I’m not impressed with Rodney Hide’s apology. It has now become a stock in trade for wayward politicians to apologise and expect the public to forgive.
Early last week I thought we’d got to the bottom of his hypocrisy with the $25,163 of taxpayer money spent on trips for his girlfriend which included a round the world jaunt with him as Minister of Local Government (an extra $25,000 for taxpayers) only to find out later in the week taxpayers also paid 90% of an earlier holiday for the couple in Hawaii. Hide had quietly paid the holiday money ($10,000) back to parliamentary services and hoped no-one would notice.
Enough has been said about the ACT leader’s double standards. Not only did he build his political career on strident criticism of MPs perks but ACT made its name criticising wasteful public spending. Now in the middle of a recession Hide sneakily bypassed the Prime Minister’s directive for ministers not to use their ministerial allowances to take partners overseas. Instead he used his parliamentary allowance as an MP elected before 1999 to achieve the same result. Taxpayers would pay.
Taxpayer subsidised travel for Hide’s girlfriend is more than a worker on the minimum wage could expect to earn in a year and much more than a solo parent struggling below the poverty line. Somehow Hide sees his girlfriend as more deserving of taxpayer support.
After relentless criticism of MPs perks the ACT Party leader stopped the gravy train just long enough to jump on with his girlfriend and then kept telling us we all had to tighten our belts during the recession while he was taking his off.
It’s an interesting commentary on ACT. This is the party which prides itself on policies which demand low taxes, less government spending and expecting individuals be more responsible in their personal lives. However it’s all just window dressing. Like most hardened capitalists they believe the rules of restraint and personal responsibility apply to others. Earlier this year former ACT Party leader Roger Douglas used his parliamentary perks to spend $44,000 on a trip to London to see his son’s family while demanding cuts to government spending in the recession. Double standards again.
More interesting than Hide’s two-faces of personal responsibility were his comments reported at the ACT breakfast fundraiser last week when he criticised John Key as not doing anything as Prime Minister – except launch the national cycleway. Hide complained that ACT did everything but was hated while the PM did nothing and was liked. He went on to say he had no trouble getting his ideas through cabinet. The other ministers were too absorbed in their own portfolios to take much notice apparently.
This is likely to be substantially true. Despite ACT gaining just 3.6% of the party vote at the last election Hide negotiated for himself a very powerful position within Key’s government. As Minister of Local Government he is keen is to push through what Green MP Sue Kedgley calls Rogernomics Part 2. In other words to bring to local government the same user-pays, privatisation, community-destroying policies which Roger Douglas brought to the 1984 Labour government.
Most National MPs are keen on these policies and are happy to see the Epsom MP drive the agenda they know is unpopular with the public. They are happy for ACT to be hated while their smiling assassin John Key avoids public wrath.
Hone Harawira’s misdemeanours are mild by comparison. He was wrong to leave his parliamentary delegation leaderless and head off to Paris for sightseeing. It looked bad because it was bad. And his angry email to Buddy Mikaere was also unacceptable. He reacted angrily when his side trip was questioned and responded with a race-based comment which assumed it was just pakeha criticising his jaunt.
I’ve often been critical of Maori Party MPs who react to race when it’s the behaviour which is wrong. The party’s refusal to criticise Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, its automatic support for the likes of Donna Awatere Huata (former ACT MP and convicted fraudster) and disgraced Labour MP Taito Philip Field (convicted of bribery and corruption) was based on their ethnicity as was Hone’s attack on those criticising his Paris jaunt.
We will always have badly behaving MPs but what we lack is the ability for voters to recall MPs who abuse their position. A petition signed by say 10% of voters in an electorate should be sufficient to force a recall poll which would give an electorate the ability to remove their MP from parliament. Such votes wouldn’t be held lightly and in the cases of Hide and Harawira would probably not be activated.
However simply the existence of the power to recall an MP would be enough to keep most of them a lot more respectful of taxpayers than we’ve seen from recent events.