I'd really rather that Bill English was giving his full attention to the economy, rather fire-fighting over the relatively small sum at stake in his accommodation expenses problem. But that doesn't mean I feel sorry for him. English's financial arrangements have been just a bit too exotic for that.
There have been various claims about what the letter of the law may or may not allow, but the last three paragraphs of the Herald on Sunday editorial captured the issue well enough:
But English remained in a unique position: the $1.2 million Karori house, owned by the family's Endeavour Trust, in which he lives with his wife and six children, is deemed an official ministerial residence and leased back to the Crown. Until English, under pressure, changed the arrangements, this cost taxpayers - and, by any sensible assessment, benefited English - $47,000 a year.
If these arrangements complied with the letter of the law, English should explain why he changed them when the heat came on.
He also needs to explain the trust arrangements. He declared a "beneficial interest" in the trust last year and "no pecuniary interest" this year. What changed, and why? The inescapable suspicion lingers that he was arranging his affairs to maximise his entitlements. That may be legal, but in the middle of a recession when, as Finance Minister, he is calling for restraint in public expectations of state spending, it remains deeply questionable.
English announced the following day that that he stopped receiving a housing allowance on July 28, and has foresworn all future allowances and reimbursed Ministerial Services for the $32,000 in allowance he had received since November. This is quite a sacrifice given that there would have been little fuss had he moved his family out of its Wellington house into a fully-funded ministerial residence last November.
I'm not even sure he should have to do this, given that there is a family residence back in Dipton, even if the family hasn't been living there in any practical sense. But this is the place English has got himself too.
He can hardly complain about Opposition attention, given the vcious way National went after Marian Hobbs and Phillida Bunkle (whose circumstances seem straightforward in comparison) while it was in opposition. Now, he not only has Trevor Mallard on his case on Red Alert, but, according to Audrey Young, may not enjoy the sympathy of all his colleagues:
And it was not just a matter of Labour keeping the issue alive.
Mr English is not universally admired in National and he has enough detractors in the party who were not unhappy to see the Finance Minister in political discomfort.
Okay, now I do feel a bit sorry for him. But not that much.
Media7 this week looks at last week's PR-driven news-a-palooza – Key, Boobs, Fashion Week, Pammy etc – with a panel featuring Janet Wilson and others.
And NBR's Hazel Philips will join us for a look at the recent history of Advertising Standards Authority complaints, along with Wendy of D-Vice, whose billboards attracted the ire of the Bishop of Wellington.
And I'll have a chat with Simon Morton about his This Way Up show on Radio NZ, and his new series Use As Directed on TVNZ.
If you'd like to join us for the recording, we'd need you at TVNZ around 5pm. Hit reply and let me know.
I have been harsh at times on the rather overstretched nature of Bill Ralston's paid commentary. But I'm happy to report his best stuff can be found on the website of Janet Wilson, where he has been mediablogging quite impressively.
And thanks to PA reader Cameron for the link to the latest auto-tune confection -- Carl Sagan - 'A Glorious Dawn' ft Stephen Hawking (Cosmos Remixed):
Nice. Really nice.