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Prime minister Christopher Luxon has a change of heart about his entitlement.
Prime minister Christopher Luxon has a change of heart about his entitlement.

The BulletinMarch 4, 2024

Political entitlements in an austere era

Prime minister Christopher Luxon has a change of heart about his entitlement.
Prime minister Christopher Luxon has a change of heart about his entitlement.

The PM reversed on his accommodation allowance, calling it a distraction. But with one of his ministers citing ‘austerity’ and school lunches under review, it’s become a lesson in political judgment, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Premier House not uninhabitable but costly to repair and restore

Newsroom’s Marc Daalder broke the story on Friday morning that prime minister Christopher Luxon was the first prime minister in at least 34 years to claim a $52,000 top-up to his $471,000 salary to cover his accommodation expenses. Luxon cited the state of Premier House, where prime ministers have previously lived, as the reason he needed to live in his own apartment. Over the weekend, reports have emerged about the $30m price tag required to repair and restore Premier House. The report does not state that the residence is unable to be lived in.

Not every issue can be blown past

By the time Friday afternoon rolled around, Luxon had backtracked on being entitled to the entitlement in the face of questioning and outcry, saying, “It’s clear that the issue of my accommodation allowance is becoming a distraction”. He will not claim the allowance and pay back the $13,000 he’s already received. This morning, Newsroom’s Tim Murphy says the furore will pass but represents “the limitations of a political and communications strategy that assumes every controversy can be extinguished or ridden through by challenging its right to exist, declining to engage, and starving it of the oxygen of a reaction.”

Austerity politics

The term “distraction” is often used within politics to talk about things like ministerial scandals that occupy the news cycle, often at the expense of what the government would like to be talking about or big state of the nation issues. For many, Luxon’s allowance issue specifically rankles because he owns seven homes, and the apartment at the centre of the questions about the allowance is owned mortgage-free. That would probably get up people’s noses at the best of economic times, but the “entitled to the entitlement” lines were delivered against a backdrop of increasing warnings about how bad the books are and demand for cost-cutting from the public service. Conservation minister Tama Potaka used the word “austerity” four times in an interview with the AM Show’s Lloyd Burr last Thursday. Burr’s reaction is underpinned by what both The Post’s Andrea Vance and Vernon Small have suggested is a taboo around the use of that word by parties on the right. Burr raised a question about returning to a time of zero budgets, last seen here in the early 2010s. “Austerity” is now most closely associated with an era of Conservative party rule in the United Kingdom.

School lunch programme is under review, coffee cut

This morning, The Post’s Anna Whyte reports on progress from within the public service on the government’s request that it make cost reductions to find 6.5% in savings. As Whyte reports, at the Ministry of Social Development, they’ve cut off the plunger coffee supply to save $70k a year. Instant remains available. Staffing cuts at Oranga Tamariki haven’t been ruled out and staff were told on Friday that further changes would need to made to meet the goal. Associate Education Minister David Seymour has confirmed the government-funded school lunch programme is under review ahead of the Budget. As reported by Alex Spence in the Herald this morning, representatives of the Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA) have written to Seymour to request a meeting urgently. The HCA is alarmed that Seymour, who campaigned against the programme during the election campaign, has responsibility for it.

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