Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search 9 December 2005 9 December 2005

A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully
MP for East Coast Bays

Winston Peters Hits Asia

Our new Minister of Foreign Affairs is off on his third overseas trip in as many weeks, this time to the East Asia conference in Malaysia – an arduous amount of first class travel and banqueting for a man who so detests the baubles of office. And according to the recent interview published in the South China Morning Post, our Minister must have made quite an impact.

Mr Peters, according to the newspaper, pronounced himself "well equipped to handle foreign affairs," as a result of his "education, political experience and contacts." Further, he had "traveled pretty extensively and I know a number of people in the region personally."

Asked to name some of these people he knew personally our Minister named Lee Kuan Yew (who retired fifteen years ago) and his successor, who according to the report, he could not name. Then there were "Filipinos I have met." Oh, and Malaysian Leader Mahathir Mohamad (who retired 2 years ago) "and others in his Cabinet” (who, apparently, also do not have names).

Further evidence of his diplomatic prowess was to be found in the fact that he had represented New Zealand at the handing over of Hong Kong. Indeed, Mr Peters’ name was the very first signature to be found in the guest book of the first chief executive of Hong Kong. A very important and powerful friend to have. And his name would be……..”His name just temporarily escapes me” Mr Peters told the newspaper.

Yes, with international credentials and diplomatic skills like that, our new Minister will be knocking their socks off all over Asia right now.

TVNZ to Face the Music

TVNZ chairman Craig Boyce sailed very close to the wind this week as he tried to bat away questions about board disunity before Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Select Committee. Never a comfortable performer before a select committee, Boyce attempted to paint a picture of a harmonious and professional board dealing with the crises of the past year (Judy Bailey, Susan Wood etc). Neither of which descriptions is remotely correct. And next Wednesday Boyce will again have to front the select committee where it is to be hoped he will be a little more forthcoming.

The truth of the matter is that the TVNZ board has been a very unhappy place indeed. Why would a Crown company board need to go to the trouble of prohibiting directors from approaching shareholding Ministers behind the back of the chair and other board members? Or outlaw directors from involving themselves in management issues with senior executives? The answer, of course, is because there has been a serious breakdown in the governance processes. And despite Mr Boyce’s less than frank answers to the select committee this week, that is precisely what has happened at TVNZ. Hence the departing comments of CEO Ian Fraser.

Had such a state of affairs occurred at Transpower or Solid Energy that would be serious enough. But this is TVNZ we are talking about. The state broadcaster and the most powerful media operation in the country. For which reason there are special protections built into the legislation to keep Ministers, directors and executives from straying into each other’s territory.

The Judy Bailey affair provided an initial glimpse of the governance problems, with one director leaking salary details to the Minister and to the Ninth Floor, and the government spin doctors then leaking the story to the media (to be accompanied by suitable lashings of Prime Ministerial fury). But a boardroom team-talk after that affair failed to solve the problem. And earlier this year there was an even bigger bust-up (which seemed to have slipped Mr Boyce’s memory this week).

So let’s hope Mr Boyce has his memory and all his other faculties in place when he fronts the select committee next week. This is serious, serious stuff. Individuals need to be called to account. Heads should roll. And someone appointed to the high public office occupied by Mr Boyce needs to do better at a formal enquiry of a Parliamentary Select Committee than the attempted fudging of this week. So watch this space.

Bozoish Behaviour from Benson-Pope – A Brief to Deceive

Deliberately misleading Parliament, as David Benson-Pope has done, is a fairly unattractive characteristic. But leaving his press secretary to take the rap for denying the selective leaking of the Police report to a Sunday paper is right over the line.

Invited to take responsibility for the leaking in Parliament, Benson-Pope refused. He had merely authorised a briefing to be given. He had given his press secretary “no instruction other than being completely honest with the media”, and was therefore not responsible for his staffer untruthfully denying responsibility for the leak.

So let’s get this straight:

Benson-Pope was given the Police file under embargo, so that he could raise concerns about any of the material the Police were about to release. He asked for a delay to the release so that he could consider the matter further. Then he:

- abused the courtesy of the Police in consulting him,
- deceived Police into delaying the release,
- deceived Police further by breaking the Police embargo and releasing material,
- deceived the media and the public as he selectively chose extracts in order to completely misrepresent the Police report,
- made fools of the media who used the story.

To carry out the above dishonest, deceitful tasks, he utilised the services of his press secretary who, not surprisingly felt he had to lie about his involvement when asked. Yet, having given his press secretary a comprehensive brief to deceive, Benson-Pope maintains his staffer had no instructions to do anything other than behave honestly. There’s one for the Tui billboards.


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