Most people with an interest in politics will have heard about the expenses scandal in the UK. Their system allowed rorts of all shapes and sizes to take place – MPs’ expenses were not questioned because they were Honourable Members. Intense scrutiny has proved quite a few of them otherwise.
Could this be happening here? Does it matter and should you and I be concerned? The total expenses bill is $14 million annually. We can’t get the details of this because spending is managed by Parliamentary Services, which is exempt from the Official Information Act. The upshot is we don’t know who spends what on taxis, flights, food and accommodation.
And I don’t want to. I can’t be certain that every cent is well spent, 100% in line with the intent of the law. But we have a robust system as Colin Espiner states “But fortunately in this country we have a system whereby all payments are only made upon receipts, all must be first checked by party whips before they are submitted, and there are a limited number of categories under which MPs can claim anything.”
Why not go more open, transparency’s always good right? Yeah, if the media wouldn’t act like children. Several mornings ago I had to listen to the inane, yet inevitable: a reporter asking Metiria Turei why she flew on aircraft since she was in the Greens. Equally stupid would be asking Boscawen why he used our National Carrier.
Can you imagine what it would be like all if MPs’ expenses were published? I would just about be happy to pay my share of the $14 million, even if I know some was misappropriated, if it would spare me from the interminable questioning that will result from expenses being released to the media. There would be no limit to the stories that would result every time expenses were explained: MP X spent $6,500 on flights in the last three months, but MP Y spent three times that! Scandal! Three weeks later it is pointed out MP X is based in Napier, MP Y has constituents in the Chatham islands.
How much time would our MPs spend defending themselves from these manufactured scandals? What would be missed because the media were focussed on the low-hanging fruit? You only need to look at how Worth has dominated the news while what Hide is proposing to do to councils across NZ slips under the radar to get an idea of what neverending expenses stories can deflect attention from.
Here’s a worrying thought: does this mean I trust MPs more than the media? Well, perhaps not – but I would rather see the media attend to the issues of substance, and avoid the sideshows.