Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Review Panel members are being paid more than twice the going rate because the Government didn't think they would do the job for less than that, official papers show.
The panel, appointed to oversee Orders in Council that can be made under earthquake recovery legislation and advise ministers, is headed by retired High Court Judge Sir John Hansen.
Its members are former National Party prime minister Dame Jenny Shipley, company Director and consultant Anake Goodall and former Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry chief executive Murray Sherwin.
Cabinet papers obtained under the Official Information Act and published on the No Right Turn blog show Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee sought "exceptional'' fees for the panel above the usual range of $360-$655 for a chair and $270-415 for members.
"I do not believe that the proposed nominees will undertake the role for fees within the ranges established in the Cabinet Fees Framework,'' Mr Brownlee advised on April 11.
"I have sought support from the Minister of State Services for exceptional fees: a daily rate of $1400 for the convenor and $1000 for other members.''
State Services Minister Tony Ryall agreed with Mr Brownlee and approved the fees.
"I accept your advice that the panel has an important role to play in providing advice to ministers, that the decisions of the panel will be made public and therefore the members are likely to face a higher level of scrutiny than would otherwise be expected, and the members will not undertake the roles for fees within the applicable framework ranges,'' he told Mr Brownlee.
The panel was appointed on April 17.
Labour's earthquake recovery spokesman, Clayton Cosgrove, today criticised the fees.
"I'm not arguing against these individuals, but at a time when the Government is refusing basic legal advice for victims' families, National's double standard in relation to panel members is even more unacceptable,'' he said.
"Families have the right to sleep at night knowing that they have done everything they can to honour their loved one's life.
"We all understand ministers need to seek advice and counsel, often at a high cost - why can't victim's families be accorded a similar privilege?''
Mr Cosgrove said the Government's failure to provide legal counsel for the Royal Commission's inquiry was "deplorable'' and "morally indefensible''.
"The Government did the right thing by families affected by the Pike River tragedy, supplying independent legal counsel, yet is denying counsel to families of those tragically lost in the worst natural disaster this country has seen in 50 years,'' he said.
Quake Families co-chairman Brian Kennedy said the 50 families felt rejected, TV3 reported today.
Mr Kennedy said the Quake Families committee received a letter at the end of June advising that the Government "didn't see any point'' in funding legal representation.
He said the committee had been liaising with the commission's two lawyers, but they were primarily assisting the judge who would preside over the inquiry.
"We feel as if we need the right to ask, perhaps, the odd curly question from our own legal staff,'' he said.