Do equal numbers of men and women want to be MPs?


In the debate about gender balance in parliament I haven’t come across any discussion on whether equal numbers of men and women want to be MPs.

If more women are seeking selection and failing while fewer men try and succeed, and there is no great difference in their suitability, there could be an issue of discrimination.

But if fewer women seek selection in the first place, fewer getting to parliament might not be the problem those wanting better balance between the genders think it is.

I’ve been involved in selections several times.

The first one had two men and one woman seeking the candidacy. One of the men won the selection but didn’t win the seat.

The second one had two men standing and the successful one won the seat.

The third time a couple of men stood but the winner didn’t take the seat.

The next time only one applicant passed the pre-selection process. She became the candidate and won the seat.

The fifth time a man and a woman sought the candidacy, she was selected and won the seat.

The sixth time two men stood for selection but the one who became the candidate didn’t make it in to parliament .

The last time, two women sought selection. The successful one didn’t win the seat but was on the cusp of being a list MP.

In all these selections, the successful people became candidates on their merits.

That’s nine men seeking selection, five winning but only one of whom became an MP while five women sought to be a candidate, three succeeded and two became MPs.

This is anecdote not science.

It would be interesting to know what proper statistical analysis  of the numbers standing, succeeding as candidates and then becoming MPs showed.

Attributes of a good MP


Trusty, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind.

Those are the virtues a Guide or Scout should possess. They’re a a good start for an MP too but the successful one needs much more than that.

MPs require intelligence, confidence, common sense, diligence, flexibility, humility, versatility, energy, patience, perseverance, stamina versatility, vision and wisdom.

They must be adaptable, compassionate, decisive, dependable, fair, honest, honourable, innovative, open, polite, reasonable, tolerant and tough. They need the ability to find solutions to difficult problems and stressful situations without becoming emotionally involved and the strength to say “no” when they can’t help.

The position requires MPs to work with all sorts of people regardless of their abilities, backgrounds and views without fear or favour.

MPs need to learn how to not take personal attacks personally. A well developed sense of humour, including the ability to laugh at themselves, is essential.

They must be able to admit mistakes and apologise for them.

They need the support of family and friends who will lift them up when they’re knocked back and keep the grounded  if they start getting carried away with their own importance.

They need to be articulate, enthusiastic and persuasive. They require the ability to read quickly, understand complex and sometimes contradictory information and to sort what’s important and right from what’s not.

 MPs need to know what they believe in. They must be sure about what they will tolerate and what they won’t; what they stand for and what they stand against.

They must support the philosophy and principles of the party for which they are standing and not be like  Marilyn Waring who told Chris Laidlaw she stood for the National Party so she could get into parliament, not because she believed in it.

Supporting the philosophy and principles of the party doesn’t mean they’ll agree with every policy. They must be able to accept the need to promote policies they might not agree with and choose very carefully the rare occasions when they will not be able to do that.

Tonight 60 members of the National Party will be choosing one of five nominees who will be the candidate for Botany.

They are:  Maggie Barry, Aaron Bhatnagar, Darron Gedge, Jami-lee Ross and Edward Saafi.

I don’t know any of them well enough to have a view on who will be the best candidate.

The list of attributes isn’t exhaustive and none of the five will have all the ones I’ve mentioned. But I hope s/he has most of them because the man or woman who wins the selection will almost certainly be the next MP for the electorate.

Wrong comparison misses real story


You’d be forgiven if you imagined our MPs lived in a different world, writes Rob Stock.

That’s the opening statement of a Sunday Star Times story (not online) headlined A peek at how the other half lives.

It looks at likely policy initiatives this year and then says:

Examples of that kind of whack in the wallet came last year when working parents of young chidlren were told they would have to absorb the rising costs of pre-school childcare after the government cut funding to the sector by $449 million, and many feel that GST hikes left them worse off.

Whack in the wallet is a wonderfully emotive term and Stock makes no mention of the tax cuts and one-off increases to benefits which offset the GST increase.

While it would be foolish to expect the average MP to be on a par financially with the average person, the average man or woman in the street could be forgiven for thinking the parliamentarians making the decisions that hit their wallets live in a different world when it comes to personal finances.

And certainly, the 122 men and women occupying seats in parliament have a different financial profile from the average man or woman.

Stock then takes the 2010 register of parliamentarians pecuniary interests as a guide and says:

Though the register is now dated, it provides a view into the personal wealth themes among MPs, and allows readers to contrast parliamentarians fortunes with their own.

Passing over wealth themes whatever they might be, the inference from all this is that there is something wrong, on the contrary it shows there is something right.

It indicates that many of the people who govern us had successful careers before entering parliament and that they invested wisely. Rather than being something to envy, it’s something which ought to give us reassurance. If they know how to earn, and look after, their own money they are more likely to take a responsible attitude to policies which impact on ours.

It is meaningless to compare MPs’ salaries and assets with those of the average working-age person because the average person doesn’t have the work load and responsibilities of most MPs. (I say most because there could be the odd list MP who does little to earn his/her salary and I specify list because any electorate MP who doesn’t more than earn his/her salary loses his/her seat).

Stock has made the wrong comparison and missed the real story.

A more meaningful comparison would be between MPs and people who run their own businesses or have senior management or governance roles.

A much more interesting, and useful, story would compare what MPs earned before they got into parliament with what they get as an MP.

An even more fascinating story would show how many, and  from which party, took an income hit when they entered parliament; how many earn more as an MP than they did before and how many earn more afterwards.

Those comparisons would give us the real story.

Right diagnosis wrong prescription Dr Smith


John Key is correct that it would be better to make MPs’ travel expenditure public.

Unfortunately speaker Lockwood Smith disagrees and from now on an individual MP’s expense won’t be declared, we’ll only know the total for all MPs.

Dr Smith has correctly diagnosed public disquiet over revelations on what MPs have been spending but he’s come up with the wrong prescription.

His argument  is that expenditure on overseas trips is part of MPs’ salary package and what they do with it is their private business.

That may be technically correct but it’s not quite that simple when public money pays for the allowances to which they’re entitled and some MPs use them and some don’t.

Now that expenses have been public it’s going to be very difficult to keep them private.

The answer to the problem is to change the system which is what the Prime Minister is suggesting:

”The reality is we have worked on a process where we’ve opened up MPs expenses and now it will look to the public like we somehow are closing the door slightly.”
Mr Key, speaking from Vietnam where he is attending the East Asia Summit, said scrapping the travel perks and upping MPs salaries in compensation is ”a very hotly contested issue.”

”At some point we’ll have discussions with our caucus about that.”  The government had tried  to move to a system that coverts more compensations to cash, he said. ”I actually think that’s fundamentally the right way to go.” But he admitted ”selling that to the public might be an interesting charge.”

”I think this is a situation that is going to evolve… Given the charge we’ve lead in the past few years …the genie is out of the bottle.”

He’s right. Dr Smith opened the expenses to public scrutiny and it will be impossible to keep them hidden again.

Someone will recognise an MP on an overseas flight and tell someone and it will find its way in to the media with the inference they’re holidaying on the taxpayer whether or not they are.

But we don’t even have to wait for disclosure by chance. All it will take is for someone to ask all MPs regularly if they’ve been overseas and if so who footed the bill and make the answers public.  Anyone who refuses to answer will be judged guilty, whether or not they are.

It would be far better to take a fresh look at MP salaries, work out a reasonable value for the travel allowance and pay that in cash. That lets the MP choose to spend the money they earn with no need to disclose it to the public and the public will know exactly how much an MP is paid.

That is fairer and clearer for both MPs and the public.

Increase in women MPs slowed under MMP


MMP was supposed to help women enter parliament but has it?

Scrubone has a graph which shows the increase in the number of women MPs has slowed since MMP was introduced:

Pre the 1980s, clearly there was an upward trend for many years followed by some stagnation. But after 1978, numbers of women MPs shot up from 5% to 22%.

After the first MMP election however, something strange happened. The improvement has been much slower. Slower than the pre-MMP, and vastly slower than the 80′s and early 90′s trend. So things are getting better, but slowly – that’s point 1.

Now, think about this. Those big gains were made when all MPs were electorate MPs.

Scrubone also found that not only had the increase in the number of women MPs slowed, it was even slower for electorates.

There’s another, very obvious conclusion that can be taken from exactly the same data. MMP has meant that parties don’t need to take seriously the idea of equality anymore. Why bother to get a wide range of candidates in seats when you can just promote them in the list? That to me is a should be listed as a negative.

So is MMP really better for women’s representation in parliament? I see a reduction in the rate of increase that could hardly be more clear, plus a change in behaviour in that women are pushed from electorates into the list.

Is that really progress?

He’s got graphs to show that too . He worked on percentages so this trend has nothing to do with there being fewer electorate seats since MMP was introduced.

MMP has made electorates bigger geographically which makes them more difficult to serve and much harder to balance work and family responsibilities. That could put women off standing, but women MPs hold  some of the biggest electorates.

Rahui Katene is MP for Te Tai Tonga (161,443 square kilometres), Tariana Turia is MP for Te Tai Hauauru (35,825 sq kms), Jacqui Dean holds Waitaki (34,888 sq km),  Anne Tolley holds East Coast (13,649),  Nanaia Mahuta holds Hauraki-Waikato ( 12,580 sq kms),  Louise Upston holds Taupo (9,101 sq kms), Amy Adams is MP for Selwyn (7,854 sq kms) and Jo Goodhew is MP for Rangitata (6,826 sq kms).

Something which may partly explain why more women are on lists than in electorates is  that only three parties, National, Labour and the Maori Party, hold electorate seats so all Act and Green MPs are list MPs.

But that doesn’t explain why the increase in the number of women in parliament has slowed under MMP.

The may be other factors other than the electoral system which have impacted on the number of women MPs since 1996. But MMP was supposed to make parliament more representative and it hasn’t lived up to that promise when it comes to gender balance.

MP at 20


Most of the news in New Zealand about the Australian election focussed on who would form the government.

There are a lot of other stories:

Twenty-year-old Wyatt Roy won Longman, a seat taking in suburbs north of Brisbane and on the Sunshine Coast, by a slim margin for the Liberal Party at the August 21 election, which also produced other political “firsts”.

WA Liberal MP Ken Wyatt is Australia’s first Indigenous member of the lower house.  There is also a Greens MP elected at a federal election for the first time – Melbourne’s Adam Bandt.

The Australian  reports:

Mr Roy spent his first official day in Parliament yesterday sitting next to the longest serving MP, Philip Ruddock, 67, who took him under his wing.

Mr Ruddock was elected in 1973, 17 years before Mr Roy was born.

He sounds like he’s enjoying the experience, but some things will take a bit of getting used to:

The country’s youngest federal MP, Wyatt Roy, says he is uncomfortable with the formality of some at Parliament House.

“I would much rather they call me Wyatt. I was talking to some of the parliamentary staff today and I said, ‘oh no, call me Wyatt’,” he said.

“They have to call me Mr Roy, and I said, ‘well in the military you salute the rank’, and I suppose here it is about the position and not the person.”

We were in Australia on election day and saw Roy interviewed on television.

He was articulate and came across as mature for his age and very grounded. He’ll need to be because being Australia’s youngest MP will mean he is likely to get more attention than most other new MPs.

His profile is here.

Google tells me that New Zealand’s youngest MP was Marilyn Waring who was 22 when she elected. If memory serves me correctly Simon Upton was the next youngest at 23.

You don’t have to be mad to work in parliament . . .


If anyone had a case for saying their job made them mad it would be MPs.

They work long hours in an unnatural environment surrounded by Alpha personality types knowing every misstep is likely to end up in the media. Most have to live away from their families and when they go home they have to deal with electorate duties. Even Wellington based MPs spend a lot of time travelling round the rest of the country – and further afield.

To make matters worse they’re surrounded by people who are may be as much rivals as allies and not all your enemies are on the other side.

It’s a high pressured and unnatural life and it would be understandable if that had an detrimental impact on their mental health.

If it did, it wouldn’t be helpful if colleagues started publicly questioning your state of mind.

I agree with Inventory 2 who said:

 The personal attacks on Carter and the innuendo around his mental health reflect very poorly on Labour in our humble opinion.

This isn’t the first time Labour, which prides iteslf on its sensitivity, has been less than sensitive over mental illness. Regardless of  my state of mind, that strategy  would definitely make me mad – at least in the sense of being furious.

UPDATE: Apropos of attacks  getting personal, Kiwiblog has a post on the post deleted from Red Alert.

Are we paying to help people or politics?


Parliament’s financial watchdog, the Appropriations Review Committee has raised concerns over  around $14.9 million spent annually on Party and Member Support.

The committee said the individual members’ support funding, which makes up the bulk of that, served an important function in providing the public with access to MPs through the operation of out-of-Parliament offices. While the funding – $40,932 a year for list MPs – was set a level that assumed they set up such offices, there was no requirement to do so.

MPs are able to transfer their individual funding to another MP and even their party which can then pool and reallocate the money. The committee noted seven list MPs had not opened offices and “we would be concerned if the number of MPs not opening offices was to increase significantly”.

 Sharing offices as some MPs do may be fine providing they are reasonably accessible to the people who need their services. But what then happens with the money? If it’s used to serve people, as it should be, there’s not a problem. Using it in a way which makes it de facto funding of political parties isn’t.

The committee has other concerns around individual members support which increased sharply as MP numbers rose with the introduction of MMP in 1996. It said there were no checks and balances in how the level of funding is set creating a risk it may be “ratcheted up” following each election and raising the prospect “of a party buying its way into power”.

The committee has recommended the funding come under the control of an independent regulator.

Constituents who don’t think their electorate MPs are accessible enough are able to vote them out. It is much harder for people to affect the fate of list MPs.

Separating the people who make decisions about the funding from those who receive it will improve transparency and accountability.

MPs’ expenses need independent oversight


Independent oversight is needed to implement and control rules over MPs’ expenses an expert on political corruption says.

New Zealand is one of the least corrupt nations in the world, but MPs are in danger of maintaining a perception of impropriety by insisting on controlling the rules surrounding expenses themselves, corruption watchdog Transparency International founder Jeremy Pope told NZPA.

He said we should be grateful that New Zealand politicians don’t fall into the ‘rob the public purse blind’ category.

“The present debate needs to be informed that we are goodies and not baddies in all of this.”

But the real problem lay in the absence of accountability, he said.

“Politicians are seen as being accountable to themselves. They have a system that they worked out for themselves and it is administered by the Speaker who is one of themselves.”

While that system could work perfectly well, the public could focus on no independent element in place to keep accountability in check, he said.

Separate handling of allowances would provide protection for the politicians.

“Whether (corruption) is happening or not, it’s important that the issue is really put behind the politicians so they can get on with running the country.

“I think simply to wait for the controversies to die down and feel they’ve gone away — they will only come back again because that is the nature of these things.” The MPs might be playing by the rules, but that was no reason not to change the system, Mr Pope said.

It’s not that MPs are breaking rules, it’s that they set them which is the problem.

An independent body might not make any change to the allowances MPs get and the way they get them. All MPs need offices and many need a second home because of their jobs. The allowances they get now may well provide the best value for taxpayers without putting MPs at a financial disadvantage.

But if a separate body made the rules and oversaw the payments of allowances we could be reassured that the rules are fair and that expenses met from the public purse are reasonable.

Independent oversight might not make MPs’ expenses any more palatable for much of the public but at least it would allay doubts about them.

The honourable member


Finance Minister Bill English has done the honourable thing in removing doubts about his ministerial housing allowance.

He has elected not to take up any housing allowance; has received no housing allowance since July 28 when he paid back the difference between the allowance paid to ministers and other MPs; and has repaid to Ministerial Services all the housing allowance he received since the election.

He also received an opinion from a QC, confirming that changes to his family trust arrangements did not affect his eligibility for the previous ministerial housing allowance.

 He said:

“What I’m announcing today reflects a set of personal decisions I have made about my own situation. It is in no way setting a precedent for others although I make the point here that I believe Parliament does have to think how it can accommodate the families of long-term politicians.

 “At all times my decisions have been driven by my desire to keep my family together and provide them with as much stability as possible. It’s now clear that the system has struggled to deal with my circumstances.

 “This has been an unnecessary distraction. I now want to move on and focus on building our economy and ensuring that New Zealanders have jobs.”

Politics can be a dirty business and Labour were out to get Bill. Regardless of the fact that successive speakers -from Labour and National, have accepted that Dipton is his primary residence as defined by the parliamentary Services – and regardless of what the Auditor General finds, they were going to keep at him.

The perception – and it was only a perception – of wrong doing was a distraction. Bill’s focus, rightly, is on the more important issue of getting the country back on the right economic track. 

This has been expensive, financially and politically, for him. But he’s shown once again that the term honourable member isn’t just a title, it’s a reflection of his behaviour.

That is more than can be said of Jim Anderton who gets a party leader’s allowance though he’s only running a one-man vanity vehicle.

It’s also more than can be said for the Greens, as Kiwkblog  points out:

I look forward to the same level of scrutiny on the Greens renting of houses owned by their superannuation scheme to themselves, to maximise the taxpayer subsidy. They have done exactly what Mallard accused Bill of – using a trust or fund to maximise eligibility. If they owned the properties in their own names, they would only be eligible to claim the interest off any mortgage. get more from parliamentary services by renting flats from their pension fund than they would if they were in their own houses.

Bill has said he’s not setting a precedent but what others do will be measured against his actions. That will be good if it inspires them to act honourably but it will be bad if it makes it puts even more pressure on the family life of MPs.

Economic conditions to influence salary decisions


The Remuneration Authority will be required to take economic conditions into account when setting salaries for MPs and other professions for which it is responsible.

Minister of Labour Kate Wilkinson said:

This year MPs from all political parties and others including the Governor-General were willing to forgo a pay increase but the Remuneration Authority could not take account of the recession in its decision.

“This Bill will allow the Authority to balance wage rises against the economic conditions of the day,” Ms Wilkinson says.

“It seems sensible to allow the Authority to act with greater flexibility when it’s required.”

The Remuneration Authority is independent and should remain so but this legislation will enable it to factor economic conditions in to its calculations.

The Bill is designed to allow the Authority to respond  with restraint to tough times. I hope there is no danger it will also be able to respond more generously than it would have to boom times.

Setting salaries for MPs is fraught with difficulty. Good MPs are underpaid, a few will be overpaid.

We’ll never know who is put off a political career because the pay is too low or who is attracted to it because of the salary;  we’re also unlikely to know which MPs get a pay rise and which take a cut when they enter parliament.

The Authority has to determine a rate which doesn’t discourage able people who would lose too much if they entered parliament when there is no private sector equivalent with which direct comparisons can be made. It must also take into account that there is a large element of public service in the position.

Adding the requirement to consider economic conditions won’t make their task any easier but it might make the result of their deliberations more palatable to the public.

Casting stones from glass houses


If I turned 65 tomorrow on a similar income to my present one I wouldn’t need superannuation.

But would I turn it down? No.

I wouldn’t say I was entitled to it but I would say I was eligible for it and I’d take it.

Would you?

Unless you’re very different from most of us I suspect you would.

We don’t make the rules but most would play the game if they could and not just with superannuation.

How many people who get Working for Families really need it?

It depends on how you define need. I don’t think anyone who can already afford luxuries needs a benefit.

I can understand why those who qualify for it don’t turn it down. Many will be the people who’ve always been too rich to be poor and too poor to be rich – having too much to qualify for any other assistance but not having enough to be really well off.

Most will set aside any qualms they might have about taking taxpayers’ money they don’t really need, arguing they’ve worked hard and paid a lot of tax and now they’re getting something back.

I wonder how many people who criticise MPs’ pay and allowances could put their hands on their hearts and say they’ve never taken anything they’re eligible for whether or not they need it?

Anyone who can’t is casting stones from a glass house.

There are differences between benefits and the salaries and allowances MPs get, of course.

MPs’ salaries are paid for the job they do and most more than earn it. The allowances are for work related expenses.

However, they make the rules which leads to the perception – probably unfair – that the rules are more than generous.

Their pay is set by an independent body, maybe allowances should be too.

That way MPs would get fair recompense for out of pocket expenses and free them from any suspicion of making rules which give them more than they need.

It would also give them some protection from the stone throwers.

Lockwood vs Holmes


Lockwood Smith won this morning’s debate with Paul Holmes on Q&A .

One of the points he raised was how much, or how little, some MPs do:

One of the things that I’m actually amazed the media hasn’t focused on, is you now see who are the members in demand, who are asked to speak around the country, you can actually tell it from their travel expenses, because they’re being asked to appear in front of groups all round the country.  Some members are obviously not sought after much and therefore their expenses are only a fraction of the others.

When political commentators rate MPs it’s almost always on their performance in Wellington. That’s only a small part of the work of a good electorate MP and some of the better list MPs. Those who do the most outside Wellington obviously have greater costs for travel, accommodation meals and other out of pocket expenses.

It’s fair to ask why some MPs spend so much, but of equal concern is why some spend so little. If they’re not out of Wellington working for and with constituents what are they doing?

Another point Smith made was, unlike most jobs, there is no adjustment for length of service and experience:

PAUL I’m talking about private holidays.  I’m talking about private international travel MPs get subsidised on .

DR SMITH Well one of the reasons why that subsidy came in Paul is over the years if you take my situation prior to this last election.  Twenty four years’ service, pretty senior member, mostly on the front benches during that time, on exactly the same salary as the newest list member walking in six weeks before the election.  Now in broadcasting, is an experienced broadcaster like you on the same income as someone recruited six weeks ago?  Yet that’s the only profession I’m aware of where salaries don’t change after years of service.  The one privilege, the one privilege members get after years of service is that travel subsidy, and I think actually they deserve it.

MPs get additional pay for taking on extra roles but those who stay as back benchers with no additional responsibility get no recognition for their length of service and experience. Maybe some don’t deserve it, but some electorate MPs work very hard and their experience helps them serve their constituents better.

Then there’s the pressure on families:

PAUL  Alright, but why should we pay for the spouse?  I wouldn’t expect the companies I work for to pay for the spouse.

DR SMITH Think about it a little bit.  When you work Paul you’re mainly at home.  I got married recently, no honeymoon, my wife and I have spent very little time together since I’ve been married.  That’s the pressure on families, that is the real pressure on families.  Parliament Paul chews up, destroys and spits out families, and if you want to put more pressure on families and spouses and marriages, that’s fine, I’m not going to support you in that.

PAUL  Well Dr Smith with the greatest of respect, welcome to the real world.  Professional private business executives travel without their spouses all the time, anyone who’s ambitious and gets ahead sacrifices family.

DR SMITH Paul that’s ridiculous, the amount of time Members of Parliament have to spend away from their families far exceeds that.  If you think that’s not true, stand, Paul, stand for Parliament.  There’ve been quite a few in the media who have over recent times, and they’ve bailed out real fast, when they’ve found actually the going was a damn sight tougher than they expected.

MPs aren’t alone in having jobs which put pressure on families and marriages but few if any others have the same level of demand which is placed on MPs and it’s worse for those with big electorates. The way they are on call and in the public eye almost all the time requires sacrifices for them and their families which would be rare if not non-existent, in other jobs.

The panel of Katherine Rich, Andrew Geddis and Peter Neilson give their views on the discussion here.

Stephen Franks makes a very strong defence for allowances here. One of the points he makes is that including allowances in a higher salary would suit lazier and greedier MPs.

Eligible vs entitled


In the dictionary the meaning of eligible and entitled are very similar.

But in practise, being eligible for something doesn’t necessarily mean the same as being entitled to it.

An MP and his partner might have been eligible for a taxpayer funded trip

But when the MP’s colleagues had warned Chirs Carter about his spending it suggests they thought he and his partner were taking more than they were entitled to.

Is there more?


Trans Tasman thinks there might be.

In its Play of the Week  it says:

. . . But those with suspicious minds should consider how the Opposition is acting. The biggest spender, Chris Carter, snootily told media it was all a bit of politician bashing and answering for his $200,000 plus expenses was beneath him. Darren Hughes put it around National had changed the rules. But at question time?  Silence.  Normally something this embarrassing to the Govt would take up at least half question time.

If competing companies colluded like this the Commerce Commission would be all over them.  The message for journos?  Keep digging. There’s more.

 I don’t think any of our MPs have moats to clean as some of their British counterparts do. But a window into their spending has been opened and taxpayers aren’t impressed by what’s been exposed.

John Key has ordered an inquiry into Ministerial expenses but that needs to be widened to all MPs’ expenses.

Good MPs more than earn their salaries, which for some are much less than they could command in the private sector; and I have no objection to them receiving a fair allowance or reimbursement for out of pocket work related expenses.

Air travel for children and spice* to join MPs in Wellington isn’t a problem either.

But all payments should end when they leave parliament and certainly shouldn’t continue for those found guilty of corruption.

It is reasonable to ensure the system doesn’t allow stretching the rules for those still employed by the taxpayer either. There is a suspicion that some MPs are taking more than their fair share of public money, albeit within the rules, and that the rigor which is applied to other public spending is not applied to all spending on and by MPs.

That suspicion will continue until and unless a full review takes place and it is clear the rules are fair to both MPs and taxpayers.

 P.S. Trans Tasman is a weekly newsletter available on subscription. I subscribed a year ago after reading references to it in The Hive and consider the sub value for money. Whoever thought up the password for this month has a sense of humour.

*Spice n pl of husband, wife, spouse, partner and/or significant other.

It’s how it looks


John Key’s directive that MPs’ spice* must pay for their own overseas air fares may not save a lot of money but it’s a good look.

Key has also said (Hat Tip Kiwiblog) that  Ministers travelling overseas must use Business rather than First Class.

If they are expected to think properly at the end of the journey it is false economy to travel economy class, but fresh from a business class flight to Singapore I can say that that level of comfort ought to be sufficient. Ministers probably have enough airpoints to get an upgrade anyway.

When the public accounts are is such a shocking state a few such gestures, even if they are mostly symbolic, send a message that the government’s taking seriously its responsibility to make savings where it can.

* spice n: plural of siginifcant other because it’s an improvement on spouses and/or partners

Full marks Mr Speaker – updated


One of the reasons MPs aren’t held in very high regard is the low standards of behaviour and language some of them descend to in parliament.

Lockwood Smith has made it quite clear he expects higher standards of behaviour and accountability.

This hasn’t always been appreciated by his colleagues who had to endure lame answers from cabinet minsiters in the previous administration and were aniticiapating giving those people now in opposition a taste of their own medicine.

But Smith has made it quite clear what he expects and yesterday Trevor Mallard was sent out of the house for falling well short of those expectations..

Keeping Stock has the transcript of Hansard  which shows what happened. 

I give the Speaker full marks for his ruling and his efforts to lift standards.

UPDATE: Whaleoil has the video.

Meanwhile back in the real world . . .


The oppposition is filibustering over two bills  to establish the Auckland supercity.

Down here on the right side of the Waitaki we might regard supercity as an oxymoron with or without Auckland attached, but that is a debate for another post.

The opposition is filibustering because that’s what they do when they know the government has the numbers and all they can do to pretend they’re not impotent, is to delay the inevitable. No doubt if the boot was on the other foot, at least some of those those complaining about the waste of time and money would be squandering it and defending it as a valid weapon in their democratic armoury.

Meanwhile back in the real world how many constituents have been at best inconvenienced  because the appointments made to see their MPs yesterday and today have had to be cancelled? How many functions at which MPs would have played an integral role will now have to go on without them?

All because their elected representatives aren’t working in their electorates as they normally do for a good part of the time from Friday to Monday inclusive. They’re stuck in Wellington, petending it’s still Thursday, while the farce which democracy becomes in such circumstances grinds slowly to its inevitable conclusion.

UPDATE: With a hat tip to Macdoctor I see that Tariana Turia walked out of the debating chamber  yesterday because while she opposes the bills she is unimpressed by Labour’s behaviour.

Mrs Turia said her party was strongly opposed to the legislation, but said Labour had taken it too far and was wasting taxpayers’ money and valuable constituency time.

“But for the first time ever, I walked out of the House totally disgusted with this behaviour, which Labour thought was very amusing.”

She understands the importance of constituency time and once again the Maori Party shows it’s more concerned about people, and shows Labour up for concentrating on politics.

This is why they lost the Maori seats, why there was a bluewash through the provincical seats and why they lost the election.

Politics might matter in Wellington but here in the real world they should come a very distant second to people.

How much would it take to buy an MP?


The $999 limit for donations from individuals and $9,999 from organisations before they have to be disclosed has always struck me as ludicrous.

MPs may not be held in high regard by many people, but does anyone seriously believe one or more could be bought for that little?

 Stephen Franks reveals  that MPs definitely thought it was far too low:

During that debate (behind closed doors) the United Future MP Murray Smith, persuaded us to have a frank discussion about what amount of money we thought would actually be likely to influence a party’s manifesto. We eventually reached a consensus that it was around $50k.

I may be naive but I don’t think an MP or party could be bought for that amount either, but at least it’s a sum which would allow most of those who, for good reasons, might wish to donate to a political party to do so anonymously if they chose to.

Those good reasons include:

* Modesty – I know a lot of people who donate anonymously to all sorts of organisations because they don’t want any publicity.

* Wanting to keep the donation a secret from a partner, family or friends. Not everyone feels free to disclose their political views, especially if they’re in an unequal relationship where they’re the less powerful person.

* Wanting to keep the donation secret from an employer. Some employees may feel their employers don’t share their political views and may be concerned that a public donation might put them at a disadvantage.

*Wanting to keep the donation secret from employees. Some employers may not wish their staff to know their political allegances.

* Wanting to keep the donation secret from associates or clients because the donor might feel it could harm their business.

* Wanting to keep donations secret from other parties. Some people give to more than one party and might not want them all to know that.

Many of those who want full disclosure of donations argue it’s to stop big business and wealthy individuals buying influence. But if the amount is set too low it catches a whole lot of “little” people who want to help a party whose policies they support but don’t want others to know they’re doing it.

Apropos of this, Labour secretary Mike Smith says big donations are drying up.

Would that have anything to do with the Electoral Finance Act, the unpopularity of his party’s policies and the recession?

Been there


Today we have a new government, I’m delighted with it but a lot of people won’t be and they have my sympathy because I’ve been there at the last three elections.

The worst of those was 2002, I was National’s Otago electorate chair and we lost the seat. I cried on the night and I cried again the next morning when I realised the full extent of the loss.

That loss isn’t just the loss of a job for MPs, their staff lose their jobs too.

Parliament, Mps and staff are a numerically small part of the political process and the loss of an election is also a loss for many thousands of members and supporters who give their time, energy and commitment to their parties and candidates.

While the winners celebrate on election night and wake, tired (over tired in fact, here) but happy, those on the other side have a subdued night and the morning after may not be any brighter.

These people have my sympathy, and I really mean that, because the longer I’m involved in the grassroots of politics the more I come to respect the others who are too, regardless of which part of the political spectrum they inhabit.

Almost all of us share the desire to get to a common destination, we just differ on the best vehicle and route to get us there.

So I offer them my sympathy and also some comfort.

A lot of things happen in spite of who is in government, there are no miracles when the party you support wins and generally there are no absolute disasters when the a party or parties you don’t support are in power.

They might do things you oppose and even abhor, but if and when they do, they help motivate you for the next election  – and that’s only a thousand and something sleeps away.

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