Prime Minister John Key has moved swiftly to draw a line under the expenses scandal, by demoting three of his ministers.
Key announced today that Bill English, Phil Heatley and Tim Groser would be stripped of all ministerial portfolios. Their replacements will be announced tomorrow.
Key moved quickly after Labour leader Phil Goff earlier today demoted three MPs for credit card expense infractions.
All three ministers were shown to have spent taxpayer money either in clear breach of the rules, or in circumstances where their behaviour was morally questionable. Mr English has admitted claiming an away-from-home allowance, even though he resides permanently in Wellington.
Mr English has since paid the money he claimed back, and he admitted at the time that what he did was “not a good look”.
Mr Heatley used his ministerial credit card to pay for movie tickets and alcohol. And Mr Groser used his card for a number of hotel minibar items.
Mr Key said all three ministers had shown extremely poor judgment, and that sloppiness was no excuse. In the case of English the deception, while not illegal, had been wilful and deliberate.
“This man is the Deputy Prime Minister, and as Finance Minister is expected to set an example. I won’t have this kind of behaviour in my Cabinet.”
Mr Key acknowledged that the decision to sack English could have been made months ago.
“Sure, it’s taken time to come to this decision, and look, I’m relaxed about that. The important thing is we’ve taken a good look and have now made a decision.”
In the case of Groser the offence was the claiming of expenses, not his drinking.
“I’m not about to start asking questions about what one of my hard working ministers does after hours. If Tim gets his kicks enjoying hardcore liquor in the privacy of his hotel room, then who am I to judge?”
“But when he then puts that on his ministerial credit card, well that’s another matter.”