More on Expenses

August 2nd, 2009 at 12:04 pm by David Farrar

So many stories and issues to respond to. First we have:

The Green Party has renewed its call for travel allowances for former MPs to be cut. …

Act MP Sir , who took his wife on an overseas holiday, put 90 per cent of the air fares on taxpayers. …

Present and former MPs elected before 1999 receive a 60 per cent discount on travel after nine years of service, after 12 years they get 75 per cent and after 15 they get 90 per cent off.

There is no compelling public policy rationale to have subsidised for former MPs. A case could be made for former PMs and GGs (as they get so many speaking offers and charity requests) but there is none for former MPs as a group.

Hence it was a good move that in 1999, Parliament changed the rules and that any MPs elected from 1999 onwards do not qualify for the subsidy.

Despite the popularity of such a move though, I do not support the Greens position which is to apply the change retrospectively to those elected before 1999. The subsidy was part of the terms and conditions they got elected to Parliament on. Now sure removing the subsidy from them would be hugely popular, but it sets a precedent that it is okay to change the rules retrospectively on other issues.

I do think it was politically unwise of Sir Roger to use the perk, once he was back in Parliament. When you are a former MP you don’t have to worry about what the public think, but having re-entered Parliament you do. In fact if he had not re-entered Parliament we would not even know of the trip.

There is a fairly strong case that now get broken down to each MP, so should the subsidies for former MPs. Either way though, as the subsidies have now been stopped for future MPs, the cost of this perk will only reduce over time.

The Press editorial welcomes the new transparency and says generally most expenses are justified. The do say:

It was revealed that Key had run up $172,000 using Crown cars. The Prime Minister’s astonishment at this figure, itself another positive feature of opening the books, and the overall cost of the limousines should cause a rethink of whether they are the most cost-effective way for ministers to travel. Key’s own high car cost is influenced by the reality that, for security reasons, he must travel with two cars, although even this is more modest than the lengthy motorcades of other world leaders. But it might be a better use of resources for more junior ministers to use taxis more often.

Actually it would probably cost taxpayers more if they did this. It all comes down to the difference between fixed and marginal costs. VIP Transport has a number of cars and drivers available. If a Ministers needs to use them, the marginal cost is minimal – petrol and wear & tear. Definitely cheaper than the $2.50/km a taxi charges.

However the DIA have a book keeping charge of $90 per hour or so, for use of VIP Transport, to reflect the capital costs of the cars and the staff drivers.

The problem is that demand for transport by Ministers is uneven. During the working day there may be little use, while Monday morning and Thursday evening there could be 20 cars in use all at once.

So there is no cost saving in using a taxi when a VIP car is sitting in the Beehive basement with a driver being paid regardless of whether he is driving or not. That will cost the taxpayer more money.

To reduce the costs, you would have to reduce the number of cars and drivers in the fleet, and that would mean a decision that some Ministers would not be able to access VIP Transport at times of high demand. And maybe that is what will happen one day, but it will also mean that those Ministers will not be able to have secure conversations while being transported, and in my experience many Ministers do spend most of their trips returning calls on the phone or discussing issues with staff. No easy answer here.

Talking of VIP Transport, Whale Oil has blogged about the mystery of Darren Hughes seen using Ministerial BMWs recently.

Now we have the story around Bill English’s accommodation, which a witty sub-editor captioned “An English Man’s Home is Our Castle”.  Before I talk about this seriously, I should mention that as Bill was being interviewed by the Herald about this, I was with a group of media and press secretaries an we noted Bill was doing his normal arm gestures. I decided to translate these and started a running commentary “And the swimming pool is going to go here, and over here will be the tennis court, and up here the golf putting range and finally we plan to replace the road with a moat. Heh.

Bill, as Deputy Prime Minister, would in fact normally live in Vogel House – currently valued at $4.7 million on Woburn Road. But the Governor-General is squatting there at the moment. If it were not for that, this issue would not even have arisen.

Here is how I see it. Bill is the MP for Clutha-Southland. He has a home on his farm in Dipton. At some stage after he became an MP (I can’t recall when), Bill’s wife and six kids moved to Wellington so they had more time together as a family.This does not make him a Wellington based MP. In fact the law is explicit on this – s72(6)(b) of the Electoral Act states the place of residence shall not change because a person “is absent from that place for any period because of his or her service or that of his or her spouse, civil union partner, or de facto partner as a member of Parliament”.

The backbench MPs Wellington accommodation expense limit of $460 a week is designed to allow an MP to have a small apartment in Wellington, or stay three nights a week in a hotel room. It does not cover having a family home in Wellington, let alone one for a family of eight. So Bill and Mary have been paying rent and/or mortgage costs on having a Wellington home on top of their Dipton home (and yes they do still spend time there).

Now as I said the MPs Welington expense limit of $460 a week is not meant to cover an MP living in Wellington. It is to give them a place to sleep during the week when the House is sitting.

Ministers are different. Many, if not most, Ministers are required effectively to be in Wellington most of the year, and unless they like getting divorced, their families often move to Wellington also. That is why they get Ministerial Houses.

MPs spend three days a week in Wellington around 30 weeks a year (and select committees sometimes on top). Ministers spend close to five days a week, 46 weeks a year. Again that is why they get Ministerial Houses.

Now Ministerial Services owns some properties, and rents others. John Key has, I believe, introduced a rent cap of $700 a week for renting properties for Ministers. AFAIK there was no cap previously.

Now ideally should rent out the home he owns, in Wellington (for which he paid most of the cost) and move into a Ministerial Services provided home. As I said, he would normally be offered Vogel House (valued at four times his current residence).  This would avoid any hint of him being seen to gain money from being a Minister by having Ministerial Services rent a property he owns back to him.

But his explanation of why he did not want to move house again is pretty good. Having previously rented, they had moved house four times in the last two years and so they decided to purchase it (through their family trust) and he isn’t keen on putting the family through another move.

Bill actually could make more money if he moved into a Ministerial Services home, and rented his Wellington property out as it is quite possible he could rent it for more than $700 a week. Seven bedroom properties tend to cost a lot. So he is not financially benefiting from staying put.

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68 Responses to “More on Expenses”

  1. Ferdinand (93 comments) says:

    Bill actually could make more money if he moved into a Ministerial Services home, and rented his Wellington property out as it is quite possible he could rent it for more than $700 a week.

    So I should appreciate the fact he’s only ripping taxpayers off for $1k a week because he could engage in an even bigger rort if he wanted to?

    [DPF: Explain how providing the Deputy PM with a Ministerial residence is a rip off. Helen Clark owned a property in Wellington. Should she have lived there instead of Premier House?]

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  2. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    I think people should back off on Bill English.

    When it comes to politics, he’s been a pretty ineffectual performer who has most often, when he came to any political fork in the road, taken the Progressive track as opposed to the Conservative. For this, I’m hostile to him.

    However there’s one thing I have always said about Bill English and its why I come to his defence on this issue. He is a fundamentally decent and honest man. To a degree that is rare amongst politicians.

    “But but but but, how can he be “fundamentally honest” when he is rorting the system,” I hear those pure as driven snow critics asking.

    Because it is the system that is wrong. I defy anyone critical of Bill English to state that if they were not in his position that would not do the same.

    Bill English keeps his wife and children with him in Wellington, far from their family house in Southland. Bill’s family is important to him.

    If he had not bought the house in Wellington, he would be paying a similar amount in rent. So Bill is not actually taking any money he is not entitled to. The complaint is that he’s using it to enrich himself and not some landlord.

    I assert that there is probably not one writer complaining of Bill’s arrangements who would not do as Bill has done if he had the opportunity.

    There might be a need to fix a problem, but bashing Bill English is not the way to do it. The root of the matter is the rule system relating to accomodation subsidies. It might need to be changed.

    To me, in the end, this is all so much trifling bullshit.

    Here’s what people should really be screaming for-

    1) an immediate reduction in the number of MP’s to fourty, and an assessment every electoral term as to whether or not their position is justified.

    2) Term limits. No more than two terms for any politician.

    3) A fixed salary that includes a bulk amount for expenses and the MP is free to spend it as he wishes.

    Beating up Bill English is futile. His circumstance is merely the tip of the iceberg. The NZ public has been increasingly looted by self interested politicians for too long.

    Time perhaps for a new party that has as an election platform the promise to clean things up, reduce the number of MPs, cut all expenses and rorts (especially the super and travel allowances that occur after MPs have completed their terms) and then have new elections.

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  3. Patrick Starr (3,674 comments) says:

    Without a doubt the biggest rort in the parliamentary system is Jim Anderton getting an extra $200k p.a for not calling himself labour.
    Although I hate quoting anything from McCarten he gives a token paragraph on it in the HoS this morning

    “Sir Roger’s old nemesis, Jim Anderton, collects a bigger salary and a support budget of about $200,000 a year as a party leader, even though he’s a parliamentary party of one and has told what’s left of his party members to join the Labour Party. He’s a Labour MP in every sense and, in my opinion, only remains a separate entity on paper so he can claim more of our tax money.”

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  4. joe90 (273 comments) says:

    Lottsa words DPF to tell me that these pricks have their snouts in the trough but where’s the outrage, or is it reserved for women on benefits?.

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  5. andrei (2,570 comments) says:

    You can’t spin Mr English out of this DPF – not even by burying your justification of him at the bottom of a post on other matters.

    Haven’t we heard a lot of blathering about the “entitlement mentality” in recent days. Well it is alive and well amongst Politicians. Its just that their “entitlements” are far greater than anybody else’s it seems.

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  6. ernesto (257 comments) says:

    Is paying English $1000 per week on top of his $300k PA salary so his kids don’t have to move again a ‘nice to have’ or ‘need to have’ policy? He could have foregone the $1000 as a display of his belief in restraint and cutting excess. He is clearly a hypocrite of the highest order.

    [DPF: The expense would be incurred regardless of whether or not he moved. What you are saying is that he should donate his expenses back. By this rationale you would volunteer to not claim back any travel expenses you incur when travelling on behalf of your employer, as a sign of restraint]

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  7. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    but..but..dpf..!

    i remember you screaming blue murder ‘cos the greens rent houses from a trust that is their super scheme..(i know..!..i know..!..far too ‘sharp’..)

    ..but .. here you are defending english changing the name on the title of his house..that he has owned since 2003…

    ..so he is eligible for an extra grand a week..on top of the quarter mill + he already gets..?

    ..whoar..!

    ..eh..?

    (how about..as suggested elswhere..we recognise english lives in wellington..(‘cos he does..really..eh..?..y’know..!..schools and all that..?..)

    ..and that means no eligibility for an out of town ‘entitlement’..

    ..and he gets his expenses reimbursed..for travelling to service his electorate..?

    ..now..how much would that ‘save’..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  8. YesWeDid (1,048 comments) says:

    Wow DPF, you have spun this one so much that I almost feel sorry for Bill.

    Funny how you ‘forgot’ to mention that Bill transferred the ownership of his house to his wife so that he could claim the money, didn’t you think that was important??

    [DPF: The ownership has always been with a family trust it seems.]

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  9. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    Anyone else find it galling that all of these left wing bludgers and takers dare to be critical of Bill English.

    They are the very people who have turned elections in NZ into a sick undemocratic farce where one sector of the population votes to steal the other sector’s money.

    If you want to criticise Bill English you first have to have integrity yourself.

    I suggest that social welfare bludgers and socialists at large are generic parasites and have no such integrity and are therefore being gross hypocrites by criticising Bill English.

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  10. ernesto (257 comments) says:

    [DPF: The ownership has always been with a family trust it seems.]

    Be good to see evidence rather than conference rumour. Still this is an issue of principle over entitlement. English should be straight up like Key was over the Cabinet spouses travel issue. He is such a hypocrite.

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  11. ernesto (257 comments) says:

    DPF: By this rationale you would volunteer to not claim back any travel expenses you incur when travelling on behalf of your employer, as a sign of restraint

    Isn’t that exactly what John Key has done in respect of his wife’s travel. I think English has to be more principled as part of a Minister of Finance urging unprercedented restraint and avoidance of excess.

    [DPF: It is worth noting that John did introduce a limit for rent for Ministerial Houses, and also initiated the request for no pay increases this year for Minister, and cut back on a few other perks for Ministers IIRC. None of them will save a huge amount of money but they were designed to say we are showing restraint.]

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  12. joe90 (273 comments) says:

    So family trust assets don’t have to be declared as a pecuniary interest?.

    [DPF: No - only the existence of the trust]

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  13. Inventory2 (10,301 comments) says:

    @ Philip Ure – you’re the last person who should be raising faux outrage over rorts Phil ;-)

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  14. Ferdinand (93 comments) says:

    [DPF: Explain how providing the Deputy PM with a Ministerial residence is a rip off. Helen Clark owned a property in Wellington. Should she have lived there instead of Premier House?]

    If it was clearly her primary abode. Yes. But it wasn’t.

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  15. ben (2,377 comments) says:

    There is no compelling public policy rationale to have subsidised for former MPs. A case could be made for former PMs and GGs (as they get so many speaking offers and charity requests)

    The groups who want the former PM and GG to speak should pay the airfare. That’s how it works for everybody else. There’s nothing that makes former PMs the exception. Yes, there will be charity groups who cant afford this, but that’s when either PMs dig into their own pocket for a good cause, or fit an appearance in as part of other committments.

    [DPF: I know where you are coming from but I think it is unrealistic. There is a public expectation that former heads of state and govt will do these sort of things, and if they refuse to do them unless the charity pays their airfares then they get blamed, and I think it is enough they lend their time and names to the charities etc]

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  16. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    “..it seems..’..eh dpf..?

    that’s the problem with all this troughing..eh..?

    nothing is what ‘it seems’…

    and dpf..is it true there has been a closing of the ranks..of the ‘troughers’..?

    ..with a deal having been done between national and labour..not to criticise each other over this whole troughing business..?

    ..does that explain the resounding silence from labour..?

    the name was changed from english to his wife..

    ..to erect a chinese wall/troughing-enabler..

    ..so ‘it seems’..eh..?

    ..this reform won’t come from the top..?..will it..?

    ..us mug-punters will have to drive it…

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  17. daveski (87 comments) says:

    DPF

    By burying this at the bottom of some other comments, you can be perceived to have tried to avoid the topic.

    And perception is the reality here. The problem I have is English is demanding 0% increases from people like me and asking my CEO to make tough decisions.

    It appears at least on the surface as tho he doesn’t appear to believe he should have to make similar tough decisions.

    Anyway, this is an issue of perception and one that does National no favours.

    [DPF: People need a life if they think devoting 11 paragraphs to the issue is burying it.]

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  18. MT_Tinman (3,136 comments) says:

    Redbaiter (7077) Vote: Add rating 3 Subtract rating 3 Says:
    August 2nd, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    Anyone else find it galling that all of these left wing bludgers and takers dare to be critical of Bill English.

    They are the very people who have turned elections in NZ into a sick undemocratic farce where one sector of the population votes to steal the other sector’s money.

    If you want to criticise Bill English you first have to have integrity yourself.

    I suggest that social welfare bludgers and socialists at large are generic parasites and have no such integrity and are therefore being gross hypocrites by criticising Bill English.

    Red that post needs repeating.

    Probably your best ever.

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  19. AG (1,824 comments) says:

    DPF,

    I actually have no real problem with Bill English getting this subsidy. Ministers have to be in Wellington virtually full-time, and that needs to be reflected in the support given to them. So I’m not convinced of the “he’s a hypocrite” critique – plus also note that if he didn’t get this subsidy, the remuneration authority would just bump up his salary anyway.

    What I am wondering about, however, is how you square your defence of English using the subsidy in this way with your previous critique of the Greens using their accommodation allowances to rent property from their own super scheme? If there is a principled difference, I struggle to see it.

    BTW: to claim “it’s OK ’cause English could make more by renting out the property and living in a ministerial services provided one” is just to shift the problem one step back. Should the taxpayer be paying for ministerial accommodation for someone who owns and is profiting from property in Wellington? If so, what is the complaint about the Greens using taxpayer subsidies to pad out their superannuation, rather than a private landlord’s pocket?

    [DPF: I said in the post that ideally Bill should rent out his home and move into a Ministerial one. I think it would be much cleaner if no property Parliament pays rent or interest on is owned by the MP (or family trust). I still advocate the rules should change to reflect that.

    The Greens have set up their arrangements pretty deliberately to maximise investment income. They even said so in a report that the income from the MPs accomodation allowed them to invest in other areas less assured of a return. Their motivation is to maximise the return for their Super Fund from the MPs Accommodation. To be fair to them otehr MPs do this also. That is why I think ownership should not be allowed.

    In this case, I do not regard the decision to stay in the current house as being motivated by maximising income. I think the desire to avoid another move is genuine, especially as moving to a Ministerial House could earn them more money as they could then lease out their current house]

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  20. daveski (87 comments) says:

    DPF I think you’re misreading this one. The impression I’m getting is that this is an own goal. Heck, it may be a referee mistake, and they’ve been doing it all day ref, but the goal is on the score sheet. By not dedicating a post to this, you’re implying it’s not an issue. And on that basis, I believe you’re misreading this issue big time.

    [DPF: Sigh. Of course it is an issue. But you people are really really demented if you think me making it part of a roundup on all the expenses issues is some sort of cunning plan to hide it from the media spotlight as if doing so will mean TV will not report on the issue. I mean seriously you need a life.

    Here is what happens. I keep tabs open on stories I want to comment on. Sometimes they stay open for a few days. I still have around 15 tabs open incidentally being stories I still want to comment on. When a number of stories relate together, I do one post on them rather than multiple. That way I knock off several open tabs in one go.

    Again people are absolutely crazy if they think there is any significance to my doing so, thinking that firstly people are so stupid they won't see the 13 paragraphs on Bill, and secondly that somehow it would reduce media focus on the story.

    This is a blog. It is not a communications masterplan. People who see it as such obviously do not know me at all]

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  21. joe90 (273 comments) says:

    [DPF: No - only the existence of the trust]

    Parliamentary Register of Percuniary Interests

    Hon Bill ENGLISH (National, Clutha-Southland)
    1 Company directorships and controlling interests
    Resolution Farms Limited – farming
    6 Real property
    Family home, Dipton
    Farm, Dipton
    7 Superannuation schemes
    Government Superannuation Fund (Parliamentary Scheme)

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  22. davidp (3,580 comments) says:

    Bill English is required to spend time in his electorate and in Wellington in order to do his job. Since the Deputy PM isn’t going to sleep on the street in Courtenay Place, covered by a loin cloth and blanket, then he is going to need two homes. If my employer required me to maintain two homes, rather than the one that is considered normal, then they’d have to pay me to cover my expenses to do so. That applies to Bill English as well. There is no controversy here. Not even close.

    Newspaper publishing is a legacy industry that has fallen on hard times due to the Internet. The Daily Telegraph delayed their eventual demise by paying an informant to leak the documents concerning the UK expenses scandal to them, then released those documents gradually over a number of weeks in order to increase their newspaper circulation. The NZ media saw the success of this financial strategy and is hoping to emulate it. Without any real scandals to pursue (and face it, after being fooled by Goff about Neelam Choudary, falled by Goff over the millionaire property investors, and fooled by Goff over the DPB women, the NZ media wouldn’t be able to investigate their way out of a paper bag) they’re relying on Bill English being compensated reasonably for having to maintain a second home in Wellington. It is pathetic!

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  23. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    “..[DPF: People need a life if they think devoting 11 paragraphs to the issue is burying it.].”

    no dpf..!..

    ..that’s called big-spin..eh..

    ..almost a do-nut of ‘spins’..eh..?

    ..we can smell the burning rubber all the way up here in auckland..

    ..eh..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  24. AG (1,824 comments) says:

    DPF:

    [In this case, I do not regard the decision to stay in the current house as being motivated by maximising income. I think the desire to avoid another move is genuine, especially as moving to a Ministerial House could earn them more money as they could then lease out their current house.]

    I think you are completely right about the motivation. But the issue isn’t why is this being done, but rather what is the consequence of doing it. And I don’t think “there’s a way even more money could be made from the system” is an overly convincing defence!

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  25. PaulL (5,971 comments) says:

    Am I the only one that finds that the best couple of comments RedBaiter has ever done? Less gratuitous abuse, lots of rational analysis. I’m impressed.

    For the record (and as I commented over at Kate’s), I reckon the easiest way out of all this is to just convert the accommodation expenses into an allowance, and let people do what they want with it.

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  26. Red Sam (122 comments) says:

    Haven’t Bill English’s kids attended school in Wellington for a long time – catholic schools? Mary English has practiced as a GP in Wellington for a long time as I know people who have gone to her?

    One wonders how often Mr English really does spend in Clutha-Southland, even when he was an opposition MP?

    He really is no different to the likes of Heather Roy, Katrina Shanks, Sue Kedgley, Grant Robertson, etc who spend most of their time in their family homes in Wellington.

    [DPF: Because they are not the MP for Clutha-Southland. His family moved so they would have their father in their lives more often. The constituents of Clutha-Southland have no problem with this, giving Bill huge majorities. They know he is still in the electorate often]

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  27. MikeG (425 comments) says:

    It seems time to remind everyone of some quotes from DPF on this issue in the past:

    “It is legal under Parliament’s rules but a clear conflict of interest when you are effectively both landlord and tenant – but with Parliament paying the bills.”

    “Should we ban MPs from claiming accommodation expenses for properties they own (directly or indirectly), or have a beneficial interest in?”

    “For example let the “Green Futures Superannuation Fund” find its own tenants, rather than the guaranteed income of the Parliamentary Service!”

    “At the end of the day you should not be both landlord and tenant, when the taxpayer pays the bill.”

    Of course, he was referring to the Greens in these cases, not realising that his old boss was doing exactly the same thing.

    [DPF: And as I have said, I still support changing the rules. I think it will be much cleaner if they do]

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  28. PaulL (5,971 comments) says:

    @Chris_C: Fuck it, yeah. Blank cheques all round!

    No blank cheques, a fixed allowance and no messing around with administration. They’re all structuring their affairs so as to take advantage of the existing scheme – the Greens are doing it, the Nats are doing it, I’ll bet half of Labour are doing it. I am on record when DPF was talking about the Greens as saying the same thing then – it isn’t even really a loophole, it is deliberately constructed that way.

    Any scheme where an employer pays an employee allowances for being out of town is open to manipulation. My organisation gave up trying to audit it a long time ago, we now pay a fixed amount for every night out of town. We no longer spend time trying to work out whether they have a house or mortgage in their home location, how many dependents they have, what their actual expenses are. All that crap costs more than you save, and just creates incentive to inflate your costs. Convert it to a flat allowance, run a survey every 2-3 years to check what it really costs. Everyone is now incented to minimise their expenses instead of maximise them. It is pretty basic economics.

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  29. grumpyoldhori (2,362 comments) says:

    David I believe you are missing what we the normal punters see as rank hypocrisy.
    We are told we need to tighten our belts, just we the peasants that is.

    As for bloody Douglas and his entitlements, now some would say it would be unfair to take away something that was agreed upon, no doubt Douglas would.
    Yet SMPs were agreed upon, and Douglas canceled them with bugger all warning.

    So I see no reason why free or damn near it air travel should not be canceled.
    Sauce for the goose ?

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  30. Kapital (120 comments) says:

    Would I be right in assuming that if this has been The other way around and it was a Labour minister in thiese circumstances We would have a1 or 2 headline posts aday for 4 days ranting away.
    Now don’t get me wrong this is a tory blog andyou attack the opposition and cover for your own fair enough I have no probs with that
    But pretending otherwise Give me a fucking break

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  31. annie (539 comments) says:

    I think it’s fair enough for reasonable out-of-electorate housing costs to be paid – but there is a bit of a smell around the family trust thing. If the trust owned the property, its name would be on the title deed, and it appears that it isn’t.

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  32. annie (539 comments) says:

    Michael Laws had a good point in today’s column – why do list MPs get accommodation allowances? They have effectively taken up a full-time job in Wellington, and have no electorate presence. They should get a moving allowance when they take up the job, but no further allowances. This would put them in line with private and public sector remuneration.

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  33. davidp (3,580 comments) says:

    Chris C>Abolish the paperwork, accountability and transparency.

    When I travel on business, my employer pays me a daily allowance to cover my expenses. This isn’t considered a “blank cheque”. It doesn’t abolish transparency, except to the most miserable scrooge-like manager who’d like to go through receipts, querying every little expense.

    And I worked for one of those, years ago in the UK. I’d claimed for a steak dinner in a pub. “We don’t claim for that sort of thing here”, he said in his miserable Irish accent. Apparently I was supposed to do “what I’d do if I were at home”. Since the hotel didn’t have a kitchen, I assumed he meant I should have taken sandwiches with me. He is the same manager who tried to deduct a day’s leave when snow closed the roads and train system down, and I left soon after.

    It’d be a funny way to run Parliament. I can just imagine the papers and you “accountability” types going bat shit crazy that John Key had claimed for a restaurant meal when there was a Burger King just around the corner.

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  34. Brian Marshall (201 comments) says:

    “Redbaiter (7078) Vote: 9 8 Says:
    August 2nd, 2009 at 12:51 pm
    Anyone else find it galling that all of these left wing bludgers and takers dare to be critical of Bill English.”

    Yep. I do. I don’t begrudge hard working MPs of any polictical party making the most of the situation. It’s the Marion Hobbs and Phillipa Bunkles (not sure of the spelling) who milk the situation in a dishonest way that I begrudge.

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  35. Brian Marshall (201 comments) says:

    “annie (11) Vote: 0 1 Says:
    August 2nd, 2009 at 3:41 pm
    I think it’s fair enough for reasonable out-of-electorate housing costs to be paid – but there is a bit of a smell around the family trust thing. If the trust owned the property, its name would be on the title deed, and it appears that it isn’t.”

    You may find that the “trustees” own the house on behalf the trust in much the same way that the companies office does not allow a trust to own the shares directly and has the “trustees” listed as the shareholders only. With Bill English now an Minister and not just an MP, it would be prudent that he not be involved with any investment decisions directly incase he is critised for making decisions that benefit himself personaly.

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  36. big bruv (13,727 comments) says:

    DPF

    You are way to close to these bludgers to look at this objectively, they are troughers, nothing more or less.

    Stop making excuses for them and start hammering the bastards for their sense of entitlement, just because some back bencher served nine years it does not entitle them to free travel at my expense.

    We should not accept bludging from Natasha Fuller or Phool Ure and we should not accept ot from Bill English, Sue Bradford or Helen Clark.

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  37. Kapital (120 comments) says:

    Overall, this fails the smell test, fails the political judgement test, and sets an incredibly poor example for a govt that he is leading to – rightly – take the fat and sense of entitlement out of the public sector. It is that sense of entitlement that stinks so much here,;

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  38. SeaJay (20 comments) says:

    I cannot believe yr saying English is worse off financially for not moving.
    Unbelievable. poor wee lamb.

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  39. kaya (1,360 comments) says:

    As far as the smell test goes, Bill English dropped a fairly smelly fart, Roger Douglas needs to change his underwear.

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  40. whalehunter (479 comments) says:

    id sell my house and move to welly for a 300k job….
    ….then, if i was an mp for southland id need to go back to southland sometime…
    not often though if i had 50 hours of work a week in welly.

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  41. thedavincimode (6,711 comments) says:

    Everything that has been said on this thread on accomodation issues, whether you agree or disagree, simply underscores how stupid English was to claim for a home owned by his trust, and that these rules need to be revisited.

    It doesn’t matter whether he is entitled to claim, and whether the Electoral Act deems him to reside in Dipton or Timbucktoo, or whether he could occupy Vogel House or Buckingham Palace, or rent his house to the Sultan of Brunei.

    He LIVES in Wellington. He MOVED there for his job with his family. He is a MINISTER and as such not only needs to be above reproach, but should be SEEN to be above reproach.

    Key has rightly focussed on standards of behaviour for MPs and Ministers in particular. He will always have to deal with the perceptions of the small-minded fuckwits who justify their own behaviour on the basis of envy and poorly percieved failings in others, but this issue is different. It goes to the heart of government credibility irrespective of whether English et al are out of pocket or not. Whether that is fair or not isn’t the point in this instance because it is an issue central to public trust. If English is too stupid to see that then he shouldn’t be there. If Key is serious about standards of behaviour and perception, he needs to take what little opportunity remains to seize some initiative on this.

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  42. Jack5 (5,053 comments) says:

    JoeStalin90 and his followers in their determination to nail Bill English have cottoned on to his family trust.

    Family trusts are common among those who own farms. They are one way in a largish family of ensuring a farm can be passed on to one of the children rather than being sold or parcelled up by estate executors, especially if death duties are reintroduced in future.

    Bill English is clean. Bill English is honest. Bill English is a decent family man.

    Peter Davis may be too even if he takes advantage of the travel perks available for spouses of long-term MPs, such as H1. He visits her regularly, according to the media. I trust Davis hurries westward around the globe to H1 and idles his way home, still headed westward.

    As DPF pointed out, Southlanders obviously like and trust English of they wouldn’t vote him in with such a huge margin. Opinions of Wellington latte Labourites and chardonnay socialists clearly count for bugger all in heartland NZ.

    JoeStalin90 leftists don’t recognise that MPs’ expenses were set up so that ordinary working people could afford to go into Parliament, especially in remote electorates such as Southland or spread out ones like the Maori seats. Or perhaps they don’t really care about ordinary working people.

    Accept it JoeStalin90, socialism is stuffed. White-collar Labour is becoming as obsolescent as it made blue-colour Labour.

    Move on.

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  43. muppet (39 comments) says:

    Paula Bennett, when asked what benefits she received when she was studying on DPB avoided the question by saying something along the lines of these being very different times and you cannot compare apples to apples. Regardless of whether Bill’s housing cash is kosher or not I would like for him, and other Ministers and MPs (of any party), to show restraint since they are calling for the very same elsewhere. They are leaders and in exceptional times they need to make sacrifices outside of the usual.

    This is not about rules and benefits. This is about leadership. Perhaps Bill is making personal contributions to restraint, I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that nothing so far on this issue makes me feel like we are all in this together. It is disappointing and I, for one, expect more from this leadership.

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  44. Kent Parker (451 comments) says:

    Regarding, Bill English, rules or no rules, what he has done is murky:

    1. His wife and family live in Wellington, therefore he cannot be eligible for an away from home accommodation allowance, because he is living with his family in his home (which he owns).
    HOWEVER:
    2. He is MP for some electorate in the South Island and so should be living there so that he can effectively represent them. Also I would expect there to be some rules regarding living in the electorate that you have been voted for. If all MPs moved to Wellington what kind of democracy would we have?

    If we take, as it is claimed that he lives in Dipton (for the sake of his electorate) while his family live in Wellington, then in some technical respects he is actually separated from his family, although obviously as he claims he is now able to spend more time with them than previously.

    The whole arrangement is murky and potentially inappropriate.

    I empathize with Bill English not wanting politics to ruin his family life, but plenty of politicians have been there before and they found ways to deal with it just as do seamen and airline crew. He is creating a precedent that would not be conducive to our democracy if repeated too often. He should have his family in Southland in the electorate to which he belongs and commute to and fro each week. If he is missing his family he can set up a video link and communicate that way on a regular basis.

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  45. Kent Parker (451 comments) says:

    Further to the comment about Bill English’s arrangement being murky: it is similar to a DPB recipient claiming that they are not actually living with the people they are living with and therefore claiming the DPB as a solo parent.

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  46. OldNews (38 comments) says:

    Unlike most commenting on this – I have no problem with Bill English getting accomodation support. He’s the MP for Clutha-Southland. He’s required to live in Wellington for work. He needs to get his accomodation provided.
    But I do think getting twice the MPs amount isn’t right.
    I agree with DPF that he could move out of his house and live in a Ministerial house (either one owned by the Govt or rented by DIA) and this would be cleaner and probably better for him financially. But I understand why he doesn’t do that. For him it’s better to keep stability for the family. And good on him, too many poltiicians take family forgranted.
    BUT there needs to be a trade off here. He has chosen not to use a Ministerial house but to live in a house owned by his family trust. Fine. The trade off for this is he should get the out of Wellington MPs allowance and that’s all. If he wants more – he should take Farrar’s advice. If he wants stability he should take the MPs rate.
    He’s a smart guy and a good political operator – odds are he’ll voluntarily do this before Question Time tomorrow.
    (Also Key needs to be careful about the $700 per week cap. English has been getting over $900 per week).

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  47. toad (3,674 comments) says:

    joe90 said# So family trust assets don’t have to be declared as a pecuniary interest?.

    [DPF: No - only the existence of the trust]

    The thing that concerns me most is that in English’s case neither the Family Trust or the property in Wellington appear in his return of pecuniary interests.

    1 Company directorships and controlling interests
    Resolution Farms Limited – farming
    6 Real property
    Family home, Dipton
    Farm, Dipton
    7 Superannuation schemes
    Government Superannuation Fund (Parliamentary Scheme)

    You can’t have it both ways, Bill.

    Does anyone have any plausible explanation for this, other than that his declaration was economical in its substance? No-one’s come up with one yet.

    [DPF: I don't know. I suggest you email his office and ask]

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  48. Kent Parker (451 comments) says:

    The other problem I have is the wording of the explanation: “It’s within the rules”. This is actually the worst bit, which means that now we have a moral license to ignore any pleas the government makes about lessening the impact of the recession for employees or other businesses by applying any voluntary recommendations that the government comes up.

    Anyway, too late, the mistake has been made, and when English later reconsiders and rectifies this anomaly, that will get a lot less press than this has.

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  49. burt (8,239 comments) says:

    DPF

    Bill seems to have made a bit of a pill of himself over this. Surely it’s not too much to ask a wellington based MP to pay for their own family home from their own salary….

    However – lets get it all out in the open. How many other MP’s who have interests in trusts which lease property to parliamentary services are in the same situation as English but the arms length provided by the structures they use hides it from us?

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  50. burt (8,239 comments) says:

    toad

    Does anyone have any plausible explanation for this, other than that his declaration was economical in its substance? No-one’s come up with one yet.

    I think declarations can be amended at will and no charges will be laid if they are wrong. Well that’s the way it seems for Labour-led govt partners anyway. I assume the rules as supported under one side of the house must be applicable to the other side of the house and I assume the Green party will remain silent in it’s support like they did under Labour.

    Or have you guys grown some sack since then ?

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  51. toad (3,674 comments) says:

    burt said: I assume the rules as supported under one side of the house must be applicable to the other side of the house and I assume the Green party will remain silent in it’s support like they did under Labour.

    burt, the Greens have always advocated more open Government, and it was a Green initiative that led to these expenses being publicly declared last week for the first time.

    If you are referring to the Auditor-General’s report re the misuse of Parliamentary expenses in electioneering, the Greens very quickly accepted they had made a mistake and undertook to repay the money concerned. Labour, by contrast, attempted to defend their expenditure, thereby opening themselves up to months on end of being labeled “corrupt” in Parliament by national. I suspect that, more than anything else (apart, perhaps from Winston Peters) is the reason Labour lost the last election. The Greens did not support Labour in defending that expenditure, and I think considered at the time they were being very stupid in doing so.

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  52. burt (8,239 comments) says:

    toad

    Fair enough, pity the Green party never pulled their support for confidence & supply over issues of integrity and openness though. Easy to say you were against it after the event but where was the formal resistence during…

    But lets move on – now we have this disclosure stuff starting to happen there is no need to sit quietly waiting for it all to pass before saying ‘not happy’.

    Edit: “The Greens did not support Labour in defending…” – But they did not vote against it either.

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  53. david (2,557 comments) says:

    Toad, Breath thru your nose for a minute, the blood pressure and respiration rate might approach normal.
    Have you consideed the possibility thet Bill English is neither a trustee nor a beneficiary of the Trust?
    Presumably in that case he has no pecuniary interest in it and was not obliged to declare anything because there was nothing to declare.

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  54. david (2,557 comments) says:

    The envious ones might also like to consider the following:
    … The house “normally” provided to the Deputy PM is currently occupied by the Governor General.
    … The Deputy PM has more reason to stay in Wellington than almost any other MP regardless of his Electoral requirements

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  55. david (2,557 comments) says:

    oops to continue

    … the normal deputy PM’s house costs multiples of the allowance provided to English, to maintain and operate
    … presumably Dr Cullen resided in a ministerial House of significant cost
    … Who stayed in Wellington to mind the shop when Helen was away? clue — small, mean and went to Christs College.

    …. and BTW, has anyone seen MC in the flesh recently? Could it be that he is tripping around the world on his subsidised travel perk?

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  56. burt (8,239 comments) says:

    david

    You are wasting your time. The Green party were silent everytime Labour did something fishy. It’s OK when Labour do it and that was also different because they were all about spending as much tax payers money as possible rather than being prudent with it.

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  57. Manolo (13,586 comments) says:

    “We should not accept bludging from Natasha Fuller or Phool Ure and we should not accept ot from Bill English, Sue Bradford or Helen Clark.”

    Spot on.

    The legality of the “entitlement” has nothing to do with the principles at work here. English should know better and refuse to claim the money by the mere fact the house belongs to him (well, legally to his wife or family trust).

    These people are all bludgers. They may operate at different levels of society (from idlers to the very Minister of Finance), but bludgers nonetheless.

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  58. david (2,557 comments) says:

    C’mon manolo, get with the 21st century. What a man’s wife owns is no longer automatically his!

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  59. village idiot (748 comments) says:

    Bill English – entitled to that money!

    That’s a bit rich!

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  60. burt (8,239 comments) says:

    Hang on hang on hang on just a wee minute here. Are you guys telling me that Bill lives in the same house as his spouse?

    Is that the only difference between National & Labour – National are easy targets because we don’t need to be all PC about their actual living arrangements.

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  61. burt (8,239 comments) says:

    village idiot

    He is entitled – that is the problem. The rules were written by MP’s for MP’s – what more would you expect.

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  62. tvb (4,365 comments) says:

    Bill English is domiciled in Wellington and has been for some time. His children go to school there, his wife has a full-time job in Wellington, he has a full time job in WEllington, he spends most of the week there and he owns a house in Wellington. He has a second house in his electorate which he might spend a few days a year in. He probably has some sort of electorate office there. For housing purposes he should be considered a Wellington MP and receive no allowance for his Wellington housing like all other Wellington Ministers – Chris Finlayson. He could be paid a special allowance for his electorate house up-keep, lawns etc.

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  63. Deep Throat (28 comments) says:

    English is just another socialist trougher … Labour, National, Greens, ACT, all of them have the same sense of entitlement and big mid finger to the public as soon as they’re entrenched in Wellington and latched onto the public teat.

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  64. UpandComer (528 comments) says:

    One of the primary reasons there was all the controversy in England was because MPs were paid fuck all. A backbencher in England only gets paid a salary of $67 thousand pounds. That is because of the same remonstrations as we are seeing in this case. Due to this lower managment salary, which the UK public STILL thought exorbitant, and I suspect most of the public would too, MPs were forced to top up their earnings through expenses claims, at least initially. Of course they rorted the system horribly and grossly as necessity turned to moat-making abuse, but their system of ridiculously low salaries calibrated to the public’s ridiculous sensitivities, combined with lump sum expenses led to the abuse. New Zealand’s system is not the same as Englands. I’m sorry, but the beat up here does not provide a sufficient rationale for having Bill English living on the street and cycling the length of the country to get to work. Bill English gets 8000 to 10000 majorities evey year in Southland, we understand the worth of the man. He is very often in his electorate offices in Gore and Balclutha, and he spends a good amount of time every year in Dipton, during the year, and during school holidays with his kids, as well as travelling through the small towns of Southland, from Mossburn to Riverton looking after his constituents. He’s been doing this for 20 years, working very hard. Of course with a full diary form 8am till 11 pm every day as deputy prime minister and finance minister he has to spend less time in his electorate, what the hell do you expect? Bill has gone out of his way to do the cheapest thing possible for the taxpayer, he is elgible for a ministerial house, and he could rent out HIS property for much more then $1k a week, yet he has the house he paid for with his own money in a family trust, that is not in his wife’s name, but with her as the sole trustee, saving the taxpayer money. There is no scandal here. I repeat, no scandal. As has been said, the accom supplement is so people from small towns in NZ are able to have a role in our democracy. Southland is one of the biggest electorates in the country. It shows ignorance as to the requirements of high ministerial positions to claim he should live in Dipton permanently and commute. When he’s the Deputy PM!!?? I don’t know but I think someone over-estimates the abilities of skype. Again I reiterate he has done the cheapest thing he could do. If you are going to apply the principle that MP’s should not be eligible for anything accomodation wise, then tell the kid from Benmore or Kaikoura to give up on being PM one day, because he hasn’t got a dogs show. You could also abolish the concept of cabinet, because never mind the demands of a portfolio, the buggers should be in their electorate all day every day… MP’s from small towns are absolutely entitled to an accomodation supplement because otherwise all of their salary would in fact be spent on travel and accomodation, so anyone not from wellington would not survive as an MP.

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