Neither major party has a particularly proud record on encouraging transparency with respect to MPs’ spending. But The Greens certainly got something moving last year:
MPs’ expense accounts are likely to be opened to public scrutiny after a face-saving move by Prime Minister John Key led to an urgent cross-party meeting being called. Party representatives will meet this week to discuss ways of giving more details on how MPs use their $14,800 expense accounts and accommodation and travel allowances. …
The turnaround came after the Green Party promised to disclose its MPs’ expenses spending each year. Act and the Maori Party followed suit.
National made the best of a bad deal of course, piling on to the cases of inappropriate spending by Labour MPs, trying to minimise its own cases, and claiming credit for opening up the accounts. Some editorials, and the usual National spinsters, made a big issue of this “new transparency”. At the time I did wonder how long it would last.
Turns out, not so long. The roll back of transparency has begun:
MPs’ overseas travel costs to be secret
MPs’ international travel expenses will now be kept secret after a ruling by parliament’s Speaker.
The issue of MPs’ private travel blew up last year after it was revealed Act MP Rodney Hide took his girlfriend on a taxpayer-funded $50,000 trip. Under the new rules, the Speaker will only reveal the total amount spent by MPs on private travel and not give a breakdown for each MP.
Sounds like a cover-up!
But the Speaker denies that is a cover-up.
Oh, sorry, my mistake. Not a cover-up at all.
Under the new system, the likes of Hide and Chris Carter would have been spared the intense public scrutiny they got when it emerged they had clocked up big international travel bills with their partners at their sides.
Well there’s the heart of the matter. I think that in both cases the public was entitled to know. I also think that the subsequent witch hunt of Chris Carter was entirely over the top and a disgrace to the media that participated in it (Lockwood Smith appears to agree). But there doesn’t seem to be any way of having the transparency without opening the door to the possibility of the witch hunts. So which is the lesser evil?
Despite the risks of Carter-style persecution, I have to come down on the side of transparency. This move to start rolling it back is a mistake.