Thursday, August 13, 2009

A sense of entitlement

One thing that comes across loud and clear in the debate over former MP's perks is their overwhelming sense of entitlement. And nothing typifies this better than Doug Graham's self-serving little piece (and accompanying article by Claire Trevett) in the Herald today. Graham says that travel perks were "part of the deal", a reward for forgone salary increases. He tells his hard luck story about taking a pay cut when he entered Parliament in 1984 (diddums), living in "a garage in Wadestown infested with slaters" while an opposition MP, and how the National Cabinet he was a part of

set an example by turning down every subsequent increase.
Unfortunately, the facts don't really support Graham. While in the deep past MPs did not get proper support, by the 80's they were paid proper travel and accommodation allowances, plus a fairly generous salary. While I don't have the 1984 New Zealand Official Yearbook (which would have Graham's starting salary as an MP) to hand, by 1988 he was earning $54,200 as a backbench MP - about triple the average wage of $17,500 (I have used the 1986 figure from New Zealand Incomes Now, and adjusted it for the CPI using the Reserve Bank's online calculator). Knowledgebasket has all the post 1988 Parliamentary Salaries Determinations online, so we can see that Graham's backbench salary maintained that parity until 1990. When he became a Cabinet Minister in 1990, his salary jumped to $113,000 - five and a half times the average - and contrary to his assertions, rose regularly over the intervening years to $145,400, a 28.7% pay rise. During that same period, the CPI increased by only 12.9%, so his salary was increasing at double the rate of inflation.

In other words, he was never poor, and his salary went up while those of the vast majority of New Zealanders remained stagnant (one of the causes of the crisis of political legitimacy which eventually led to MMP). And yet, he still thinks he deserves massively subsidised air travel after all these years? It's entitlement, pure and simple.

It is time to do away with this rort. Former MPs were paid for their service, they receive generous superannuation. There is no legitimate reason for them to continue to receive subsidised travel for decades after they have been evicted from Parliament. It is time to cut them off. Doing so requires a two word amendment to the Parliamentary Service (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Act 2009. I'll draft the bill; who wants to take it?