Armstrong on English

September 26th, 2009 at 7:15 am by David Farrar

writes in the Weekend Herald:

The time has come for Bill “Double Dipton” English to end the charade.

It has been apparent for a while that it is no longer tenable for him to stipulate his primary place of residence as being in his Clutha-Southland electorate when his real home has long been in Wellington.

I’m a bit surprised by the timing of this, as the is now making inquiries and presumably in time will advise whether or not has followed the rules correctly.

His highly questionable claim to be an out-of-Wellington MP – a status which made him eligible for an accommodation allowance while in Opposition and which entitles him to taxpayer-funded ministerial accommodation now he is in Government – has become unsustainable in purely political terms.

Of course there is a wider perception issue that goes beyond the rules. But I’m wary of the precedent that gets set if you punish MPs for having a family, and even worse punish them because they chose *at their own expense* to have some of their family live in Wellington with them while they are an MP.

English’s predicament has in part come about because of public expectation that MPs should reside in their electorates. That many don’t will come as a shock to many people. Those who don’t live in their electorates thus feel they have to perpetuate a fiction that they do, especially in large rural seats like English’s which feel isolated from and neglected by Wellington.

I doubt there were many people in Clutha-Southland who were unaware that during most of the year, Bill is in Wellington and his family are also. It was never a secret.

But this is not a new issue, and in fact one that the Electoral Act has been quite explicit about since at least 1956. First we have s 72(6)(b):

The place where, for the purposes of this Act, a person resides shall not change by reason only of the fact that the 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

Now this is for the purposes of electoral enrolment, but it shows that long long ago it was recognised that MPs would be forced by their job to reside outside their normal home, and that it was undesirable for this temporary relocation to be deemed a change of primary residence.

We also have s72(10)(a):

In the case of a person who is appointed to be a member of the Executive Council, or who is the spouse, civil union partner, or de facto partner of any person so appointed, the following provisions shall apply notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this section, namely so long as he or she holds that office he or she shall be deemed to continue to reside at the place of residence in respect of which he or she was registered as an elector of an electoral district (in this subsection referred to as the original district), notwithstanding his or her absence therefrom at the seat of Government or otherwise, unless and until he or she duly applies for registration as an elector of another electoral district of which he or she is, apart from the provisions of this paragraph, qualified to be an elector.

This is why both Bill and Mary English (the media have incorrectly reported she is enrolled in Wellington – she is enrolled in Clutha-Southland) are residents of Clutha-Southland for electoral purposes.

Now the electoral district enrolment is not the only test for primary residence. The Auditor-General in 2001 laid out a series of factors. Now these are not black and white in that you must tick 11/11 or 9/11 to be deemed to live in Place A or Place B. Ultimately the Speaker decides on the totality of the factors. They are:

(a) the extent of the MP’s parliamentary duties, and the amount of non-parliamentary time available to the MP to return “home”;

It takes around ten hours return (five hours each way) to get from Parliament to Dipton. And in the last decade English has held senior roles in Government and Opposition with duties around the country. I doubt there is much dispute on this factor that he has little time to return to Dipton, even if his family had stayed there.

(b) the locations where the MP spends most of that nonparliamentary time;

During most of the year it is Wellington, but during the summer break it is Dipton, as I understand it.

(c) the locations where the MP’s current spouse or partner and family live, and where other dependent family members usually live (including where they spend most time, work, or attend school);

And this is clearly Wellington.

(d) the person in whose name (whether the MP, the MP’s spouse or partner, or some other individual or legal entity) each property is owned or rented, and the utilities (e.g., electricity, telephone) are supplied;

I’m not sure but think the Dipton property is in Bill’s name and the Wellington property in the name of the Endeavour Trust.

(e) the level of the MP’s financial commitment to meeting the financial outgoings on each residence, including property maintenance;

Same for both I guess.

(f) the type of accommodation available to the MP at each residence (e.g., boarding, flatting, or full occupation), and who else lives there (other than the MP’s family);

Both are fully available.

(g) the availability of each residence for use by the MP at any time (e.g., whether it is rented out in periods of absence);

As far as I know Dipton is not rented out, during periods of absence. This is a key factor in my eyes. The provision of accommodation in Wellington is designed so that an MP is no better or worse off. If you were renting out your electorate home, then you would be gaining money.

(h) the nature and extent of the MP’s ties to each local community in which he or she has a residence;

I have little doubt Bill will have stronger ties to Dipton than Karori.

(i) the residence where the MP intends or expects to live should he or she cease to be an MP;

Bill has said he will return to Dipton when he is no longer an MP.

(j) the residence where the MP and members of his or her family are registered for electoral purposes; and

Bill and Mary are registered in Clutha-Southland. The children of voting age are enrolled in Wellington Central – as required by law.

(k) for electorate MPs, the location of the electorate.

Which is Clutha-Southland.

Now as I said there is a degree of subjectivity involved, as it is not just a case of ticking all 11 boxes one way or another. You can reasonable argue the merits.

This is why I think it is absolutely correct the Auditor-General is investigating. This is not a bad thing. This is a desirable thing.

Now John Armstrong is right that there is a wider issue of perception, and political judgements have to be made with that in mind. But personally I think it would be desirable to wait for the Auditor-General to report back before rushing to any decisions.

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42 Responses to “Armstrong on English”

  1. Pete George (23,836 comments) says:

    It takes around ten hours return (five hours each way) to get from Parliament to Dipton. And in the last decade English has held senior roles in Government and Opposition with duties around the country.

    It seems ludicrous that the deputy PM and minister of finance should also theoretically be supposed to be an electorate mp anyway. They have a big enough workload in Wellington.

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  2. Danyl Mclauchlan (941 comments) says:

    ’m wary of the precedent that gets set if you punish MPs for having a family

    I’m trying to think of a dumber talking point and all I can come up with is Winston Peters claim that someone borrowed his cell-phone to talk to Owen Glen.

    [DPF: You could try debating the point. If English did not have kids, I doubt the situation would have arisen. He personally paid for his kids to live in Wellington when he was an Opposition MP, and this is now being used to claim he himself should be ineligible for the same expense coverage as every other MP]

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  3. Nomestradamus (2,439 comments) says:

    DPF wrote:

    Ultimately the Speaker decides on the totality of the factors.

    I haven’t fully worked this through, DPF, but is this a fair summary:

    – The default position is the MP’s primary residence for the purposes of electoral enrolment.
    – The Speaker is only required to make a determination on the matter if (a) the MP concerned seeks an independent ruling; and/or (b) another party seeks an independent ruling in respect of the MP concerned.
    – If the Speaker does make a determination, it will apply the Auditor-General’s criteria.

    And here’s another question: did Margaret Wilson make any such determination during her term as Speaker?

    [DPF: Yes I understand Wilson did]

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  4. Adolf Fiinkensein (2,705 comments) says:

    Armstrong’s column is despicable. He didn’t bother to note the supreme irony of Jim Anderton, THE most fraudulent of fraudsters, complaining to the AG about Bill English’s entirely legitimate arrangements.

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  5. Will de Cleene (462 comments) says:

    I never realised that “Where do you live?” was such a complicated question.

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  6. Michael E (251 comments) says:

    Bill must still be enough of a local to win Clutha-Southland by almost 16000 votes. Most Southlanders (being down to earth folk) would punish an absentee MP by not supporting them as strongly.

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  7. jcuknz (689 comments) says:

    As you say we have to wait for the Auditor General’s conclusions but your excellent summary helps me to appreciate that my instictive feelings of what is just and right were worked out long ago by the legislators.

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  8. gravedodger (1,575 comments) says:

    Traditionally National MP’s who enter parliament from winning an electorate sea continue the loyalty, commitment and connection that got them there and I can only recall 4 senior members who are/were list only, Messers Joyce Brash and Grosser and Ms Te Heuheu . It would have been easy for Mr English to go to list only but his strong electorate vote reflects his standing in Clutha Southland. Recognising the relationship strains that blight the people who serve us in Wellington and we all know the sad outcomes that have eventuated in too many of them I applaud what the English family have done to give their family life all the security they have while maintaining the strong links to the C/S electorate. I am no great fan of Mr English and my only personal contact with him was a cringe inducing contact on a walkabout before a rugby game at Lancaster park with him wearing an all too new Dryasabone, pressing the flesh during his forgettable low 20% era. However I will accept his electorate and his party ranking and ask people like Mr Armstrong to do likewise and now that the A G is investigating go out and highlight the albeit legal rort of Mr Anderton as a leader of a non existant party , the Bill Lui citizenship ,and other matters that I would like to see exposed to the light but that may be too scary for him.

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  9. Manolo (14,188 comments) says:

    Bill English has been a big disappointment.

    In view of his expenses claims, family trust accounts, etc, and regardless of how legal they are, English has lost the moral authority to ask other people to tighten their belts while he lines his pockets. Perception, not legality, is the issue at stake here.

    It makes a mockery of the politicians’ self-confessed vocation to serve New Zealand. Across the political spectrum there are countless examples how greedy and voracious they are: Anderton, Douglas, Field, Hobbs, Clark, Peters, Bunkle, Bolger, Palmer, Hunt, etc.

    English is no different.

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  10. dimmocrazy (286 comments) says:

    End of the day, I’d vote for stopping the rort of the fundamental tenets of democracy by having all these career politicians.
    Two terms in office, that’s it, back to the normal population….

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  11. Tookinator (222 comments) says:

    What’s the deal with Murray McCully? He is supposed to be MP for east coast bays, not sure he even knows where that is now, has lived in wellington for a long time?

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  12. tvb (4,563 comments) says:

    It may suit Bill English politically to say he “lives” in Dipton but it really does not stack up with reality. His stout maintenance of this position has in fact weakened him politically and then to claim a whole lot of allowances based on this fictional presentation of his real position has possibly weakened him permanently. In other words I do not think he represents a political threat to John Key and is very unlikely to lead the National Party again. Others will have come forward when the day comes for John Key to move on. BUT it is not good for the Minister of Finance to be weakened, time will tell whether Bill English can remain effective in that role but if this problem cannot be dealt with the John will reluctantly have to act. It will be a test for Bill English’s political skills to see if he can recover from this. For my part I much prefer his very charismatic wife who cuts a very impressive figure.

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  13. Clint Heine (1,495 comments) says:

    You talk about timing… come on David. You know everything in Wellington is done for a reason. This is being worked right now because Labour have no other cards to play right now. Better to go for Bill, (who in my opinion is a liability) now, because there are no more realistic open targets in the National party left. Bennet, Worth etc…all had their purpose and survived… Bill is weak and therefore the next target.

    Expect more.

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  14. grumpyoldhori (2,205 comments) says:

    Perception David, as minister of finance English will be saying WE need to tighten OUR belts.
    The perception among the mug punters is that there is one rule for all politicians another for the mug punters.
    What did Sir Ed say, ah yes, a self serving lot, cannot disagree with that.

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  15. Elijah Lineberry (306 comments) says:

    David, perhaps the reason the people of Southland ‘feel isolated and neglected’ by Wellington is because their local MP neglects them.

    English never holds clinics in his electorate, never turns up to anything, has never been to 75% of the settlements in his electorate, ever, and takes everybody for granted whilst trousering their tax dollars to pay for his Wellington house.

    What amazes me is after nearly 20 years as an absentee MP he seeks to lie about it the moment he is caught out.

    I’ll wager Mr English is now (as I write this) in Wellington, not Southland; he is in the Capital having a latte rather than in Gore or Balclutha holding a constituent clinic, or attending a school fair, or chatting with the locals at the bowling club as several dozen of his colleagues are doing right now.

    http://www.nightcitytrader.blogspot.com

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  16. kaya (1,360 comments) says:

    DPF – you have done a great job explaining the legal aspect of why Bill English is technically correct. The fact that it took over 1200 words to explain it speaks volumes.
    Personally I like Bill English but to as grumpyoldhori said, “perception”.

    Being as kind as possible the best thing you can say is that he hasn’t been setting a very good example.

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  17. Paulus (2,715 comments) says:

    Armstrong, whom I usually like, must be desperate for a story.

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  18. 3-coil (1,199 comments) says:

    Armstrong exposes himself (again) as the snivelling little Labour Party mouthpiece he has always been.

    Where is Armstrong’s muck-raking breathless expose of Goff’s current living/expenses arrangements (which Phil-in intends to change “as soon as possible”)? Why was he never interested in Clark or Peters’ accommodation arrangements last term? Why the sudden interest only now that the Ministers are members of the National Party?

    Armstrong’s anti-National bias cancels out any pretence he might claim to be a neutral objective journalist – he is still taking his instructions by text from New York. Only a fool would believe a word this weak little toady writes.

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  19. peterwn (3,342 comments) says:

    Two points.

    1. As far as I can see, no one seems to have given any thought to what is suitable and appropriate housing in Wellington for the nation’s Deputy Prime Minister. All the comparisons seem to have been with a backbencher’s housing allowance, which is just not relevant with respect to the DPM.

    2. I just cannot what Labour was squarking about at their recent conference when claiming the main stream media were ‘biased’ against Labour. Seems they forgot all about John Armstrong, Tracey Watkins and their other media allies.

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  20. kaya (1,360 comments) says:

    3-coil – I certainly don’t follow the political leanings of msm people. I read what they say and make my own mind up based on that. If they are proven to be lying then that is a different story.
    Just because Armstrong shows hypocrisy doesn’t mean what he has said isn’t relevant.

    The last thing National need to start doing is saying “they did it so it’s alright for us to do it”. Kindergarten stuff isn’t a good look, National will do better in the long term to stand up and deal with the issue rather than dicking around and evading the issue.

    If he is lying then show me how. As a first time National supporter at the last election I like everything they have done so far. (Bar the response to the anti smacking referendum). The last thing I want them to do is start behaving in an underhand way and justify it by saying “they did it first”.

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  21. Alan Wilkinson (1,938 comments) says:

    The only relevant question in my mind is whether it would have been reasonable to expect English to sell his Dipton property to live in Wellington. He obviously had to live in Wellington and take his family there.

    Is the Dipton property a farm?

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  22. 3-coil (1,199 comments) says:

    kaya (1:23pm) – I’m not trying to defend English with a “they did it first/too” argument. The AG’s ruling on the matter will settle the minutiae of this debate, I don’t pretend to know the intricacies of the rules and regulations to be applied.

    All I am pointing out is that Armstrong is very selective about when a matter becomes “in the public interest”, to suit his own anti-National agenda. If these accommodation expenses arrangements are so fundamentally flawed, why did Armstrong not blow the whistle on the same behaviour by the Labour Ministers from the previous government (and indeed as Opposition leader Goff is still doing now). Armstrong appears to be lying by ommission.

    Armstrong is not a journalist – he is just a Labour puppet (running Hodgson and Mallard’s attack lines) whenever his strings are jerked. I’m sure the journalist’s union have a code of practice – to be neutral and un-biased, and to present all sides of the story. Armstrong’s selective “reporting” shows that he fails to meet the basic minimum standards that a real journalist should achieve.

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  23. philu (12,989 comments) says:

    that’s right 3 coil..it’s all armstrongs’ fault..why can’t he just ‘shut-up!’..eh..?

    nothing to see here..!..eh..?

    move right along..!

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  24. Jack5 (5,294 comments) says:

    re Elijah Lineberry at 10.47….

    English’s repeated giant majorities in his electorate give the lie to your smears about his not attending functions in the far south. The locals obviously back him. They are discerning people.

    English is a sound family man, and Anderton and the other lefties are ultimately trashing him for that.

    They go to bat for every weird gender and orientation except for traditional families.

    As for Mr Armstrong, the NZ Hooerald is about as far from the views and attitudes and tastes of Southlanders as the Moscow Times is.

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  25. village idiot (748 comments) says:

    David Farrar is putting in a huge effort to defend his friend Bill, from the indefensible. A rort is a rort. Bill might get away with it, but there’s a bad stain. Southlanders are not unaware that Bill has been a silly lad and they are saying so, in the pubs and supermarkets, milking sheds and stock yards. Bill looks wounded and he is. He’s been caught out with nothing convincing to say in several interviews now. He’ll be wanting to avoid those, because on television, which is the only place Southlanders see him, it sticks out like a dogs balls. He’s hurt, caught in a trap of his own making.

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  26. Jack5 (5,294 comments) says:

    Southlanders are so true blue they would vote in Philu if he was the National candidate.

    Given Philu’s statement in the general debate thread (12.52) about last night’s “toke” we would have to describe him as a token candidate, of course.

    A stoked, toked, bloke to represent the solid meat-exporting south, even if he is a vegetarian. A lie-in among the lambs

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  27. Alan Wilkinson (1,938 comments) says:

    I see I’ll have to answer my own question with Google’s assistance. Yes, Bill English’s property in Dipton is a farm. He was born there so more than likely it is a family farm and may have a shared ownership. Obviously it is unreasonable to sell that during his time as a senior MP/Minister. Therefore he has had to go to the additional expense of buying a home in Wellington for his family so long as he has to be based there.

    I see no issue with him being compensated for that, and I doubt the AG will either.

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  28. philu (12,989 comments) says:

    of course..dpf..

    you have left out the ‘smelliest’ bit..eh..?

    that whole ‘trust business/awkwardness’

    the fact that last year english was registered as having a pecuniary interest in the trust which owns his home in wellington..

    and this year that has changed..he is now registered as having no pecuniary interest..in the family trust that owns his home..

    and..hey presto..!..this change in trust status..

    means yet another little spiggot on the bottom of the money-trough ..opens for english…

    ..and large amounts of extra ‘entitlements’ flowed his way..

    with the burning question being..

    was that change made … just for the purposes of opening that extra spiggot..

    ..on the bottom of the money-trough..

    (i am trademarking this as ‘the spiggot-theory’..)

    ‘cos..as they say..’that wouldn’t be a good look’..

    ..eh…?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  29. Akldnut (20 comments) says:

    DPF why don’t you link to the real guts document instead?

    Here you go straight from here Auditor Generals 2001 report. Dunno if anyones linked it yet

    Part 2, starting page 56 covers the Wellington Allowance issue and page 61 has their take on what needs to be considered to define primary residence.

    1005 Alternatively, an MP’s place of residence could change
    completely (by, for example, the MP taking up full-time
    residence only in Wellington) over a period of time, or the MP
    could continue to own or rent two residences through the
    period.

    Shows the real integrity of the asshole.

    Thanks Trevor Mallard for the link

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  30. Jack5 (5,294 comments) says:

    Aklndnut: Bill English is ten times the man Mallard is.

    Mallard habitually puts his foot in it when he delves into character assassination. Think of his badgering of Don Brash then a short time later he was unveiled a complete hypocrite on such matters.

    He and “party leader” Anderton will be proved wrong in their English smears, too.

    Labour and the left are anti-family. English is a decent family man, which is what his housing position is all about.

    Tip to Bill English: Put a sign in front of your Wellington home “English commune”. Then these crazed leftist fuckers will slink away thinking you are one of their own.

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  31. Akldnut (20 comments) says:

    DPF why don’t you link to the black and white that would put an end to any discussion instead of spin you’re putting on it.

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  32. Akldnut (20 comments) says:

    Jack you hack, open your other eye.
    You’re walking around in your own little dreamworld at the end of the garden covered in pixie dust.
    Open your mind and read the fucking report then then engage you brain for a nanosecond.

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  33. pentwig (240 comments) says:

    Phool your last ranting doesn’t make comprehensive English. F… off and give yourself another injection.

    Alan Wilkinson has hit it on the head. I believe that every MP in that position would do the same.

    Mallard and creep Hodgson will end up with emu eggs splattered on their faces.

    Greenfly(Village Idiot – an appropiate name) is to thick too even understand the integraties of the issue.

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  34. gravedodger (1,575 comments) says:

    In Clutha-Southland Mr English out polled the total other votes including informal better than 2 to 1 in 2008 so he must be doing something right as there are not that many conveniently located KFC’s around HIS electorate. If Mr Armstrong would have the public of NZ believe that he is a political commentator of any credibility then he should have a better understanding of what the average intelligent voter thinks important.
    IMHO things like
    favourable Immigration treatment for good supporters of any party,
    cosy appointments of close relatives and political allies to DHBs and other troughs
    successful changes to electoral law to assist ruling parties continue in power,
    convenient travel claims to assist bi election campaigns or to regularly visit ones newest best friend,
    covering up crucial evidence of funding irregularities, the exposure of which could endanger a majority in the house,
    the claiming of the extra funding allocated to party leaders particularly when the said leader has announced the intention not to stand candidates at the next election and asking the few remaining members to join another party and to seek opportunities there.
    This is the sort of investigative column many of us would like to read and not regurgitating the current attack points from party central of your best matesl.
    FFS Mr Armstrong let the A G do his work and see if you can make a name for yourself with some real journalism. Maybe a piece on the decline of the standards of political comment in NZ, NOW THERES A THOUGHT!

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  35. philu (12,989 comments) says:

    gravedodger…national could stand a cardboard cut-out of english in that seat..and win..

    (oh..!..that’s right..!..they already do…!..eh..?..)

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  36. philu (12,989 comments) says:

    “..Phool your last ranting doesn’t make comprehensive English..”

    (heh..!..)

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  37. village idiot (748 comments) says:

    Pentwig – the issue has integraties? I bloody knew it!!!

    That’s where I’m going wrong! I thought it was a simple case of English being sneaky and greedy, but integraties that’s really bad!!!
    Thanks penty!

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  38. labrator (1,851 comments) says:

    @alkdnut I’m not exactly sure what your quote is supposed to clear up but I don’t feel it clarifies anything.

    904 As we discussed in our Interim Report, the common element
    that defines eligibility to a Wellington accommodation
    allowance, as well as the night and travelling allowances, is
    where the MP lives when not on Parliamentary business.

    So there’s some questions to be answered. That’s what the Auditor General will do. The follow up paragraph to what you quoted has some clues:

    1006 In such circumstances, the MP’s “primary place of residence” for the purpose of eligibility for an accommodation allowance can only be determined on the facts of each case – with regard to the personal circumstances and domestic arrangements of the MP at the relevant time.

    So I wouldn’t quite launch into him for being an “asshole”. Or are you just trolling?

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  39. pentwig (240 comments) says:

    Greenfly

    Find a dictionary. I presume you know how to use one.

    Then of course we always on the Greens housing rorts.

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  40. gravedodger (1,575 comments) says:

    Mr Ure, a friend who is aware that I scroll straight past all your junk rants, let me know that you had made the comment “a cardboard cutout could stand etc”.
    There is some validity in that assertion but in Mr English’s electorate there a very high number of people who get off their arses every day they can, to be productive, work hard , take risks with THEIR money, create opportunities for others to do likewise and of course they will support a candidate and party who have the most likely policy mix to enable all this to happen. In areas that have a significant number of people who are the antithesis of those described above, where a constant information stream gives the erroneous impression that any government other than labour and their socialist supporters will disadvantage them, will of course give support to the socialists from those on welfare who are convinced that all other options will bring economic disaster on the beneficiary. So your cardboard cutout comment applies there as well. The big difference between the two scenarios is the level of truly informed voters versus those voting on the basis of fear engendered by falsehoods.
    I stated in an earlier comment I am no great fan of Mr English and I am confident the A G will make a fair ruling on the matter.
    BTW I am led to believe that the Green Party caucus members, who you so often support, are using ” the rules” to the benefit of their super plans with a scheme that I accept is legal but not in the spirit of what those rules were framed to achieve.

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  41. tvb (4,563 comments) says:

    Bill English has a political problem which he himself acknowledges. Time will tell whether this can be dealt with. He holds a Senior position as Minister of Finance. It is essential he remain effective in that role. My pick is this little difficulty will blow over but I do not see Bill English going any further in politics.

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  42. Akldnut (20 comments) says:

    @ pentwig – the first & second sentence is calling him one eyed and to open his mind.
    The fairy dust at the end of the garden is where Key said there is none.
    IMHO the third sentence is what I suggest you try to do as well and you’d have picked up on it.

    @ labrator – Na mate wasn’t trolling, but suggest that the integrity we seek would have him apply this #1005 over #904 or #1006 after all he is the finance minister telling us to tighten our belts when he is in fact creaming it whilst having no scrupples whilst doing it.

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