While the media were quick to pounce on Sir Roger Douglas for spending some $65,000 ($44,000 air travel) on travel - basically holidays for him and his wife at the taxpayer's expense - the media were also quick to accept the list of MP expenses as a full and accurate account.

TVNZ's Francesca Mold even opined that all the expenses were justified because the MP's were all 'working for us'.

Mold has perhaps spent too much time in the company of 'our' parliamentary 'representatives' because she - and Guyon Espiner - are not in possession of all the facts to make such a supportive judgement call.

The list of MP expenses actually hides more than it reveals.

It is of some concern, for example, that no actual details are provided of the MP's travel expenses. Prior to 1998 the Parliamentary Service would provide a useful breakdown of the spending in categories such as taxi use, domestic flights, etc, but this proved too embarrassing to MP's and so is no longer done.

Political Science lecturer Bryce Edwards has written about MP's expense claims at some length on his blog Liberation.

He has, among other things, raised questions about the 'out of Wellington' accommodation expenses. While such expenses are supposed to be related to a MP's parliamentary activity Edwards observes that it is often used for party political purposes rather than parliamentary activities.

One MP that Edwards has raised questions about is Green co-leader Russel Norman.

During the Mt Albert by-election campaign the Wellington-based MP was in Auckland for much of the time. Was any of his travel and accommodation expenses related to his political campaigning in Mt Albert?

We just don't know. All we do know is that he spent nearly $40,000 on travel and for accomodation outside Wellington.

Why pick on Norman and the Green Party? Norman, in particular, has made great play of MP's expenses and political funding generally.

Edwards observes that Norman, 'the stone thrower':

..needs to show that he doesn't also live in a glass house. Therefore Norman should declare whether he has used any taxpayer funds on his campaign, including travel expenses and accommodation claims for his many, many trips to Mt Albert since Helen Clark announced her departure from Parliament. Anything less than this would make his various campaigns against ‘corruption’ seem rather hollow.

Despite the questions surrounding Norman's use of MP expenses, this hasn't stopped the Green Party from, once again, claiming the moral high ground when it comes to financial matters.

In a press release (30 July) Green co-leader Metiria Turei says:

"The Green Party is pleased to have inspired the Parliament's move to make MP's travel and accommodation expenses public,'

She goes on to comment:

'It is great to see that the other political parties have agreed to follow the Greens' lead and introduced regular disclosure of MP's expenses.'

But what has been released to the public is far from a 'full disclosure' of MP's expenses.

It is also worth noting that MP's are entitled to $15,000 of 'miscellaneous spending'. This category has been left off the MP expenses list entirely.

While Roger Douglas was an easy target , its unfortunate that the likes of Russel Norman have not been asked some searching questions by the media.


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