Let’s celebrate a bit of political togetherness – when it comes to our perks, we MPs can stand as one

Never thought you would hear this from the true-blue Member for Eketahuna North – but Labour’s Ruth Dyson has got something right at long last.

As chairwoman of the select committee that has sorted things out on the important matter of the travel perks we MPs enjoy, and have earned, she has stood up and said the Speaker of the House is the proper authority to set our allowances.

Not an independent body outside Parliament.

Hence we have that rare thing in Parliament: agreement between Government and opposition MPs.

Them tossers at the Law Commission had threatened to upset things by calling for the control of the perks to be switched to the Remuneration Authority.

And so help us, Prime Minister John Key agreed to that potty idea back in 2010.

But hey – things have been sorted out just as they should have been sorted out. Changes to the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill return control of travel and accommodation perks to the Speaker – at least, according to Fairfax Media.

MPS on both sides of Parliament are joining forces to defend the right to set their own unlimited travel perks – despite a Government promise to transfer them to an independent body.

Prime Minister John Key pledged three years ago that the Government would strip MPs of the power to set their own perks. It introduced a bill last year to change the system, under which Parliament’s Speaker determines the widely criticised allowances that give MPs unlimited free travel within New Zealand.

However, MPs on the government administration select committee have gutted the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill – and returned control of travel and accommodation perks to the Speaker. The U-turn has received cross-party support.

The Boss has accepted the changes and said National MPs will vote for the amended bill when it came before Parliament again.

Labour leader David Shearer’s office likewise said his MPs would not oppose the changes.

And Greens co-leader Metiria Turei said her party had agreed to them.

Fairfax goes on to say the Speaker’s power to set the allowances has long been criticised as a case of MPs determining their own perks.

Dunno why that should bother anyone.

But it does.

And so…

A Law Commission report recommending switching control of the perks to the Remuneration Authority was accepted by Mr Key in 2010.

Former Law Commission head Sir Geoffrey Palmer said he was “sad” the recommendations had been overturned.

But that’s because he is no longer an MP, in all likelihood.

Political scientist Bryce Edwards has put his oar in and said he was surprised by the U-turn, because MPs had made such a “big deal” of the proposed switch to an independent body.

“It’s a bad look for it to be coming back to the MPs,” he said.

But it is demonstrably clear that he is not an MP either and hence is in no position to tell anyone what is good or bad for MPs.

The Fairfax report goes on to suggest The Boss had suffered a rush of blood to the head at a weak moment, or some such, back in 2010.

When Mr Key accepted the commission’s reforms, he hailed them as necessary and important – a new direction that increased transparency, accountability and independence.

This transparency, accountability and independence stuff is what Opposition politicians might bang on about when in opposition.

It’s not the stuff Alf wants to hear from the PM.

Nor is Alf convinced The Boss has had a change of heart.

A spokeswoman for Mr Key said this week: “The prime minister has consistently been an advocate for the principle that an independent body should set these entitlements.

“This bill makes further steps in that direction and the prime minister is confident it will be seen as a positive development,” she said.

“Given the nature of the legislation, achieving cross-party support was important – and that has been achieved.”

But one part of the original bill’s reforms remains. The amended version still gives the authority the power to set travel perks for MPs’ family members.

We can’t win ’em all, alas.

But here’s where Alf takes his hat off to Ruth.

Labour MP Ruth Dyson, chairwoman of the select committee that gutted the bill, said it had decided the Speaker was the appropriate body to set the allowances.

Travel to and from Parliament was part of an MP’s job, she said. She hoped the public would understand that “we travel to Wellington because we’re elected to Parliament, not because being in Wellington three days a week is where we would like to be”.

Alf is keen to explain this very thing to his mates in the Eketahuna Club, whenever they challenge him.

Gotta say, however, there is a hint of the consensus between Opposition and Government MPs being broken.

Ms Turei said the Greens had agreed to the changes because the amended bill still represented progress.

However, the party still believed travel allowances should be set by the Remuneration Authority rather than the Speaker, and might propose amendments when the bill was debated again in Parliament.

Alf is confident those amendments won’t get too far.

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