English left in 'unfair position' - Speaker
Public pressure has left Finance Minister Bill English in the "unfair position" of receiving no Wellington accommodation allowance, Speaker Lockwood Smith says.
Mr English was yesterday cleared by the Auditor-General of wrong-doing over his housing allowance claims, after he was criticised for claiming almost $1000 a week in expenses -- including $700 a week in rent, to live in his own house, leased to the Government as an official residence.
Mr English decided to pay back the difference -- about $12,000 -- between what he had been claiming as a minister and what he would have been able to claim as an MP.
He then paid back all the allowance he had received since becoming a minister, a total of about $33,000, including the $12,000, and said he wouldn't make any further housing allowance claims.
Argument focused on whether Mr English was a Wellington-based minister. He claimed his primary residence was in Dipton, in his Southland electorate, but his family live with him in Karori, Wellington.
Dr Smith this morning said he was "troubled" Mr English was no longer receiving an accommodation allowance for living in Wellington.
"I actually am concerned that the pressure has put Mr English in an unfair position now," he told Radio New Zealand.
However, it was not up to Dr Smith to remedy the situation as Mr English came under Ministerial Services rules, whereas Dr Smith was responsible for Parliamentary Services, which covered MPs only.
"Were he a Member of Parliament, I would be concerned about that because he has to maintain two residences and he does deserve to have a limited allowance available for reimbursement for accommodation costs here in Wellington," he said.
"Under the parliamentary system, the amount of reimbursement we pay in Wellington is sufficient to keep one person in a single flat in reasonable proximity to Parliament.
"No more than that. If they bring their family to Wellington, that's their cost."
Labour is not letting up on Mr English's living arrangements and is now concentrating on whether or not Mr English had a pecuniary interest in the Wellington house, which is owned by a family trust.
Mr English declared no such interest and attached a copy of the advice he had received about it.
"In our view, the advice that Mr English relied on to make his declaration was not applicable to this situation and was based on too narrow a test for the Ministerial Services' situation," the report said.
"We consider that Mr English does have an indirect financial interest in the trust."
The report said this happened because different systems used to decide allowances did not fit well together, and it recommended they should be sorted out.
Labour, however, says Mr English still has a case to answer and more questions are expected to be asked in Parliament.
MP Pete Hodgson said last night Mr English's case was unique.
"Most New Zealanders would think that if you have a house in a family trust, you have a financial interest in it," he said.