Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Some need for international travel

The Herald's piece on the impending demise of MPs' international travel rort makes a case that some international travel for MPs is justified:

While there is broad consensus over scrapping the perks for holidays, Labour MPs at least are expected to argue in favour of retaining some funding for MPs to go on trips related to their parliamentary work, such as meeting MPs overseas or attending conferences. If their wish is granted, it is likely to make any compensatory salary increase lower than if the perk is completely wiped.

Labour leader Phil Goff has made it clear he sees the use of the rebates for holidays as unjustifiable but legitimate work-related trips were important. Opposition MPs and backbenchers are limited to official parliamentary delegations and there are few opportunities to take trips of their own initiative.

The Speaker has previously said allowing opposition MPs the travel rebates was important for democracy and changed the rules for the perk to specifically say it could be used for parliamentary purposes.

I agree with Smith on this - some international travel (e.g. conference attendance, fact-finding trips) does enhance our democracy, and this should be publicly funded. But that doesn't require a blanket discount for all MPs which is open to gross abuse. Instead, we can use the existing model of the Leader of the Opposition's travel allowance, and simply give each party a funding pool for it. Alternatively, we could have a flat discount, which does not depend on experience, and require party leaders to sign off on it every time it is used. In both cases, however, there must be transparency, to protect the public from further abuse. If MPs are taking expensive international trips on the public purse, we have a right to know how that money is spent.

(Its worth noting here that Labour MPs taking such trips have gone to some lengths this year to let us know what they're doing, typically via a daily blog on Red Alert. This is a Good Thing. And what these posts show is that these MPs are actually working, rather than just taking a taxpayer-funded junket).

But while a case can be made for work-related international travel for sitting MPs (with an appropriately high threshold for "work-related"), there's still absolutely no justification for the lifetime benefits to former MPs. Those have to go. And if the Speaker (who stands to enjoy 90% off his holidays for life) doesn't abolish them, it will simply be another example of MPs earning their reputation.