Friday, July 31, 2009

MPs' expenses

I was rather busy yesterday, so I didn't get round to commenting on the release of MPs' expenses. Unfortunately a lot of the media reporting and commentary has focused on criticising them for spending so much money. IMHO this is a crock of shit. In the real world, if you have to travel as part of your job, and spend nights away from home, then your employer pays for it. In their role as legislators, MPs have to spend at least three nights per sitting week in Wellington. But MP's aren't just legislators - they are also representatives, and in this role they must also travel frequently to different parts of the country (or even overseas) as part of their portfolio duties or to represent their wider constituency. This is a vital part of our democratic conversation, and a vital part of their jobs, and I'm more than happy to foot the bill for it. Our democracy would be a lot poorer if MP's were intimidated by negative press coverage from performing this function - not to mention a lot more stacked in favour of the wealthy.

Post-retirement entitlements, such as those enjoyed by Roger Douglas, are a different story. That's no part of the job, and that's why those entitlements were discontinued. Unfortunately, there's still a few people who enjoy them - in a grossly hypocritical fashion, in Douglas' case.

I do want more transparency around these entitlements, and the best way to do it is to extend the OIA to cover Parliament. But the general principle of paying the necessary and reasonable expenses for MP's to do their jobs properly should be absolutely uncontentious. We'd expect it if we had a job with those travel requirements, and we should extend them the courtesy of being consistent.