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Bridges’ right to travel

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 17 August 2018

At the risk of making myself unpopular, I have absolutely no problem with Simon Bridges’ expenses bill. Except that it was leaked and that some other politicians are trying to turn it into a scandal.

The opposition leader spent much money on travel, mainly on Crown cars. But that is just another way of saying he was doing his job.

Over the past months, Bridges did what we would expect new opposition leaders to do. He visited communities up and down the country, attended countless functions and delivered numerous speeches. Good on him.

The job of Leader of the Opposition should not be performed behind a desk in Wellington. It requires travel, and lots of it. Especially in a country as large and sparsely populated as New Zealand.

Maybe it would have been justified to criticise a politician’s travel bill had he chosen to visit London, Washington, Hong Kong and Paris. Meanwhile, for Mr Bridges the itinerary was Lower Hutt, Waipukarau, Hokitika and Pakuranga. It does not sound quite as glamorous, and I am sure it was not.

And that is the other thing about Bridges’ travel expenses: There can be no suggestion he travelled as much as he did for the fun of it. It was all part of the hard yards of being opposition leader.

Most people who have never been in a job requiring frequent travelling can imagine how draining it is. You are away from both your family and your office. It sucks an enormous amount of your hours. And no matter how nice the hotel room, you still sleep best in your own bed. I am speaking from experience.

That we, as taxpayers, grant our politicians the relative luxury of using a Crown car to perform their duties is a reasonable deal, too. The limousine extends their office where they can think, talk and telephone in privacy. It enables them, the politicians, to work for us, the taxpayers.

And so it is unfair to criticise one of our leading politicians for legally using those services available to him. There is not even a hint of wrong-doing about Bridges’ expenses bill. He did what was right and what he was entitled to.

I would be the first to criticise politicians for actual waste. But a hard-working politician must be defended against sanctimonious accusations.

And Simon Bridges should not hesitate to continue his engagement with New Zealand.

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