In straitened economic times, the renegotiation of contracts routinely results in employees losing allowances or other benefits. Rarely is the base salary raised in compensation.

Yet that is just what the latest triennial review of parliamentary expenses has recommended for MPs. It says a travel perk that means up to 90 per cent of MPs' overseas airfares are paid for them and their partners on private trips should be discontinued, while partners' domestic travel should be capped and must be associated with parliamentary business. There would be a trade-off for this in the shape of a $13,000 increase in base salary.

Thus, MPs would be no worse off.

The authors of the review, Sir Doug Kidd, a former Speaker of the House, and economist Philip Barry, are certainly right to bring the boom down on these perks. No one has ever mounted a coherent explanation for them being necessary for an MP's job.

In practice, they furnish a generously subsidised pursuit of pleasure. They were introduced by Cabinet, not an independent commission, supposedly as compensation for parliamentarians accepting lower salaries. Yet there has never been a time when there was a shortage of people wishing to be MPs. Further, most pay little heed to the money on offer.

The review does not explain why MPs should be compensated for the loss of a benefit that bears no relationship to their work and should never have been granted. Nor does it say why parliamentarians should be treated differently to members of the public.

Spending on services to Parliament and MPs has gone up from $54 million in 1991 to almost $140 million last year. The review's authors say that increase and the tight economic climate point to the need to constrain parliamentary spending. Yet they throw away the opportunity to claw back a travel perk that costs taxpayers about $600,000 a year.

Their recommendation is also flawed on other grounds. On average, an MP will automatically receive an increase in salary of about $13,000. This means there is no guarantee that the total sum gained from the end of the perks will lead to a drop in overall spending.

It is unlikely that every MP took advantage of the international travel entitlement, and certainly not to the extent of Sir Roger Douglas and Rodney Hide. Indeed, many would have derived little benefit and could realistically see this recommendation as the catalyst for a significant boost in their financial wellbeing.

The review is on sounder ground when it suggests the entitlements and allowances for MPs should be set by an independent body. This would not only promote clarity but, perhaps more importantly given recent unease over parliamentarians' spending, reduce public cynicism. But as much as it should happen, it is by no means certain.

Tellingly, the Speaker, Lockwood Smith, who will consider the review's recommendations, has previously strongly defended the travel perks. If they did not exist, he says, Parliament would be made up of those of independent means, those attracted by the salary, or those who did not consider their partners.

Again, this reveals a disconnection. Many members of the public must spend lengthy periods away from their families as part of their jobs. They cope. Additionally, the Remuneration Authority has deemed the level of MPs' pay to be roughly equivalent to positions of similar responsibility in the public sector.

Nobody suggests that parliamentarians should not get what they need to do their work. Or that they should not get a fair salary. But nor should they be beneficiaries of special treatment, especially at a time when those on the street are being asked to tighten belts.