Ministers' limos costing millions

BY COLIN ESPINER
Last updated 05:00 31/07/2009

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The Government's fleet of BMWs is again in the spotlight after revelations ministers have spent $1.5 million cruising the country in the six months to June.

MPs' travel and accommodation expenses have been released for the first time.

The data shows the country's 122 MPs have spent $7.7m on flights, taxis, hotels, and limousines this year.

The Government's 29 ministers (including former minister Richard Worth) spent $3.5m of this total, while the rest of the MPs spent $4.1m on flights, taxis and accommodation.

Parliament's biggest spender was Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully.

McCully clocked up $353,722 worth of flights and accommodation, with the bulk being international travel.

Prime Minister John Key was second on $300,000, followed by Trade Minister Tim Groser on $273,000 and Corrections Minister Judith Collins on $188,981.

Labour leader Phil Goff spent $124,480, and ACT leader Rodney Hide, who is also a minister, $101,484.

Parliament's most frugal MP is Wellington-based National MP Katrina Shanks, who has spent just $10,000 this year.

MPs from all parties justified their spending yesterday as prudent.

Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith, who released the information, said most expenditure appeared reasonable.

MPs who lived a long way from Wellington or who were in demand for speaking engagements were expected to have higher expenses, he said.

He said he would monitor several areas of expenditure, but he refused to provide details.

However, the cost of the ministerial fleet has raised eyebrows, including those of Key.

Internal Affairs bought 34 luxury 7-series BMWs last year to replace the Government's ageing fleet of Ford Fairlanes.

Running the BMWs has cost $1.54m this year more than double the $659,844 ministers spent on domestic air fares.

Ministers' land transport cost more than the taxi bill for all 122 MPs.

Key told The Press yesterday he was astounded at the $172,000 cost attributed to him for car use, which dwarfed his $37,991 air fare bill.

"On that basis, I should just buy a car and hire a driver, or get a Corporate Cab although there may be security issues with that," Key said.

His office said the high cost was because a Crown car was assigned to Key at all times, whether or not he needed it. He also had a second vehicle for police and security officers.

A spokesman for Internal Affairs, which runs the fleet, said the cost reflected running an operation day and night, with drivers on call, plus maintenance costs.

All ministers spent more on the BMWs than on domestic air travel in most cases, more than double.

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Green MP Metiria Turei questioned the high cost, and whether ministers could use taxis on shorter trips or around town.

"Now that we have the actual expenses revealed ... there can be an assessment of efficiencies that could be obtained."

However, Labour's Trevor Mallard defended the cost of the fleet, saying the vehicles were necessary for security.

"As a former minister, there are a lot of conversations, internationally important conversations, which happen, and you've got to have SIS [Security Intelligence Service]-cleared drivers.

"Having people employed in that way is expensive."

The Speaker said he had nearly halved the cost of his office by using his own car between his Northland home and Auckland. He had stopped using a BMW to and from Auckland Airport to spare the high cost.

Last year, former prime minister Helen Clark was criticised for sending a Crown car on an 800-kilometre journey to Nelson from Christchurch rather than using a local vehicle.

Officials said security was the reason.

- The Press

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