Ginny Andersen admits knowledge of electorate office deal in 2017

Labours Hutt South MP Ginny Andersen has admitted that in 2017 she knew about a secretive rent deal that saw $4500 in taxpayer cash funnelled into the local Labour Party each year.
Shed previously said she only understood the deal after she looked at it ahead of the 2020 election, when she axed the arrangement, which was set up by the previous MP, now speaker of the House Trevor Mallard.

The deal worked through a subletting arrangement whereby the local Labour Party rented office space from the buildings owner, the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union, for $1500 a year. It then sublet that office to Andersen for her MPs duties, for $6000.

MPs offices are paid for by taxpayers through Parliamentary Services which meant that the local Labour Party, acting as the middleman, was able to pocket a $4500 margin per year from the deal.

Now there are questions about what Andersen disclosed when the Electoral Commission, which looked into the deal last year, and how much Andersen told Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has defended Andersen since the deal was uncovered by Stuff last September.

When asked about the deal by TVNZ last Friday, Andersen said she didnt know about the deal initially, suggesting she only discovered it when it was raised by Stuff in 2020.

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I was never aware of it initially, but when it was brought out just before the last election, I decided that wasnt transparent enough, Andersen said.

After the intense scrutiny raised by [National MP] Chris Bishop just before the last election, I looked at it, understood what was going on, and decided that it would be much more transparent to see that it was going straight from Parliamentary services to the existing landlord, she told TVNZ.

She took a similar line with Stuff on Wednesday, saying she moved into her office in 2017 knowing almost nothing about the rental agreement, only that she inherited it from the previous Labour MP, Trevor Mallard.

That was an arrangement that was made before I was a anggota of Parliament, I cant say Im not aware of who signed what, Andersen said.

But Andersen was more forthcoming when presented with evidence that she knew about the deal as early as 2019.

Hutt South MP Ginny Andersen had said she wasnt initially aware of the electorate deal.

Andersen said that she became aware of the deal in 2017, when she inherited the lease for her office from outgoing local MP.

There was a lease arrangement that had rolled over and thats what Parliamentary service had told me, Andersen said.

She clarified that she didnt mean to suggest shed only became aware of the deal in 2020, despite telling TVNZ saying she only looked at it and understood the deal after Bishop began asking questions, in September 2020.

"At no time did I say this was in 2020, Andersen said.

As I said to TVNZ, I was never aware of it initially.

When I first got elected in 2017 as a list MP I found out there was a long-standing historic lease arrangement that I inherited. Parliamentary Services confirmed it was within the rules.

Over the course of the term I found out other detail such as Labour had owned the building and sold it to the Firefighters Union in exchange for lower rent.

I used the opportunity after the 2020 election when I got elected as the MP for Hutt South to change the arrangement. Parliamentary Services has advised it was always within the rules, but I wanted to ensure it was more transparent, She said.

Andersen sent that statement only after Stuff presented her with multiple documents that suggested shed been aware of the details of the agreement during most of the last Parliamentary term.

These documents include AGM minutes from Andersens electorate, where the deal was discussed in her presence as early as 2019; annual accounts which were emailed to Andersen which show the financial records behind the deal; and even an email sent to Andersen and others in which she asked for a copy of the rental agreements, suggesting that she or people she worked with were in possession of them.

Stuff has also obtained an email to Andersen with a screenshot of Hutt South Labours bank account which was sent to Andersen in June 2019 to prove the rent had been paid.

The local Labour party made $4500 off a rent agreement over this office.

I think the new set up is more transparent, but the previous arrangement was totally within the rules also, Andersen said.

She wouldnt comment on any of the specific documents that mention the deal, and she wouldnt answer questions about what, if anything, she had told Ardern and the Electoral Commission about the arrangement.

If you have any further questions on the arrangement please refer those to Parliamentary Services as it is a matter for them, Andersen said.

Parliamentary Service has said it is happy with the deal and the Electoral Commission has ruled that the Labour Party must declare the cheap rent it pays as a donation. It cleared Andersen of any wrongdoing as she wasnt an MP for the period the complaint covered.

When first approached about the story last year, she claimed the figures are not correct implying not just that the figures were wrong, but that she knew what the correct figures were.

But shortly after, Andersen corrected the record, acknowledging that the deal existed and that it was a long-standing arrangement, dating back decades.

Andersens colleagues have supported her but stopped short of defending the arrangement. Labours 2020 campaign chair Megan Woods said Andersen had made the right decision to axe the deal.

I think Ginny has made a decision that she has cancelled the arrangement and that it is not going through a third party anymore, she said.

The National Party has called for the Auditor-General to investigate the spending, but Ardern has so far resisted that proposal.

As far as Im concerned, the people that we need to be checking on these arrangements are involved in checking on those arrangements, she said on Monday.

Arderns office said she had been briefed on the deal by her staff, and her office was satisfied with the accuracy of what Andersen disclosed.


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