Spare a penny for the poor? This time around, the poor in question are not the homeless or the children, but the MPs themselves.

A three-yearly review of the funding MPs and parties get to run their parliamentary and electorate offices noted the funding allocated to MPs and parties to run their parliamentary affairs had been frozen since 2007 and recommended increases totalling an extra $5.2 million a year.

A call for MPs to get more money is not likely to be popular. Hence only the Green Party was brave enough to loudly back the call, arguing National was effectively starving the Opposition parties while it rolled around like Scrooge McDuck in piles of ministerial funding.

The funding freeze in question affects National as well - its own leaders' office and whips' funding adhere to the same criteria. But it has more MPs and therefore more money. It also has the advantage of being in Government with ministerial staff and departments at its disposal. There are signs of the squeeze on funding in Labour. Labour has foregone its right for a secondee from Treasury because it must be paid for out of Labour's parliamentary funding - another thing the review team recommended should change. Meanwhile, there are five and a bit Treasury secondees in ministers' offices who are not paid out of National's funding.


The Greens say the freeze on funding amounts to an anti-democratic move by the Government to keep the Opposition weak. They may have a point. But for those of us on the outside, there is no way of knowing whether they have a point.

There was some irony in the evidence the Greens put up to support their claim for more money. That included the number of ministerial staff paid more than $100,000. It could only get that information because ministers are subject to greater transparency requirements. There is no way to get comparable information on the staff in the Greens' own offices or those of other Opposition parties because only ministers are subject to the Official Information Act.

The most opaque stashes of cash in Parliament are the Leader's Office funds. This is a pool of funding, partly based on the number of MPs a party has, which pays for the leaders' staff, much of the advertising the party issues from Parliament (although they prefer that advertising to be known as "communications") and miscellanea such as morning teas. It totals $3.7 million for National and $2.9 million for Labour.

There is a large amount of discretion involved in how that money can be spent, provided it fits within the nebulous concept of "parliamentary purposes". There has long been suspicion about that funding because of the very fine line between "parliamentary purposes" and campaigning. National once held the high ground here, but it is eking away.

The most outrageous recent example of that line being crossed was Labour's pledge card of 2005. National is yet to deliver anything as blatant as that. In fact, National revamped electoral laws to restrict the use of taxpayer-funded material during a campaign period.

But there were signs of creep during the Northland byelection in which National ministers unashamedly used Crown limos on the campaign trail while non-ministers were left to get about at their own expense. There was Transport Minister Simon Bridges' use of his ministry to provide him with information to develop the one-way bridges policy he then announced in his capacity as a National minister - a cynical workaround of Cabinet rules which state ministers should not go to their officials for information which is to be used for "party political purposes".

Then there was information released to Labour in which a minister's staffer wrote that MP Parmjeet Parmar hoped to take part in housing meetings paid for by a Government department to raise her profile in Mt Roskill in case of a byelection should Phil Goff become Auckland Mayor. It was left to Deputy Prime Minister Bill English to defend that - the same Bill English who led the charge against the pledge card and Electoral Finance Act.

The last two examples were only uncovered because the ministers in question were subject to the Official Information Act. If MPs and parties want a big boost in funding, that should come hand in hand with similar transparency.