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Perhaps what we find inside can solve our woes
Perhaps what we find inside can solve our woes

PoliticsMay 24, 2024

What I learned about money from scrutinising where MPs hold theirs

Perhaps what we find inside can solve our woes
Perhaps what we find inside can solve our woes

One financial hopeful looks to MPs for inspiration on how to be savvy with money.

As a person whose search history includes “easy ways to make money” and “what should I do with $1,000 savings”, my interest was piqued when parliament released the pecuniary interests register this week. Since 2005, in the interests of transparency and strengthening public trust, MPs have been required to file an annual return of their financial assets, interests and gifts. This includes company directorships, employment, interests in trusts, property, managed investment schemes, debts and gifts they receive.

If there’s one thing that unites MPs, it’s that they seem pretty flush, and that makes me think I should pay attention. People with money tend to know about how to keep that money, and get more money. I would like to do the same thing with my thousand dollars.

Green MP Steve Abel opens the register, which is ordered alphabetically, with just three items listed: a home in Rānui, Auckland, a Kiwibank mortgage for that home, and a SuperLife ethical fund Kiwisaver. The foundation of wealth is here: break free from the shackles of a landlord and put your own money into your own asset. Turn your need for shelter into an investment rather than a cost. Almost all MPs have ensured they have this foundation. 

Image: Tina Tiller

It’s a little further down the list that we see MPs using the same concept to build up. There are a few property moguls here, and they’re concentrated in the National Party. Thirty-five National MPs have multiple properties listed (sometimes owned through trusts or superannuation schemes) compared to 17 Labour MPs, five Act MPs, two NZ First MPs, Two Te Pati Māori MPs and one Green MP. Not all are landlords – many of the properties are secondary residences in other cities or baches/cribs. Simon Court from Act has listed five “family homes” around the country. Still, property is property and its values tend to go one way – up. 

Among those 35 National MPs there are a few notable landlords. Prime minister Christopher Luxon is among them, with four investment properties in Auckland alongside his two residential properties in Auckland and one in Wellington. National MP Carlos Cheung jointly owns five rental properties in Auckland and two property management businesses. Mark Mitchell has three rentals in Auckland and Matt Doocey is a beneficiary of a trust that part owns Christchurch’s Avonhead Shopping Centre. Act’s Cameron Luxton is the beneficiary of a trust with two rental properties in Tauranga. A small handful of other MPs have one rental property.

Now, I can’t say that MPs are trust fund babies, but I can say 69 of them are beneficiaries (most of the time) or trustees of trusts. Usually, trusts are set up to protect assets and set aside money for specific people without others (such as partners or creditors) having claim to it. They can also be useful for paying lower tax rates, as any income can be distributed among beneficiaries on lower marginal tax rates. It’s a similar party divide, where 35 are National MPs and 15 are Labour Party MPs, then there are eight Act MPs, five NZ First MPs, four Te Pāti Māori MPs and two Green MPs. Trusts can be rather mysterious and opaque, as can their their names – for example National MP Rima Nakhle is a beneficiary of Dark Side of the Moon Trust, and Act leader David Seymour is a beneficiary of Beachcomber Trust.

Trusts aren’t the only way MPs are looking after their future selves. Many MPs are dabbling in the stock market through managed funds – 23 different ones, in the case of Chlöe Swarbrick – or owning shares in everything from My Food Bag to Tesla to Alibaba. All MPs bar seven have retirement schemes (like KiwiSavers). Twenty-four of them have two retirement schemes, three have three, Christopher Luxon has four, and Jenny Salesa has five. Scattered through the list are the default funds: Simplicity, Booster and the like, as well as your Fisher Funds and Milford Assets. But then there are some you won’t recognise or see anywhere else, like Salesa’s Kaha’u Superannuation Fund, Kieran McAnulty’s Go the Bush private superannuation scheme and Gerry Brownlee’s Bradnor Superannuation Scheme. 

At least 10 MPs have these Schedule 3 super schemes, which are single-person affairs that allow you to invest your money where you choose. While theoretically anyone can open one, in reality they’re the preserve of mainly MPs, judges and the like. In parliament, the financially savvy have used them to maximise their personal wealth from their years in office – MPs can contribute up to 20% of their salary and each dollar is matched with a $2.50 contribution by the taxpayer, a far more lucrative prospect than the regular 3% employee and employer KiwiSaver contributions. MPs often use the super schemes to buy property that they then rent to Parliamentary Services as their Wellington residence, with the accommodation supplement paid straight into the scheme. 

Image: CSA Images via Getty

Now, the thing about my thousand dollars is that it’s “only” a thousand dollars. More is always better. A handful of MPs have side hustles, on the register as “payment for activities”. A few get fees simply by sitting on boards, which doesn’t sound too hard. Paul Goldsmith is getting paid book royalties from Penguin Random House (he’s written a bunch), and also received payment for doing some writing for retirement village rich-lister Cliff Cook, so that’s an option. If you’re feeling more outdoorsy, Catherine Wedd is collecting an apiary management fee for, I presume, looking after some bees. The more charming among us could MC events like Rawiri Waititi at the Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival 2023. It would also help to have a six-figure salary and have a pay rise on the way.

Key takeaways

  • Property, property, property
  • See if any local trust will accept you as their beneficiary
  • Get a KiwiSaver, and get savvy with it
  • Manage some bees
  • I am accepting gifts at this time
Keep going!