Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search 2 September 2005 2 September 2005

2 September 2005 (#220) A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully MP for East Coast Bays

TVNZ Appoints Labour Ad Firm

Conspiracy theorists awake. You just wouldn’t believe it. In the intense heat of an election campaign, the state broadcaster, TVNZ, has decided to hire the Labour Party’s campaign advertising firm, Assignment. The deal will see the previously split TVNZ advertising business all awarded to the Labour advertising agency.

Awarded part of the TVNZ business some time ago, Assignment pitched for the whole TVNZ business when the decision was made to consolidate the account. And regular readers of this august journal may recall the bold prognostication some weeks ago that Assignment had the inside running. Several key senior TVNZ figures were known to be supportive of the Labour ad firm.

Last week competitive presentations were made by the final contenders. And this week the decision was made to appoint Assignment. Now the Bow Tie and Ballet Tights Brigade are fretting over whether they should make the announcement before the election and be accused of bias. Or whether to hold it back until after the election and be accused of duplicity.

The relationship between the most senior TVNZ managers and their agency is necessarily close over matters of branding and strategy. So the guys who have been putting up billboards and running advertisements throughout the country attacking Don Brash and the National Party are sitting right alongside the very people who are making the key decisions in the most powerful medium in the country. How very very convenient for the Sisterhood. But how very very unwise for all of the other players involved.

Accountability for Charter Cash

This week’s announcement that a National Government would impose some accountability for TVNZ’s charter cash is most welcome. In the past few years the state broadcaster has received $36 million in direct cash injections to assist with so-called charter programming. But, as exclusively revealed by this publication some months back, TVNZ was able to account only for $19 million of the total.

TVNZ hotly contested the assertions. Only to be mortally embarrassed a week later when the annual accounts were tabled revealing (would you believe it) that only $19 million of the $36 million could be accounted for in the notes. Weeks earlier, concerned Ministers had dispatched officials to TVNZ’s Auckland headquarters to see if they could shed light on the whereabouts of the missing millions.

The new National policy announced this week will scrap the charter (which has been ignored by all the parties anyway) but keep the charter cash (because removing it would punish the independent producers and directors, not TVNZ). Instead, the funding will go to New Zealand on Air to allocate – presumably to people who are able to tell them what they are actually doing with it. Which will be a very substantial improvement in the current state of affairs.

The Very, Very, Very, Very Sorry Airline

The Prime Minister’s poor luck with taxpayer-funded modes of conveyance continued yesterday with the incident at Wellington airport, following hard on the heels of convictions for her driver and Police over the cross-Canterbury speedathon. (Hey, this time at least she noticed what was going on). But media reports suggesting that she has now been the recipient of no fewer than four Air New Zealand apologies over yesterday’s incident suggest a degree of cravenness on the part of the national flag carrier, and a case of a sense of humour failure on the part of one Helen Elizabeth Clark.

If Clark had taken offence at a comment made by the pilot, surely a simple apology would suffice. A personal apology, a written apology and a public apology over the intercom by the pilot are more than excessive. The further apology from the acting CEO and standing down of the pilot suggests a level of grovelousness on the part of the national flag carrier which may not be entirely unrelated to the fact that the government is its majority shareholder.

And here’s a little experiment for you: next time you board an Air New Zealand aircraft just try leaving your seat to go and have a chat to the pilot in the cockpit as Clark did. The worldwide headquarters is prepared to wager that you will discover to your detriment that a very special dispensation was made for her on this occasion.

Next time the humble Member for East Coast Bays gets on a plane and finds H Clark sitting up front, he’s going to turn around and do a runner. The last place he intends to be is on a plane piloted by a stressed and upset pilot who has just been on the receiving end of an untimely Clark rark-up.

Anyway, if Helen Clark is going to get so surly and upset over the combination of a few bad polls and a delayed aircraft or two, then perhaps she should take the advice of some of the uncharitable wags who have communicated with the worldwide headquarters: have her very own alternative arrangements on standby, and take her own broomstick.

Ombudsman Slams Botched Vessel Contract

Two and a half years ago Ombudsman Mel Smith commenced his investigation into the contract for the $100 million multi-role vessel. In December of last year Defence HQ took delivery of the draft report. And for the past eight months senior Defence officials and their expensive lawyers (Bell Gully have been paid $168 000 for their work on the contract) have been attempting to water down its harsher findings.

The final report is still scathing, making it clear that the world’s largest ship builder, Hyundai, was excluded from the shortlist because Defence officials didn’t know how to read their balance sheet, and, worse, weren’t prepared to ask any questions.

The Ombudsman criticises the failure to hire international consultants for the procurement in terms which makes it clear that the task was well beyond the capabilities of the New Zealand officials.

Hard on the heels of the LAV and LOV scandals, the MRV cock-up makes it clear that the welfare of our military personnel is being put at risk by the procurement decisions being made by incompetent turkeys in the Defence Ministry who are out of touch with the needs of those service people.

The Ombudsman’s report is very narrow, addressing only a small range of issues around the contract. Who knows what would be turned up by a proper review of the procurement process – an exercise which an incoming government might find very worth the time and expense.

Average Wage Gap Widens

Just in case you were wondering why 650 New Zealanders a week are departing fro Australia, the latest trans-Tasman wage figures might be of interest. There has been some publicity around the fact that the average wage in Australia is now over $1 000 a week.

Five years ago (1999 – 2000) the gap in the average wage between New Zealand and Australia was $5 200. Now, in 2004-05 the gap has grown to $10 400. What a good thing that we have an election in two weeks so that we can start to reverse the trend.


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