Bill English defends taxpayer cash for house

BY VERNON SMALL
Last updated 16:43 01/08/2009

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Finance Minister Bill English says he appreciates the support he gets from taxpayers, which saw him claim nearly $1000 a week to live in his family house in Wellington.

Mr English today defended the payments, saying it was within the rules and was the same as other ministers were getting. He had made the best option for his family and the cheapest for taxpayers.

The English's family trust owns the $1.2 million house in Karori.

Mr English, the MP for Clutha-Southland, is entitled as an out-of-Wellington minister to either a crown-owned house or an accommodation allowance.

He has six children and his wife works as a GP in Wellington

He said Prime Minister John Key had capped the accommodation rate at $700 a week for rent, which was previously unlimited.

Other costs are also covered – including power and cleaning – which saw Mr English claim more than $23,000 for living in the house for the six months to June 30. As deputy prime minister he earns $276,700 a year.

He said most people thought politicians were paid too much, their cars were too big and their travel costs too extravagant.

"I focused on making sure my family is together and it has some stability," he said.

"I get the same deal as everyone else. This isn't about the money this is about the support I get which I appreciate that enables our family to be together."

Mr English has come under attack for the claim at the same time as he has called for "permanent restraint" in the public sector.

But he said the Government had shown leadership including a cap on the amount that could be claimed, and a cap on the number of staff in the Beehive.

Meanwhile, at the National Party caucus in Christchurch today high profile delegate  Wira Gardiner's bid for the presidency fell at the first hurdle, when he failed to secure a seat on the party's governing board.

The board will select a president tomorrow to replace Judy Kirk who is stepping down after seven years. The front-runner is Auckland businessman Peter Goodfellow.

In his speech to the conference Bill English warned the party it must be prepared for possible tax changes that they would be uncomfortable with.

He told reporters he did not rule out a capital gains tax, though he said it would be hard to persuade a National Government a capital gains tax was a good idea.

The Government needed to get as much revenue in over the next five years without raising the tax burden.

Prime Minister John Key's speech to the conference tomorrow will include a package of youth employment initiatives, likely to include details of its youth guarantee policy.

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- The Dominion Post

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