MPs close to retiring take trip to China

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 05:00 25/03/2014

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Less than six months out from their retirement, two National MPs are on a 10-day taxpayer-funded trip to China, costing $15,000 a head.

Members of Parliament's foreign affairs, defence and trade select committees are travelling through southwest and central China this week, before heading to Beijing on a trip funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat).

Promoted as an effort to build links in regions that have never been visited by New Zealand political figures, the trip has been dubbed a "last hoorah" for retiring MPs.

Mfat said last night the "indicative cost" of the trip was $75,000, which it had agreed to cover on the grounds that it would provide a "foreign policy benefit" by broadening parliamentary links with China.

The trip is expected to include return business-class flights and five-star hotels.

Opposition MPs on the trip are all senior members of their parties - Phil Goff, David Shearer and Winston Peters, who are all expected to campaign in the coming election.

But National's members of the delegation, John Hayes and Paul Hutchison, are backbenchers who have indicated they will step down at the end of the current term, with the election to be held on September 20.

Hayes, the MP for Wairarapa and chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, said he and Hutchison were keen to "broaden the base of engagement" with China, and he believed the trip would be of value to Parliament after they left.

"You'll see a report that goes back to our Parliament that will be, I hope, useful down the track."

Asked if it was appropriate to take the trip so close to retiring, Hayes said he expected to "contribute" after he left.

"I've spent 40 years contributing to New Zealand, and I intend to continue to do that," he said from Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan province, which borders Vietnam, Laos and Burma.

"You're asking me to sit on my backside and do nothing until September 20.

"Yeah, I could have that choice, but actually I'm out here, making a contribution, which I hope will last into the future."

Jordan Williams, executive director of the Taxpayers' Union, said the trip appeared to be a "10-day meet and greet where they seem to be filling a minivan".

It was unclear what China would get from inviting two MPs who were leaving in six months.

"It seems to be senior politicians, plus two hangers-on, that are there for their last hoorah."

Hayes has been an MP since 2005, while Hutchison has been an MP since 1999, representing Port Waikato until 2005 and Hunua since then.

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Both chair select committees but neither politician has been a minister.

The delegation will inspect a new facility, which can import containers directly from New Zealand, in Xi'an, central China, before meeting counterparts in Beijing.

Asked if it was appropriate to take the trip so close to retiring, Mr Hayes said he expected to "contribute" after he leaves."I've spent 40 years contributing to New Zealand, and I intend to continue to do that," Mr Hayes said from Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan province, which borders Vietnam, Laos and Burma.

"You're asking me to sit on my backside and do nothing until September the 20th. Yeah, I could have that choice, but actually I'm out here, making a contribution, which I hope will last into the future."

Jordan Williams, executive director of the Taxpayers' Union said the trip appeared to be a "10-day meet and greet where they seem to be filling a minivan".

It was unclear what hosts China would get from inviting two MPs who were leaving in six months.

"It seems to be senior politicians, plus two hangers on, that are there for their last hoorah".

Mr Hayes has been an MP since 2005, while Dr Hutchison has been an MP since 1999, representing Port Waikato until 2005 and Hunua ever since. Both have chaired select committees but neither has ever been made a Minister.

- The Dominion Post

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