Thursday, August 06, 2009

Cutting off the perks

The conviction of Taito Philip Field for corruption has raised more questions about former MP's perks, with the revelation that he and his partner will still be entitled to enormous travel discounts despite his criminal conviction. Several MPs have suggested tweaking the rules to ensure that MPs convicted of a serious offence relating to their time in office should be cut off, but I think it is time to go further and expunge these ongoing perks permanently. They're a relic of a former age, no longer enjoyed by present MPs, and entirely unconnected with the performance of their duties. It is long past time they went.

Doing it would be easy. As with the rules on MPs expenses and allowances, former MP's perks are set not by legislation, but by a determination of the Speaker (the Directions and Specifications for Services and Funding Entitlements for the House of Representatives, its Members, Former Members, and Certain Electoral Candidates 2008 [PDF]). According to s8 of the Parliamentary Services Act 2000, these must be issued annually, after consultation with the Parliamentary Service Commission (who are, naturally, all MPs). So, all it needs is for the Commission to advise, and the speaker to decide, that it is no longer appropriate to subsidise Roger Douglas's overseas holidays, and its done. No more perks. The problem is that threefour of the Commissions' nine members - Gerry Brownlee, Phil Goff, Jim Anderton, and the Speaker himself - are all pre-1999 MPs and have an enormous vested interest in continuing the system so they can claim those perks themselves when they eventually depart the political scene.

In the longer term, the provision of perks to former MPs is permitted by s4(1)(f) of the Parliamentary Service (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Act 2009. But this Act expires at the end of 2010, meaning that it will either need to be renewed, or a final definition will have to be agreed and inserted into the Parliamentary Service Act. Either way, the time will be ripe to clarify that funding for former members is only for transitional purposes (closing your electorate office etc; see s6.3 - 6.12 of the Directions above), and not for delivering ongoing benefits. That's what superannuation schemes are for.

Correction: Somehow, I'd forgotten Gerry Brownlee's membership in the PSC - though unlike the others he's not entitled to the full perks.