COMMENT:

Opposition Leader Simon Bridges has been loudly and sometimes rightly critical of the number and cost of the inquiries set up by the Government since it came to office. Why, then, has he caused an inquiry to be set up that trumps any for triviality?

Bridges called for a full independent inquiry into a leak of his parliamentary travel expenses which were always going to be made public yesterday, and Parliament's Speaker, Trevor Mallard, has agreed. A Queens Counsel no less is to be paid to try to trace who in Parliament Buildings might have slipped the information to a Newshub reporter.

Mallard said, with as straight a face as he can manage, "The security of members' personal information, until it is made public, is something which I think is very important... Members of Parliament and the public have to have certainty that the information they share with their whips and with the Parliamentary Service is cared for with integrity."

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Members might agree with him, the public probably does not. His solicitude for the public is entirely misplaced. Some of the public will be mildly interested in the size of the bill Bridges has presented to the Parliamentary Service, almost none are likely to care that the figure got out a little earlier than intended. Parliament is an intimate political environment, politicians cannot expect complete control over personal information the public has a right to know.

Bridges could have easily dealt with criticism that his recent trips around the country have cost the taxpayer a little over $100,000. He is a new leader of the National Party and, as commentators constantly remind him, yet to gain much personal traction in the polls. He is perfectly entitled to move around and meet as many people as he can.

He could have responded as Jacinda Ardern has, admitting she was surprised at the bill she ran up when she started using a Crown limousine as an Opposition leader and took steps to reduce it. Her bill was not as high as Bridges' and he should do the same.

But now, of course, everybody is much more interested in who leaked his figure to the media. Bridges has declared himself certain it was not a National MP and has agreed to Mallard's request that all National MPs allow their email logs to be searched for the investigating QC, as Parliamentary Service computers will be.

Mallard is equally confident the leak did not come from the service because the information leaked was not in the form the service received it. So one of them could be surprised.

If it is Bridges, it will spell disloyalty in his caucus. He needs to be very certain of his colleagues to have run this risk. He has elevated a minor embarrassment into a needless early test of his leadership. It is a strange thing to do.

Possibly his call for a full independent inquiry was not serious and the Speaker has called his bluff, or Bridges is genuinely worried that he has enemies on the Parliamentary staff. Either way, this QC inquiry is completely over the top.

An Opposition leader needs to pick his battles better if he is to survive.