Claire Trevett 's Opinion

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: MPs' travel transparency overboard

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Tau Henare took the prize for most prolific tweeter as he relayed his adventures from Uganda and Egypt. Photo / Supplied
Tau Henare took the prize for most prolific tweeter as he relayed his adventures from Uganda and Egypt. Photo / Supplied

Overseas travel has been a touchy topic since MPs were hounded into giving up their taxpayer-funded overseas holidays almost 18 months ago.

There are still opportunities for travel of course - MPs who can prove to the Speaker that they will be working like navvies while they are overseas can still use their discounts. Ministers can go on work trips and there are also parliamentary delegations - groups of cross-party MPs sent to conferences or meetings overseas intended to both expand the mind and improve their networks.

Such has been the exodus overseas that sightings of MPs within New Zealand have become as rare as moa sightings during this Autumn of the Long Recess - the three weeks MPs are away from Parliament until May 1.

Fortunately, many of them have taken the new age of transparency to heart and chronicled every move for the sake of scrutiny.

Three MPs - National's Tau Henare, Labour's Louisa Wall and the Greens' Jan Logie - went to Uganda for the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly, at which the topics for discussion were "malnutrition in young children, disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and the response to Aids".

Not surprisingly, it was Henare who chronicled the trip in most detail through the modern-day postcards of tweets. We didn't learn much about malnutrition in young children, disaster risk reduction, sustainable development or the response to Aids.

Instead we learned far more critical information: that the Kardashians might have been on his plane and that he had listened to Bolero on the terrace of a lakeside Nubian mudbrick house, while drinking a florid pink hibiscus drink.

Having tacked on a trip to Egypt (at his own expense) Henare also revealed it's possible to get six camels into a Hilux and about his experience of the muezzin intoning the azan: "Our call to prayer guy is flat."

More significantly for archaeologists, we learned the Pharaoh Ramses, depicted in statue at the Abu Simbel temples, was actually Henare's own kin: "If that's not a Ngapuhi nose and lips, I'm a monkey's uncle." If further evidence was needed, there was a star called Tau in the sky above Ramses.

To be fair, there was an occasional work-related update. Somewhere between meeting the Ugandan President and Venezuela's delegates to discuss the indigenous peoples, some homesickness set in: "What I would do for a pie right now."

Henare interrupted discussion about Syria to stick up for indigenous rights and bemoaned "countries telling off other countries".

The three MPs also strongly opposed a Ugandan member's bill which included the death penalty for some homosexual acts. On Twitter, Henare summed it up thus: "This s*** was serious. The death penalty - mate that's just outrageous."

Ugandans will be relieved to hear that Henare otherwise had an encouraging verdict on the country, announcing it had both kumara which was "sweet and full bodied" and "lots of potential".

"They will get there," he tweeted.

The second delegation left four days ago - a group of young parliamentarians headed to the United States for two weeks where they will "learn first-hand about the American political process".

Those on the trip were National's Nikki Kaye and Simon O'Connor, Labour's Chris Hipkins and Megan Woods and staff members from NZ First and the Greens.

Their tweets have so far revealed little other than that Kaye wants to do the New York marathon and that they all met US ambassador Mike Moore. The only other update of significance was a tweet from O'Connor sacrilegiously praising the United States' milk: "Oh, half and half, how I have missed you" - a reference to the half cream/ half milk combination popular in the US.

There is undoubtedly an aspect of "what goes on tour stays on tour" to such trips.

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, he has no such immunity, courtesy of the brigade of media in tow. So we know that on his present trip to Indonesia and Singapore, in between telling Indonesians to eat more New Zealand beef, he swam in the hotel pool wearing black boardshorts with a green trim.

Nor can he escape the problems of home quite so easily. Yesterday he was again defending a minister - this time the Minister of Tourism, John Key, after admitting it was his idea rather than SkyCity's to exchange pokies for a convention centre.

Ironically, the admission was made in Indonesia, where gambling is illegal.

Meanwhile, those MPs still at home were also busy on their recess breaks.

Labour's Trevor Mallard took transparency rather too literally, reporting he had spent a night at a B&B with an outside bath. "Gr8 way to greet the dawn" he tweeted about his al fresco ablutions.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett put an end to her 25-year reign as the country's most well-known solo mum by getting married and announced it via Facebook: "Got hitched today."

But let the last word of the globetrotters go to Henare again - who pondered differences in cultural phraseology thus: "Have a slight case of the craps.

"They call it Pharaoh's Revenge in Egypt. Wonder what they call it here in Uganda?"

- NZ Herald

Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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