Ministers notch up almost $1m in international travel after borders open

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to the media after meeting with President Biden at the White House.Video/Claire Trevitt

After borders reopened, ministers took to the skies again — at a post-pandemic price — with nearly $1 million in international travel revenue in three months.

Trade Secretary Damien O’Connor is the most important person to make up for lost time after two years of border closures, with the April-June trade blitz costing $313,201, which has been published since 2009 The most money spent on international travel by any minister since the cost.

The latest release of MPs’ spending shows ministers spent $925,491 on international travel in the April-June quarter – up from $234,000 in the first quarter of the year when the prime minister had no international travel expenses – returning to pre-Covid-19 levels level almost immediately.

Trade ministers and foreign ministers travel much more than other ministers, and the increased cost of travel following Covid-19 and inflation is an additional and unavoidable factor in the bill.

O’Connor ramped up his travel almost immediately after borders opened, including to Britain, the Middle East, the United States, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan and Europe for trade talks. They are a combination of international summits and trade talks – including visits to the World Trade Organization, securing the EU free trade agreement and signing the UK agreement.

O’Connor had done some limited travel earlier and came back through MIQ.

The previous top spender was former foreign minister Murray McCully, who raised $282,386 when New Zealand joined the UN Security Council between April 2016 and June 2016.

MPs and ministers spending for the April-June quarter was the first since borders were fully reopened and the MIQ was lifted.

The Prime Minister took her first steps abroad, travelling to Australia, Japan and Singapore – her expenses for the quarter were $137,000. She has since traveled to the US, Europe, Australia and Fiji. Ardern’s in-house costs are only $16,707, but she doesn’t have a Wellington accommodation allowance.

A total of 16 ministers travelled internationally, including Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta ($123,185), Chris Hipkins ($75,987) and Phil Twyford ($73,716).

Speakers’ trips to Ireland and Europe are also included in the fee: former speaker Trevor Mallard has $27,178 for international travel. Other MPs include National MPs Judith Collins ($28,716), Barbara Coolig ($20,369) and Labour MPs Duncan Webb ($25,637) and Helen White ($23,102).

The spending report also showed National leader Christopher Luxon had the highest spending of any non-ministerial MP – as is often the case with Opposition leaders, who have a heavy domestic travel schedule. Luxon travels to these areas two to three days a week.

Luxon’s lodging and travel costs were $46,461, of which $32,706 was for domestic flights. He is a moderate user of Crown’s limousine service: he spends just under $5,000 on chauffeur services – less than most ministers. The service is available to Ministers, Opposition Leaders and Speakers. In his first three months as a leader, he spent less than $3,000. He did not travel internationally that quarter, but his trips to Singapore and the UK will be included in the next edition.

Among ministers, Regional Development and Tourism Minister Stuart Nash spent the most on domestic travel and accommodation at $33,236, while Act leader David Seymour spent $22,411. Green Party co-leader Marama Shaw spent $23,958, while Wellington resident James Shaw spent just $5,704.

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