Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples has continued his run as one of the most expensive MPs, claiming expenses of more than $63,000 in the final quarter of 2012.
MPs and ministers spent a total of $2.6 million on accommodation, air travel and out of town expenses in the three months to December 31, according to parliamentary expense returns released by the Deparment of Internal Affairs today.
MPs excluding ministers spent a total of $1.6m, and ministers spent $1m.
In three of the last four quarterly expense rounds Sharples was only outspent by Prime Minister John Key, who racked up expenses of just under $78,000.
In the three months to September 30 Sharples actually outspent Key, with claims of $77,831, although the Prime Minister claims no Wellington accommodation allowance as he, like Gerry Brownlee, Steven Joyce and Tony Ryall live in homes allocated by the Crown.
Sharples' spending was just $4000 shy of being as much as Foreign Minister Murray McCully and Trade Minister Tim Groser combined.
All up in 2012, Sharples racked up expenses of $285,744. Although Sharples was not in Parliament today, his co-leader Tariana Turia defended the spending.
"I think all it shows is that the Maori Party Ministers work extremely hard, we're very busy, we're around the country constantly so that [level of spending] wouldn't be unusual."
Asked why the spending was so high in comparison to other ministers with major portfolios, Turia said the Maori Affairs Portfolio held by Sharples was extensive.
"You have to understand that Maori Affairs covers every single portfolio," she said.
Sharples said in a written statement: "I am a hard working Minister who travels to all corners of the motu to meet with Maori communities. Some of these places are off the beaten track, and takes hours of travel by car, but it is important that we do see people kanohi ki te kanohi, and continue to work towards engaging Maori communities."
Of the $1.6m total non-ministerial spending, $749,398 went on air travel. The total bill was nearly half what MPs spent in total during election year, when costs soared to more than $3m.
A breakdown of individual MPs' expenses showed air travel costs ranged from $1759 for Wellington-based Green MP Holly Walker to Northland-based MP Hone Harawira's $17,926 bill.
The lowest spending minister in the latest receipts was John Banks, who claimed $11,672 in the final three months of 2012, followed by Peter Dunne at $18,604.
Turia was herself one of the big spenders, claiming $49,342 in the final quarter of 2012, putting her behind only Sharples and Key.
The average National Party minister claimed $37,573 in expenses, while the Maori Party co-leaders averaged more than $56,000 each.
Where do you stand on political coat-tail riding?Related story: Voters reject riding on the coat-tails