Perquisite Perpetual

There are times when I sleep through the nightI but such nights are rare. So thank heavens for TV 3, for sacking John Campbell and giving him the opportunity to return to Radio New Zealand. I was beginning to wonder what he was up to until he turned up in my ear-phones in the middle of the night with a wonderful piece of research on Apple, the computer people.

I heard Apple’s boss lecturing what I imagined was a grand hall full of thousands of rapt disciples. His voice was rich, carrying, confident. Here without any doubt was one of the masters of the universe. His message:   to do well, to succeed magnificently, one can also do good.

John Campbell then went on, through a series of riveting interviews, to inform us that Apple, by means of a process charitably known as creative accounting, pays 1% tax to the New Zealand Government. That’s what I call a perk.

Not that I know much about perks. The highlight of my perk career was free morning tea with two plain biscuits thrown in. And then they cut the biscuits out. Not that I’m complaining, we still had tea and (awful) instant coffee. Perhaps it’s my lack of success in this area that makes me think   there’s something not quite right about perks. If it’s true (and I think it is) that there’s no such thing as a free lunch then who is paying?

But it must be hard to give up perks. If your boss has been letting you use a works car for your personal use for a year or two imagine how it would feel if you suddenly had to wait at the bus stop morning and evening. Which is why the thought of perks brings on a feeling of warmth for the beneficiary and often green-eyed resentment for those of us who don’t even get two plain biscuits. It’s like tax really, we like to get away with paying as little as possible while at the same time condemning those who exploit loopholes to the full.

Still, most perks could be described as small beer. The only employer daft enough to hand out insanely generous perks is me, and you, of course, because we all employ our parliamentary representatives.

Until recently I had blocked out the following bitter truth from my mind but an Otago Daily Times piece about travel perks for ex MPs (and their spouses) reminded me. These ladies and gentlemen who once, a long, long time ago, used to be in our employ, managed between them to spend $716,000 taxpayers’ money last year alone.

Even if they are in their nineties and served a mere nine years as members of parliament they are still entitled to thousands of perk money every year, on top of their pensions! The embarrassing part is that we didn’t give it to them. They gave it to themselves on one of those rare occasions when National and Labour were in accord for long enough to get their hands in the money-jar while the rest of the country was sleeping.

   Last year Roger Douglas managed to spend $12, 612 while one of his henchmen, Michael Basset, helped himself to a mere $11,836. The reason I’m peevishly picking on these two is not only personal prejudice, it’s also because they were prime movers in the introduction of GST.

By introducing this tax equally on rich and poor they ensured that for as long as they live 15% of every dollar spent on groceries by poor families will contribute to the privileged lifestyle of these two gentlemen. Now that is the kind of perk that deserves a name like Perquisite Perpetual.

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Chris Horan

Chris is a former social worker, probation officer and Family Court counsellor, living in Hawea in the South Island.