Politicians spend taxpayer dollars. Get over it

by Bill Ralston / 08 September, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - politicians taxpayer dollar expenses

Simon Bridges and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo/RNZ (left) and Getty Images (right)

The argument about Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridge's expenses is a bit silly.

As a nation we really do sweat the small stuff. Take, for example, the recent mini-furore over Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern making one of our RNZAF 757 jets do an extra trip to and from the recent South Pacific Forum in Nauru for, well, baby reasons. The cost of the flight was reported to be about $80,000. Cue shock and horror from much of the media and a sizeable chunk of the grumbling public.

In fact, if she had not spent the $80,000, the money would have been spent anyway. For some reason, the air force feels it has to keep training and practising, and the jet would have been in the air during the time it took to fly the PM to Nauru and back anyway. Besides, there is a VIP travel budget allocated for it and, oh yes, she is the Prime Minister and they are entitled to use air force planes for travel.

It is similar to the silly argument over Simon Bridges’ car expenses. The car was already budgeted for; the new National leader went around the country on a “getting to know you” tour; and leaders of the opposition are allowed to use government cars. Get over it.

Not that National itself has got over it. Not unlike two characters from a cheap detective novel, DI Gerry Brownlee and DS Paula Bennett have been ordered to enquire into who leaked details of Bridges’ expenses.

If you are worried about how your tax dollars are being spent, worry about what the Opposition claims are more than 150 working groups and inquiries set up by the Labour-led Government to investigate, it seems, virtually everything in New Zealand. Their overall cost, by the time the various members and staff have been paid, incurred relevant expenses and reported back sometime in the distant future, will undoubtedly be in the many millions, if not hundreds of millions, of your dollars. That is something a little more difficult to get over.

As is Housing Minister Phil Twyford getting Housing New Zealand to borrow $2.9 billion from the financial markets for Labour’s grand plans to put a roof over everyone’s head. The Treasury mandarins reacted in horror at private borrowing when Twyford should really have extracted the loot from Crown revenues, even though it might imperil the Government’s objective of getting net debt to 20% of GDP within five years. Private borrowing does not show up in the core Crown debt figures.

If you are struggling to follow this, picture a pea under a half walnut shell being shuffled around a tabletop along with two empty shells; try to pick which shell hides the debt. I suspect borrowing from private lenders would be at higher interest rates than those of the Crown, in which case the additional cost of this sleight-of-hand trick falls on you and me.

So does the annual $1.2 billion cost of free tertiary fees for first-year students. There has hardly been a deluge of new students as a result. Having gone through university in the days when the whole thing was free, I can hardly challenge the millennials’ chance to have at least one year gratis. But it’s worth noting that some student organisations were not happy at the move, favouring a more equitable spread of the subsidy across all years of study.

To date, Grant Robertson has proved a competent and level-headed Finance Minister, but he will need the support of his Prime Minister to avoid being railroaded by other populist ministers into new billion-dollar blunders.

This article was first published in the September 15, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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