Balancing the Clerk’s Office budget: let’s spend more on broadcasting and less on jetsetting

Alas,Lockwood’s prize bull had to stay behind.


Alf was puzzled by a report about the costs of broadcasting the proceedings of Parliament.

It was calling for “some tradeoffs” (of the budgetary sort, presumably) and it was telling us about financial pressures in the Clerk’s Office.

It was not a good time to be drawing attention to these financial pressures, because news media had just been telling us about a bunch of parliamentarians jaunting around the world with Mr Speaker and his missus.

The cost of the jaunt won’t be quite enough to raise all the readies needed to meet the broadcasting shortfall. But every little bit helps, eh?

And the big thing about money being spent on broadcasts is that the public are the beneficiaries. They get to watch the likes of the Member for Eketahuna North asking questions, making speeches, raising a laugh with witty interjections, and what-have-you.

The public gets no benefit from MPs’ jetsetting, no matter what rationale is applied to justifying it.

The news about the broadcasting budgetary problems was reported here.

The Clerk’s Office in Parliament says some trade-offs will be required to maintain the radio and television broadcast of Parliament.

Budget documents reveal the office is under substantial financial pressure and will need to make more than $1 million in savings, representing 8% of its budget, by 2015.

Contracts covering the televising of Parliament are up for renewal next year.

And radio and television broadcasting of Parliament, it transpires, make up more than 10% of the Clerk’s Office’s budget.

The documents say the office will have to look at cutting the cost of its broadcasts to make the required savings.

But why not look at cutting costs elsewhere – like the costs of these jaunts around the world?

Radio NZ told us a bit more about the broadcasting matter.

Good news, too, because it suggests the good people of Eketahuna North will be able to view their much-admired, long-serving member doing his thing at select committee hearings.

The office is also having to investigate extending Parliament TV to cover select committee hearings and says it will carry out a pilot using webcasts to see if it is affordable.

The Clerk, Mary Harris, says the office will trial captioning Parliament on TV and webcasting select committee hearings on Parliament’s website later this year.

For the record, a Christchurch outfit called Tandem Studios has won another yearly contract to record the goings on of Parliament for the inthehouse.co.nz website.

As you will learn here –

Tandem Studios records, reformats and repurposes Parliament’s debates and publishes them on the website in small segments that are easy to find.

The company’s videos on the site have attracted nearly 600,000 individual views of the footage from the House of Representatives over the past three years.

Website users range from university students and academics and legal teams doing research to media and political commentators.

And here’s the bit that’s of special interest to the good people of Eketahuna North.

Viewers can see their local politician in action without having to watch the entire television broadcast, Tandem Studios managing director Dave Dunlay said.

”To capture an online audience, all content must engage, entertain, connect and inform,” Dunlay said.

”And it must be made available to view and share when the online audience wants it, in what is known as a ‘time shifted’ manner, rather than watching it live on television.

”We know that more and more people globally are watching television content online at a time that suits them and the results achieved with inthehouse.co.nz confirm that.”

But while we were learning of these developments with the matter of parliamentary broadcasting, the media had been treating their audiences to news of a $158,000 tour of Europe for MPs.

In the case of National MP Lockwood Smith – more reverently known to Alf over the past few years as Mr Speaker – his wife is accompanying him.

As the Dom-Post reported here –

The cost of the annual Speaker’s tour includes business class fares to Europe and $48,000 on hotel bills and incidentals during a two-week sweep through Britain, Belgium and Croatia.

Four MPs, Smith’s wife, Alexandra, and Smith’s secretary are on the trip.

Smith said his wife was accompanying MPs on the tour because she had a “representational role”.

Mrs Grumble said she is willing to play a representational role, too, and is leaning on Alf to help her get the opportunity.

Mind you, it can’t be easy trying to pass muster with whoever decides which spouse is good enough to play an aforementioned representational role.

Alf makes this observation on noting that other MPs on the trip are National’s Melissa Lee, Labour’s Darien Fenton, Green MP Gareth Hughes and NZ First MP Denis O’Rourke.

But none of the other MPs’ spouses were travelling with the delegation.

Lockwood, by the way, runs a stud farm in Northland.

A local newspaper reported on him and his farm here.

Woodleigh had been run as an Angus stud, but Lockwood realised that he could do little more to improve his father’s herd, so switched to Belgian Blues, a breed that he is enthusiastic about.

But more than a few people have a different beef.

They are complaining about the merits of this trip to Europe.

So what grand purpose is being served by the expenditure of the money involved?

Let’s go back to the Dom-Post for the answer.

Smith announced the trip last week after the group had left and said it would “invigorate” political and historical ties with Europe.

He’s become a dab hand at news management, has Lockwood, as is evidenced by his telling us about the trip after he and his tour party have departed these shores.

That left The Boss with some explaining to do about globetrotting MPs chewing into tight budgets.

He made a fair fist of it.

Prime Minister John Key said the MPs were expected to be “cautious” about what they spend – but he does not have a problem with the total bill.

“Even in very tight financial times it’s worth remembering the Government spends $71 billion a year, so some small expenditure in linking our democracies with others makes sense, but obviously we expect them to be cautious with how they spend.”

Alf is inclined to regard this stuff about linking democracies as a load of bollocks (although he would not say so publicly).

If he had been chosen to go on the trip – with or without Mrs Grumble – his view would be much more favourable.

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