One of the questions asked in pre-selection interviews for would-be MPs is, “Is there anything in your background that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of tomorrow’s paper?”
Thinking about what something would look like on the front page is a good guiding principle for any of us and even more so for politicians.
The decision to make MPs’ expenses public has allowed the media to look at who spends how much on what and their use of public funds is being exposed to the disinfectant of sunlight.
That sunlight is already working. The NZ Herald reports that Rodney Hide repaid $10,000 for airfares for a holiday in Hawaii which he and his partner took in July.
“He booked the flights through parliamentary travel but after reflecting on that decision over the last week or so, he decided to repay the full cost of the Hawaiian airfares.”
When most MPs reflect, they are more likely to not use their public money for private overseas travel, whether it’s their own or that of a partner.
That’s the good thing about making MPs’ expense claims public.
As John Key said:
“What MPs do need to do is recognise pretty clearly we live in a modern, new world where there is increased media scrutiny, where there is an expectation from the public about the way their taxpayers’ dollars will be spent. I think they’d better start learning fast that they need to meet those expectations.”
But there is a need for caution.
MPs’ spice* can claim air fares to and from Wellington and school-age children area also covered for, I think, one trip a year.
Lots of jobs demand a lot of families but I don’t think there is any which demands quite as much of families as that of MPs. They are away from home a lot, they are regarded as public property and almost always on duty.
Because of that, covering the internal travel of spice and children as happens now is fair and reasonable.
Some, Hide included, think it would be better just to bulk fund MPs but I have concerns about that.
MPs serving big electorates will always have greater costs for travel and accommodation than list MPs or those with smaller electorates. The amounts spent will also be greater for those living further from Wellington.
That’s easy enough to measure.
However, harder working MPs will have more costs than those who cruise. That’s much more difficult to measure. Bulk funding could leave the most effective MPs out of pocket and the cruisers creaming it.
I’d rather just let the sun shine on the expenses. Those who don’t know what’s fair and reasonable will learn once it hits the front page.
*Spice is HP shorthand for spouses and partners.