Former Government minister Roger McClay will escape a jail term after admitting a $25,000 double-dipping rort of cash-strapped charities and the public purse - but he will no longer be able to fly courtesy of the taxpayer.

The 65-year-old yesterday pleaded guilty to three representative fraud charges accusing him of abusing his ex-MP perk of taxpayer-subsidised flights, then falsely claiming travel costs from two charities he worked for.

Over nearly three years, the five-term National Party MP charged World Vision and Keep New Zealand Beautiful $11,800 for travel costs when he had flown courtesy of the taxpayer.

He then claimed $12,887.10 from the Parliamentary Service with the 90 per cent travel discount he receives as an ex-MP.

In the Auckland District Court yesterday, Judge Jan Doogue described the $24,687.10 fraud as "significant", but indicated that a sentence of community work would be imposed if McClay pleaded guilty.

The charge of using a document to gain a pecuniary advantage has a maximum penalty of seven years in jail.

After a short consultation with his lawyer, Guyon Foley, the former Children's Commissioner accepted the offer and will be sentenced next week.

He would not comment outside court, and did not return messages last night.

Crown prosecutor Susan Gray told the court that McClay claimed the ex-MP perk for 47 trips made on charity business after signing a declaration that the travel was for personal reasons.

In late 2005, he began working for World Vision as a government lobbyist, for which he was paid an annual salary of $66,000.

Over 2 years, he charged the charity $5460.70 in driving mileage, but he had in fact flown and claimed the ex-MP travel rebate.

Reading a victim impact statement from World Vision, Ms Gray said the money would have paid for three water tanks to provide clean water for hundreds of schoolchildren in Third World countries. She said McClay would have been well aware of that.

She said the reputation of World Vision - which relied on the goodwill and support of the public - would take a long time to recover from McClay's actions.

In September 2006, McClay was elected chairman of Keep New Zealand Beautiful and was paid an honorarium of $25,000 a year.

He claimed driving costs 15 times when he had in fact flown and claimed the ex-MP perk. The charity paid him $6339.30.

Ms Gray said McClay was present at board meetings where the charity's financial difficulties were discussed, yet he kept making false travel claims.

Keep New Zealand Beautiful had come close to bankruptcy in April last year, shortly before the fraud was discovered and McClay resigned.

As a result of McClay's offending, Ms Gray said, some sponsors had withdrawn support from Keep New Zealand Beautiful.

A statement from the Parliamentary Service read by Ms Gray to the court said McClay's breach of trust in falsely claiming $12,887.10 undermined a system that rewarded the public service of MPs.

His fraud had come at a time when spending by MPs past and present was under intense media scrutiny, and had far-reaching consequences in eroding public faith.

Aggravating features in the 75 false claims included the "premeditated and calculating" nature of the fraud over a three-year period from a man who was trusted and held in high esteem, said Ms Gray.

In his defence submissions, Mr Foley outlined McClay's record of "tireless" public service and said the fraud was baffling in comparison to that background.

If convicted, he would lose his ex-MP travel entitlements - 12 domestic flights and one international, worth up to $30,000 a year.

"That is not inconsequential for Mr McClay. That is in effect a fine of $30,000 every year for the rest of his life," said Mr Foley.

McClay promised to pay back the entire $24,687.10 in lump sums by borrowing money.

Mr Foley said the damage to McClay's reputation would outweigh any conviction and sentence imposed.

Judge Doogue said a sentence of a "significant time of community work" would be more appropriate than prison or home detention because of McClay's background.

"Significant" was also how the judge described the fraud.

"A significant amount of money. A significant number of transactions, over a significant period of time.

"You were a respected member of society in whom people trusted.

"You knew that these charities were in strained financial positions, yet you knowingly acted in this way."

The Herald revealed the rort in December, and reported the laying of charges against McClay in March.

The scam went undetected until December 2008 when the Parliamentary Service, which administers MPs' travel subsidies, received a complaint from an unknown source.

The matter was referred to Auckland police, who began investigating in February last year by interviewing staff and inspecting documents.

He was originally charged with 56 individual fraud charges.

These were replaced by the three representative charges to which he pleaded guilty yesterday.

ROGER McCLAY
1981-1996: National Party MP
1990-1996: Minister of Youth Affairs and Associate Minister of Education, Social Welfare and Pacific Island Affairs.
1998-2003: Commissioner for Children
2005: Made a Companion of the Queen's Service Order.
2005-2009: Worked for World Vision as political lobbyist and elected chairman of Keep New Zealand Beautiful, among other charities.

THE CHARGES
Using a document to obtain a pecuniary advantage from:
World Vision: $5460.70.
Keep New Zealand Beautiful: $6339.30.
Parliamentary Service: $12,887.10.
Total: $24,687.10