Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ending the rort II

Politics moves fast these days, doesn't it? On Friday, Pansy Wong was sacked as a Minister for abusing her MP's international travel rebate. And today, it looks like those rebates will be abolished, at least for sitting MPs. Good. As I've said before, there is no justification for them. International travel for Parliamentary purposes (e.g. conferences, inter-Parliamentary exchanges, and the odd fact-finding mission) is already fully-funded by the Speaker's Office. while cheap holidays in Hawaii might be very nice for MPs, it serves no Parliamentary purpose. It should have been abolished long ago.

As Tracy Watkins points out in the Dominion-Post this morning, the question now is how much MPs get in exchange - and that is set to get very ugly. Earlier this year the Parliamentary Services Commission - a collection of senior MPs - recommended a blanket 10% salary increase if the perk was removed. Which is almost three times its cost in 2008-2009, and four times its cost in 2009-2010. The public won't stand for that; hell, we won't stand for anything which smacks of paying MPs to stop stealing from us. The good news is that some of them seem to have finally got the message. John Key suggests any pay rise as "compensation" should be "modest", and he is happy if they get nothing. So am I. MPs have been rorting us for years, writing the rules so they can steal from us. We shouldn't have to pay them to stop it.

The other battleground, unaddressed by Watkin, is over senior and former MPs. Key proposes retaining the perk for them. But as Russell Brown points out this morning, this means that if Pansy Wong resigns today, then we get to pay for 75% of her international travel for the rest of her life. I don't think the public will stand for that either.

The legend of the perk, which senior and former MPs like to fall back on to justify their rorting, is that it was granted in lieu of a pay rise at some time in the distant past. When was that pay rise forgone? 1972. If that's the case, then there is exactly one sitting MP who can claim any sort of moral right to it: Roger Douglas. But really, our MPs have never been badly paid, and Parliamentary salaries have more than kept pace with inflation since (in fact, they rose at twice the rate of inflation in the 80's and 90's, while many other people's pay packets were standing still). Any justification there was has long since disappeared. As for former members, I think 40 years of rorting the taxpayer is enough. We should end this perk now, for everyone - no ifs, no buts, no exceptions. If former MPs want to visit their grandkids in the UK, they can pay for it themselves, rather than enjoying a lifetime of subsidised travel at our expense.