David Seymour has got himself into a little bit of trouble.
He filed a Parliamentary Pecuniary interests return that was not, ahem, in accordance with the rules.
The first problem was that it was late. Sir Martin Wevers gave him a rather pronounced telling off. From the introduction to the 2020 Register of Pecuniary Interests:
I was disappointed that three members—the Hon Peeni Henare, David Seymour, and the Hon Willie Jackson—submitted their returns after the deadline.
All three are experienced members who have submitted previous returns correctly, and I expected the same this year. Standing Orders make it clear that members are responsible for submitting their returns by the deadline. Because of the importance of providing transparency over members’ interests to the House and the public, I have decided to include these late returns in this summary.
But there were other problems as well. He apparently made some fundamental mistakes in his return. From Derek Cheng at the Herald:
Seymour is commonly cited as owning no property in media stories about the number of MPs who own homes and multiple homes, while Parliament is scrutinised over its handling of the housing crisis.
“The fact that the average National MP owns 2.2 properties of their own might suggest why they’ve spent a lot of time introducing solutions that you’d almost suspect weren’t supposed to work – because they certainly haven’t,” Seymour told RNZ in May 2017.
He has also talked about being unable to afford a home in his electorate of Epsom, despite earning a six-figure salary.
The 2020 register of pecuniary interest shows Seymour as a beneficiary of three trusts: the NN Faithfull Family Trust, the BH & VA Seymour Family Trust, and the Beachcomber Trust.
The properties were held in the latter two trusts, Seymour said.
“The bit where I’ve made a mistake is where I just thought I don’t own any property and moved on. I should have read properly that if you’re a beneficiary of a trust that owns real property, then you must declare an interest.”
The oversight came to his attention as he was instructing Act’s new MPs about the register and what it covered, he said.
“As I was advising other people in our caucus, I thought, ‘Jeepers, actually, I need to think about what that means for my own.’
“Frankly, the whole thing’s ridiculous and I’ve been back and forth with the registrar about it. I wouldn’t ever put down that I own, for instance, my grandma’s beach house.
“The trusts are discretionary, and the trustees could very well choose to say, ‘Actually, you know what, David? Grandma and Poppa never really liked you. You’re out.’ The trust deeds are very clear that the trustees have absolute discretion.”
It is correct that Seymour declared the trusts in his return.
But he clearly did not read the instructions.
Clause 5 of the rules requires a MP to disclose:
(f) the location of real property in which the member has a legal interest, other than an interest as a trustee, and a description of the nature of the real
(g) the location of real property, and a description of the nature of the real property, held by a trust to which the following apply:
(i) the member is a beneficiary of it, and
(ii) the member knows or ought reasonably to know that the member is a beneficiary of it, and
(iii) it is not a unit trust whose name is disclosed under subclause (1)(d), and
(iv) it is not a retirement scheme whose membership is open to the public and whose name is disclosed under subclause (1)(h)
Seymour also forgot to disclose a Kiwisaver account that he held. He should be more careful.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt the most obvious conclusion that can be drawn is that Seymour the lawmaker may not have a very good understanding of the complexities involved in his job.
And I would be more sympathetic to him but he is a member of a party that has done the tough on crime stuff for political jollies for a long time. Their world view does not tolerate weaknesses.
No doubt his return will now be scrutinised in more detail. I wonder if other problems will be found.