MPs and pay rises

While the nation's MPs enjoy a Christmas bonus - in the form of backdated pay rises - many New Zealanders are heading into the festive season with little to cheer them. Redundant workers who have lost jobs locally and nationally this year, and those struggling to make ends meet on the minimum wage, could be forgiven for feeling hard done by.

Prime Minister John Key said he was ''comfortable'' with the independent Remuneration Authority's confirmation of a 1.9% pay rise, to be backdated to July 1, which he described as ''small'' and ''in line with the national average, maybe slightly lower''. The authority said MPs' pay had not kept pace with increases in the cost of living or general wage movements, partly at the request of Parliament and partly because the authority took into account ''adverse economic conditions''.

The MPs' back pay provides a Christmas ''present'' of $1400 for backbench MPs and $3895 for the Prime Minister. The pay increase takes a backbench MP's annual base pay from $141,800 to $144,600. Mr Key's pay goes from $411,510 to $419,300 and Opposition Leader David Shearer's base salary rises from $257,800 to $262,700.

In comparison, Statistics New Zealand figures show the average annual household income from wages and salaries in New Zealand is just over $82,000. The average annual personal income for those on wages and salaries is just over $46,000. And it is worth noting not all the country's workers will have received pay increases this year - or in previous ones.

But MPs often receive short shrift from a public demanding accountability, particularly when it comes to the public purse and getting value for money. Is the inevitable annual public criticism fair? Many MPs start their days as early as 5am and finish as late as midnight - particularly when there is travel involved. They attend numerous public engagements, are available to the public through their electorate offices, hear and act on complaints, are involved in electorate issues and advocacy, promote Bills, many have significant ministerial portfolio responsibilities for which they must keep up to date and be constantly available for comment, and they spend considerable time on their duties in the House.

They face constant time in the public eye, with their every move - personal as well as political - under constant scrutiny. When they manage to make it home to their families at weekends, it is more than often with a pile of paperwork in hand. There is no doubt political life often comes at a considerable cost to MPs and their families. While there have been perks seen as compensation - particularly around travel and accommodation - these issues are being addressed in the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, which seeks to establish a new framework for setting entitlements for MPs and the executive. A report on the Bill from the Government Administration Committee is due at the end of March next year.

While the jury will likely remain out when it comes to whether MPs' pay is justified for the work they do - and particularly when their decisions are found unpalatable by the public -

people should at least consider the opposing view, too.

And another thing
Confirmation this week that a safety review by the New Zealand Transport Agency into the one-way state highway system through Dunedin has been welcomed by some. Less welcome, however, is the agency's reluctance to disclose details of the review or its expected completion date. Public interest in the review is significant in the wake of the crash that claimed the life of a cyclist on Cumberland St last month, and a similar one at the intersection of Anzac Ave and Castle St in November 2011 in which another cyclist died.

Both cyclists were killed after collisions with trucks on the one-way systems. Letters from the public poured into this newspaper in the wake of the most recent accident, many listing suggestions about safer cycling infrastructure for the city. The agency's decision to withhold details raises suspicions the review may only pay lip service to public concerns - and be a waste of time and money.