Travel perk increase impossible to justify

The calculation of how much taxpayer money former MPs are entitled to spend on international travel will change under a statute amendment bill, to be voted on next week.

Currently, the perk is calculated on the cheapest business-class return fare between Auckland and London, for the former MP and their spouse.

That would now be amended to peg the maximum rebate to the lowest Air New Zealand business-class return fare.

The entitlement is limited to former MPs who were in Parliament before 1999.

They can use the money to fly to any destination on any airline – the calculation determines how much can be claimed.

Legal blogger Graeme Edgeler has estimated that the change could increase the maximum rebate from $11,000 to about $20,000 a year.

Today the Taxpayers’ Union called for National MP Simon Bridges’ Supplementary Order Paper to be withdrawn.

“At a time when MPs are facing a public backlash for continued pay hikes, Mr Bridges wants to increase the lavish taxpayer-funded perks for retired politicians,” the unions’ executive director Jordan Williams said.

However, Labour’s Annette King said the change had cross-party support and was simply designed to fix a mistake in the current legislation.

The fare rebate had been pegged to the lowest fare on Air New Zealand since the 1970s, Ms King said.

A mistake in wording saw that change when the long-standing entitlements were transferred to the new Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Act 2013.

“They inadvertently left out ‘Air New Zealand’, which had always been the benchmark for deciding what the travel entitlement was,” Ms King said.

“On July 1 every year, Parliamentary Services go online and go to Expedia I think, and they look for the lowest cost airfare, and [the rebate] stays at that for the year. It has always been benchmarked with Air New Zealand.”

Because of the mistake the maximum rebate had most recently been pegged to another airlines’ fare, Ms King said.

“They benchmarked it to China Air or something, which was dearer than Air New Zealand, actually. If it had been benchmarked to Air New Zealand the allowance would have been cheaper.”

Ms King, who is aware of the issue after recently sitting on a former members’ committee, said she wanted the change to go through, despite the backlash.

Really odd how they all voted themselves out of about $3000 a year salary under urgency, but the travel perk that appears to increase by almost $9000 for former MPs doesn’t require the same attention.

I guess they’ll all be ex-MPs evenetually and they’re just laying the ground work for a taxpayer fuelled life of opulent travel once they “retire”.

 

– Nicholas Jones, NZ Herald

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