More cash dished out for MPs' housing expenses

STACEY KIRK AND ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 17:53 22/08/2014

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MPs appear to have been gifted a tax-free back-door pay rise - with a $28,000 lump sum payout for housing costs.

Fairfax revealed details of the new perks for MPs earlier this week, which the authority has now officially released. 

Until now MPs have been reimbursed for what they spend on Wellington accommodation, up to $24,000 a year.

But  from September 21 - the day after the General Election - incoming MPs will have that allowance boosted by $4000 to $28,000.

Ministers and Parliament's Speaker are entitled to a $41,000 payout - that's up from the current $37,500. 

Authority chair John Errington confirmed that whatever was not spent on housing or utilities, the MPs could keep, because it was effectively an allowance.

He said the limits were determined through extensive research of current housing and rental prices, what other Westminster-type parliaments provide for their members, a thorough review of services currently provided, and consultation with various groups of MPs. 

One-bedroom flats in Thorndon are listed on Trade Me from $260-$330 a week, costing between $13,520 and $17,160 a year.

Errington said often, temporary and serviced apartments were more appropriate than long-term accommodation, and that could be more expensive.

MPs who choose to share Wellington accommodation would get a reduced payment. Two MPs in the property would get about $39,000, three would split a payout of about $50,000 and four or more just over $61,000.

“Members of Parliament are recognised as having two distinct places of work and should not be expected to have to meet work-related costs from their own pockets," Errington said.

The changes also include an increase in the amount able to be spent on hotel rooms, though not as much as the MPs would have liked.

Errington said MPs were required to travel an extensive amount. 

"They must be constantly available to constituents, the general public, and the media in a way not required of most other groups. 

‘‘The pressures on ministers and the prime minister are especially demanding. As a consequence, members and ministers have much less of the family life other New Zealanders take for granted, often over a long period of years. 

"Some limited family-friendly measures designed to recognise that reality are provided for,” he said.

The rules around travel perks had been tightened, but spouses, partners or children of MPs will now get 20 free flights a year. The authority, however, rejected MPs' requests that this be raised to 30 flights.

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“This is a departure from the current arrangements which have unlimited travel for partners, and limited restrictions on the travel purposes”, said Errington.

The review comes after new legislation on politicians' remuneration was enacted last year. The authority gave MPs a 2.2 per cent rise on their base salaries in November.

A backbench MP gets about $150,000 a year and a Cabinet minister just under $270,000.

Accommodation perks were formerly set by the Speaker and the minister responsible for Ministerial Services, and travel allowances by the prime minister. Another review will take place in 2016.

- The Dominion Post

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