Monday, March 16, 2015

Not a drafting error

National's stealth plan to give Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson a bigger retirement package hit the headlines over the weekend and finally forced the government to explain themselves. According to Simon Bridges its a "correction" to fix a "drafting error". But as Graeme Edgeler points out, its not: the change was made by a select committee and confirmed multiple times by the House. That's not a "drafting error" - its a policy decision. Senior MPs who expect to benefit from the rort may not like it, but misrepresenting it is simply dishonest (and another example of them earning their reputation as thieves and liars). And regardless, a Statutes Amendment Bill is not a proper way of dealing with it. If the government thinks that Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson (oh, and Bill English, Phil Goff, Peter Dunne, Winston Peters, and a host of other senior MPs) deserve a pay rise, they should put up a proper bill, not try and do it by the backdoor.

Meanwhile, Annette King - also, "coincidentally", a senior MP who will benefit from the rort if she ever retires - thinks that the change is to save money:

Because of the mistake the maximum rebate had most recently been pegged to another airlines' fare, Ms King said.

"They benchmarked it to China Air or something, which was dearer than Air New Zealand, actually. If it had been benchmarked to Air New Zealand the allowance would have been cheaper."

Except that they're legally required to choose the lowest cost option, and if Air New Zealand was cheaper, they should have chosen it. So, either Parliamentary Services is breaking the law, or King is lying. And given that one of these parties has a direct financial interest here, I think its pretty clear which explanation is more credible.

Hopefully we'll see this amendment objected to and effectively voted down. But before then, hopefully we'll see the government and senior members front up and explain why they think this is necessary. And when they do, I hope that other MPs will call them out on their self-interest and nest-feathering. While there are Rulings on how supposedly MPs don't have a financial interest in their own pay (as it "attaches to the office, not the individual"), I think the public will view them in the same light as the fiction that all Members are "honourable": pure self-serving hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, if anyone wants a Member's Bill to repeal this unjustified perk, I'm happy to draft one. Its simply a matter of deleting four clauses and a schedule from the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Act 2013.