and I was asked whether it was value for money for an MP to fly 800km for a radio interview on a small community station. I said it was not value for money when the interview could have been done on Skype as well as the comments that are quoted in the story.
- I’ve made no comment about Ms Mathers disability. In fact, if the travel was necessary I would not criticise the spending. But answering questions posed by the Herald, on matter which as far as I know are completely unrelated to her disability, is legitimate.
- Accusations that I (or the Union) sought to go after Mathers are ridiculous. To repeat, we were asked for comment by the Herald who were running the story. The comments would have been the same whoever the MP.
- Accusations that the Taxpayers’ Union are partisan are also silly. I am proud that the Union has gone after National MPs and the current government for expenses, wasteful expenditure and corporate welfare. Seehttp://info.scoop.co.nz/New_Zealand_Taxpayers’_Union
On reflection, I wonder why an MP from a party that prides itself for having a low environmental footprint choose to fly to a radio interview that could have been done on Skype. Perhaps Ms Mathers had other engagements in Masterton. If so, that was not the information provided to me at the time by the Herald reporter.
I too wondered if the interview could have been done on Skype but Ms Mathers tweeted that the quality wasn’t high enough for lip reading.
The story looked like an attack on Ms Mathers instigated by the Taxpayers’ Union which was petty to start with and even more so when you take into account the information she planned the trip around other work.
The explanation provided later by the TU shows it was merely responding to a question and it looks like it didn’t have the information that the trip was planned round other activities.
Here’s the conspiracy theory – was the story a set up to discredit the TU?
The group was set up as a counter to all the left wing groups which are continually asking for more money, regardless of whether or not it gives value.
The TU by contrast:
We stand for value for money for government spending
We want our politicians spending money as if they’d worked as hard as us for it and believe that new taxes should only be introduced when there are equal decreases in other taxes. We believe in a fair and efficient tax system. We are not a political party, or aligned to any.
We promote sensible restraint of government expenditure by:
- Scrutinising government spending;
- Publicising government waste;
- Arguing for an end to corporate and union welfare; and
- Promoting an efficient tax system.
We are independent and incorporated under the Incorporated Societies Act 1908 to pursue the following objectives:
- To give taxpayers a voice in the corridors of power;
- To educate New Zealanders against excessive and wasteful government spending;
- To scrutinise government spending;
- To publicise government waste;
- To promote an efficient tax system;
- To promote discussion on the balance of activities best undertaken by the private sector and the public sector;
- To promote public policies to advance New Zealanders’ prosperity;
- To identify, research and monitor issues affecting these objects;
- To co-operate or join with other associations or bodies having similar objects; and
- Generally to do all such things as would help to attain or further the Taxpayers’ Union’s objects.
The aims of the Taxpayers’ Union are:
- To reduce wasteful spending by central and local government;
- To increase transparency and accountability of government spending;
- To increase institutional checks on government spending;
- To enable New Zealanders to easily scrutinise government spending;
- To lower the tax burden on New Zealanders; and
- To promote evidence based public policy.
If getting attention for wasteful spending is any gauge the TU has already been successful – and contrary to accusations it’s biased towards the government, is hasn’t been partisan in identifying and publicising waste.
It has been critical of the government.
That should alert all politicians and bureaucrats, in central and local government, to the risk that wasteful spending will be outed.
Those on the left will have greater cause for concern than those on the right who usually, but not always, have greater regard for careful use of other people’s money.
That gets me back to the conspiracy theory.
The Herald headlined and opened the story with the assertion questions were being asked about the trip and quotes only the TU.
It doesn’t say who asked the initial question, nor who told the reporter about the trip and the paper could well use the right to not divulge its sources to keep that in confidence.
But it does leave a question over whether the aim of the story was really to discredit the TU.
If so, while it is justified at feeling aggrieved by a set-up, it could take that as a compliment that it is worrying people and parties who don’t have its regard for the necessity for fiscal prudence.
In the interests of transparency – I have made a donation to the TU.