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Herald On Sunday Editorial: Slash the jobs of MPs, not nurses

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Health board staff around the country are bracing for job losses. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Health board staff around the country are bracing for job losses. Photo / Sarah Ivey

The Prime Minister intends to announce his plans for public sector cost-cutting in the coming days.

With respect, we have a simple suggestion for his advisers and speechwriters.

Stop cutting nurses' jobs; start cutting MPs' jobs.

The Herald on Sunday revealed last week that health board staff around the country are bracing for job losses, amid cost-cutting talks in at least Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Hawke's Bay.

It's not just nurses, and it's not just New Zealand.

Europe teeters on the edge of an economic precipice, and the world inhales deeply. New Zealand's physical isolation belies the extent to which its economy is embraced in a global choke-hold.

In the past fortnight, Maui and Britz campervans, Foodstuffs, Goodman Fielder and Exide Technologies have revealed job losses. In the public sector, Te Puni Kokiri and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are laying off workers - and John Key wants to slash another $1 billion by replacing human employees with Google-style websites.

So employers are tightening their belts everywhere.

Everywhere? Not quite. In the big grey building on the hill in Wellington are 121 MPs - one for every 36,600 New Zealanders. That's almost a record (they had to redo the seating plan to fit in such numbers) and it's a big increase on the 99 MPs who represented us in 1996, before the introduction of MMP.

Do we need so many MPs? Well, Australia's House of Representatives contains 150 MPS - one for every 152,300 Ockers. And there's no lack of democratic accountability over there, if this week's power-struggle between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd is anything to go by.

Does MMP need so many politicians? No, it would work perfectly well if we went back to 99 MPs - 63 in general electorates, seven in Maori electorates, and 29 list MPs to bring specialist expertise and proportionality.

This year's review of MMP should be the perfect opportunity but MPs, united in self-interest, have explicitly banned it from cutting their jobs. Instead, the size of Parliament features in the Consideration of Constitutional Issues, a politically-driven review whose process is so protracted that after 3 years, it does not even have an agreed work plan.

But both the MMP review and the constitutional review are calling for public submissions this year.

So even if the Prime Minister doesn't want to talk about Parliamentary job cuts in his much-anticipated keynote speech, the public could put them on the agenda.

- Herald on Sunday

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