Labour 'hit squad' targets Bill English over allowances

By Audrey Young

Labour has assigned a double hit squad, Trevor Mallard and Pete Hodgson, to target Finance Minister Bill English over his housing allowances.

But their aim is to wound him politically, not force him to resign, says Mr Mallard, who talked to the Herald yesterday about why Labour has renewed its attack six weeks after the facts around his situation emerged.

He is running a blogging campaign against Mr English and Mr Hodgson has been running a campaign in the House for the past two weeks.

Mr Mallard blogged this week on Labour's Red Alert site that: "This story will last as long as English is a minister", but he said the aim was not to get him to resign. "Actually we would prefer him to stay there."

They believe Cabinet colleague Steven Joyce would do a better job for National, so politically Labour would prefer to see Mr English stay.

Mr Mallard said that whenever Mr English "gets involved in trying to cut something or talks about priorities or inappropriate expenditure or whatever he will be reminded of this".

The situation around Mr English emerged after Speaker Lockwood Smith and Prime Minister John Key decided to instigate quarterly disclosures about the costs of individual ministers and MPs to the taxpayer.

Mr English was receiving an out-of-town housing allowance in Opposition because he considers his primary residence to be in Dipton, in his southern electorate of Clutha, Southland. He also has a family home, owned by a family trust, in Wellington, where his wife works and his children go to school.

When he became a minister last year he was able to have his Wellington home deemed a ministerial residence and rented back to the Government for $700 a week - $240 more than he was getting in Opposition.

He had to declare, however, that he had no pecuniary interest in the property. He was formerly a trustee and said he had never been a beneficiary.

Mr English has since rescinded that agreement and now gets the ordinary out-of-town allowance.

Labour wants proof of that, but Mr Key said he was taking Mr English at his word.

An Official Information Act release last week revealed a few more details on the switch from the former arrangements for Mr English to the ministerial one. That included a request for an extra $20 a week for an extra hour of house cleaning and the fact that Mr English's office supplied the bank details of the family's Endeavour Trust. But Mr Mallard said that not much more was known now than six weeks ago.

Labour is targeting Mr English on three fronts - the declarations over the Endeavour Trust; whether he should have accepted anything at all if Wellington is his primary residence in reality; and whether he should have accepted higher taxpayer funding for rent and cleaning for the same house when he became a minister.

- NZ Herald

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