MPs may get $4000 more for housing

Government ministers will get close to the median wage in housing perks after yet another review of expenses.

The Remuneration Authority, which sets MPs' pay, is proposing increasing a Wellington housing allowance for the Executive by $3500 to $41,000. MPs will get an extra $4000 to take theirs to $28,000.

The median weekly income is $844. Ministers will get $789 a week to put to their housing costs. Some out-of-town MPs, including Energy Minister Simon Bridges, own a Wellington property. They can use the cash to pay the interest on their mortgage.

A backbench MP earns about $150,000 a year, which rises to about $250,000 for ministers.

Public Service Association president Richard Wagstaff said doctors, nurses and hospital clerical staff had received a wage rise of just 0.7 per cent. Other civil servants were fighting for between 1 and 2 per cent raises.

"That's more than a 10 per cent increase," he said. "The Government says the economy is growing and working New Zealanders can expect those improvements to flow through to them. On the other side of their mouth, they say to their government departments: ‘You've got to cut spending and are not to give out wage rises.'

"And then they go and accept significant rises in their housing allowances. It's a double message and I'd say our members will be very despondent."

The authority sent its proposals to MPs earlier this week for consultation, in line with legislation passed last year. Chairman John Errington said it hoped to make a determination by mid-August. Its recommendations also bump up perks for MPs who choose to stay in hotels while in Wellington.

They can claim up to $190 a night, up from $160, to a maximum of $28,000. Ministers can claim $240 a night. In Auckland MPs get $210 a night for a hotel, and an extra $70 can be approved in "extraordinary circumstances".

The Speaker and Deputy Speaker will also be entitled to $41,000 a year.

There will also be changes to travel perks for MPs' families. Spouses and partners get air, train, taxi and ferry expenses for "any purpose except personal business purposes".

The authority suggests this be limited to 20 domestic one-way trips a year to accompany the MP on parliamentary business. This would rise to 30 trips for ministers' relatives, and no limit on the spouse or partner of the prime minister.

Spouses of ministers and the Speaker can use a chauffeur-driven car "at any time". This also applies to the leader of parties with 25 or more MPs.

Children aged 5 to 17 would be entitled to eight one-way trips a year to Wellington (up from four). Under-5s would get 20 trips, or 30 if they are children of a minister.

Finance Minister Bill English said the authority made decisions on pay, not politicians, and he could not say whether ministers were struggling to pay Wellington rents.

"All I know is that the public didn't like it when politicians made the decisions about it," he said. "Now that has shifted and they have got an objective third party making the decision. We all have to wear those decisions."

The Dominion Post