7 Aug 2009

Dipton is my home, says English

8:13 am on 7 August 2009

The Finance Minister is defending choosing his Southland home as his primary residence, which allows him to receive taxpayer funds for accommodation in Wellington.

Bill English, the Clutha-Southland MP, moved his family to Wellington several years ago, but maintains a home at his Dipton farm in Southland.

The Labour Party has hinted at the possibility Mr English should no longer be considered an "out-of-Wellington" MP.

Mr English told Morning Report on Friday that he has lived in Wellington to carry out his duties since 1996, but is entitled to claim an allowance for that accommodation as it is not his home.

"My home is Dipton and it always will be. It's where I was born and brought up, its where I raised half my kids and that's where I represent."

Mr English says to see his family during the week they have to live together in Wellington. He says Parliament has always had a system to support representation from out of Wellington.

On Wednesday, Mr English announced he would pay back about half of his ministerial accommodation allowance, after it was revealed he received far more than other MPs living in their own properties in Wellington. He says he is leading by example and will pay back more than $12,000 worth of the allowance, backdated to the election.

Prime Minister John Key says no rules were broken, but he supports Mr English's move because, in politics, perception can feel like reality. He says it reinforces the need for a review of MPs' allowances, which is due to report back by the end of the month.

PM supports stripping Field of travel perks

The Prime Minister has joined calls for convicted former MP Taito Philip Field to lose his travel perks.

Parliament's Speaker, Lockwood Smith, has ordered officials to look at whether Field is still entitled to free domestic travel and heavily subsidised international travel.

Field was found guilty on Tuesday of corruption and bribery and obstructing justice, and will be sentenced in October.

As a former MP who spent 15 years in Parliament, Field is eligible for a 90% subsidy on international travel. He is also entitled to 12 return trips within New Zealand, and both entitlements are available to his wife.

It appears the rules are not clear about what happens to those perks if a former MP is convicted of a serious crime. But Prime Minister John Key says since Field has been found guilty of crimes that occurred during his time as an MP, he should not be able to benefit from his service in Parliament.

Labour Party chief whip Darren Hughes says he would support a law change that would rule Field ineligible for Parliamentary privileges.

Mr Hughes told Morning Report there are compelling reasons why he should not be entitled to them. He says a jury found Field guilty on serious charges relating to his work as an MP and he does not think keeping the privileges is tenable.

Services warned to reign in spending

The Finance Minister on Thursday warned Ministerial Services and the Parliamentary Service that they will have to cut their spending.

Whether that will mean a cutback in the allowances and travel entitlements provided to ministers and MPs is unclear.

Mr English says both Ministerial Services and the Parliamentary Service need to examine their spending and provide better services for less money.