Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My heart bleeds

Speaker Lockwood Smith is concerned that public outrage over MP's perks is stressing them and their families. My heart bleeds for them, really. Why, it must be so stressful having the public demanding accountability for how our money as spent. But if its stressful for MPs, you have to wonder how the public service, who are subject to far pettier levels of scrutiny (down to whether the biscuits are plain or chocolate) copes.

"But that's different!" say MPs. No, its not. Travel perks are paid for with public money. We have a right then to know whether that money is well spent, or whether it should be spent at all. If a government department was providing these sorts of perks to its staff, we would rightly be outraged at the total waste of money (and Rodney Hide would be first to weigh in). The same principles surely applies to MPs. And if they think the money is not wasted, that the taxpayer somehow derives some benefit by subsidising Hide's $10,000 holiday in Hawaii, then the onus is on them to speak up and explain how. But their silence is deafening - and very, very telling.

Smith also argues that the average benefit of travel has been factored into (and effectively deducted from) MP's salaries by the Remuneration Commission. Maybe back in 2003 - but they've been silent on the issue for the last six years. And given that the perk-for-pay deal was effectively cut in the 70's, and no only one MP from that era is still sitting in the House, I think that that argument is effectively dead.

Finally, Smith says he feels responsible for the stress caused over this issue, as he made the decision to release details on MPs expenses. The subtext: he should have maintained the cosy conspiracy of silence around perks and expenses instead. Way to go with earning that reputation, Dr Smith.

Correction: Roger Douglas was first elected in 1969, and is accurately described as a relic of that era. He may also be a zombie.