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Key Says He Tried To Talk Heatley Out Of Resigning

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Phil Heatley
Phil Heatley

Wellington, March 1 NZPA - Prime Minister John Key says he spent a hour trying to persuade Phil Heatley not to resign from the cabinet and instead stand down while the Auditor-General examined his ministerial credit card accounts.

The Whangarei MP last week resigned his housing and fisheries portfolios for wrongly spending taxpayer money on his credit card and signing an inaccurate return.

"I spent about an hour saying to him `look, I don't think you should resign, I think you should stand aside," Mr Key said today on NewstalkZB.

"I don't think he's a dishonest individual, I think he made some mistakes and they were silly, stupid and misguided."

Mr Heatley has handed his credit card accounts to Auditor-General Lyn Provost, who is expected to extend her inquiry to cover all ministers and the rules around their spending.

Mr Key said there was intense media scrutiny of even the smallest expense claimed by MPs and ministers, and it wasn't unique to New Zealand.

Earlier today he said on TV One's Breakfast programme Mr Heatley was "a decent bloke and he's not dishonest".

He said he respected Mr Heatley's decision to resign, even though he had tried to talk him out of it.

The inaccurate claim Mr Heatley signed was a charge for bottles of wine at a National Party function.

Mr Key said Mr Heatley wrote "food and beverage" on the receipt, which was the category under which he was claiming the charge.

"That got translated by his private secretary into dinner, and he signed that form," Mr Key said.

"I'm not excusing him for that."

Mr Key said he expected to have the Auditor-General's report in about three weeks.

More details of ministerial spending are expected to be released this week.

ACT leader Rodney Hide said yesterday the rules around MPs' expenses were "treacherously complicated" and should be changed.

Mr Hide used the travel discount he gets as an MP to take his partner on an overseas trip, and most of the cost was picked up by the taxpayer.

He apologised and paid the money back, although he had not broken any rules.

Mr Hide made a name for himself as a "perkbuster" and using taxpayer money for the trip embarrassed him and his party.

He said yesterday the travel discount was part of an MP's salary package, but when the used it they were hounded by the media.

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