Without the Grumbles on board, this jaunt for MPs obviously is just an extravagant junket

The tossers in the NZ Herald’s office in the Parliamentary Press Gallery missed a good angle in their report today about parliamentary travel at the public’s expense.

They seized on the fact that five MPs plus partners will jet off tomorrow on a $138,000 tour of Europe led by Parliament’s Speaker, David Carter.

They failed to note that Mr and Mrs Grumble were not among the chosen couples.

Nor did they bother to ask Alf what he thought about being overlooked – yet again – for inclusion in the annual Speaker’s Delegation that will visit France, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Poland and Germany over 14 days.

Had they bothered to inquire they would have been told that Alf was livid, especially in light of the fact a bloody Green would be going on this jaunt.

Moreover they would have been told the trip was an outrageous junket and a scandalous waste of public money.

Hopefully the reporter would not then have asked if Alf’s attitude would be different if the Grumbles had been included in the jet-setting party.

He might then have been obliged to tell a big fib and say it made no difference, and taxpayers should be thundering their objections in the loudest of terms, although the truth of the matter is that Alf is highly approving of the perks he enjoys and is thoroughly disapproving only of the perks he is denied.

Because he is not included, he is highly sceptical of Carter’s claim that the visit is an opportunity to meet political leaders and strengthen some of New Zealand’s “oldest and most significant contemporary relationships with European countries”.

He further notes, with a high degree of bemusement, that the delegation will also mark important and historic commemorations, including the 98th anniversary of the Battle of Arras in France and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp.

He is damned sure that he could put a map on a wall, throw a dart at it from a distance of five metres, and hit a country where something could be found to be celebrated or commemorated, no matter what time of year if might be.

For the record:

Accompanying Mr Carter will be National’s Deputy Speaker, Chester Borrows, first-term Labour MP Adrian Rurawhe, Green Party foreign affairs spokesman Kennedy Graham, first-term New Zealand First MP Fletcher Tabuteau, and two parliamentary staff.

All the MPs except Mr Rurawhe are bringing their partners, whose costs were covered by Parliamentary Relations, part of the Office of the Clerk of the House.

Parliamentary Relations manager Steve Cutting said the budget for the tour was $138,000, of which $97,000 was for business-class flights.

Some of the costs would be met by the Parliaments of Poland and Germany, which had invited the Speaker to attend events in their countries.

Mr Cutting noted that the estimated budget was less than in previous years. The 2012 Speaker’s Delegation to Britain, Croatia and Belgium cost $158,000.

According to the official itinerary, the MPs will begin their tour in Arras, where they will visit a memorial for 41 New Zealand soldiers killed while constructing tunnel networks for the Allies.

They will then meet trade officials, economists and the French parliamentary Speaker, and visit the OECD headquarters and chateau in Paris.

Later, they will dine in Dublin with honorary consul-general Alan McCarthy and High Commissioner Sir Lockwood Smith, before touring the Irish and Northern Irish Parliaments and visiting the birthplace of former New Zealand Prime Minister John Ballance.

The following week they will meet the Polish Deputy Prime Minister, Janusz Piechocinski, in Warsaw and visit the royal castle and Wawel Cathedral in Krakow. MPs will then visit the Auschwitz death camp before travelling on to Munich and Berlin for further meetings with officials and dignitaries.

The only good that Alf can see is that maybe the delegation will lose the Green MP somewhere on these travels and he will not be able to find his way home.

UPDATE: The Herald today is reporting that Parliament’s Office of the Clerk of the House, which funds the annual Speaker’s Delegation, has circulated a fact sheet on the tour.

It says Parliamentary Relations manager Steve Cutting previously told the Herald that costs for partners, including flights, were covered by the taxpayer. The fact sheet provides more detail.

MPs can use the value of one business class return airfare to enable their partners to accompany them – they can downgrade their airfares and use the savings to help pay for their partner.

Any additional cost associated with members’ spouses or partners accompanying them must be met by members, said Mary Harris, Clerk of the House of Representatives.

“In this respect, there is no additional cost associated with members’ spouses or partners accompanying them than if the member had travelled alone.

“All other costs associated with spouses or partners…including accommodation, meals, transport and incidental expenses is met by members.”

Costs for Mr Carter’s spouse – including a return business class airfare – are covered by the Office of the Clerk, “because of their ceremonial and representational role”.

The latest report explains that the role of spouses and partners participating in such visits is ceremonial and representative, and an accepted aspect on inter-parliamentary exchanges.

“There is an expectation that the spouses and partners of the New Zealand Parliament’s delegation will mingle and engage with their counterparts. Establishing these relationships further enhances ‘soft diplomacy'”.

Mrs Grumble is apt to be very picky about whom she will mingle with without rancour.

Moreover she thinks lots of foreigners are plonkers and she is not one for diplomatic niceties, so she would want to tell them what she thinks of them and their funny customs.

Notwithstanding this demand that MPs and their spouses engage in soft diplomacy, Alf regards it as a junket and is peeved he was not invited. He loves it, when the missus is mingling.

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