MPs’ expenses: What PM Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins election campaigns cost taxpayers

After racking up $36,000 on the Crown limos over the election campaign, National Party leader Judith Collins has all but given them up, saying it was a burden on the taxpayer.

The latest expense returns for MPs show Collins spent just $881 on the Crown car service in the first three months of the year, a further $6000 on transport such as taxis, and $5400 on flights.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s security and logistical requirements mean she cannot opt out of the service, and her ground travel costs – mainly the Crown cars – came to $17,655 over the same period. Ardern spent $6,400 on domestic flights.

A spokeswoman for Collins said she had noticed the high cost of the Crown cars in her first three months in the job – which included the election campaign – and decided to use cheaper forms of transport where possible.

“She considered that a burden on the taxpayers, and so is trying to cut that.”

Collins would still use the cars if appropriate for official reasons or if needed by security, but now used taxis instead for everyday travel, such as to and from airports.

During the election campaign, the police diplomatic protection squad accompany the leaders of both parties and prefer the Crown car service, VIP Transport, to be used.

This election, Ardern used a Crown van instead of a car for her campaign.

The returns highlight the extra cost to taxpayers of that election campaign travel.

Both Ardern’s and Collins’ figures for September to December quarter, which included much of the billing for the election campaign, were much higher than those earlier and after.

Ardern’s travel costs for July to September ($42,500) and October to December ($46,000) last year were at least double her usual spending.

Collins spent more than $50,000 on travel over October to December: also far higher than usual.

While most election-related spending cannot be funded out of the public purse, taxpayers continue to cover the cost of MPs’ domestic travel on the campaign.

That has raised eyebrows before: former PM John Key had to defend the use of the cars by ministers campaigning during the Northland byelection.

The VIP Transport car service can be used by the PM, ministers, the Speaker and the Leader of the Opposition, as well as diplomats and visiting VIPs.

Collins is not the first leader of the Opposition to swear off the limos: until last year, Opposition leaders were charged at a higher rate than Government ministers which made it appear they were using it excessively. That changed recently, and now the same rate applies.

Most MPs who are not ministers had spent less than $20,000 but a handful topped $30,000 – mostly those in the South Island or regions.

Labour’s Dunedin-based Ingrid Leary spent $31,500.

National’s Jacqui Dean had $36,000, Todd Muller $30,850, Todd McClay $30,000, and Stuart Smith $30,800.

The costs of MPs in Northland, regions and the lower half of the South Island have always been higher than other MPs because of the cost of travel.

The credit card releases showed the shift to EV cars in the ministerial fleet: Andrew Little’s credit card included a $6 charge for a fob for electric charging of his new ministerial EV. Of that, $5 was shipping.

At the excessively diligent end of the scale, Megan Woods reimbursed $4.50 for a bottle of water from a hotel mini-bar.

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