Monday, July 12, 2010

Another beat-up from the Herald

The Herald reports this morning that some list MPs are not maintaining electorate offices:

Seven list MPs are receiving almost $41,000 each a year to run offices in their local communities but choose not to, prompting a warning from Parliament's financial watchdog the funding may be reviewed if others follow suit.
From this, you'd think that our MPs were on to another rort, misappropriating money intended for their electorate offices for porn and champagne. But you'd be wrong. The Herald, whether deliberately or simply due to poor research and lazy reporting, is conflating MP's support entitlements with their electorate office entitlements.

Those entitlements are laid out in the Directions and Specifications for Services and Funding Entitlements for the House of Representatives, its Members, Former Members, and Certain Electoral Candidates 2008 [PDF], and it is clear from that that they are quite separate. MPs are entitled to:

  • $40,932 (for list MPs) in "individual member's support funding" for "discharging their responsibilities as legislators and elected representatives" i.e. things like policy development, communications and advertising (s4.7, 4.12). It may not be spent for "anything that is not for a parliamentary purpose". This is the budget which all those electorate newsletters, posted surveys, mail drops, newspaper ads, etc come from, and its basically there so MPs can tell us what they're doing and ask us what they should do. It is not dependent in any way on having an office.
  • the services of 1 (for a list MP) full-time equivalent staff member as out-of-Parliament support staff (s4.15), plus temp-coverage for sick leave and annual leave for same. This is to allow MPs to have an electorate office and serve their local communities by acting as an interface with central government (something our MPs do particularly well). Staff are employees of the parliamentary Service, and MPs who don't hire staff don't get to pocket the money.
  • a full-time executive assistant in their parliamentary office, to answer the phones and do the paperwork. Again, these are employees of the Parliamentary Service, and MPs who answer their own phones don't get to pocket the money.
  • Rent for an electorate office, plus fixtures and fittings (s5.18). Again, MPs who don't retain offices don't get to pocket the money.
Its pretty clear from this that the Herald's opening statement, that MPs receive $41,000 each year "to run offices in their local communities" is just flat out wrong. MPs who aren't setting up electorate offices may be stupid - but they're not rorting us. If anything, they're saving us money, though at the cost of shortchanging us on the democratic services we expect them to provide. And that's the real story here - not that these seven list MPs are rorting us, but that they're not doing their job. The Herald should name and shame them, so we can vote accordingly.