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Ministerial house issue resolved

20 December 2000 Media Statement

Ministerial house issue resolved

Customs Minister Phillida Bunkle has volunteered to give up her Ministerial apartment, saying she doesn't want to live there if there are any suggestions that she doesn't qualify.

She moved into the apartment after being told by Ministerial Services that she was entitled to it.

Phillida Bunkle has also asked both Parliamentary and Ministerial Services to re-confirm her entitlement to allowances over the last two years, saying she will repay any sum if there has been an error.

But she says her living arrangements have been discussed fully with both organisations and previously cleared by them.

"I have taken this initiative to clear up the whole issue."

She met with Acting Prime Minister Jim Anderton this morning to explain the accommodation issue. She says it unfolded this way:

Until early 1999, I had established my four bedroom family household in Waikanae. I maintained a family household there and I was on the Otaki electoral roll. Nevertheless as the only Alliance MP based in the Wellington region I spent far more time in Wellington than in Waikanae. It is very common for hard-working MPs to spend more time in Wellington than at their home.

I continued to own a property in Thorndon, Wellington, because I was spending so much time in Wellington. It also very common for MPs to own a house in Wellington, rather than to rent, and for Parliamentary Service to provide assistance with the mortgage interest payments instead of with rent.

Early last year I was campaigning in Wellington Central and working there as an MP, while maintaining my primary place of residence outside of Wellington. The sheer amount of time I was spending working in Wellington convinced me that it was more appropriate to be on the electoral role in Wellington – even though it was not where my family household was based. Electoral law requires a person to choose one residential home, and I felt it was most appropriate to choose the place where I spent the most time, rather than the place I consider my real family household.

I have continued this approach. I am now registered on the electoral roll at Oriental Bay. No one has suggested Oriental Bay is my family household, or that I am not entitled to be registered there since – as a Minister – I am required to spend so many nights in Wellington city. In the same way, prior to the last election and for four months after it, I registered at my MP's address in my one-bedroom cottage as I am entitled to do. Any MP who works in Wellington for most of the time is entitled to do the same, but it would not make Wellington their family household.

During 1998, I rented accommodation in Nelson to care for my seriously ill daughter as it was not possible to move her from Nelson at the time. I travelled to Nelson whenever I could to be with her, and as a result I spent less time at Waikanae. In 1999 discussions with Parliamentary Service it was agreed that it was more appropriate to give the location of my family household as Nelson.

This arrangement continued after the election.

In December 1999 Ministerial Services ascertained that my family household was in Nelson and offered me the Oriental Bay apartment which had not been taken up by any other Minister. They believed that I was entitled to it because my family household was outside Wellington.

My daughter is now able to stay with me at the Oriental Bay apartment, although I have continued to pay rent for accommodation in Nelson. She is able to stay in Nelson where she has access to care when I or my partner can't be with her. As a result of my daughter's improved medical condition, it is now possible for me to spend more time with other family members who live in the Waikanae household.

This may be complicated, but it has all been approved by the relevant Parliamentary authorities throughout. However, I am asking both Parliamentary Service and Ministerial Services to re-check their approvals so that all uncertainty is removed They will also confirm any definitions with the Higher salaries Commission which has the role of checking on allowances for Ministers.

ENDS

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