The quarterly release of the ministerial and MP expense returns paints an interesting picture of some of our MPs. Most of our ministers, it must be said, seem to have heeded the harsh lesson of Shane Jones. The bright, shining light of transparency means that they now enthusiastically ask the question, “Would I like this expense revealed in the morning paper or the evening news?”
There are though, always a few interesting items every quarter which raise eyebrows throughout the land. This quarter’s prime target seems to be Trade Minister Tim Groser, for indulging in a dish of Chilean sea bass – a slightly impolitic choice, given that the Chilean sea bass (aka the Patagonian or Antarctic toothfish) is endangered, and that New Zealand has been working unsuccessfully for years to establish an Antarctic marine reserve to protect species including the sea bass / toothfish. One can just imagine Mr Groser snapping his fingers and requesting that he brought the most endangered item on the menu…
Foreign Minister Murray McCully though seems the most enjoyable minister to travel with. Wherever he goes, the fine wine flows, in truly prodigious quantities. Just check out his almost 200 pages of receipts here. As Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn notes:
Right there at the beginning (on page 6) we have him billing us to drink Absolut Vodka in his lonely hotel room. And it all goes downhill from there…
Ministers have developed several tricks over the last few years to hide dubious expenditure. Last time, they simply “lost” detailed receipts for expensive dinners, perhaps because they knew what we’d think of what they showed. McCully has a new strategy: charging it all to his room. His hotel bills are full of large charges for Hotel restraunts, far more than normal. And we know he’s not eating in them, because he frequently presents receipts for boozy delegation dinners on exactly the same day. He’s also not dining with his staff, because they’re billing their own meals separately.
In one case (p. 24), he racks up more than US$1,000 of “bar/restaurant” charges in a single night, with no explanation to the taxpayer of what its going on.
In another case (in Trinidad), he spends twice as much on booze as he does on his room, but calls it “accommodation expenses”.
He’s also started dumping his drinking bills on MFAT, as this receipt shows.
The meals that we do see show a large amount of expenditure on alcohol. In Singapore, he has some crab-burgers and $200 of booze, and calls it a delegation “dinner”. At Millbrook Resort in Queenstown he catches a quick “lunch” with his PPS: $71 of food, and $172 of wine.
And remember, we’re paying for this.
Then of course there’s Claudette Hauiti. She’s not a minister, so her Parliamentary credit card records are buried by Parliamentary Services, and Ms Hauiti is steadfastly refusing to waive privilege. Nonetheless, we get to see things like her domestic travel bill – $30,824 between April and June. One can only wonder how a new backbench MP, with no portfolio obligations, could possibly have racked up such a dramatic travel bill. A nation-wide tour visiting those on the Maori roll, perhaps?
The thing is, we as taxpayers are the ones who fund all of this. Groser’s endangered toothfish, the seemingly endless stream of wine and vodka poured down MCully’s throat, Hauiti’s attempt to see the whole of New Zealand from a plane – there go our taxes…