Saturday, October 30, 2010

Key supports transparency

Yesterday, Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith slammed the door on transparency, announcing that from henceforth MP's use of their international travel rort would remain secret. As the Herald points out [PDF] this would have prevented us from knowing about Rodney Hide's taxpayer-funded $25,000 Hawaiian holiday, Roger Douglas' taxpayer-funded $44,000 trip to London, and John Carter's taxpayer-funded $13,000 Rarotongan retreat - all of which caused justifiable outrage from the public. And the result will be to further tarnish the reputation of Parliament in the eyes of the public. Unless, that is, MP's speak up about it. And so far, one has: John Key:

Mr Key yesterday said he had been discussing the issue with Dr Smith for some weeks and understood his logic.

"But personally I've been of the view that transparency is a good thing. As Prime Minister I've tried to lead that charge when it comes to transparency and on that basis I made those feelings clear."

Disclosure of the travel perk information saw tarnished Rodney Hide's claim to be Parliament's "perk buster" as his extensive use of it was revealed last year.

Mr Key said Dr Smith's decision to deny the public that information about their elected representatives would probably not go down well with the public. They would see it as a reversal of transparency, a risk Mr Key said he communicated to Dr Smith.

"The reality is we have worked on a process where we've opened up MPs' expenses, and now in a way it will at least look to the public that we're closing the door slightly."

The article also quotes the Greens' Metiria Turei as calling for a review of the expenses system. Meanwhile, Phil Goff, whose party recently hosted a mini-conference on increasing government transparency, stays silent. Guess he's doing his bit to earn that reputation then.

(Note that those who have come out against this are younger MPs. This is partly a generational divide around transparency, but also one of self-interest. Both Key and Turei have only been in Parliament since 2002, and so both only get the 50% perk. Meanwhile, both Smith and Goff get the 90% perk, and have been enjoying it for over a decade. Its hard not to see a sense of entitlement in their explicit or tacit defence of their "right to rort"...)

Finally, while I am pleased to finally see some MPs breaking the conspiracy of silence and speaking up on this issue, its worth pointing out that nothing is preventing them from independent disclosure beyond the level required by Smith. So, there's a challenge to Key and Meyt: put your money where your mouth is, and get your MPs to disclose. Parliament is on the wrong side of the people on this, but by voluntarily disclosing, you can force everyone else to do the right thing. Plus, you'll get the PR kudos of changing the Parliamentary culture for the better. So, are you up for it? Or does your support for transparency not extend to actually practicing it?