Phil Goff has managed to not actually break the rule on accomodation funding, yet still manage to get himself seen as hypocritical, having broken his word, demonstrating a sense of entitlement, and inappropriately using taxpayer funded staff to do commercial business for him.
The issues are quite complicated, so let us start from the beginning.
At some stage in the 1990s Phil Goff purchased an apartment in Wellington, and lived in it. Parliamentary Service would have paid him an accomodation allowance up to the level of the interest on his mortgage.
Then he became a Minister and got provided with a ministerial house. So he moved into the Ministerial House (which by chance was two minutes from where I live) and rented out his apartment. Nothing too out of the ordinary here.
Then Labour lost the election, and Goff lost his ministerial house. At this stage he had a choice. He could move back into his apartment, or he could rent out a new apartment at taxpayer expense and continue to rent out his apartment.
By this stage it is almost inevitable that the mortgage has been paid off. So if Goff moved back into his own apartment, he would not get a taxpayer funded accomodation allowance.
Goff has claimed he could not move back into his apartment as it had tenants. This is a red herring. S51(1)(a) of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 states that only 42 days notice is needed to terminate a tenancy if the owner wishes to live there. With the election loss in early November, the apartment could have been free by the end of December.
But Goff chose the route which is of maximum benefit to himself. Now he is far far alone in doing so. In 2008 such arrangements were still secret as john Key and Lockwood Smith had not opened the arrangements up to public scrutiny. So I don’t judge harshly MP’s decisions in the pre-transparency era.
But then we had the transparency and Labour ripped into Bill English for his accomodation allowance use. Note that Bill English was actually found by three Speakers and the Auditor-General to be entitled to a Wellington accomodation allowance.
At that time Phil Goff was asked about his situation where he claims an accomodation allowance, and gains rental income from his property in Wellington. Goff could have defended his right to do so, but instead he pledged “The flat is currently tenanted and I plan to sell it”, as reported by TV3.
That was a very clear indication that he planned to sell it, no later than when the tenants moved out. He could incidentially have sold it at any time the tenants were there – in fact it is probably easier to sell with tenants in it. He had 18 montsh to live up to his word and sell it, and quite simply has just not bothered to do so.
You might expect such a mistake from a junior MP, but from the Leader of the Opposition it is worse. If you make a public commitment, and in a time of such scrutiny on these things, you should follow through on it.
But worse the current tenants moved out, and Goff doesn’t sell the place as promised. He advertises for new tenants. And worse he gets a member of his taxpayer funded staff to be listed as the contact person, and on four occassions show people around the apartment – during work hours.
This is a breach of the rules. That is using taxpayer resources to help Phil Goff make private money. It is in fact the exact thing they hounded Pansy Wong for.
It staggers me that the Leader of the Opposition would agree to having one of his staff be listed as the contact person for his private investment property. That is massively bad judgement. Of course Goff may not have time to do it himself – but there are specialist property managers such as Quinovic who will do it for a fee. Basically Goff chose to use a free taxpayer funded staffer, rather than pay for a professional.
Then to compound his already multiple misjudgements, he defends his renting it out as “it’s my superannuation”.
Can you think of a phrase more likely to piss off the voters? Because Phil Goff is one of those rare MP on the old gold plated parliamenary super scheme. After 30 years in Parliament he will leave with a massive superannuation payout – well into seven figures.
Then Goff blunders again on TV3. He defends his staffer working on renting out his apartment as doing it as a friend, not as a staffer and not in paid time. But this is clearly untrue – at least two of the interviews were done during the day.
I’ve worked for a political party leader, and yes they can be yogur friend as well as a boss. I’ve gone around to their place to fix their home PC (which you could argue anyway is needed for work). But when doing this, always on a Saturday.
Having a staffer find tenants for your investment property is an appalling error of judgement for the man who wants to be Prime Minister.
And in the media today, Goff carries on saying that he was entitled to do what he did, as it was within the rules. Has he learnt nothing from the last 18 months – that the public hate hearing those words “within the rules”. If he was smart, he would apologise for not keeping his word and most of all for using taxpayer funded staff to find tenants for his residential investment property.