Tuesday, 15 Jun 2021

Budget 2021 reveals $28 million hit to the National Party, and what Labour gained

The National Partytook a $28 million hit to its Parliamentary budget after its election result saw it drop from 55 to 33 MPs.

Budget documents show how the mixed fortunes of the political parties in the election changed the funding for each party to run their parliamentary operations compared to the 2017-2020 term.

The funding is based on the number of MPs the parties have, and is used to staff MPs’ parliamentary offices and the Leader’s office – including research and media staff, as well as to promote policies through advertising.

The MPs’ pay is not paid out of it.

National’s loss of 22 MPs meant its funding for the next three years dropped from almost $70 million last term down to $42 million for this term: a drop that meant it has had to shed a large number of staff after the election.

Labour’s election success saw it gain an extra $23 million, and has almost $70 million in funding. That is only for the Labour leader’s office and MPs – not for the running of the Prime Minister’s office, or Cabinet.

Te Paati Māori’s two MPs get $2.5 million to run on.

The Act’s Party’s move from one to 10 MPs saw it get an extra $8.7 million – and now has a total of $10.4 million. The Green Party also nudged up by about $3 million to $9.4 million.

The parties have wide discretion in how to use the funding, provided it is considered for parliamentary purposes: that includes promoting party policies and views on issues.

National’s whip Matthew Doocey said the crunch had seen it take steps such as putting MPs into “hubs” with staff working for more than one MP to try to free up funding for research and communications. With fewer staff to help out, it also meant MPs had to do more themselves:

“If you don’t have a big team of staff to rely on it does become a matter of personal responsibility in a smaller team, the MPs have to do more of that heavy lifting. At times when resources are thinner, some people take that on board and excel in those conditions.”

During a three-year term, taxpayer funding can be used by parties to develop policies and to promote and advertise those policies as well as its MPs, as long as it does not amount to direct electioneering such as asking for votes.

In the regulated period (three months before an election) the use of taxpayer funding is much more restricted and can only be used for very basic advertising, such as for MPs’ regular constituency clinics.

The documents also include the first tranche of funding for a new Parliament buildings development the Speaker is planning to house MPs and staff.

There is an initial injection of $7 million, which Mallard said was to cover initial design and consenting work for the project. Mallard’s plan is for two new buildings to be built on Parliament’s grounds alongside the Beehive and Parliament House to house ministers, MPs and staff.

The funding for the buildings, which Mallard has estimated at up to $200 million, would not be allocated until next year’s Budget.

That development was decided on after the decision was made to vacate the multi-storeyed Bowen House, which is due to have earthquake strengthening work, and give up the lease.

Mallard has argued it is better value in the long-term for Parliament to own its own buildings. A similar earlier development was put up by former Speaker David Carter, but was scotched by NZ First as part of its coalition deal with Labour in 2017.

The cost of that development is now expected to have increased from $100 million to almost double that.

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