Friday, May 13, 2022

Our unrepresentative parliament

Under MMP, Parliament was meant to look like New Zealand. And, in a lot of ways, it does now, with better representation for Māori, tangata moana, women, and the rainbow community replacing the old dictatorship of dead white males. But there's one area where "our" parliament remains completely unrepresentative: housing:

More than a third of Kiwis now rent, but only five of the country’s members of parliament are registered as not having an interest in any real estate, according to the 2022 register of pecuniary interests.


Only three Labour MPs, one Green MP and one ACT MP declared no interest in any real estate – even lower than in 2021, when nine MPs declared no interests.

In total, 56 also owned at least one secondary property.

All National MPs owned homes, according to the register.

As the article points out, this matters. Sure, MPs may remember their days of renting, but the fact that they now own a house (or in the case of half of them, more than one) gives them a huge conflict of interest over housing policy. After all, effective housing policy - capital gains or land taxes, rent controls or a massive house building programme to flood the market and crash house prices - would cost them money and devalue their biggest assets - in some cases by hundreds of thousands of dollars. And as conflicts of interest go, that is a huge one. Very few decisions an MP makes would have that much of an economic impact on them.

(The core problem here is that MPs are well-paid, with a base salary of over $160,000 a year, plus slush fund and allowances. Some of which are specifically tagged to buying houses for themselves. Its a necessary evil to enable them to do their jobs properly and prevent some forms of corruption, but it opens the door to others, creates conflicts of interest, and immediately means they no longer represent us economically. And we can't get round it by not voting for candidates who own houses, because they can and will just buy one the moment they start getting that big salary).

We need to recognise the strength of this conflict of interest and take appropriate preventative measures. If an MP held an equivalent-sized interest with equivalent-sized impacts in a company, we would unquestionably stop them from speaking or voting where doing so might affect its value (and their net-worth). We should do the same for housing. And if MPs fail to do this, they have no-one but themselves to blame if they are seen as a landlords' parliament, looking out for themselves.