MPs seeking to ramp up expenses

17:00, Jul 25 2014

Would you struggle to find a hotel room in Auckland or Christchurch for under $210 a night? Spare a thought for MPs who believe a $30 boost to their taxpayer-funded accommodation just won't cover it.

The hard-done-by politicians are also asking for 30 free flights a year for their spouses, partners or children - on top of their at-least $150,000-a-year salaries.

A review of expenses by the Remuneration Authority, which sets MPs' pay, is proposing the amount they are allowed to claim for hotel rooms while in Auckland and Christchurch on business be increased from $180 to $210. Outside of those cities it would rise from $160 to $190 a night.

MPs say the hike isn't enough because it now doesn't include breakfast, internet access or parking. But party whips wanted to keep their views under wraps, refusing to release a submission to the authority or confirm details.

Asked questions about the submission, National Party senior whip Louise Upston said permission would need to be sought from all parties and the authority before she would comment.

She later emailed to say: "There has not been unanimous agreement about commenting on cross-party discussions with the Remuneration Authority." She added: "Sorry I cannot be of more help."

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In a copy seen by The Dominion Post, Upston argues that excluding the extra charges from the hotel rate "may have the effect of no change".

The five-star SkyCity Grand in Auckland was advertised at $179 a night yesterday and the Copthorne Hotel in Christchurch at $199. Ministers get $240 a night, and an additional $70 can be approved in "extraordinary circumstances".

Upston also says a recommended cap on the number of free flights for spouses, partners and children over 5 is too low.

The authority had suggested air, train, taxi and ferry expenses for family be limited to 20 one-way trips to accompany the MPs on parliamentary business.

This would rise to 30 trips for ministers' relatives and no limit on the spouse or partner of the prime minister.

Children aged 5 to 17 would be entitled to eight one-way trips a year to Wellington, up from the current limit of four. Under fives would get 20 trips, or 30 if they are the child of a minister.

"Our suggestion is that if a limit is put in place for ministers it should be 40 one-way trips and for MPs it would be 30 one-way trips. We are very concerned about the limit for children under the age of 5 and believe this should remain unlimited," Upston wrote.

Upston, Labour MP Annette King, and NZ First whip Barbara Stewart attended a meeting with authority chairman John Errington on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for NZ First said: "The only people who spoke at the meeting were Louise Upston and Annette King; our interest in going was to report back to caucus. If we feel it needs discussion we will do so in caucus."

Labour's whip, Sue Moroney, said she would speak with Upston before commenting.

UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne knew nothing of the submission. "I doubt I would have supported the two points you refer to."

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