Words like nepotism sound too severe for the staff jobs some New Zealand MPs have provided for family members at public expense. But nepotism it is, and it is good to report today that Parliament's administrators are doing something about it.
Each MP is entitled to two staffed offices, one at Parliament, the other in an electorate. Each needs staff the MP can trust to represent them in their absence and it may be natural to prefer a family member, especially in the electorate office where the work has more to do with people's individual problems than matters of legislation, party politics and public policy.
The fact remains, though, that all staff are paid by the public and the public has a right to expect they are the best available for the job.
Electorate secretaries, for example, owe a duty to the people of the electorate as well as the MP. The quality of their services depends on constituents having access to the office, if not the MP, when they need it.
It cannot be said that retiring Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia was providing that standard of service from an office staffed by her son and granddaughter.
In other cases we report today, New Zealand First MP Asenati Lole-Taylor had two daughters working for her. Worse, since it was against Parliament's rules, National MP Claudette Hauiti employed her partner last year.
And most recently, NZ First's Denis O'Rourke employed a staff member, Stephen James, who shares his home. O'Rourke says they are not in a relationship.
Their paymaster, Parliamentary Services, has been instructed by the Speaker, David Carter, to block the hiring of anyone who clearly lacks the skills to work in an MP's office.
The Services' clerks hope it will be easier to check these things when an electronic recruitment system is adopted soon.
The rule laid down by the Speaker should not prevent family members being employed so long as they have the skills.
All other things being equal, an MP may have good reason to prefer a relative.
Politics is a public business and staff need to be especially loyal and alert to the publicity that can be attracted when a problem is badly handled.
But MPs are also role models in their community. If nepotism is evident in their staff appointments the practice may spread to local organisations of all sorts.
Nepotism is not good policy. It is unfair to those better qualified, it can bring family issues into the office and can be a job creation scheme for next of kin. Parliament needs to stop it.