MPs forced to reveal property in private super funds under new rules

Finance Minister Bill English, who was at the centre of a furore in 2009 over an accommodation allowance
Hagen Hopkins/ Getty

Finance Minister Bill English, who was at the centre of a furore in 2009 over an accommodation allowance

MPs will be forced to reveal property held in their private superannuation funds as well as their links to trusts under new disclosure rules that come into force this year.

The register of MPs' pecuniary interests, due to be published before the end of May, also sets a lower threshold for gifts, which must be declared if their value adds up to more than $500 from a single donor.

Under the previous rules only single gifts worth more than $500 had to be declared.

The new regime should reveal repeat offers of hospitality, such as corporate boxes or regular meals, as well as frequent smaller gifts.

The rules were revamped last year after a series of controversies about the disclosure of gifts and politicians' perks and other interests.

They included a furore in 2009 over Bill English claiming a ministerial accommodation allowance for a family home held in trust.

Under the new rules MPs must reveal if they are trustees, beneficiaries or both of any trust in which they have an interest. Previously they only had to name the trust..

They must also declare any property held in a superannuation scheme that is created for their benefit and is not open to the general public.

An analysis of last year's register showed two-thirds of MPs declared a trust of some sort.

In all, 68 MPs had an interest in more than one property. Thirty eight of them were from National, 16 from Labour, five from the Greens and nine from other parties.

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As under the previous regime MPs will still have to declare their other employment, business interests, loans, directorships and the names of any shares directly held, though not their value.

The register this year is also covered by a new "purpose" clause stating the register's role is "to facilitate the transaction of business by the House by promoting the highest standards of behaviour and conduct by members, and thereby strengthening public trust and confidence in parliamentary processes and decision-making".

The registrar, Sir Maarten Wevers, declined to be interviewed ahead of the release of this year's register. But in a covering letter to MPs he said it also provides them with protection against accusations of a possible conflict between their public duties and private interests.

He warned them the register was closely scrutinised by electors and the media. And he pointed to the view of Parliament's Privileges Committee that if there was any doubt about whether an interest should be declared it is better an MP declares it.

"I endorse that view," Wevers said.

His report must be presented by May 29. 

 - Stuff

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