Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Andrew Little: nothing wrong with taxpayers footing the bill for his Auckland guru Matt McCarten

Matt McCarten was appointed chief of staff by former leader David Cunliffe in 2014. PHOTO/ Mark Mitchell NZH 07Jul
Matt McCarten was appointed chief of staff by former leader David Cunliffe in 2014. PHOTO/ Mark Mitchell NZH 07Jul

Labour leader Andrew Little says his adviser Matt McCarten's taxpayer-funded salary is within the rules because McCarten will be doing "outreach" work for Little rather than campaign work.

McCarten is leaving his job as Little's chief of staff to head a new Auckland office for Little as part of Little's election year strategy.

That office was on a lease taken out by the Labour Party but Little's Parliamentary budget was paying for some of it at market rates under a sublease agreement.

Staff would be a mix of party workers and those, including McCarten, whose salaries were paid out of Little's Parliamentary budget.

Parliament's rules provide some flexibility on how political parties use their staffing allocations but prohibit taxpayer-paid staff from campaigning.

That includes trying to sign up party members, get donations or ask for votes. However, there has always been a thin line between Parliamentary and campaign-related work, especially for those in more political positions.

Little said McCarten's work was not campaigning but "outreach" for Little such as organising events and meetings when Little was in Auckland.

He denied he was trying to use taxpayer funds for campaign-related work, saying party work would be done by party workers in the same office rather than McCarten and other Parliamentary-funded staff.

"I know the level of scrutiny that is applied to Parliamentary Services funding. We are always looking to make sure we are well within the rules, not just the written word but the spirit of it as well. That will continue to apply in every appointment I make, every activity I do."

He said there was nothing unusual about the arrangement.

Little got defensive after further questions, saying the media could "pick apart employment arrangements" but he was more concerned with the issues facing Aucklanders such as housing and burglaries.

In the National Party some staff have their salaries partly paid by the party to account for a portion of party related work.

McCarten's shift risks leaving Little without a chief of staff or a chief press secretary - two key roles.

Little's former chief press secretary Sarah Stuart also left in May and is yet to be replaced.

Two further long-serving press secretaries have now also resigned from Little's office to take up jobs outside politics

Little denied an apparent exodus a year before the election was a sign of expected defeat.

The departures of the two will leave Labour's press team at half strength.

Little said changes in the office staffing were "pretty standard" and "not at all" a sign the staff did not expect Labour to win the 2017 election.

A recruitment process for the chief press secretary was still underway.

He said that was delayed because the party was in the midst of deciding on its election year staffing, including the establishment of the new Auckland office.

- NZ Herald

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