Key backs $900-a-week subsidy for English home

By Audrey Young

Bill English says his household costs are within the rules. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Bill English says his household costs are within the rules. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Prime Minister John Key yesterday backed the practice of Finance Minister Bill English getting $900 a week in a ministerial accommodation subsidy for his home in Karori, Wellington, valued at a reported $1.2 million.

He said Mr English was not costing the state any more than any other minister.

Mr Key did not rule out changes to the MPs' expenses regime in the future but he said "it is important how these things are portrayed".

"I think there is a need to go away and have a look at those things. Inevitably things will evolve."

National would not stand in the way of looking at some of the issues arising following greater disclosure of MPs' expenses.

Mr English said on Saturday that he was appreciative of the accommodation payment which he said enabled his family to be together, but he saw no need for him to set an example of restraint by taking any less.

"This isn't about the money; this is about the support I get which I appreciate which enables our family to be together under the pressures of politics. I get the same treatment as every other minister."

He said the Government had already shown leadership in restraint. Prime Minister John Key had put a cap on Wellington rents for ministers at $700 a week.

Mr English's details emerged after disclosures last week of the accommodation and travel costs of individual MPs and ministers. It is within the rules but Mr English is effectively being paid to live in his own home, which is owned by a family trust.

Most ministers based outside Wellington either have ministerial homes supplied (and the cost was not given) or they live in rented Wellington properties costing around the same amount as Mr English's subsidy.

Wellington-based ministers, such as Chris Finlayson, get nothing.

Mr English is the MP for Clutha-Southland. His wife, Mary, is a general practitioner working in Wellington and their six children live with them and go to school in Wellington. They were renting for years but bought a place in Karori in 2007 after having to move twice from rented places. While his wife and children are clearly Wellington-based, he says his primary residence is the family home in Dipton in his electorate.

As an ordinary member of Parliament, based outside Wellington, Mr English was able to claim a maximum $24,000 a year in Wellington accommodation. The subsidy is larger as a minister with the $700 a week totalling $36,400. The additional costs of gas, power, insurance, and cleaning being met by the taxpayer takes the total to about $900, or about $46,800 annually.

When he went from deputy leader of the Opposition last year to Deputy Prime Minister, Mr English's pay packet increased from $176,900 to $276,200.

Asked what he thought New Zealanders would think, he said: "I think most people will think politicians are paid too much, that our staff is too big, that our VIP service is too expensive, we fly around the country too much. In the end we have got a job to do. We have been voted in to do it and I operate on the same rules as everybody else. In my case I have focused on making sure my family is together and it has some stability."

- NZ Herald

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