Jake Quinn on Bill English

October 1st, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

I’m surprised and impressed. Former Labour Press Secretary Jake Quinn has done a fair and balanced post on Bill English. He has just gone up hugely in my estimation.

It’s time to leave Bill English alone. Labour and the press gallery have had a good run with it. Bill’s been embarrassed, he’s paid some money back and the issue will always slightly affect his credibility as Finance Minister. But enough is enough.

Bill’s home in Dipton has been in his family for 120 years. It’s on English Rd. It’s full of his stuff and he is the local MP. Some time ago he decided to have his family reside in Wellington so they could be closer together – his kids go to school there and his wife practices medicine there – it’s an honourable thing to do for someone planning a life in politics.

Bill has to maintain two residences because he has two homes, two rates bills, and everything else that goes with it.

Exactly. The regime is meant to neither advantage or disadvantage MPs. It would be different if Bill had sold or rented out his Dipton home, but he has not – as he says it has been his family home for 120 years, and will continue to be so once he leaves Parliament.

MP’s need to be ultra careful and conservative when it comes to what benefits and kickbacks they receive. The public mood for lynchings is high, especially after the British MPs’ expenses scandal which led to numerous resignations.

Labour does need to be careful. For example a (very) senior Labour MP has his adult daughter live with him in Wellington. Does than mean he should lose his Wellington accommodation allowance? I don’t think so, but if you apply the standards Labour has applied to Bill, then maybe there are some double standards.

And again, if Labour and the media think it would be a bad thing if Bill had changed his trust arrangements to get a bigger taxpayer subsidy (something a QC has said did not happen), then where is the scruutiny over the practice of (at least) the Green MPs to have their superannuation fund purchase Welllington property on their behalf, as this increases what they can claim from the taxpayer from merely interest on a mortgage to full rent of up to $24,000 a year.

How much of a difference does this make. Well if the property has $150,000 on the mortgage and interest rates are 6%, the maximum you could claim off the taxpayer is $9,000. But by vesting the property in their superannuation fund, they can claim up to $24,000 in rent.

Now this is quite legal, but has escaped the same scrutiny.

Bill should have been more careful so deserves some of the criticism he has received. However, successive Speakers of the House, from both major parties, have signed off on his arrangements and the legal buck stops with them.

Indeed, Hunt, Wilson and Smith have all agreed he qualifies.

What’s more, his being in breach, if he is, is a technicality. He’s only in trouble because the allowance is called an ‘out of town MP’ allowance. If it was called the ‘MP’s who have a home in their electorate but choose to spend pretty much all of their time in Wellington’ allowance then there wouldn’t be an issue.

This has been the problem for Bill. Because the rules use the term “primary residence” he has been arguing Dipton is his primary residence, and the public have rejected the notion that the primary residence can possibly be a place you and your family don’t live in most of the time. It does not matter that under the rules, it can be – it fails the common meaning test.

At some stage in future the rule should probably be amended to just asking whether or not the MP resided outside of Wellington before they became an MP, and whether or not they still own a property outside Wellington, which is not rented out or used by others.

A very fair post by Jake. His co-blogger Jeremy Greenbrook-Held balances it up by doing the normal partisan rant. He hysterically demands Bill must resign or be sacked and also gets numerous facts wrong. Not even worth fisking it is so puerile.

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