Bruce Slane: Let MPs justify pay by listing what they achieve

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The internet gives our representatives the opportunity to account for themselves without the cost of post. Photo / Thinkstock
The internet gives our representatives the opportunity to account for themselves without the cost of post. Photo / Thinkstock

This is the time of the year for resenting pay increases for members of Parliament.

What do they do for all that money? They don't tell us. They should.

Their remuneration is not related to individual performance.

That was the case when I was Privacy Commissioner. But I was required to file an annual report and accounts. The audit department could comment not just on the accounts but also on whether other performances were up to scratch. I could be called before a select committee of MPs to answer whatever came into their minds. Sometimes it related to the written questions the committee sent me - more than 100, often irrelevant to my role. Or it may be something in the news.

It's not practicable nor desirable to have this happen to individual MPs. Some of them do send out a newsletter with some partisan information in it - usually in election year. They could, however, complete an annual report to their electors.

Electorate MPs could account for what they have done for their electorate, submissions to central government or to local government. Many of them work hard on such matters. That work would be rewarded with recognition. They are often seen as hard to get rid of because they are in safe seats. They could explain what good jobs they do in case we thought they may have retired while still in office.

List MPs are often derided as not actually elected but they are - in party lists. So their performance is relevant to the whole country. They also may have been allocated by the party to fly its flag in an opponent's safe seat. They could tell us of that.

Other list MPs have an ethnic constituency which might be spread over much of the country. Their work is often hidden from us and the Press Gallery because they don't use mainstream media. Maybe they don't flood the gallery with media statements.

Our MPs should tell us what select committees they are on, how often they attended and what bills and reviews of departments, crown entities and the laws they undertook. And how long it took. The committees keep those records.

What is their role in caucus? Do they have spokesperson roles? Parties have their own caucus committees. We could learn which of their members are on which committees which may disclose their interests. It could be valuable if we want to lobby them.

I propose that each MP publish an annual report voluntarily. Not a long partisan rant but perhaps a couple of pages. They could tell us how many sitting days they attended, how many speeches they made in the House (apart from moving that the question be now put), how much leave from sittings they took.

We would learn the number of constituents' inquiries they and their offices dealt with. We would learn the nature of those inquiries - immigration, benefit, ACC, housing etc. How many meetings have they addressed? What meetings and conferences did they participate in? Are they in any cross-party groups?

Have they been allowed by their party to ask questions in Question Time or questions for written answer?

This is not a major burden. Keeping a few records would help and they have staff to do that. It's really what we are entitled to know.

The internet gives our representatives the opportunity to account for themselves without the cost of post. Local media might take an interest in their work and report bits of it. Copies could be placed in their offices for those who visit. The rest of us will look at the annual report on their party website.

Competition would encourage good reporting. Failure to report would raise doubts. Then we can voice our opinions about them based on facts rather than just the customary grumpy grouch.

At a time when they feel they are unjustly criticised for the pay they get, MPs, however elected, owe it to themselves to show their electors what they do and how well they do it.

Bruce Slane is a former president of the New Zealand Law Society and was the first Privacy Commissioner.

- NZ Herald

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