Friday, March 13, 2009

A total beat-up

There are any number of important public policy issues the media should be highlighting for the public at the moment: the economy, private prisons, the RMA, the government's systematic lying on ACC and on the MfE budget. Instead, TV3 tonight decided to focus on... some MPs getting extra funding to better serve their large electorates:

National has just found $400,000 of new money to help mainly its MPs and friends in the Maori Party to run their electorates.

Despite companies laying off workers, these MPs will hire extra staff with taxpayers’ money.

“The whole problem of very large electorates has been a problem for some time,” says Leader of the House, Gerry Brownlee.

“I think it’s outrageous,” responds Labour MP David Cunliffe.

This is a total beat-up, both by TV3 and by Cunliffe. The issue of how to serve increasingly large rural electorates has been simmering since MMP was introduced, and its a serious problem. It should be obvious to everyone that an electorate covering 147,000 square kilometres such as Te Tai Tonga needs more resources to ensure that its MP is accessible than one covering a mere 300 (Hutt South) or 22 (Epsom) square kilometres. That's why the Third Triennial Review of Parliamentary Appropriations [PDF] recommended in 2007 that
[A]ll Maori constituent Members of Parliament and each constituency Member of Parliament with an electorate in excess of 20,000 sq km in area, be entitled to the services of an extra staff member to equate to three full-time equivalent out-of-Parliament support staff members.
National has implemented this, sans the absurdity of providing extra resources for Tamaki Makarau, and its a perfectly reasonable and sensible decision. While some might quibble at them spending - gasp! - $400,000 a year on it, people in large rural seats have an equal right to participate in our democracy, and it is money well spent. Unfortunately, it seems TV3 would rather engage in shallow hatemongering against politicians rather than recognise this. But I guess its just so much easier than doing real journalism...