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A rort is a rort is a rort

Written By: - Date published: 10:00 am, September 8th, 2009 - 48 comments
Categories: bill english, corruption, housing, national/act government, parliamentary spending, same old national - Tags:

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.

48 comments on “A rort is a rort is a rort ”

  1. Tigger 1

    Good post Marty.

    Previously MPs were sort of like contractors, invoicing for expenses. Now they appear to be on fixed, standardised payments – so does that make them beneficiaries?

  2. JohnDee 2

    Tigger.

    I’m sure that most on a benefit would love to have $37.500 on top of their measly income.

  3. By way of comparison, that $37,500 is more than two-thirds of us even earn. Nice, huh?

    • burt 3.1

      That proportion is more a reflection of how low wages are in NZ relative to the cost of accommodation in Wellington. I’m not saying the level is set correctly, just that an emotive reference to average earnings would be better focused on average earnings than accommodation costs in Wellington.

      • blacksand 3.1.1

        My arse it is; it’s a reflection on the manner to which Messrs English et al have become accustomed. How many shipping containers does it take to accommodate a family of 8? There’s a trailer park in the offing close to Parliament at that…

  4. toad 4

    Question 11 in Parliament today:

    Metiria Turei to the Prime Minister:

    Can he confirm that under his proposed new rules Government ministers will be given a lump sum of up to $37,500 a year to pay for accommodation in Wellington; and Ministers will be able to pocket any of the public money they do not spend?

    • burt 4.1

      Question one for toad;

      If I’m given a meal allowance of $12 for working late shift can I keep what I don’t spend on food ?

      • snoozer 4.1.1

        not if you’re a public servant. Public servants get actual and reasonable costs up to a cap for accommodation, food etc when travelling.

        What rules a private business has is their business. This is taxpayer money.

        • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1.1

          And most of them use capped reimbursement rather than giving out lump sums as it’s far cheaper.

      • toad 4.1.2

        burt, your $12 meal allowance is an entitlement that has been negotiated.

        Key’s proposal is like saying all beneficiaries should get $800 a week benefit, just because that is what a few need to meet their essential commitments. From what I’ve read from you about beneficiaries in the past, I’m sure you wouldn’t agree with that. So why is it okay for Ministers?

        • burt 4.1.2.1

          toad

          I never said it was OK, I have assumed that the entitlement to the ‘allowance’ is based on a need rather than just being an minister.

          So perhaps I haven’t understood the draft proposal as clearly as some. One thing I think is good about the idea is that we all know how much it is and who gets it. Not so under the old rules.

          Can I assume that such an allowance system will not be beneficial to operators of trusts that covertly funnel tax payers money for personal gain ?

      • burt 4.1.3

        Oh, BTW I’m impressed with the concern about spending tax payers money – where was that when an unknown amount of money covering a 14 year period was validated for expediency?

        • blacksand 4.1.3.1

          oh yeah, a 14 year period; so presumable all the bullshit about korrupt practice tars the Fourth National Government with the same brush?

  5. mike 5

    Good to see Labour supporting this move to increase transparency and not play politics – welcome change.

    Btw is Phil Goff still alive ?

  6. Researcher 6

    Is that $37500 tax free? If so, it’s a pay increase that is even bigger than we might initially have thought. It’s important, because a person on $50,000 pa takes home just over $39,000 pa. Add a student loan to the equation and we get very close to $37,5000. What percentage of the working population earn less than $50,000 pa?

  7. vidiot 7

    So will this now bugger the Green Party Superannuation Fund housing rort ?

    • a) There are no Green ministers; and
      b) no; as ministers will be responsible for their own housing – so who they rent from is their own business, as with MPs.

  8. grumpy 8

    And it’s still less than what Labour Cabinet Ministers were getting.

    • lprent 8.1

      Yeah prove it. I think that you’re just bullshitting – it really seems to be the only thing you’re good at.

      As far as I’m aware there has never been a minister who has had as much of an allowance towards private accommodation as the double dipper from Dipton. Rather than fix the system, the government has instead made it worse.

    • burt 8.2

      The actions of the Dipton Double Dipper and the Green Party super fund are exactly the same in principle.

      • Pascal's bookie 8.2.1

        Really? Do the greens get extra money by claiming to be living outside wellington when actually they live with their families in wellington, where their spouses have established businesses and their children all attend school?

      • burt 8.2.2

        Here we go… I’m not surprised Labour supporters don’t know what the word ‘principle’ means. Had I said ‘exactly the same implementation’ then the “IT’s OK when we do it” bunch would be right to pull me on the accuracy of my comment.

        If no Green Party MP’s have ever owned property in Wellington while at the same time receiving tax payer funding to live in Wellington then I’ll stand corrected. Same shame for Labour trough-snufflers as National trough-snufflers.

        A rort is a rort is a rort – to quote someone else who you won’t argue with on principle.

        • Pascal's bookie 8.2.2.1

          “don’t know what the word ‘principle’ means”

          Oh I know what the word principle means burt, I was just wondering which particular principle you were talking about. In the Double dipton case the principle is not about owning the house in question, but declaring it to not be your ‘primary place of residence’ when it obviously is.

          that’s what makes it different from what many others have done. That’s what makes it the double dipton case. So when you said:

          The actions of the Dipton Double Dipper and the Green Party super fund are exactly the same in principle.

          I thought the significant principle of the double dipton case was what you were talking about, but given this:

          If no Green Party MP’s have ever owned property in Wellington while at the same time receiving tax payer funding to live in Wellington then I’ll stand corrected.

          I see the principle your initial comment was based on was actually something like:

          It’s ok for burt to just say any damn thing he likes, and if it turns out to be wrong, why, he’ll stand corrected, but it’s up to others to prove him wrong

          That’s just about the shortest high horse I’ve ever seen. Does it do any tricks?

        • burt 8.2.2.2

          Tricks, nah. But it laughs at reptilian brain stem reflexes from people who can’t acknowledge that a rort is a rort is a rort and there are no inherently pure parties in politics and that flag colour has F-all to do with integrity of individuals.

          • Pascal's bookie 8.2.2.2.1

            What are you trying to say Burt? If there’s an accusation against myself in there, let’s here it, with evidence if you don’t mind.

            I seem to recall a certain joker that was all about how political parties should be pure, and if they weren’t then we mustn’t support them. Wasn’t me though.

            In case you think that this means I think we should just let any infraction pass, think again. And if you think that means I judge actions based on flags, then again, think again. Maybe get your little horse to help.

            (Some words you may find useful; ‘cases’, ‘merits’, ‘norms’.)

        • burt 8.2.2.3

          Oh, ACT also use some form of trust that owns property in Wellington and receives tax payer funding for MP’s.

          Is this is a case of English is not the only one working the rules and the rules are confusing so we better validate it all and move on?

          • Pascal's bookie 8.2.2.3.1

            Speaking of autonomic responses from the brain stem, you might want to try teaching that horse at least one other trick.

  9. burt 9

    I actually think the allowance should be based on the average cost of a basic 1 bedroom apartment. Perhaps $250/week. If the MP’s/ministers want to live in bigger places than that then they can fund it themselves.

    It’s not like the trough-snufflers couldn’t afford to pay for bigger properties themselves.

    • Maynard J 9.1

      Al all but giving up on a genuine battler getting into parliament and wanting their families to be with them? Far-fetched I know, but there is a reason for all those perks. (Although the whopping great salary would, I imagine, take care of that problem rather rapidly, but that aside…)

      Maybe we should means or asset test them, to give them a taste of what it is like 😉

      Look, when it comes down to it there is no reason why it should not work like any other decent system – private or public. You claim what you need, you do not lose any, and you do not profit from it. It is as bloody simple as that.

      • burt 9.1.1

        Maynard J

        So you have no issue with English receiving more than others because he has a large family then ? Come on – parliament employs English, not his family etc. I think just cause English wants to breed more than most that should be his problem – we pay him enough for the job he performs and if that’s not enough then he can resign because there a hundreds of people waiting to take his place that don’t think the tax payers should cover the costs of housing his large family.

  10. toad 10

    I’ve been doing a bit of number crunching, and it seems Key’s “reform” will cost the taxpayer an additional $55,488 – and that money won’t even be spent on accommodation; it will end up in Ministers’ pockets.

    • burt 10.1

      toad

      That’s probably less than the cost of debating it for half an hour in parliament. (That’s not to say it’s OK – but just giving it some perspective)

    • Roflcopter 10.2

      Now subtract the dollars saved from not needing Ministerial Services to act as landlords…

      • snoozer 10.2.1

        I think if you look at the last table in the cabinet paper it gets a lot more complicated. Key isn’t selling the crown houses and that’s where nearly all the savings were going from – so the new system is going to work out pretty close to the old one in cost… the cabinet paper doens’t go into enough detail to work it out exactly

    • burt 10.3

      Roflcopter

      I’m getting the picture that the Green Party super fund will be negatively impacted by this? I’ll ask toad that question on his own blog, lets see if he answers it or if it even survives moderation.

      • snoozer 10.3.1

        how has the greens’ setup got anything to do with this?

        They have a superfund that owns some houses, the MPs rent from those houses at market rents. Someone’s got to make a profit from renting out those house, it may as well be the superfund.

        It’s got nothing at all to do with the ministerial housing allowances and isn’t affected in any way by the changes to them

      • burt 10.3.2

        If it’s a condition then I guess as tax payers you lot will be paying for it.

        Seriously, I have no issue with toad or any others from g.blog making a clear equivocal statement that this change of rules will not effect the Green Party Super Scheme (now or in the future). Lets see how the response is worded to my question.

        I never claim to be right all the time and I’ll always apologise if I get it wrong so your reactions are indicating to me that I’m cutting a bit close to the nerve. Lets see what g.blog have to say.

      • toad 10.3.3

        The answer is here burt.

        Stop being mischievous. The Greens are trying to get transparency and accountability brought into this. Do you really think they would be doing that if their MPs or their super fund had something to hide?
        .

      • toad 10.3.4

        Oh, and burt, g.blog is auto-moderated only for spam. Otherwise, it is free expression over there.

        The authors do, however, reserve the right to delete or edit comments that are grossly offensive or defamatory.

        But most commenters (d4j and his alias identities excepted, who has come close to being banned on a couple of occasions there, as he has on most other blogs he has trolled on) respect that and engage responsibly without being abusive.

        And good on you, even though you disagree with the Greens on many issues, for doing that and engaging constructively

        Um, and do you notice the relative silence from Labour on this issue?. Methinks there are a few skeletons in the closet there too.

        • burt 10.3.4.1

          I agree re: Labour. I hear there are circa 5 people employed by PS looking after ministerial properties so I assume there will be savings for parliament re: 5 less salaries as well – that is if 5 an accurate number ?

  11. Herodotus 11

    Why not review all payments to politians, why should they all get of them get about $12k p.a. to cover entertainment, and not submit where this money is being spent. Is that not just another non taxable increase to their packages. Be they be red/blue/green/black or any other colour they ALL know how to represent themselves before anyone else, at our expense.

    • toad 11.1

      No, Herodotus, black (ie NZFirst) knew better how to “represent themselves before anyone else, at our expense” than the rest of the parties – and they had no moral reservations about doing it.

      Which is why NZFirst are no longer in Parliament and Winston isn longer the Minister for Racing.

      But we do need more transparency to expose the rorts, particularly the blatant ones like that of Sir Double Dipton, who is claiming an allowance for his family home in Wellington.

  12. Herodotus 12

    Toad, I agree the lack of noise from many parties (You mention labour) is very interesting. Whenever topics such as this appear, the stillness of the air around Wellington is almost deafening !!
    remember a certain ex MP who stood for Wellington Central, but after that geat man 9Who ever he is I have forgotten) won this person then claimed out of town accomodation, and there were a few others even from the Alliance Party !
    But politicians are no worst than some senior execs (Many in the Forboes 500 come to mind). They both have little in common with the common man and both do thier best to insulate themselve from any meanful contact with such a person.

  13. feddabonn 13

    rather one sided, but i found this song called johnnies boys rather apt! http://www.myspace.com/subversifpoet

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