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.