Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Former MPs and spouses claim $700,000 in taxpayer-funded travel perks

The biggest-spending former MP was former Labour MP Sir Kerry Burke (pictured), who claimed $16,147 in international and domestic travel. His partner Fahimeh Burke claimed $8265.
The biggest-spending former MP was former Labour MP Sir Kerry Burke (pictured), who claimed $16,147 in international and domestic travel. His partner Fahimeh Burke claimed $8265.

Former MPs and their spouses racked up $703,000 on taxpayer-funded travel in the past year, including nearly $25,000 by some couples.

In all, 157 people claimed money back through a perk which provides subsidies of up to 90 per cent on travel and is available only to MPs elected before 1999. Of the total expenses, $556,000 was claimed for international flights.

Former MPs' spouses spent $349,600 - nearly as much as the politicians themselves, who spent $353,257.

Their total costs for the past year were slightly less than the $716,000 claimed in the previous year, when Parliamentary Service began revealing the figures for the first time.

The biggest-spending former MP was former Labour MP Sir Kerry Burke, who claimed $16,147 in international and domestic travel.

His partner Fahimeh Burke claimed $8265.

Former National MP John Luxton claimed $13,495 while his partner Mary Scholtens claimed $11,631.

Some of the bigger spenders were former MPs who now held high-paying Government roles.

New Zealand's UK High Commissioner and former Speaker Sir Lockwood Smith and his partner Lady Alexandra Smith claimed $21,300.

Other recent MPs who claimed the perk are former Labour MP Chris Carter, who along with his partner Peter Kaiser spent $18,196. Former Act Party leader John Banks and wife Amanda claimed $7700.

The travel perk dates back to 1972 and has been defended by former MPs who say it is part of their overall salary package and makes up for them taking lower pay increases while they were MPs.

Prime Minister John Key decided against scrapping the travel perk as part of changes to MPs' entitlements last year.

"Generally retrospective legislation is not a good thing," he said at the time.

The international travel rebate is capped at the equivalent of a return business-class flight to London each year.

MPs can only claim the rebate for travel they pay for personally and it cannot be used for private business travel. Former MPs who served for three terms get a 60 per cent rebate, for four terms it is 75 per cent and five or more terms qualify for a 90 per cent rebate.

They can also claim for up to 12 domestic return flights a year.

Current MPs who will get a 90 per cent rebate when they leave Parliament are Peter Dunne, Ruth Dyson, Bill English, Annette King, Trevor Mallard, Murray McCully, Damien O'Connor, Winston Peters, Nick Smith, and Maurice Williamson.

The perk is not available to anyone convicted of an offence punishable by two or more years' jail or a corrupt practice from using the perk - a rule which was introduced in 2009 after former Labour MP Philip Taito Phillip Field's conviction for bribery and corruption.

The Parliament Service records showed former National minister Pansy Wong, who left Parliament after misusing her travel perks, had claimed a small amount in travel expenses. She spent $132 in the last year, and her partner Sammy Wong spent $462.

Pansy Wong resigned in 2011 after her husband was found to have conducted private business activities during a taxpayer-subsidised trip to China.

On top of the latest travel expenses for former MPs, there was a $252,637 cost in fringe benefit taxes. That took total expenses for the Parliamentary Service to $1,055,494.

(Parliament Service annual report 2015-16, expenses for international and domestic travel)

- NZ Herald

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