Barry Soper: Finally, a hot-ticket topic no sitting or former politician would dare argue with

Almost 160 former MPs and their spouses claimed back airfares over the past year, costing taxpayers more than $700,000. Photo / File
Almost 160 former MPs and their spouses claimed back airfares over the past year, costing taxpayers more than $700,000. Photo / File

It's the nature of the business, politicians would argue with their shadow or in Winston Peters' case, with his full-length mirror.

They take issue with most things but there's one thing that ensures calm, under the carpet unanimity and that's the perks of the business, even though Peters has claimed he's never been interested in the baubles of office after he's got them.

It's been generally accepted there's nothing that can he done about the travel perks of former MPs and their spouses, with almost 160 of them claiming back airfares over the past year, costing taxpayers more than seven hundred grand. Many of them who were elected before 1999 get a travel rebate of a staggering 90 per cent, meaning a return business class airfare to London would cost them $700.

Most of the big spending recipients of the taxpayer largesse could easily afford to pay for their own fares.

One well-heeled former National Cabinet Minister and his Queens Counsel wife racked up more than twenty five grand on travel, another couple of former Labour Ministers who left Parliament twenty six years ago are still flying high, with one of them clocking up the biggest single bill. And the wife of another former Labour Cabinet Minister, who left Parliament just on thirty years ago, spent twelve grand.

The argument is, well there's no argument really, is that it was part of the deal that compensated them for getting lower pay than they would have been entitled to. Lower compared to who has never really been answered.

Only last year the old timers' travel perks were in fact effectively increased. Up until then they were entitled to the equivalent of the cheapest business class airfares between Auckland and London for themselves and their partners. Now they can peg it to the lowest Air New Zealand business class fare, which means they can end up with the trip and a bit of loot in their pockets to boot.

That perk's now been cut but it'll continue to be paid for a long time yet, with ten current MPs and their spouses qualifying for the lifetime entitlement once they retire.

For MPs who arrived after 1999 they're hardly doing a starve though, with free domestic air travel for themselves and families who are entitled to 20 flights a year, along with many other perks to cushion their already healthy pay packets.

It'd be hard, if not impossible, to find a business anywhere in the country that'd offer such generous tickets to ride. But you'll get no political argument on this one.

- Newstalk ZB

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