Monday, November 15, 2010

Credit where credit is due

I've blogged a bit over the last year about how our MPs earn their poor reputation through their self-serving behaviour and sense of entitlement. But I think its also important to highlight where they do the opposite, and take positive steps towards a more accountable and transparent Parliamentary culture. And we're seeing just such steps around MP's international travel perk thanks to Pansy Wong.

Lets be clear: the international travel discount for MPs is a completely unnecessary perk. It serves no Parliamentary purpose. It does not enable MPs to do their jobs (if they need to travel overseas for Parliamentary purposes, they can get free travel for it). All it does is give them cheap foreign holidays on the taxpayer. It is not compensation for low wages - MPs start at $131,000 (plus a $15,000 expense allowance, which puts them in the top 5% of the income distribution. It is a rort, pure and simple.

The good thing is that we are seeing party leaders and backbench MPs stepping forward to say so and call for change. Phil Goff. Rodney Hide. Metiria Turei. Even Peter Dunne. Among backbenchers we have Tau Henare, Heather Roy and Chris Hipkins. The odd man out is John Key, who is (as usual) waiting to do some polling before he makes a commitment (though said polling is amongst his Cabinet Ministers; I'm sure he knows what the public thinks on the issue).

They are right to do so. This perk is a pure rort, with absolutely no justification. And as Metiria Turei points out, it undermines public trust in Parliament. Getting rid of it would be a step in the right direction, a move to restore that trust. The question is whether the Speaker of the House will accept that, or continue to cling to the culture of privilege and entitlement of the past.