Taxpayers' Union: The allowances for former Prime Ministers are justified

John Key Helen Clark former NZ Prime Ministers
"They're flying the flag, putting the New Zealand view forward, and selling what makes New Zealand so great."

OPINION: The allowances afforded to former Prime Ministers - including an annual $51,725 salary and a taxpayer-funded car, if they choose to accept them - might seem excessive to some.

But as long as they are still doing work on behalf of New Zealand, it's appropriate that they have their reasonable expenses reimbursed. In effect, they're still doing public service.

Prime Ministers are public figures, whether they like it or not, for the rest of their lives. When they are, and when they are representing New Zealand in an international-type role in the NGO sector then it's appropriate that taxpayers bear some of that cost.

They're flying the flag, putting the New Zealand view forward, and selling what makes New Zealand so great.

There is value in having former New Zealand senior politicians like Helen Clark in senior roles at international bodies such as the United Nations, and as long as these allowances and entitlements are being used to further this country's interests in those sorts of ways then it's appropriate.

Once he retires from Parliament, John Key has two options: he could take basically become an ambassador for New Zealand around the world in various forms like Helen Clark has done, in which case we don't think it is unreasonable for taxpayers to bear some of the costs of that.

But of course if Mr Key goes back to business, working for an American bank for example, then it would be totally inappropriate for the taxpayer to cover any costs associated with that.

But we've not seen to date from former Prime Ministers any abuse in that area.

The remuneration and perks of former MPs used to be even more generous, including free domestic travel if you were a long-serving Member of Parliament. Even spouses received one free return trip to London a year.

The problem from a taxpayer perspective is that as much as we dislike it – and there are former MPs that are rorting it - it's difficult to go back and change entitlements retrospectively.

Jordan Williams is the executive director and co-founder of the Taxpayers' Union.