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Investigation reveals more National MPs rorting the system

Tuesday 04 Aug 2009 12:00a.m.

Investigation reveals more National MPs rorting the system
By Duncan Garner

The controversy over National Party ministers double-dipping with their housing entitlements has developed further today. Investigations by 3 News reveal that a number of ministers have upgraded to larger, more expensive taxpayer-funded properties, and rented out their smaller, privately-owned apartments to junior party colleagues.

There is nothing illegal in what they are doing, but the ministers are pocketing significant taxpayer subsidies.

Phil Heatley is in charge of housing the country's poorest and most vulnerable citizens. But when it comes to his own affairs, he is certainly maximising his entitlements.

"It's important for me to keep my little family together with me in Wellington," he says.

Taxpayers pay more than $53,000 a year for Mr Heatley, his wife and three children to live in the capital. He owns another apartment and rents that to National MP Louise Upston for $18,000 - which taxpayers also pay for.

He owns two houses in Whangarei, and rents one of them back to Parliamentary Services as his office for around $15,000 a year.

That comes to a total of $86,000 in taxpayer subsidies.

3 News asked, would he be happy to offset the costs of renting out his private apartment against the other one? Mr Heatley refused to answer the question.

Other National ministers are doing the same thing as Mr Heatley. Defence Minister Wayne Mapp claims more than $37,000 a year from the taxpayer for a large apartment, and rents out his private apartment to MP Bakshi Singh for $19,000 a year - a total subsidy of $57,000 that taxpayers pay for.

"I'm not saying it's indefensible, but I can see why people have concerns, and that's why the review will deal with that," says Mr Mapp.

Minister Judith Collins claims $46,000 a year to live on the taxpayer, and rents her private apartment to a National MP she refuses to name.

"I'm not going to breach other people's privacy," she told 3 News.

Finance Minister Bill English is claiming $900 a week because he claims his Wellington house is not his home, despite his family living there. He changed his circumstances earlier this year so he doesn't officially own the house - his wife does. This move allowed Mr English to claim the full $900 a week subsidy.

3 News asked if that was why he changed his affairs.

"Ah, look - I don't think so," says Mr English. "I can't tell you. It certainly was not the intent."

If Wellington was home base, Mr English could not claim a cent - which is why he says a house in Dipton – the South Island - is home.

Mr English brought the Wellington property in March 2007; his wife has a GP practice in the city; his children go to school in Wellington; and his two eldest children were on the electoral roll last year in Wellington Central.

His Dipton farm is registered to him and his wife at his Wellington address.

Back in 1999 ministers Phillida Bunkle and Marian Hobbs were both stood down for claiming an out of town allowance despite living in the capital. An independent inquiry into what Mr English did would sort this out, but Prime Minsiter John Key is sticking by Mr English, saying he has done nothing wrong.

3 News
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