- Date published:
10:00 am, September 8th, 2009 - 48 comments
Categories: bill english, corruption, housing, national/act government, parliamentary spending, same old national - Tags: MPs accommodation rort
And by any other name it smells as bad.
John Key has annouced a reform of the rules for ministerial accommodation allowance. A fixed, automatic allowance will now be paid to all out of Wellington ministers of $37,500 a year for their Wellington accomodation (or $30,000 if they own the house), slightly less than the highest spending ministers were revealed to have spent in the last six months.
The important thing to note is this is not an upper limit. Ministers will get this payment automatically regardless of whether their accommodation costs are lower or not. No test of ‘actual and reasonable’ costs. Even ministers living in Crown-owned houses will get the allowance and have to pay rent or something, the report doesn’t decide.
Congratulations. You’ve just just given a pay rise of up to $37,500 a year to David Carter, Murray McCully, Tim Groser, Georgina Te Heu Heu, Pansy Wong, Jonathan Coleman, Kate Wilkinson, Maurice Williamson, and John Carter. All of them are ministers based outside Wellington who previously claimed nothing or less than $37,500 a year for their Wellington accommodation and each of them will now be gifted $37,500 a year, no questions asked. All because some of their colleagues couldn’t be trusted not to rort the system.
Key claims this will save the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and that would be true if he had followed the Ministerial Services recommendation, which included selling all Crown own houses except Premier House. But Key decided not to sell those properties (something I support) and that eliminates the savings (the media missed that: check the last table in the cabinet paper). If anything, this scheme will cost the taxpayer more.
But what about the man who started all this? Bill English will be able to get $30,000 a year for living in his own family home – less than the $48,000 he was claiming, more than the $24,000 he had promised to reduce it to. The problem with English’s behaviour, as Guyon Espiner noted during the press conference, isn’t the amount he is taking. In fact, the amount he is taking was completely within the rules. It is that he is taking the money as an out of town minister at all when he is Wellington-based that is the problem.
Reducing the rort to $37,500 a year doesn’t make it OK. Try this thought experiment: if when this story had first come to light English had taken $18,500 in six months, rather than $22,000, would it still have been a rort? Of course it would have been. So how does cutting the rort to that amount now make it OK?
It doesn’t matter if English is ripping us off for $50,000, $37,500, or $37.50. A rort’s a rort. He must stop or Key must make him. But Key clearly has no intention of doing any such thing. In fact, he’s allowing that rort to continue and giving a bunch of other ministers a nice bonus at the same time.