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Row continues over double-dipping ministers
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Wed, 05 Aug 2009 10:08a.m.
Double-dipping by ministers who rent their Wellington apartments to backbench MPs is the latest twist in the expenses saga that is ripping through Parliament.
Also Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bill English remains in the spotlight after a report today saying his Wellington home was designated an official ministerial residence by Internal Affairs.
The Crown is leasing the house back from the English family trust that owns it.
On the renting issue some MPs are getting market rates on Wellington properties they own while claiming allowances to live in different properties.
So far Housing Minister Phil Heatley and Defence Minister Wayne Mapp have been confirmed as renting their apartments to backbenchers.
Police Minister Judith Collins yesterday told reporters she also rented her Wellington apartment but would not say to whom.
Labour leader Phil Goff also rents out his flat in the capital and lives in a taxpayer-funded home.
Mr Heatley is taking most of the criticism because he is in charge of the country’s state houses where poor people live.
His salary is around $250,000 and TV One News calculated his additional “taxpayer subsidy” at about $77,000 a year.
TV3 News reported Mr Heatley owns two houses in Whangarei and rents one of them to the Parliamentary Service as his office, netting another $15,000 a year.
The ministers aren’t breaking any rules but Prime Minister John Key has ordered a review.
Speaker Lockwood Smith told The Dominion Post he would introduce checks to ensure out-of-town MPs claiming for Wellington residences owned by family trusts or superannuation schemes were charging market rates.
“Where there’s any question of a pecuniary interest, it would seem to me that an independent valuation on the market rental of the place would be reasonable.”
Mr English, whose circumstances sparked the media investigations into ministerial housing, is still being questioned by reporters.
Mr English claims about $1000 a week to live in his own home in Wellington. It is owned by a family trust and the title is in the name of his wife, Mary.
The New Zealand Herald reported today the lease back arrangement has enabled Mr English to get more than the $24,000 he would otherwise have been limited to — likely to be over $47,000 this year. The value of the lease was based on an independent valuation.
The previous practice of Internal Affairs was to limit out-of-town ministers living in their own Wellington properties to the $24,000 maximum of an ordinary MP.
A day after the May 28 Budget, a new rule on ministerial housing was gazetted stipulating that an out-of-town minister who did not take up an official residence was effectively limited to $24,000.
Mr English’s spokesman told the newspaper that because the house had already been designated an official residence, the new rule did not apply to him.
The house in Karori was bought by an English family trust in 2007 and the rating valuation is $1.2 million.
Mr English, MP for Clutha Southland, and his wife Mary, a Wellington GP, have lived there for two years with their six children and have lived in Wellington for many years.
The Dominion Post reported that it had been told Mr Key is likely to reduce the accommodation allowances.
Mr Key favoured a series of new tests for ministers’ costs, which could be paid as a bulk-funded amount, the paper reported.
Ministers who stayed in their Wellington homes would get the $24,000 limit available to ordinary MPs.
A second tier of about $30,000 would be available to ministers who moved into bigger houses, or took one leased by the taxpayer, but rented any existing Wellington accommodation they owned and so received an offsetting income.
A top rate of $35,000 a year would be available to ministers who took a house through Ministerial Services but had no offsetting income from another property they rented out.
Jim Bailey – JimBWarrior
05 Aug 2009 12:29p.m.
New Zealand’s highest paid Beneficiary’s continue to be exposed for their skulduggery while demanding the lowest put their meagre cents to better use – Onward – Jim
05 Aug 2009 12:24p.m.
Oh, let us hope we all remember this at election time…….that goes for all parties. All candidates should be asked what benefits they reaped, if they are already in parliament.
05 Aug 2009 11:52a.m.
Richard: You miss the point. The rent is being paid by the taxpayer as well; the minister already has a home in Wellington, but is creaming it so the taxpayer can pay off his mortgage on top of his salary. It’s disgusting and makes a mockery of National’s so-called economic frugality.
05 Aug 2009 10:59a.m.
Wow, the media are crap on this story. First if a minister rents his house out he is going to get an income from it. He can rent it privately or to another minister. The minister who rents it is going to have to find a property to rent anyway. But alas, it is a slow news week so the media, or should I say, typically tv3, are trying to create a story.
05 Aug 2009 10:51a.m.
“Noblesse oblige”. (pronounced: no-bless obleegyz). Term used to imply that with wealth, power and prestige come responsibilities. Often used derisively, in the sense of condescending or hypocritical social responsibility.
Our politicians would do well to heed this term.