MPs' attendance records revealed

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 05:00 28/01/2014

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Lazy MPs will have their attendance recorded - and made public - from today.

Parliament has adopted a roll call to show how many MPs – who earn at least $147,800 a year - turn up for debates, select committees and other business.

And as well as being named and shamed, those who skip more than three sitting days will have their wages immediately docked by 0.2 per cent. For a backbencher this would be $295.

MPs also face suspension if the Speaker judges their absences "grossly disorderly conduct."

Parliament resumes today after a seven-week summer break.

Clerk of the House of Representatives Mary Harris yesterday sent out a memo to all MPs reminding them of the new rule, which was agreed to early last month.

Attendance will be recorded by the Serjeant-at-Arms or committee clerks. An MP must have attended a debate in the House, a select committee meeting, participated in an inter-parliamentary relations programme visit or some other kind of approved "official business".

Permission to be absent must be granted by a party leader, whip or the Speaker.

The names of absentees without permission will be published in a weekly journal.

In the memo Harris warned: "Simply being within the parliamentary precincts does not constitute attendance."

A record of attendance was kept until 1985, but dumped as politicians became unhappy about media coverage of their truancies.

The Speaker then Gerard Wall delegated the power to grant leave to party whips, and since then each party has kept its own records.

In 2011, Parliament’s Standing Orders – or rules – committee recommended a roll call should be published and the $10-a-day penalty for unauthorised absence be increased to a more "effective" fine.

The committee, which reports once a term, cautioned: "The House would be brought into disrepute if members were seen to be able to simply abandon their duty to it without penalty."

The House sits for 6.5 hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and four hours on Thursdays – and there are 84 sitting days this year.

The Government can also asked for extended sitting hours to pass pressing legislation.

MPs take turns to be present in the House, but are also expected to attend select committee and other meetings.

However, those worried the new rules will make their schedules too demanding can take comfort in the fact that Parliament goes into recess on Thursday, meaning they aren’t required in Wellington next week.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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