Nick Smith has taken a leaf out of the Double Dipton school of politics, calling journalists and swearing at them when the coverage isn’t to his liking.
Now, to be fair to Smith, he’s got a point about the story the Dom published on Saturday. The story said Smith and six other MPs (all but one National) were leasing property they owned to the Parliamentary Service for their electoral offices and that somehow this was wrong. All the article could really try to claim was that the MPs were pocketing “substantial capital gains” (hmm, does that mean it’s an anti-rort when property prices fall?).
There doesn’t appear to be any rort here – it’s the same situation as the houses the Greens superannuation fund owned.
The MPs have a right to claim for the expense of these properties – there’s allowances for electoral offices and for out of town MPs’ costs of staying in Wellington – they’re legitimate work expenses. Unlike Bill English, these MPs are not exploiting a loophole to take money they are not entitled to. It doesn’t matter who owns the properties, as long as only market rents are being charged (which is where the Greens made a mistake, which they themselves discovered and corrected). Whereas Bill English wasn’t entitled to a cent of the hundreds of thousands of dollars he has taken over the years, these MPs and the Greens were entitled to claim market rents.
That aside, it’s not OK for ministers to try to bully the media whenever a story doesn’t go their way. When Nick Smith found himself losing his cool over this story, he should have taken some time get his temper under control then rung and explained how the system works and asked for a correction.
But no. There seems to be this sense in this government that they are in charge and everyone else better bloody well toe the line. It’s a bullying mentality that is reflected not only in English and Smith’s behavour towards the media but also Paula Bennett’s public bullying of beneficiaries using privileged information and David Garrett’s threats to prison guards opposing privatisation.
It’s commendable that Tracy Watkins chose to publish Smith’s vitriol, rather than be cowed into shameful silence as TVNZ and TV3 were when English rang to abuse them.