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Ministerial Cars Now Under Question

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Bill English
Bill English

Wellington, Dec 8 NZPA - Rules requiring ministers to keep their self-drive cars in their electorates were changed this year because they were "impractical and silly", not to benefit Finance Minister Bill English, Prime Minister John Key said today.

The New Zealand Herald newspaper reported today that Mr Key put through a special rule change that enabled Mr English to keep his taxpayer-funded self-drive car at his Wellington home rather than his electorate in Southland.

As minister responsible for Ministerial Services, Mr Key oversees their perks, which include an entitlement to one self-drive car. Mr Key told reporters today the change had been his decision.

"In May of this year it was bought to my attention there were about 11 ministers who had a self-drive car that at certain times was in Wellington," he said.

"And in my view it just didn't make sense to have a silly situation where ministers were using Crown cars because they didn't have their self-drive car, and very often out of their electorate.

"So on a practical basis I decided to make that change. I think it saves the taxpayer money. I think it makes sense."

The change removed the requirement for self-drive cars be based at a minister's primary place of residence, so Mr English could use one in Wellington rather than in Dipton, in his Clutha-Southland electorate.

Mr English's assertion that Dipton was his primary place of residence was controversial this year, because it allowed him to claim rent to live in a Karori property in Wellington.

Documents obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act showed the rule change took effect on May 26. They indicated minimal cost savings to the taxpayer, but said some ministers could benefit.

The rule changes were not made specifically for Mr English to benefit, a spokesman for the PM told NZPA today.

Other ministers also had self-drives in Wellington -- among them Peter Dunne, Chris Finlayson, Anne Tolley, Tony Ryall, Phil Heatley, Simon Power, Nathan Guy, Tariana Turia, Rodney Hide and Heather Roy.

Mr Power (who lives in the Manawatu), Mr Guy (Horowhenua) and Ms Turia (Wanganui) used their cars to drive to and from homes in their electorates.

If ministers did not use self-drive cars, they would be entitled to use Crown cars with a driver, or taxis, the spokesman said.

The cost to the taxpayer could well be higher in those cases, he said.

"Regardless of where ministers base their self-drive cars, there's no extra cost to the taxpayer," he said.

He blamed the Labour Party for "putting this out to distract from their own internal issues".

Mr English said he had not lobbied for any rule change.

"As I understand the rule change was made to accommodate ministers with families in Wellington," Mr English said.

"I did not really know about the rule until it was changed to be honest. When you become a minister part of the package is a self drive car... it was delivered to me in Wellington."

Mr English said Labour had arranged for the story to come out today because it wanted to distract from its caucus meeting where MP are expected to question their leader Phil Goff over a recent speech on the Maori Party.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark had put in place the ban on ministerial self-drive cars in Wellington after former minister Ruth Dyson was caught drunk driving, Mr English said.

Labour MP Pete Hodgson had told the Herald that Mr English's wanting the car in Wellington further exposed the "fiction" of his assertions about his primary home being in Dipton.

The ministers have chosen cars from a mix such as the Hyundai Santa Fe, Holden Captiva, Chrysler 300 and Peugeot 607.

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