Thursday, October 29, 2009

Its about ethics

One other point I should make while venting my spleen about Bill English's Ministerial housing rort and what the Auditor-General's findings say about our system of Parliamentary expenses: in all of this, the question has been very narrowly focused: "was it within the rules?" In the process, the real question - "was it ethical?" - has been ignored.

That question matters. The Cabinet Manual requires Ministers not just to act lawfully, but also "to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards." This reflects a public expectation. Bill English's behaviour in this matter does not meet that standard.

An ethical person would not expect to be paid to live in their own home.

An ethical person would not structure their affairs to maximise their eligibility for "expenses".

An ethical person would not hide behind legal advice to pretend that they had no financial interest in their own family trust.

Bill English did all of those things. Bill English is therefore not an ethical person. He does not meet the high standard demanded of Ministers. He cannot be trusted with our money.

"It was all within the rules" or "other people did it too" are not excuses; they are simply a wider indictment. If other MPs and Ministers mirror English's arrangements, or see them as unproblematic, then they too are unethical people.

Ethics is the real issue here, and a "can't be bothered" from the Auditor-General is not going to make it go away.