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Living Allowances, A New Bank & A Round Of Golf?

- David Miller Online

A Scandal Over Living Allowances, An 80 Million Dollar Bank, but a Round of Golf?

During the course of the past couple of weeks, there has been growing controversy surrounding the living allowances for two government ministers, questions concerning that of Bill English, 80 million dollars allocated to the “Peoples Bank” which the majority of New Zealanders say they will not be doing business with it, and amidst it all the tabling in Parliament of the rounds of golf Major General Maurice Dodson enjoyed while on an Asian defence trip. Given the furore over these issues, which have now cost Marion Hobbs and Phillida Bunkle their ministerial posts, where the tabling of such reports concerning General Dodson simply not a demonstration of the levels politicians will plummet to in order to score political points. According to New Zealand First MP and defence spokesman Ron Mark, General Dodson, not only enjoyed a round of golf on no less than 15 of his overseas trips, but he gambled on the outcome of them and enjoyed a drink after so many holes. Mr Mark claims that the participation in such activities by the army Chief of Staff brings into question his focus on military issues.

Perhaps the point has been missed here but why has such an issue arisen in both the House of Representatives and the media, given the extravagance of others in the employment of the government and the creation of a bank, which is controversial to say the least.

First of all golf has become an important tool in conducting business the world over, especially in Asia. Such trips undertaken by the General are no different to those undertaken by a business executive or a member of the government and there is no questioning of an afternoon spent on the course then. Also during business trips an afternoon spent on the golf course is not only a good way to relax, but many fruitful discussions can take place while players are walking to play the next shot. Second, does anyone, apart from Mr Mark really care that the General and his counterparts enjoyed a small bet on some of the holes. Had he spent thousands of taxpayer’s dollars wagering on a hole in one, which player lands his ball closest to the flag off the par three or in green fees for himself and his counterparts then there would be something worthy of protesting over. Finally, the idea that the General and his fellow players stopped for drinks breaks to take in some water or soft drink in the heat is once again nothing to launch a scandal over. Had they had staggered of the 18th hole outrageously drunk after a few lengthy alcohol binges on the way then Mr Mark would surely have some political salvoes to fire.

Unfortunately for General Dodson news of his rounds of golf came at a time when the spending by public and civil servants is very much on political agendas. This is also a time when there is much debate and uncertainty over shrinking defence budgets, indecision concerning the future of our air force’s strike capabilities and the issue over the levels of payments made to New Zealand troops serving in East Timor, hence the image of the top brass enjoying a leisurely round or two while discussing military issues abroad does not make for good public relations on the part of the New Zealand Defence Force. However this does not excuse politicians trying to blow the whole matter out of proportion.

It is highly doubtful that General Dobson went straight to the golf course after stepping off the plane instead of attending his conferences and meetings and had he paid his twelve dollars to play at the local equivalent to Christchurch’s Hagley Park, which is open to the public rather than an exclusive country club then this issue would never had arisen. People would much sooner see General Dodson enjoy a round of golf while on a trip abroad than a civil servant given a golden handshake for resigning their post half way through their contract, money allocated to a bank that does not enjoy the majority of the publics support or a police officer ‘perf’ out of the force to the tune of thousands when confronted by career difficulties. Maybe before politicians start questioning such actions as a round of golf they address the perks they receive such as MP’s been given allowances to live in the capital and their wives and those of former House members enjoying free travel around the world courtesy of the taxpayer. What strikes as being odd about this case was that it was unclear as to how Mr Mark believed he could make much political capital out of this issue at all. Rather than barking up the wrong tree with the issue of a General and a round of golf maybe it was a case of picking up the wrong club.


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