Taxpayer Union versus Mojo Mathers

The Taxpayer Union criticism of an 800 km trip by Green MP to talk on “a small provincial radio station” has raised some ire and discussion. NZ Herald reports in Green MP’s 800km taxpayer-funded trip questioned:

The Green MP says the 800km trip on the taxpayer dollar was essential, but a taxpayer group queries whether it was fiscally and environmentally responsible.

On Friday, Parliament’s only deaf MP flew from Christchurch to Wellington, then drove to Masterton, to participate in ArrowFM’s Wheels on Fire programme for people with disabilities.

ArrowFM is one of 12 Community Access Radio stations in New Zealand, and the only community station in Wairarapa. Its audience is not known, but its Facebook page has 132 “likes”.

The Taxpayers Union has been unnecessarily snarky.

“It’s amazing that she has so little to do with her time to actually travel to a community radio that probably has as many listeners as you can count on your hand,” director Jordan Williams said.

“The only silver lining is that the time spent travelling to go on the station in the middle of nowhere is less time spent dreaming up new ways to spend tax payers money.”

This leaves Taxpayers Union open to accusations of this being a partisan attack, an inevitably this is what has happened. One example:

Andrew Campbell ‏@Andr3wCampbell 

Are people with disabilities in rural communities questioning the trip? Or just a @NZNationalParty aligned operative?

Mathers explains her side of the story.

Last night Ms Mathers said the journey was a necessary expense because it was “almost impossible for me to do live interviews over the phone”.

She needed to be face-to-face with the interviewer in order to lip read, she said, especially for a one-hour show.

“As the only disabled Member of Parliament it is really important I represent disabled New Zealanders, which make up one in five New Zealanders,” she said.

“MPs do have to fly a fair bit to get out to our communities. All Green MPs offset our air travel and try to minimise it as much as possible.

“I consider all requests to meet very carefully, including this one, and I felt it was really important to take this opportunity to speak to disabled New Zealanders living in rural communities.”

Fair points. But because she has special considerations due to her disability and her focus on advocating for people with disabilities shouldn’t rule out questioning whether Mather’s trip was sensible use of travel expenses.

Were the trip expenses solely for this one purpose? Was it good value for money?

Could this trip have been done at a more sensible time, for example while Mathers was already in Wellington on other business?

It’s worth also pointing out that other MPs incur substantial travel costs, often of far more questionable benefit to the taxpayers.

For example over the past couple of weeks a number of MPs (from Labour and National that I’m aware of) have been flying around the country from one university orientation week to another. They may claim to be communicating with constituents but a large amount of focus seems to be on promoting their parties and trying to recruit youth members.

It’s fair to question Mathers on how wisely she was incurring costs – if this questioning was done in a more reasonable manner it would be taken more seriously.

But picking this one trip out of the many MP travel rorts seems odd and unfair.

UPDATE: To clarify – this story was not initiated by the Taxpayers’ Union, it was  Herald story and Jordan Williams was asked to comment off the cuff, which he did.

UPDATE 2: More details…

5 Comments

  1. Pongo

     /  March 2, 2014

    The taxpayer union raises some very good points and it’s quite pertinent to ask why a highly paid MP has enough time on her hands to spend a whole day travelling to do a short interview to a very small audience, especially we also fund her to work in Wellington 3 days a week. It’s not the BBC it could easily have been pre recorded and I want to know if matters even asked that question before picking the taxpayers pocket.

    • It’s a fair question but poorly handled and ignores a whole range of potentially unwise use of MP travel.

  2. Oops, just FYI, you’ve misattributed ‘Musings on the Taxpayers Union’

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