Act leader David Seymour's embarrassment: 'Can't afford to buy' guy has an interest in three properties

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 1 May 2021, 9:44AM
(Photo / NZ Herald)
(Photo / NZ Herald)

Act leader David Seymour's embarrassment: 'Can't afford to buy' guy has an interest in three properties

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 1 May 2021, 9:44AM

Act leader David Seymour has made a virtue of owning no property, but is now correcting the record to show he is a beneficiary of trusts that own three properties.

Seymour is embarrassed about what he calls an "honest mistake", and says he has legal advice saying he doesn't really own any of those properties: his grandparents' beach house in Northland, a neighbouring section of land, and his father's house in Whangārei.

But he accepts he could end up owning some of them - or a share in some of them - as a beneficiary of the trusts, so these will be included as his "real properties" in the upcoming 2021 register of MPs' pecuniary and other specified interests.

The register will also show that Seymour has a KiwiSaver account that he says dropped off his radar until the start of this year.

The register allows MPs to declare their personal financial and property interests, to help strengthen public trust and confidence in the Parliamentary process and give voters information about the financial interests of MPs.

Seymour is commonly cited as owning no property in media stories about the number of MPs who own homes and multiple homes, while Parliament is scrutinised over its handling of the housing crisis.

"The fact that the average National MP owns 2.2 properties of their own might suggest why they've spent a lot of time introducing solutions that you'd almost suspect weren't supposed to work - because they certainly haven't," Seymour told RNZ in May 2017.

He has also talked about being unable to afford a home in his electorate of Epsom, despite earning a six-figure salary.

The 2020 register of pecuniary interest shows Seymour as a beneficiary of three trusts: the NN Faithfull Family Trust, the BH & VA Seymour Family Trust, and the Beachcomber Trust.

The properties were held in the latter two trusts, Seymour said.

"The bit where I've made a mistake is where I just thought I don't own any property and moved on. I should have read properly that if you're a beneficiary of a trust that owns real property, then you must declare an interest."

The oversight came to his attention as he was instructing Act's new MPs about the register and what it covered, he said.

"As I was advising other people in our caucus, I thought, 'Jeepers, actually, I need to think about what that means for my own.'

"Frankly, the whole thing's ridiculous and I've been back and forth with the registrar about it. I wouldn't ever put down that I own, for instance, my grandma's beach house.

"The trusts are discretionary, and the trustees could very well choose to say, 'Actually, you know what, David? Grandma and Poppa never really liked you. You're out.' The trust deeds are very clear that the trustees have absolute discretion."

Act Party leader David Seymour says he is embarrassed at what he calls an honest mistake, and has legal advice supporting his position that he doesn't own any real property. Photo / Mark Mitchell

He felt it was still true to say he didn't own any property.

"In this case, I have something that really isn't mine. Family members have chosen to put properties into trusts, and because they say for instance future children and grandchildren will be discretionary beneficiaries, that means I have an interest that needs to be declared."

He said he was "quite distraught at having made a mistake", and then discovered an old KiwiSaver account while "paranoically" reviewing his interests.

It was attached to a job he had in 2012.

"I had a second job, and didn't opt out of KiwiSaver. I didn't really think about it for 10 years because I have a separate superannuation scheme - which I've declared. But when I thought about it, actually, I do actually have a KiwiSaver entitlement."

He said he had never logged on to the account, which had about $2000 in it, and had to call AMP to get access to it.

The registrar for pecuniary interests, Sir Maarten Wevers, declined to talk about any matter specific to any MPs.

He said the register for the year up to January 31, 2021 was being prepared and would be ready for the House within the next few weeks - as per Standing Orders.

Any amendments to it or previous years' records - including Seymour's corrections for every year since 2014, when he became an MP - would be part of a second report at the end of the year.

Seymour said the section by his grandparents' bach wasn't "this vast country estate that I'm trying to hide".

"My grandma's place, which I've been visiting for my life until they were gone, they owned what I thought was an enormous backyard. It turns out, they actually owned a second section.

"I actually used to mow the thing for $2."

He said if he hadn't corrected the record, his property interests would unlikely have gone undetected "unless someone was forensically going through property records".

"I could have finished my political career and no one would ever have found out about any of them. I've chosen to fess up."