An inquiry into former minister Phil Heatley's spending of taxpayer money has found that he did not intentionally break the rules.
The Auditor-General, Lyn Provost, today published her report on the findings of the audit of expenditure incurred by Phil Heatley's ministerial office from when he became a minister in November 2008 until he resigned from his ministerial portfolios on February 25.
"Mr Heatley's overall ministerial office expenditure was reasonable compared to expenditure incurred by other ministerial offices for the period we looked at," the report said.
"We found that a total of $1402 of Mr Heatley's expenditure - $608 in Vote Ministerial Services and $794 in Vote Parliamentary Service - was outside the rules. In all cases, Mr Heatley thought that the expenditure was within the rules, but he did not understand the rules correctly.
And Lyn Provost suggests that the misunderstandings were not limited to Heatley:
"In the case of the expenditure in Vote Parliamentary Service, the Parliamentary Service was also administering a rule incorrectly for members of Parliament, and Mr Heatley is not the only member who will have been affected."
We are delighted that this matter has now been resolved. It will be interesting to see whether Heatley is restored to Cabinet in the short term, or whether the PM will require a longer spell of penance.
And we're also looking forward to the release in May (hopefully) of the spending of ministers in the former regime. Phil Goff's response to any inappropriate expenditure will be closely evalutated against the standards set by the new administration.
UPDATE: John Key has announced that Phil Heatley will return to Cabinet as from Thursday:
Any reasonable New Zealander would reach the same conclusion that I did," he said.
"There was no deliberate attempt to rort the taxpayer."
Mr Key said mistakes had been made, but the Auditor-General had pointed out that the rules were "confusing."
He said it was a wake-up call for ministers and all MPs that they need to be more careful when they spent taxpayers' money, and that the message would not be lost on them.
The full report from the Auditor-General can be viewed here.