Hansard and Journals
Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill — First Reading
Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations) on behalf of the Prime Minister: I move, That the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill be now read a first time. I nominate the Government Administration Committee to consider the bill. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the committee report to the House on or before 31 August 2012. This bill proposes a new framework for setting entitlements for MPs and members of the executive. The current framework is governed by Parts 3 and 4 of the Civil List Act 1979. It has been criticised as lacking clarity, transparency, and independence. In 2010 the Law Commission recommended that those provisions of the Civil List Act should be repealed and replaced by a new statute. In response to the commission’s recommendations the Government introduced this bill on 5 October 2011.
The key purpose of the bill is to establish a system for determining the services to be provided to elected members. It recognises the need for members to be properly supported, but also maintains confidence in the integrity of Parliament. The entitlements that have the most potential for personal benefit and have caused the most public concern in the past are travel and accommodation services. The changes introduced in this bill will improve the independence of the determination of those services.
The main feature of the bill is the creation of a new framework for the determination of these entitlements for MPs and Ministers. Until now, those entitlements have been determined by the Speaker and the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services. Under the new framework introduced by this bill, in the future most travel and accommodation entitlements of MPs will be set by an independent body made up of members of the Remuneration Authority plus an additional member with the appropriate knowledge, skills, and experience to assist them in this task. The authority will also determine domestic travel and accommodation services for members of the executive.
The cost of international travel, accommodation, and associated costs for members of the executive on ministerial business will be met by the Department of Internal Affairs on the basis of approvals by Cabinet or the Prime Minister, or the Minister with responsibility for Ministerial Services, and will no longer be the subject of a determination.
The current voluntary disclosure regime for MPs’ travel expenses has been widely welcomed as improving transparency. The bill builds on this initiative, requiring quarterly disclosure of MPs’ travel and accommodation expenses. The Speaker will continue to be responsible for issuing directions and setting out the allocation and administration of party and member support funding, and the administrative and support services to be provided to MPs, parties, and qualifying electoral candidates. The Speaker will also continue to issue directions in relation to communication services for MPs, and will determine services for MPs participating in the official inter-parliamentary relations programme.
The existing scheme for MPs’ and Ministers’ entitlements has been described as complicated and confusing. The bill sets out the powers of the authority and the Speaker to determine entitlements to services or issue directions in one single statute. The bill requires them to have regard to the same overarching criteria and principles in exercising their powers, and this is going to reduce the legislative complexity and fragmentation that has dogged the present system.
The bill also changes the provisions relating to salary deductions where an MP is absent from the House for long periods without good cause. Under the Civil List Act 1979, only $10 per day can be deducted from an MP’s salary in such situations. The bill provides for a much more significant deduction where an MP is absent for more than 9 days other than in accordance with the rules of the House. In rare circumstances where non-attendance becomes an issue, this provides a much more meaningful and effective way of addressing the problem than is allowed by the current law.
The bill also includes changes relating to rules around entitlements for former MPs who were elected before the 1999 general election. At the moment those former MPs and their spouses are entitled to rebates on a limited number of domestic and international airfares and have certain road, rail, and ferry travel entitlements. The recipients of those benefits are a closed class. The amount currently spent on former MPs’ travel is about $1.3 million per annum. The Law Commission recommended that these entitlements should be set out in legislation, rather than in Speakers’ directions, to ensure that they cannot be extended or increased except by legislative amendment. The bill implements this recommendation. In the interests of improved transparency, the bill also requires the total expenses incurred to provide those entitlements in respect of each former member to be disclosed annually.
The bill continues the present position under which the Remuneration Authority determines annuities for former Prime Ministers and their spouses. It removes certain outdated restrictions on the availability of the annuity paid to the surviving spouses or partners of former Prime Ministers. Compared with the present regime, the annuity will continue to be available if a surviving spouse or partner remarries or enters a new relationship.
The bill also makes changes to how travel entitlements provided to former Prime Ministers are determined. The bill provides that the decision as to what travel entitlements should be made available to future former Prime Ministers and their spouses or partners will be a matter for determination by the independent authority.
So overall the bill represents a significant improvement in modernising the law relating to elected members’ remuneration and entitlements to services and in ensuring that such entitlements are independently set and are transparent. I extend my thanks to the Law Commission for the work it has done on this matter. I look forward to the bill receiving careful and detailed consideration by both the select committee and the House. A bill of this nature, covering, as it does, the means to ensure that elected members are provided with the services that they require to enable them to carry out their roles and functions efficiently and effectively, deserves nothing less.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) : The Labour Party will be supporting the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill’s referral to the select committee and, unless something surprising happens, we will be supporting it through. Before the Attorney-General leaves—gone.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Order!
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Sorry, I did not want to draw attention to that, but I do have a—is there a Minister in the House who is currently in charge of the bill or who can answer questions?
Hon Member: Is there a Minister in the House?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There is; I think Mr Tremain is a Minister. There are a couple of Ministers. Are any of the Ministers in the House able to answer questions at the moment on the bill?
Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a first reading; this is not a Committee stage.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): No, it is not, but the member, of course, is allowed to ask questions. Whether they are answered or not is another matter.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The point I would make—and I will make it to the Government whip if there is not a Minister who has got an understanding of the legislation available—is that there has been an undertaking, including with the Business Committee, to consider this bill carefully and properly at the Government Administration Committee. My personal view is that it should not take anything like the period up to August to deal with it. I just do not think it looks good for the House to be putting a limited time on the hearings of the select committee around this bill, which does involve the remuneration and other allowances of members of Parliament. I think it would look better for Parliament if we did not do that. There is an undertaking to deal with it in a proper way—not to delay it, and to get it back as soon as is possible and appropriate—but I think to put an obligation on the Government Administration Committee in the way that has been suggested by the Minister acting for the Minister in charge of the bill makes it look like we are hurrying it through in a way that might not be seen to be appropriate. I just wanted to indicate that it may be better if, in fact, the Minister does not proceed to move the shortening motion, because the Labour Party will oppose that one, and I think it would be a pity because there is an agreement to move this bill forward.
Mr Speaker, I think it would be unwise of me not to point out to you clause 15 of the bill and to make sure that you are looking carefully at that clause to see whether or not your vote is to be exercised in relation to this legislation. Certainly, according to the rumours, the conflict between the salaried positions of high commissioners and members of this Parliament is something in which you might have an interest, Mr Speaker, and certainly anticipate having an interest in the period, I understand, very soon after this bill passes. That is something to be looked at.
I think the Attorney-General summarised the bill well. The Law Commission has done an extensive report on the matter. It has recommended that a lot of the matters that are currently the subject of determinations should, in fact, be in primary legislation. I will be interested in the discussion at the select committee as to whether some of the matters that are suggested to go right into the legislation should be, in fact, left to the new committee that is to be set up, which will be based on the Remuneration Authority and augmented. There is a balance between the clarity of primary legislation and the inflexibility of primary legislation, and I will be interested in hearing from the Remuneration Authority and other public law experts as to how much should be in this legislation and how much should be left to be determined.
It is going to be important that a person with appropriate knowledge, skills, and experience is added to that committee. I will be interested in views as to whether or not a person who is themselves entitled to some of the former members’ entitlements is excluded from that position. It is something to be worked through. I think we have found on occasions that there has been quite a lot of debate around the balance in terms of having someone of expertise—someone who understands the way that Parliament works and the requirements on members of Parliament—involved in these discussions, often, in the past, advising the Speaker as part of a committee. They often have a better level of understanding, but it does become an issue if, in fact, they are dealing with matters in which they personally have an interest, if they are dealing with later remuneration.
The bill also makes it clear that the Speaker continues to be responsible for directions around the allocation and administration of party member support funding, services provided to members, the out-of-Parliament offices, and travel allowances for members of Parliament participating in political and inter-parliamentary programmes. I think there is no doubt that it is appropriate for the Speaker to be responsible for those, but I think it is also worth saying that there are occasions when these boundaries become very blurred, and members are involved in a combination of exchange and personal travel. Getting that balance right is important, and making sure that there is not additional, unbudgeted cost to the Crown in a way that is not approved where, in fact, there are extensions is something that is important. It is good that the bill brings together the criteria—and they are specified in the bill—that the Speaker and the Remuneration Authority are required to have regard to in issuing directions.
There is what is, I think, referred to around the place now as the “Chris Carter clause”—
Chris Auchinvole: That’s your reference to it.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Well, no. I think it is fair to say that I did not bring that up. I am not going to claim to be the original author of the description of the “Chris Carter clause”, but the suggestion that people can be docked only $10 a day by the Speaker for not turning up to work without leave is, I think, ludicrous. I actually have a—[Interruption] I think Clayton Cosgrove says that Gerry Brownlee should be paid an extra $270 a day to stay away, but I think that might be unkind, although I tend to say that the Finns might think the same thing.
One of the things I would like to have a discussion about is whether the 0.2 percent is an appropriate amount, and whether we should be considering all the days of the year or whether in fact we should be considering sitting days. What is the balance of parliamentary work versus other work for a member of Parliament? And if a person is just not turning up at all, should we be assuming that they are fulfilling the other duties that they have as a member of Parliament? They might not even be in the country. They might be out of the country. I think it would be worth having that discussion and having a look at whether or not there is discretion in that area.
This is a bill that will take some detailed consideration at the select committee. There could well be some drafting issues, which my colleague Chris Hipkins will raise about it. But one of the things that has changed in my time in this Parliament is a growth in the transparency of arrangements for the remuneration of members of Parliament for the services that they provide. And although there might be a few of our older colleagues who are spinning in their graves or spilling their gins at the current time, I think, generally, transparency has resulted in very good progress.
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) : It is a pleasure to follow the two previous speakers: the Attorney-General, who introduced the bill on behalf of the Prime Minister, and, indeed, the Hon Trevor Mallard, who speaks with a wealth of experience on these matters through the long service he has engaged in. I think this will be a very, very interesting bill to have through the Government Administration Committee, and the discussion will be very, very useful.
We members of this Parliament are truly fortunate in that we are able to run for seats in this Chamber supported by the public purse. We are also fortunate that the people of this nation have shown a similar faith in making that money available through the democratic systems that see us here. It is this faith that the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill seeks to strengthen, because it is probably no news to anybody in the country that we have been through a period of questions over the transparency of the way that we are served in the Parliament through various pay and conditions associated with the job we do. We must never forget where we come from and whose money it is that we are spending.
I think New Zealand does have an enviable international reputation for being free from some of the financial problems that plague other legislatures, where things are not transparent. A lot of work has been done, though, in recent times by the Speaker and by Government to make things more transparent and to make them more obvious. There has been a genuine non-partisan approach, which is a pleasure to see. When it works in Parliament, it works well. It is that transparent, independent, and non-partisan approach that this bill seeks to strengthen, to increase the transparency around entitlements, ensuring most travel and accommodation entitlements for MPs and Ministers will actually not be set by the same people who could be said to be the beneficiaries, but will be set by the Remuneration Authority supported by a person with appropriate experience to assist. The current voluntary disclosure of MPs’ salaries, travel, and accommodation expenses will become mandatory, so that people have the assurance that we are not doing it just to satisfy a passing whim; it will be part of the job that those figures are produced.
I have heard a phrase coined this afternoon, which I do not want to be credited with coining myself: the “Carter clause”. It is not one of my choice, but it probably is appropriate because I think people were stunned to realise that there was a fine of $10 a day for not turning up. Frankly, that is a joke. If I may reflect a personal opinion on former members’ allowances, I often wondered why the grateful nation should continue to shell out after people had left this place of employment. I was a bit surprised by it and I am very pleased to see that that is a contained feature of the past and there is no suggestion that that will be moved into the future.
This bill takes the present steps that have been made considerably further than those already taken. I think there will be good discussions. There will be new questions that come from the submissions we receive, but National is committed to standing by this bill. I am delighted to think it will, hopefully throughout the House, receive support from all parties, so that it is a truly non-partisan bill and not plagued by pettifogging positions of people treating things any differently from the way this deserves to be treated. We know where we come from and this is why I support the bill, and I call on every other member of the House to do the same. Thank you.
CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) : I am happy to rise to take a brief call on this Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill. I want to, in a moment, get into a couple of issues with the drafting of the bill, which I hope the Government Administration Committee will be able to clarify. But I think at the outset it is important to talk about the principles that lie behind this first. We have seen a move to a much more transparent system for setting the non-salary components of services and entitlements—if we can use the word “entitlements”—provided to members over the last few years. That has been a very welcome thing. I think the public have welcomed that and I think it has led to a higher standard of accountability within the House, and that is a very welcome thing.
What we are doing in this bill is moving a step further, which is to institute a further degree of independence in the determination around some of these matters. At the moment the Remuneration Authority already determines what salaries and allowances members are paid; this bill goes a step further and transfers to it the responsibility for also determining travel and accommodation-related matters. I think that is also useful, because those are the matters, as the Attorney-General pointed out when he spoke, in which members could also be deemed to have more of a personal interest.
It leaves with the Speaker the responsibility for determining matters around members’ support for out-of-Parliament offices and for in-Parliament offices—areas where clearly there is unlikely to be any perception of members having a personal interest in those matters, so they remain with the Speaker. But what it is doing is instituting a further degree of independence in any matters where members may be perceived to have a personal interest, although I would argue in the case of travel and accommodation payments it is more perception than reality—and I say that as a Wellington member of Parliament who does not qualify for Wellington accommodation. I do, however, qualify for travel but have far less need to use it than a member of Parliament who lives significantly farther away than Wellington.
I will quite happily defend those members of Parliament who do live outside the Wellington area having that support. I think it is essential for them to do the job that they are able to travel freely between Wellington and their home base, their constituency. In some cases members need to use air travel within their constituency, because their constituencies are so large. That is something that we also need to support. If you look at the case, for example, of Rino Tirakatene, the Labour member, he has the entire South Island and a chunk of Wellington in his constituency. For him, travel is essential just to meet the people from one end of his electorate to the other, let alone actually to be in Wellington to execute his responsibilities to the House.
So I think making sure that members still have access to travel services that allow them to do the job is very, very important, and providing some degree of independence in how they are determined I hope will remove any suggestion that members are benefiting personally from the provision of those. I would hate to get to the point where in order to serve a constituency effectively as a member of Parliament one had to have a large degree of personal wealth in order to do the job. This is a House of Representatives, and as such we are going to have people from a diverse range of backgrounds. Some come in here with large personal wealth already, but some do not, and some come, I hope, from backgrounds that are far more modest than that. They should still be able to do their jobs effectively without having to dip into their own pockets in order just to do the job. I think that that is one of the really important principles that should be defended, and I hope by providing some more independence in this process we will be able to do that.
Having said that, providing independence is all very well, but if things go wrong, we are still going to get the blame, so we should be quite open about that. Whenever we get a pay rise, even though the pay rise is determined by an independent body, we still get blamed for that, and I do not think it will be any different when we transfer the travel and accommodation services to the Remuneration Authority.
I do want to raise an issue around post-election arrangements. It is a technical issue but it is one that came up following the last election, and one that I hope will be carefully considered in the consideration of this bill. It relates to members of Parliament who may be returned on election day but then in the counting of further votes are out again. This does not relate to the case of an electoral petition, because there is a specific provision in the bill that deals with those members. This is a case where members are back and then they are out, or they might be out and then they are back. If you are out and then you are back, that is not so bad, because you can get your pay and everything; that is not so bad. But if you are in and then you are out, you actually may be in for 2, 3, or 4 weeks after an election and continue to be paid as a member, and then you might find yourself out. But the provisions in this bill with regard to what gets paid to former members and what they can access dates back to polling day, regardless of whether they have been a member of Parliament temporarily for some period of time immediately after polling day.
In the case of support services to members of Parliament this becomes very important. To give the example of an out-of-Parliament office, all of us have our out-of-Parliament offices leased in our own name. These are not leased in the name of the Parliamentary Service. They all have a clause in them that says that the lease terminates 1 month after the person ceases to be a member of Parliament. If the person on polling day thinks that they have been re-elected as a member of Parliament, albeit the narrowest of margins, they are not going to terminate their lease. If 3 weeks later they are out again, they will have 1 week left of the 1-month payment that they can get post polling day but they will still be liable for a whole month on the lease of that out-of-Parliament office. So they will effectively end up paying out of their own personal pocket for something over which they had no control. They lease the office to serve constituents and to provide constituency services for the 3 weeks immediately after the election, and they continue to supply those services, which is fine. Then with only 1 week of their 1-month notice period left to go, they have to pay for the remaining 3 or 4 weeks of their notice period out of their own pocket. That is not fair. It is a minor technical issue. But if a member of Parliament is making the adjustment, having just lost their job, I think we should be fair to those members and make sure we make adequate provision for that in the legislation.
Chris Auchinvole: We’ll call it the “Chris clause”.
CHRIS HIPKINS: Well, I am not the person who is affected by it. The “Chris Auchinvole clause”, maybe.
But moving to the other issue around post-election arrangements, it is to do with the inconsistency in the bill relating to the salary calculation for a member who has stood for re-election but ceases to be a member. In the explanatory note it suggests that someone who is not a Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Minister, or parliamentary under-secretary will be paid at the salary rate of an ordinary member. Yet in the actual legislation itself, it suggests that the member who has not been returned for the 3 months that they will continue to receive their pay will be paid effectively at the rate that they were paid at on election day. So if they were a select committee chair or a whip or somebody who held some other office that was not Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Minister, or parliamentary under-secretary, by the explanatory note they would only be paid at the rate of an ordinary member for the 3 months after an election. But by the actual wording of the legislation, by my understanding of the reading of it, they would be paid at whatever they were being paid on election day.
I think that needs to be clarified, because around all of these things it is just a question of getting the clarity right. You do not want ambiguity in these circumstances. These are people who have just lost their jobs, they are trying to get on with their lives, and we just need to be fair to former members and outgoing members. We need to make sure that they know what they are entitled to access in terms of their pay when they cease to be members of Parliament, so some clarity around that will be important.
The bill introduces formally in legislation the informal, voluntary reporting regime that we have in place at the moment for members’ expenses. That is something that is being widely welcomed, not just by the media but by the public as well. I think that legislating for that, making that a formal requirement now rather than a voluntary regime, is a welcome step. It is good progress and that is something that the Labour Party will certainly be supporting.
Much has been made in the earlier parts of the debate about the absentee MP clause in this. I do sometimes wonder, sitting here, though, whether in fact we should be more worried about some of the MPs who arrive at Parliament, and whether or not we are getting value for money out of them. But those are not matters that are going to be dealt with by this piece of legislation. Those are matters for another day. They are matters for the electorate, in fact, and in 2014, when it returns a Labour Government, I am sure that it will have no qualms about the fact that it is getting exceptionally good value for money from the newly resurgent Labour Party, which it will see post 2014. Thank you very much.
GARETH HUGHES (Green) : Kia ora. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou. Kia ora. I rise to take a call in support of the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill. The Greens were not involved in the drafting of this legislation, but I think the Greens can take some of the credit behind this bill. The Greens have been champions for transparency in this Parliament for more than 10 years. We have been leading the call. We have been putting our own expenses in the public arena well before the other parties have. We have dragged them, kicking and screaming, but it is great to see this whole Parliament come together now, finally, passing a bill like this that encourages transparency. I will not blow our own horn any more in this speech, but I think it is important to say that we were championing this cause when it was not popular, when we were the only people talking about it. I think in particular Metiria Turei, our co-leader who is in Senegal, I understand, at the moment attending a global Greens conference, would be giving this call, has championed that lead.
This bill does a number of basic things. I will focus on the important issues with this bill. The key issue is that every party, I think, has had its share of less-than-clear, sometimes—[Interruption] We have seen illegal activities by members in other parties, so I think we do have to improve. The key lesson that we learn—whether it be in the UK with the members’ expense scandal there or scandals we have seen in New Zealand—is that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Having an open, transparent regime where the public and the media can investigate is the best way to avoid those scandals occurring in the future. I guess coupled with that what we have to have is clarity. We have to have clear rules that all members understand, and I will discuss that in a little more detail soon.
The key points I have identified in this bill are the change to the decision making on travel and accommodation entitlements for MPs and Ministers. That is moving to the Remuneration Authority. Along with our salaries, we now have our travel and accommodation there. The Speaker still has a huge number of determinations to make in Speaker’s rulings to do with our offices, other services, funding to parties, qualifying for electoral candidates, and travel services in respect of MPs participating in political exchanges.
Hopefully, what we have also seen is this place change again with the election of Mojo Mathers, and the debate that had to be had in this Parliament, which is the principle that every MP, be they disabled or not, should get the same level of services as any other member. We know we have a million dollars worth of speaker systems above our heads, but there was quibbling over $20,000 to $30,000 in expenditure for a single member who could not participate. So there is still a lot left up to the Speaker’s discretion and the Speaker’s rulings, but moving the travel decisions will help.
The member Chris Hipkins noted that MPs are likely to get the flack when salaries are raised, if they are raised in the future, and I think it is a fair comment. I think it is an accurate reflection of the truth, but I think it is also the halfway house that this Parliament has tried to have. We have tried to take away responsibility for our salaries, but considerable areas, such as travel and accommodation, are still left up to us. What the public, I think, most of all does not want to see is that principle that we are making our own decisions—that we have left the wolf in charge of the hen house, in charge of the decisions. So, hopefully, clarifying this, getting rid of that halfway house, and having all of that given to the Remuneration Authority will help clear up the public’s misconceptions, and we will see less of that backlash if there are salary rises in the future.
The current voluntary disclosure regime for MPs’ travel and accommodation gets moved from voluntary to statutory. The Green Party was the first party in Parliament, in 2009, to voluntarily release all of our expenses to the media and the public. I think it is a good thing, and now we are seeing all the other parties follow suit, and now we are putting it into legislation. We think that is good for our democracy, good for transparency, and good for the public’s perception of MPs, which, to be frank, is not always the best.
The “Chris Carter clause”—it was named by Chris Auchinvole; I think we will make him the creator of the said clause—is good. I mean, $10 a day is laughable, and it was hardly a sanction at all. I think, again, that it removes the respect that people have for this institution. It is a good modernisation.
I guess, in particular, skipping through the bill, we think that good changes have been made in relation to the impact of the unfortunate death of an MP on an MP’s spouse or dependent children. We think that makes sense and is a good call. So what we are seeing, in summary, is that sunlight is the best disinfectant. We are taking that approach throughout this bill. That is why we are supporting it. That is why we have called for these measures for a long time. We are very happy that we are seeing them finally.
We think we can do a bit more. International travel for MPs is, I think, a big problem that this House is going to have to grapple with. We could have done it in this legislation. The public does not understand—I do not understand—why we are doing it. The fact that both our superannuation scheme and air travel perks—because they are seen as perks, even though I am absolutely sick of airports and sick of flying and I do not see it as a perk—have been in lieu of remuneration, in lieu of salary rises in the past, is not very clear to the public. It is not very clear to MPs. We are sending the wrong message. I think the former Minister Pansy Wong did get caught up in that. There was obviously some impropriety as well, but I think that the confusion did not help. So we have also got this, perhaps, “Pansy Wong clause”.
I think it would be interesting to undertake a survey of MPs to find out how many MPs actually use the travel privilege for non-work purposes. I think you would find that a number of MPs do not use it. I do not use it. Ever since I entered this House I have never used it. I use it only for work purposes. Where else in the country, in what other sector of the economy, do people get unlimited domestic travel with no business requirement and no checking system? I think the public find it ridiculous. I think it is antiquated. It goes back to the age of steam when we used to arrive here on trains and sail ships. I think we should look at that, and that will also clear up those Pansy Wong - type situations in the future.
So the Green Party joins the other parties in this House voting for the bill. We look forward to the select committee process. We urge the public to have their say in the select committee process. We agree with the Labour Party that we should not be sending the message that we should have a constrained or shortened select committee period. What we need to be doing is sending the message that we are upfront, that we are going to be transparent in terms of all elements of our remuneration, our privileges, and the passing of the laws to enact those. So we think a long select committee process is appropriate. It sends the right message to the public. We are very happy to be supporting this bill today. Kia ora.
NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) : I am pleased to speak on the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill. I think this legislation is about public confidence in both Parliament and politicians. I want to reflect on two incidents that happened recently. I recently spoke to the Waiheke rotary club, and one of the comments that was made at the rotary club was that they saw it as a positive thing that members of Parliament had moved from being the least trusted profession, up one, from 26 to 25. I think that probably shows how long and how far we have to go.
I want to make a couple of comments generally about the UK expenses scandal. Even though you see surveys, such as the one I have just mentioned, that show that although we might be going in the right direction, we still have a way to go, that was a very damaging thing for the institutions in the United Kingdom. I have previously worked in Government over there, and that was a scandal that saw public confidence in politicians over there drop significantly. I am very pleased to be supporting this legislation, which is aimed at giving greater transparency around the remuneration of members of Parliament.
I also want to reflect on the fact that I think New Zealand generally does have a pretty proud history of being an open democracy. We were a country that led the world in terms of the Official Information Act, and I think we should be very proud of that. I think that as we are a smaller nation we are generally, as politicians, probably a little bit more accountable because we get around our constituencies and people know us well. But we can always do better. With the advent of social media, in terms of Facebook and Twitter, you get real-time updates of what members of Parliament are doing, and I think that is helping in terms of the accountability and transparency of politicians.
But if we actually look at the genesis of this legislation, it was the Law Commission report in 2010. I think that in terms of the other genesis and drive for this bill, I know the Green Party has been trying to take some of the credit, but actually I want to give a little bit of credit to the leadership of this Parliament, and in particular the Prime Minister, the Speaker, and members on both sides of the House, who have driven greater disclosure, particularly around expenses. Obviously, that has been a voluntary regime so far, but we are now going to put that into legislation.
I think we have seen a gradual opening up of expenses. We saw in 1999, as well, that MPs who came into Parliament after 1999 do not get travel perks. So there has been a gradual move to have greater transparency and accountability. I cannot stress enough how important that is. I knocked on 10,000 doors, and I can tell you that I think that generally New Zealanders do think we work quite hard. But there are some issues around that transparency and accountability and having very clear and open information about how MPs are remunerated.
If you look at the key changes in this legislation, we have seen—as many members of Parliament have already mentioned—the “Chris Carter clause”. That clause brings a significant change in that a fine of $10 per day is now, I think, about $270 per day. What that is saying to New Zealanders is that it is not OK to not turn up to Parliament and that, actually, you should be fined significantly for that. That is an important message to other New Zealanders who are working very hard.
There are a number of other changes within the bill in terms of ensuring that former MPs who served before 1999 and their spouses will continue to receive various travel rebates. Some of this is about clarifying what is already happening. I think it is very important that we are going to see a statutory requirement around the disclosure regime for MPs’ travel and accommodation.
I just want to touch on a couple of points that have already been mentioned. Do I think that this bill will solve issues of some members of the public thinking that MPs are paid too much? No, I do not. Do I think it will solve some issues of members of Parliament across the House claiming that people are using their entitlements for incorrect purposes? No, I do not. But what I do think this will do is give independence to our remuneration by having it dealt with by a separate body. It also gives greater transparency.
So I just want to congratulate all members of Parliament. I want to congratulate the Prime Minister, who, I think, has led a bit of a charge on this. I want to congratulate all members across the House on supporting this bill’s referral to the Government Administration Committee, because I think it is a very important piece of legislation that cuts to the heart of public confidence in Parliament and politicians. Thank you.
KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) : Mr Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak on the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill on its first reading. The legislation, once again, highlights this National-led Government’s commitment to transparency. This bill is the result of the Law Commission’s 2010 report and repeals the Civil List Act 1979. The Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill empowers the Remuneration Authority to decide on the travel and accommodation entitlements for MPs and Ministers. Earlier these decisions used to be undertaken by the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services or the Parliament’s Speaker.
The bill further adds to the steps that the honourable Speaker and the Government have already taken to improve transparency around entitlements. In fact, this will create public confidence in the regime for setting entitlements for Ministers and MPs. Furthermore, up until now the disclosure of MPs’ travel and accommodation was voluntary. This bill will make it a statutory requirement for all MPs and Ministers to disclose their travel and accommodation. This bill does not just ask MPs to disclose their accommodation and travel expenses, it also ensures that in the case that they do not attend Parliament they are penalised, and not just for name’s sake. Earlier the penalty for MPs missing Parliament was $10 a day. This bill increases that to $270 a day.
It is important the public has confidence in the management of setting MPs’ and Ministers’ entitlements. These amendments, which put more power in the hands of the independent decision maker, will improve the trust. The authority will have members with appropriate knowledge, skills, and experience to ensure that balance is maintained between zeroing the misuse of taxpayers’ money, while ensuring that MPs and Ministers have enough support to support their constituents and carry out parliamentary business. This bill will provide that the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives will continue to make decisions on MPs’ entitlements to communication services, travel for inter-parliamentary exchange, and allocation of party and members’ support funding.
There is a groundswell out there to take action to improve transparency. The Government is therefore listening to the people and taking action. I support the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill on its first reading.
NICKY WAGNER (National—Christchurch Central) : I support this Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill, as does the rest of the House. Like most MPs, I am very pleased to see this bill come into the House. It seems that there has been a public perception out there that somehow MPs are getting something for nothing, or that they have entitlements way beyond what MPs are worth and that they—the public—do not know about it. There is also a belief, actually, that there is a whole heap of amazing out-of-this-world perks and self-indulgences that we are all lining up to grab. I have to say if that is true, I have not found them yet. But that sort of mistaken public belief is not good, and at times makes MPs feel pretty uncomfortable and upset. So I welcome this new legislation.
The legislation is all about making MPs’ and Ministers’ entitlements more transparent, more independent, and non-partisan. It will be much better if the public knows and understands MPs’ travel and accommodation entitlements so that they can have confidence that nothing is being hidden from them.
The public were absolutely fascinated by and entertained with the expense scandals of the British Parliament. We found it really hard to believe that British MPs could legitimately have their moat fixed or employ gardeners or butlers on the taxpayer. It turned out that we were right, and four MPs and two members of the House of Lords have ended up in jail. Once we had enjoyed that sort of scandal, the New Zealand public took a look at what was happening in New Zealand and wondered whether they could find anything similar. I think it was to Parliament’s credit that they could not find anything significant. But it did raise the issue of transparency, and this bill has resulted from that.
The legislation is based on the recommendations of the Law Commission made in December 2010. After the legislation is passed, travel and accommodation entitlements will be set by the independent Remuneration Authority rather than the Speaker of the House, as happened in the past. It will also not allow the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services to make any rules, either. Many months ago the Government introduced a voluntary regime to report on travel and accommodation expenses, and now this bill will make it a statutory requirement.
It is quite clear that the public expect that decisions around MPs’ and Ministers’ entitlements should be beyond reproach, and putting decisions in the hands of this independent Remuneration Authority will ensure that they will be. So I commend this bill to the House.
LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) : The issue of the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill has been well covered in the first reading debate. I just want to reinforce the fact that at the heart of this bill is the confidence members of Parliament and Ministers need to have from members of the public that they are conducting their business in the way they need to, and that there is a level of independence in terms of their salary, which is currently reviewed by the independent Remuneration Authority. But this bill takes it a step further in terms of looking at the services MPs require to undertake their jobs in terms of travel, accommodation, and communication costs as well. So I think this bill is a good move. It has been well discussed today. It is uniformly accepted and agreed to in this House, so I do not intend to take much more time on it.
I think the interesting thing is that the members of Parliament on the Government and Administration Committee have obviously put quite a lot of thought into some of the details. I acknowledge Chris Hipkins for some of the issues he has raised in terms of making sure that those who leave Parliament after an election are not unfairly treated or penalised.
I do want to come back to the issue the Hon Trevor Mallard raised in his speech on this bill, and that was around the issue of having a time frame by which the bill would be reported back. The concern he raised was there could be a perception from the public that members of Parliament were rushing this process. There is absolutely no intention to do that, because this is all around transparency, and it is all around the provision of independence. The Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations has agreed and realises it is important that this process be done and done well without a time frame. So there will not be a motion at the conclusion of this debate for a time frame for the select committee to report back to the House.
I do want to add, though, that I think it is fair to say that the Government Administration Committee will have every intention of progressing the business, so there will be no intention of dragging the chain, either. That tidies up the issue that the Hon Trevor Mallard raised. There is nodding-around-the-House agreement for that. So I am pleased to conclude this first reading of the bill.
HOLLY WALKER (Green) : I am proud to rise to support the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill along with my colleagues, and I acknowledge the cross-party support that it has received. I think it is fair to say that the Green Party wholeheartedly endorses this bill, not just in a grudging way. It represents the culmination of work over a number of years, especially by our co-leader Metiria Turei, to bring greater transparency to MPs’ salaries and entitlements. The Green Party has, I think, set the agenda for this for quite a long time now by voluntarily releasing our expenses and entitlements and publicly encouraging other parties to do the same, so that that has now been adopted as standard practice.
Taking decisions about entitlements out of the hands of MPs will be good for transparency and good for the reputation of this House. We need to deliver a remuneration system that is simple, that is clean, and that is fair. We need changes that the public can have confidence in. It is our responsibility to live up to the standards I think are expected of parliamentarians and to improve the perception of Parliament. My colleague Gareth Hughes touched on this earlier. We do not have a great reputation in this place, and it is very important that we do what we can to improve that perception and live up to those standards.
As my colleague Catherine Delahunty said yesterday in a different debate, in many ways we here as MPs, funded by the taxpayer, are beneficiaries and we have to ensure that we are serving the public well and giving them value for money.
I have heard the view expressed—to explain, perhaps, why this change is so long in coming—that people outside of this House who do not understand or have knowledge of the procedures in here, or what is expected of MPs, will not be in a good position to make decisions about MPs’ entitlements. I fundamentally reject that argument. I think that if that is the case, then it is our fault as MPs that what we do in here is not well understood. We need to make sure that everything we do is bringing greater transparency and accountability into this House.
To briefly cover what the bill does, most travel and accommodation entitlements for MPs and Ministers will now be set by the Remuneration Authority rather than the Speaker or the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services, and we support that. The current voluntary disclosure for MPs’ travel and accommodation expenses will become a statutory requirement. We think that is a direct result of the Green Party’s voluntary leadership and disclosure on this in 2009, and we are greatly in support of that. The amount that can be deducted from MPs’ salaries for non-attendance will increase from the ludicrous $10 a day to 0.2 percent of an MP’s salary, or $270 a day for most ordinary members of Parliament. We are absolutely in favour of that, as well. We have consistently called for an independent body to have control over MPs’ entitlements and pay, so handing over some responsibility to the Remuneration Authority is absolutely a step in the right direction.
It seems to me very clear that travel entitlements for MPs should be for work-related purposes only, and that is how we in the Green Party choose to apply this rule. I think it is very dangerous to mix up travel entitlements with remuneration, including the international travel subsidy. Travel is not a form of remuneration and it should not be treated as such, so it is good that this decision will now be in the hands of the independent authority.
I want to thank members from other parties for their contributions, including those members who will be considering this bill at the Government Administration Committee. As a member of that committee I look forward to considering it. I think it is fair to say we will be giving it due attention and dealing with it as swiftly as we can. I also want to thank Louise Upston for her contribution just now saying that there will not be a motion curtailing the process for this. I think it is absolutely right that it has the full, transparent, and democratic process that we accord to other bills.
I am very proud to stand in support of this bill from the Green Party. I look forward to a constructive debate, and consideration and hearing of submissions at the Government Administration Committee.
- Bill read a first time.
- Bill referred to the Government Administration Committee.