Parliament has done a disservice to itself and to the public interest with a decision to conceal the costs of each member's subsidised holidays overseas. The new rules announced by the Speaker, Lockwood Smith, can only lessen Parliament's standing in public estimation and feed the suspicions of those ever ready to believe the worst of politicians.

The use of their overseas travel perk, which reimburses up to 90 per cent of their airfares depending on their length of service, will no longer be disclosed in a way that exposes individual MPs to accountability. The likes of Act leader Rodney Hide and former Education Minister Chris Carter would no longer face awkward questions about their expenses. Only the aggregate sum claimed by all members will be reported periodically. Dr Smith thinks that is all we have a right to know.

He argues the travel subsidy is a private matter because it has been taken into account by the Remuneration Authority when parliamentary salaries were set. He believes the public needs only to be assured that the amount being claimed does not exceed the amount that would otherwise be paid as part of their salaries.

The authority estimates the subsidised travel is worth about $9600 to each MP. If they were each paid that as additional salary it would have cost taxpayers about $1,176,000 in the last financial year. But only $432,989 was paid out as travel rebates over that period. Dr Smith said he was happy to release those figures to show MPs were not overusing their perk.

He has not been happy releasing data that allows individuals to be identified and that may discourage them from taking their partners on an overseas holiday. The disclosures had made MPs nervous about using the perk, he said, "and that is wrong".

He says that with an air of entitlement. It is not clear why senior parliamentarians seem to believe they are uniquely deserving of near-free holiday travel for themselves and their wives or partners. This is not a standard feature of salary packages for others.

Certainly MPs can put in long hours on electorate work at weekends, and personal relationships may be at risk, but their hours are not unique. When they want an overseas break they should pay for it as most other people do, privately. If they want the public to pay for the bulk of it, they must expect to pay a price in privacy.

Taxpayers have a right to know not only the total cost of MPs' travel but also who is making the trips and with whom. These people are public figures trusted to be our representatives and exercise supreme law-making power. They are responsible for procedures of accountability for the rest of the public sector. They ought to accept the highest standards of transparency for themselves.

The highest standard involves personal accountability, not hiding in a collective. They make their holiday plans as individuals and should answer for themselves.

Dr Smith may be right that the travel perk would cost taxpayers more if it was built into the base salary but it is also possible that rebate claims would have been much higher last year were it not for the likelihood of public exposure. Dr Smith admits disclosure has made MPs nervous. He will hope that the cloak of secrecy he has announced does not cause claims to rise to the level the Remuneration Authority has estimated.

MPs are adequately paid as it is. They should give up the holiday travel perk without compensation. Their refusal to do so has diminished public confidence in politics and the rules their Speaker has announced can only invite general resentment and deeper disgust.