28 Oct 2009

Deputy PM cleared of wrongdoing over allowances

9:56 pm on 28 October 2009

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English has been cleared of any wrongdoing over his accommodation allowances.

The Office of the Auditor-General says it will not investigate any further and no independent inquiry into the parliamentary system for allowances is required.

Mr English, who is also Finance Minister, came under fire earlier this year when it was revealed he received about $900 a week in accommodation expenses for a Wellington property owned by his family trust.

Mr English has since paid back about $32,000 and is no longer claiming any housing allowance. His electorate is Clutha-Southland and he also has a house in Dipton.

Progressive Party leader Jim Anderton sought clarification as to whether Mr English can rightfully claim Dipton as his place of residence.

But the Office of the Auditor-General says Mr English has completed the required paperwork which has been approved by the Parliamentary Service and successive Speakers of the House.

It did, however, find that Mr English has an indirect financial interest in the trust which owns his Wellington home.

The office urges that a current review of MPs' allowances be carried out such in a way that any future system works in conjunction with the one covering ministerial housing.

English pleased with result

Mr English told Checkpoint the Auditor-General's decision puts an end to questions about his allowances and he is pleased with the result.

However, he admits a clearer definition of what a primary place of residence is would be a good idea and says that, no doubt, people will still question his judgement.

"The Auditor-General report shows I was open about my situation, that I got advice from credible people - in fact, the people who look after the Register of Pecuniary Interests for Members of Parliament.

"I followed that advice. That proved not to be sustainable, so I paid the money back.

"I stand by the decisions I made to keep my family together. It's quite a challenge to be a senior politician and a father, but I'm pleased about the decisions we've made."

Speaker seeks improved system

The Speaker of the House says he will use the finding of the Auditor-General's report to develop a better parliamentary system for allowances and provide certainty to the public that the system is fair.

Lockwood Smith says as Speaker he inherited a range of practices that were mostly appropriate and sensible, but are based on rules that are not clear.

Dr Smith says it is important there is a system that is fair for MPs and recognises that many maintain two homes, particularly those who service their electorate from their home outside Wellington.

The Parliamentary Service has released a statement saying it is preparing policy advice for the Speaker to clarify when MPs can be reimbursed for their Wellington accommodation costs.