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Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Wong considered resigning from Parliament after travel perk breach

An emotional Pansy Wong fronts the media at a press conference after a report into the Botany MP's use of her Parliamentary travel allowance cleared her of serious misuse. Photo / NZPA
An emotional Pansy Wong fronts the media at a press conference after a report into the Botany MP's use of her Parliamentary travel allowance cleared her of serious misuse. Photo / NZPA

Botany MP Pansy Wong considered resigning from Parliament after admitting misusing the Parliamentary travel perk during a trip to China with her husband, but says she did not realise she had breached the rules at the time.

Mrs Wong was today cleared of any serious misuse of her Parliamentary travel allowance in an investigation conducted on behalf of Parliamentary Service by former senior public servant Hugh McPhail.

Mr McPhail said he found "no evidence of systemic abuse" of the travel allowance by either Mrs Wong or her husband Sammy.

Mrs Wong resigned from her Women's Affairs and ethnic affairs portfolios last month when it was revealed that she and Mr Wong had done business while using the taxpayer-funded travel discount in China.

Under the rules of use, the discount - 90 per cent for Mrs and Mr Wong - is on airfares for private travel only and not to be used for business - though MPs are now allowed to use it for travel-related to their parliamentary work.

The investigation looked into 13 international trips made by Mrs Wong and her husband together or separately since 2000 and found that one trip, a flight from Beijing to Lianyungang, China in December 2008, could have been in breach of the Speaker's Directions.

"While this trip was unplanned and inadvertent, it could be construed as having been for a private business purpose," Mr McPhail said, and he recommended Mrs Wong and her husband repay the travel rebate for that trip of $237.06 each.

Mrs Wong, who accepted the report's findings, apologised and said she would repay the money, told reporters the trip to Lianyungang was a side trip during a visit to China. The purpose of the China visit was a holiday and to meet with "Little Pumpkin", the girl abandoned by her father at Melbourne railway station who now lives with her grandmother in China.

She said it did not occur to her that her witnessing of the signing of business document by her husband "could be construed as personal business... It really did not dawn on until this inquiry process".

She would have repaid the travel rebate for that portion of the trip immediately, had she realised.

As the inquiry was initiated, Mrs Wong said she considered resigning from Parliament altogether, which would trigger a byelection in her Botany electorate.

"I thought that at the time I would not want my behaviour to become a distraction for the Prime Minister and the Government.

"I was frustrated with myself because the political climate is such that New Zealanders are very fed up with the parliamentary travel subsidy. The Prime Minister has set high standards and I always want to live by them and I let myself down."

Mrs Wong said she and Sammy had been through "a pretty gruelling and thorough investigation".

While she hoped to return to Cabinet, she had no expectation that would happen immediately and "it has to be earned".

Mr McPhail's report also examined the Wongs' use of the domestic air travel entitlement and their use of an electorate office at 735 Chapel Road, Botany, Auckland, as a registered office for a commercial business purpose. It found no evidence of non-compliance with the rules around either.

Labour MP Pete Hodgson started the scrutiny on Mrs Wong's travel when he questioned her in Parliament as to whether she should have signed her occupation as a Government Minister, instead of Member of Parliament, when witnessing a business deal of her husband's in China.



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