New Zealand = MPs may face more scrutiny of spending
The spending habits of ordinary MPs could become subject to greater public scrutiny if the Official Information Act is extended to cover parliamentary spending as suggested yesterday by Speaker Margaret Wilson.
But MPs may find it hard to agree on the extent to which their spending habits should be official information - such as whether an individual's taxi or air travel expenditure should be disclosed.
Perk-busting Epsom MP Rodney Hide has welcomed the greater transparency, believing an MP's taxi expenditure should be known - but not individual journeys.
Parliament has been exempt from the act since it was passed 25 years ago but Ms Wilson told a law conference in Wellington there was merit in extending it.
"It is of importance because the credibility of Parliament is, to some extent, dependent on the ability of members to conduct their own affairs in a manner that is consistent with the public interest."
The proviso was that communication between an MP and his or her constituent would remain privileged.
However, it is highly unlikely MPs would agree to allow access to detailed information on taxis, air travel, spouses' air travel, accommodation, advertising and other such expenses.
They are more likely to allow such expenditure to be available by party rather than by individual.
Ms Wilson acknowledged there could be a "prurient interest in who takes taxis and how much they cost" and her speech alluded to problems of accountability within Parliament's bureaucrats, the Parliamentary Service.
"It is fair to say that sometimes the reports are opaque and the sums aggregated," she said. "It would, in my view, greatly improve parliamentary administration if there was the discipline of the OIA provisions."
Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen said the idea was something the MPs on the Parliamentary Service Commission could look at.
"It would need cross-party agreement, not something the Government should try to force down the throats of other parties," he said.
"The problem is making sure there's protection of privacy around a whole range of issues."
MPs dealt with a lot of confidential information and people did not want that in the public arena unless there was sufficient protection.
Ms Wilson said two previous attempts to get Parliament's exemption removed had got nowhere.
* The Official Information Act exempts officers responsible for Parliament's administration, as well as the Ombudsman and the Auditor-General, from having to respond to requests for information.
* The exemptions have been criticised as they mean Parliament is not open to the same scrutiny as other public bodies.