Hike funding

Cuts to Parliament’s funding could hit staff


Comment

As the government’s aversion to increasing the resources of MPs continues, there is a wider debate to be had over what a cut in funds means for their employees who are already in difficult positions, writes Sam Sachdeva.

Analysis: A world where Jacinda Ardern is more stingy than David Seymour when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money might seem like something out of the ordinary The twilight zone — but such are the realities of governing during a cost-of-living crisis triggered by sky-high inflation.

Even in a ‘normal’ political environment, the Appropriations Committee’s latest report – complete with recommendations totaling around $6 million in additional annual funding for MPs – was unlikely to be welcomed with open arms by the government. .

Since the committee’s inaugural report 20 years ago, there has been a tension between its inevitable recommendations for additional funding and the taste for such increases for politicians who fear being accused of self-interest.

In 2002, committee members noted that they had been “influenced by the current climate of budgetary constraints on all public sector spending”, a sentiment echoed in the committee’s 2022 speech on “a modest adjustment reflecting the conditions current economy and budget”.

The purpose of the reviews, at least in theory, is to provide an independent assessment of the shortcomings of the system without forcing politicians to figure out how much they should give themselves.

But in reality, and as with pay decisions made by the Remuneration Authority, parliaments have shown a willingness to step in when they feel a big rise could put them out of the game with the public.

The committee’s latest report in 2018, with a more extravagant argument for $13 million in additional annual funding, was swiftly overturned by the government shortly after publication, with Chris Hipkins proclaiming it “dead in the water”.

The latest edition has also been overlooked: while the ACT leader said he supported the proposed increase in MP funding on the (quite reasonable) grounds of inflationary pressure, the Labor Party emphatically stated that ” now [is] no time to increase funding”, a broad position which, at its extreme, could mean that none of the committee’s proposals are adopted.

‘Innovations’ stretching staff members

It’s an understandable stance given that the government is already hammered for a supposedly spendthrift approach to public finance, while MPs are hardly sympathetic figures to the general public given their high salaries and various benefits – but it is the staff working beneath them who can be most affected by tight purse strings.

The report lists a series of ‘innovations’ used to improve efficiency, such as the ‘sharing’ of staff between MPs’ offices and the hiring of staff with both general and specific skills, which should put more pressure on employees in what is already a difficult working environment.

Indeed, ousted Labor MP turned independent, Dr Gaurav Sharma, cited alleged problems with a split employee among the grievances he has with the party and the parliamentary service.

The Sharma saga actually adds to the committee’s case for changes in some areas, such as three-year funding of $500,000 to the Parliamentary Education Trust to provide “targeted development” to MPs separate from that offered by the Office of the Clerk and the Parliamentary Service.

The report noted “a strong common theme that some independence from parliamentary service and the parliamentary environment would make it more likely for MPs to engage in development opportunities”, and the MP’s assertions from Hamilton West regarding bias within the organization – although they have not yet been significantly substantiated – could fuel this sentiment.

The role of relationship officers, who act as an intermediary between MPs, staff and the parliamentary service, also came under scrutiny after Sharma claimed (again without documentary evidence) that his relations was biased against him.

Just as there is a tension between spending proposals and political attitudes, the desire for greater support for MPs is running into opposition from some to ceding too much control to faceless bureaucrats.

The report notes the possibility of a conflict of interest “when performance issues arise or when there is a breakdown in the relationship between the MP and the staff member”, and says relationship managers appear to be “tense more generally in their work.

Seymour took aim against a suggestion that MPs be allowed to delegate responsibility for running electoral and community offices to the Parliamentary Service, suggesting that anyone unable to negotiate a lease were unfit to represent their constituents.

On the face of it, this argument has some appeal – but the committee’s counterpoint that not all MPs have property management skills is reasonable, and a prolonged search for suitable premises does not appear to be the best use of MPs’ time. ‘a politician.

MPs shouldn’t need to hold hands in perpetuity, but given the ever-widening skill set they’re supposed to have, it seems rude to deny support to those who need it.

The alternative could be semi-regular and avoidable outbursts of disgruntled MPs, coupled with further narrowing of political input to staffers already familiar with navigating the system. This, like funding shortfalls, could prove damaging to our democracy.