1 Mar 2024

Watch: Prime Minister Christopher Luxon speaks from Queenstown

4:40 pm on 1 March 2024

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon says his claiming of a $52,000 accommodation supplement is something "well within the rules".

Earlier today it was revealed Luxon is collecting a taxpayer-funded accommodation supplement to live in his own mortgage-free home in Wellington.

A $31,000 supplement is available for all MPs living away from home when in Wellington, but the prime minister gets a higher subsidy of $52,000.

Luxon campaigned on wasteful public spending and a need for cost cutting across the public service and under the coalition government ministries have been asked to find at least 6.5 percent of savings.

"It's an entitlement and I'm well within the rules," he told reporters in Queenstown.

He defended taking the payment, the first prime minister in at least 34 years to do so.

"Look, it's part of an entitlement for an out of Wellington MP. Whether you're an MP or a minister, there's a series of allowances and entitlements and it's because I don't have a primary residence in Wellington.

"As I said before, all MPs, Ministers, have entitlements. All those MPs are living outside of Wellington, which I happen to do. So the intention is, I want to get to Premier House as quickly as we possibly can."

Expense returns from Thursday show six National Party ministers, two National MPs, one ACT MP and five Labour MPs claimed the accommodation supplement last year. Financial interests for those not in Parliament before the election have not yet been released.

Prime ministers have Premier House available to live in but Luxon said he was choosing not to due to long-standing maintenance issues.

"We're trying to work out how we can make that work, so that actually I can go live there - its' my preference to do so. Until then, I continue to live in the apartment that I have."

Asked if it was hypocritical, he asked why. His government's focus on cuts and the cost of living was pointed out, but he said: "Yes. But all I'm just saying to you is I want to get to Premier House.

"I think that'd be really important, as prime minister I'd like to live there. Premier House has got maintenance issues and I can't live there at this point of time. That's why I'm carrying on living in my apartment.

"Look, it's an entitlement that I have as an out-of-town Auckland-based MP, as do many other non-Wellington-based MPs and/or ministers."

When Bill English was prime minister, he ended up paying back the supplement, but Luxon said that was a case of "different circumstances".

"It's about where you primarily live," he said. "Anyone outside of the Greater Wellington area is entitled to the entitlements. That's how the allowance system actually works."

When Luxon was voicing opposition to Labour's universal waiving of the $5 prescription fee, he said people like him who were well off should pay the money if they could - a case of if you can pay, you should.

"Well, what I'm saying, I don't know how to explain it any clearer to you, as prime minister of New Zealand ideally you want to be able to live in Premier House when you're in Wellington," he said, when that was put to him.

'Absolutely hypocritical' - Hipkins

Labour leader Chris Hipkins

Chris Hipkins Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Labour leader Chris Hipkins said Luxon should not have been claiming the allowance.

"Christopher Luxon's treating hard-working Kiwis like a bottomless ATM. He needs to apply his own tough-love standard to himself," he said.

"I think it's absolutely hypocritical for Christopher Luxon to be saying that every other New Zealander needs to stomach cuts, while he's claiming a $52,000 a year - that's $1000 a week - allowance to live in his own house mortgage free.

"The fact that it's within the rules doesn't mean that it's the right thing to do."

He said Luxon had access to Premier House at no cost to himself. While it did need some maintenance and structural problems, there was no risk to safety and it was "still liveable" and "in reasonable state", he said.

"It's a residence that's been good enough for every prime minister up till Christopher Luxon ... Premier House certainly needs some maintenance work, but there is nothing in that report that says it's uninhabitable.

"Certainly for the purpose that most prime ministers use it for - which is for accommodation whilst they are in Wellington, which is normally only a couple of nights a week - I think it is certainly liveable.

"If he wants to live in his own apartment I think that's fine, but he shouldn't be asking the taxpayers to subsidise that when there is a free house just down the road that he could move into today."

Watch some of Chris Hipkins' media briefing.

Hipkins himself was ineligible for the supplement, as his primary residence is within the Wellington region. He said whether Luxon paid the supplement back was a judgement for him to make.

Some of his own MPs do claim the smaller allowance, but Hipkins said he personally had never been in that position because he lived in Wellington.

"I think probably the question is whether it's value for money. So if in fact if someone decides to buy a modest apartment with a mortgage and then use the allowance to pay that versus staying in a hotel which would be more expensive, those are decisions that each individual MP makes.

"Like many of the behaviours of National and ACT MPs of late, it suggests that rich people should have more choices than the expectations they have of every other New Zealander."

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