Monday, August 03, 2009

Are you entitled?

Here's a couple of easy ways to annoy a left wing MP. Ask them whether they have private health insurance or enquire into their superannuation scheme. Some might rely on the public health system or KiwiSaver but more likely than not they're on a tier of their own. Parliamentary privilege is especially generous in the superannuation department, which might explain the reluctance of MPs to discuss Super more generally lest someone draw attention to their particular platinum nest egg scam. Even the Greens are in on it.

There's a fine line between being honest and being stupid. While the old man was honest enough to resign his portfolio in sympathy when Lange sacked Douglas, he wasn't stupid enough to quit parliament until the Nine Years Service perks kicked in.

The ninety percent subsidy on airfares was one of these. Dad hated flying almost as much as he hated telephones. Neither were used in excess (I credit Trev's brief phone calls as reason for Telecom's policy of the one minute minimum charge for toll calls). The one real extravagance was when Dad flew to London at short notice when my sister broke up with her partner while she was working over there. While he couldn't be there for us while he was in parliament, at least he could be there for her when it counted.

You can see why I have a bit of sympathy for Roger Douglas' predicament for getting strung out by the press gallery. Getting singled out for his trip to London to visit his grandchildren for using an entitlement that was hard earned in the service of his country to make up for lost time spent in the public arena, both then and now, with a family visit.

This particular perk was traded off in 1999. It wasn't the first perk to get the axe and won't be the last. Up until the Fourth Labour Government, there used to be all sorts of absurd perks in the fine print. Trev's words:
I would rather in retrospect have been under-secretary of finance to Roger Douglas than I would have been Minister of Pies & Ice-cream in the cabinet. There were several reasons for this. The first was financial. Under the Higher Salaries Commission, Ministers and under-secretaries were paid one hundred odd dollars tax-free a day for the time they were not in Wellington. The idea was that they were doing their job elsewhere. I thought this was ridiculous but it rendered my under-secretaries' pay up with a cabinet minister. I didn't have to go down to Wellington on Monday and was paid this $100 for fishing and shooting. That later, on our own instigation, was altered and is not the position now. That was the ridiculous nature however of much of the way of fixing salaries for ministers and under-secretaries in those days. As under-secretary, I also had full access to the LTDs and all the status of other ministerial perks.
It is all part of the long, slow process of dismantling the incredible range of perks that help hide the true remuneration of MPs. It would be a lot simpler to front end everything into the pay packet and bulk fund and cap the expenses.

But Roger Douglas' response to press gallery questions was spectacularly poorly worded, what with the belt-tightening, beneficiary-bashing, recession-enduring fug upon the land. While the state sector is being pressed into making across the board cuts of ten percent or more, parliament sits aloof, an exception to its own rules. It's hard to lead by example from the rear.