The peculiarities of New Zealand’s MMP system mean there will likely be an additional three seats, on top of the usual 120, in the next term of Parliament - and they won’t come cheap.
The three overhang seats in the 2023-26 parliamentary term will cost taxpayers an extra $5,173,833 all up - and most of it won’t be on MP’s salaries.
This is based on a total cost of each MP in the New Zealand parliament of $1,724,611 across a three year term.
The unprecedented circumstances which has seen Te Pāti Māori pick up two extra seats in parliamentary overhang, and one likely extra seat to National due to the Port Waikato byelection, provides an opportunity to delve into the finances of funding an MP.
The size of Parliament can go over its typical 120 seat limit if a party wins more electorate seats than it is entitled to based on its share of the party vote.
When this happens, the party keeps the extra seats, and the size of Parliament is increased - meaning the winning parties will need more seats to make a majority.
Due to the 2023 election overhang, the National led coalition government will need 62 seats to govern. After special votes, National and Act have 59 seats, meaning the need NZ First’s eight seats to govern.
The Electoral Commission has provided the Herald with a basic breakdown of the cost of each MP in Parliament, across salary and various expenses.
The annual base salary for a member of Parliament who does not hold any additional office is currently set at $163,961.
Times three this means the salary of an MP across a term is $491,883.
So there are a lot of other expenses and services an MP is entitled to, in order to reach the $1,724,611 total price tag.
For starters MPs are eligible for an allowance of $16,980 to cover out-of-pocket expenses.
For MP’s whose primary place of residence is outside the Wellington commuting area they are entitled to $36,400 in Wellington accommodation allowance.
They also get a total of $216,000 in “additional leadership funding” and $74,300 in “additional party funding”.
Funding for a member’s electorate and community offices, staff and other overheads is $741,385 for a full term.
They are also entitled to around $100-110 per month in home internet and phone costs.
The chief executive of parliamentary service, Rafael Gonzalez-Montero, also specified that members are “also eligible for travel and communications funding, for which the use is set out in the Directions and is not capped. The cost of members’ travel is reported on quarterly and published to the Parliament website here, along with their accommodation expenses.”
Taxpayers Union executive director Jordan Williams said they “certainly aren’t frothing at the mouth at the cost of having a couple of extra MPs”.
“What would be far more interesting is the breakdown of that cost, because that’s a total black box,” Williams said.
“As a point of principle we don’t question the cost of democracy purely because our other limb is accountability, meaning democratic accountability.”
However, Williams did admit that the structure of New Zealand’s MMP system was “very weird”.
“It’s resulting from MMP being a hybrid mix of a constituency based system merged with a European style proportional vote system. So then you’re going to end up with the anomaly,” he said.
“From a taxpayers perspective, it is the system we’ve got and sometimes democracy is expensive but it’s better, in terms of accountability, than everything else. One of the things with Parliament is it’s very difficult to know if that amount is reasonable or not because Parliamentary spending is a total black box unlike Ministerial spending which is accessible under the official information act. Like all costs you need the context of the spending.”
It should be noted however, that the Tāmaki Makaurau Māori electorate that has been won by Te Pāti Māori candidate Takutai Tarsh Kemp by just four votes over Labour’s Peeni Henare, is undergoing a recount.
If the recount saw Henare win, then the 2023-26 Parliament term would only have two overhang seats, as one would be taken from Te Pāti Māori, but none added to Labour’s total.
Tom Dillane is an Auckland-based journalist covering local government and crime as well as sports investigations. He joined the Herald in 2018 and is deputy head of news.