Monday, March 02, 2015

I want MPs' pay reformed, but not like this

One of New Zealand's core political myths is the tale of how back in 1985 before MP's pay and conditions were set by the Remuneration Authority, they used urgency to give themselves a gold-plated pension scheme in just seven minutes - forever cementing their reputation as self-serving parasites. Next week, we look to see urgency used to do the opposite: to remove the pay-rise the Remuneration Authority just gave them.

While I'm pleased by the outcome, I'm not pleased by the process. The bill apparently hasn't even been written, and "Ministers anticipate more detailed advice from officials on the measure to be used". So, its a knee-jerk rush job, which we'll probably need to fix later. And while a case for urgency could have been made last week to prevent the pay-rise from happening, now that the evil it seeks to avert has happened, the case is much weaker. Since the government is already contemplating clawing back the pay rise, there's no reason it can't legislate by the normal process, allowing a full public debate on the criteria we should use to set MPs' pay, and ensuring a select committee (and the country's lawyers) can spot and plug any loopholes. But the focus groups have spoken, the government is bleeding popularity, so instead we see the democratic process abused once again, for purely PR purposes.

(I have no problem whatsoever with clawing back a politically set pay-rise which should never have been given in the first place. Or with amending the law to link MPs pay to that of other public servants. But this is a shit way to do it which shows yet more contempt for the public and for our democracy).