Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A conflict of interest

An excerpt from Parliament's Standing Orders:

160 Financial interests

(1) A financial interest is a direct financial benefit that might accrue to a member personally, or to any trust, company or other business entity in which the member holds an appreciable interest, as a result of the outcome of the House’s consideration of a particular item of business...

161 Declaration of financial interest

(1) A member must, before participating in the consideration of any item of business, declare any financial interest that the member has in that business...

Tomorrow, the government will announce its budget, which is expected to include enormous tax cuts for the rich. Ministers and Members of Parliament will benefit directly from this. The Prime Minister, on his salary of $393,000 [PDF], will reap $16,150 a year if the top tax rate is eliminated as expected (plus probably ten times that much from the income from his $50 million fortune). Bill English, on $276,700, can expect $10,000. Cabinet Ministers, on $243,700, can expect $8,600. Backbenchers, on $131,000, can expect $3,000. By any ordinary understanding, this is a direct financial interest - MPs will be voting on a matter which will result in a direct financial benefit to themselves. So, how many MPs will make a declaration under Standing Order 161 before speaking on these tax cuts?

My guess is zero. MPs have had a consistent tin ear on these issues; in Parliament, "financial interest" means something different and more limited than what we plebs out in the street would understand it to mean. For example, there are not one, but two Speaker's Rulings declaring that MPs and Ministers have no financial interest in their own salaries, and one that says "A farmer member does not have a financial interest in a bill to provide for the payment for and marketing of dairy produce". Tui couldn't have come up with anything better.