Politicians rally behind move to hand over perks

By Claire Trevett

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Sir Geoffrey Palmer. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Sir Geoffrey Palmer. Photo / Mark Mitchell

A handover of control of politicians' allowances and expenses to the Remuneration Authority has broad support across Parliament - but some are balking at losing control of all the funding entitlements.

A Law Commission report yesterday recommended ending the days of MPs setting their own entitlements for travel, accommodation and office costs and instead handing the job over to the Remuneration Authority.

Prime Minister John Key moved almost immediately to take up the recommendation, saying he hoped to introduce legislation early next year and pass it by the end of the year.

"My view is that ever since the scandal in the United Kingdom around MPs' expenses, this has been an inevitable move. Parliament needs to get into the 21st century."

Although numerous reviews with the same recommendation were ignored over the past decade, momentum for the change increased after the Speaker began releasing MPs' spending last year, sparking a series of scandals over the use of travel perks.

Recently the Speaker abolished the international travel perks altogether after a request by the Prime Minister was backed by other parties.

The Law Commission report said making isolated changes in response to some crisis was undesirable. Instead it proposed a wholesale handover of deciding on the entitlements to a boosted up Remuneration Authority, which would include at least one experienced former MP who understood the unique demands of the job.

Yesterday Labour leader Phil Goff said he supported the move which would remove any perception MPs were feathering their own nests. Act leader Rodney Hide and Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei also said the change was long overdue.

But there was some reluctance about giving away control of the bulk funds provided to political parties to run their parliamentary operations.

The Law Commission report said it was concerned that efforts to bring greater independence to funding of MPs could be undermined by the use of other funds, such as the bulk funds for parties which are at present set by the Speaker but can be used by parties for a range of matters such as research, travel, and advertising policies.

However Mr Goff said only individual MPs' expenses and entitlements should be determined independently - not party support such as Labour's $6 million bulk fund to run its operation in Parliament.

"There are sensitive issues about the work each party is doing on policy development that you wouldn't want to have out in the arena before you're willing to release that policy."

Mr Key said he would consult other parties on the composition of the Remuneration Authority, the extent to which it would take control and on issues such as the Official Information Act.

Outgoing Law Commission president Sir Geoffrey Palmer said it was important that MPs were adequately supported in their work, but the system also needed to ensure the interests of taxpayers were properly protected.

CHANGE OF CONTROL

Now:
* 3-member Remuneration Authority sets base salaries.
* Speaker determines MPs' entitlements, such as travel.
* Speaker determines funding for party leaders' and whips' offices.
* PM decides on extra ministerial entitlements.
* Parliamentary Service not subject to OIA.

Commission Recommendations:
* 5-member Remuneration Authority to set all entitlements and funding for MPs and political parties.
* One member to be experienced former MP. Another to be experienced in parliamentary administration.
* Parliamentary Service should be open to OIA with some exceptions.
* Review unrestricted travel for former PMs and spouses.

- NZ Herald

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