Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search 10 March 2006 10 March 2006

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

Scumbaggery from the Herald

At 7.00 am on Thursday morning, the hard working and humble Member for East Coast Bays was feeling well short of his demure and charming self. Alighting from the flight which had departed Rarotonga at 3.55 am, he had completed a two day meeting in the Cooks, politely declined the offer of a hospitality day to follow, and was preparing for the constituency clinic which would follow the wrestle with rush-hour Auckland traffic. His demeanour was not improved when he glanced at the NZ Herald to spy, right on the front page, an exercise in naked scumbaggery at his expense.

Said MP was, according to the Herald, one of four MPs who had "slipped out of the country unannounced on a taxpayer-funded trip to the Cook Islands." There had been "no public notification" of the trip which the Herald had learned about "by chance." The MPs were to stay at the up-market sounding Edgewater Resort and, after the meeting, were to enjoy a "hospitality day." Worse, the Herald asserted, the humble Member for East Coast Bays is "not a member of the Finance Committee" under whose auspices the meeting was arranged.

Oh, what a pity the Herald did not resort to the normal journalistic practice of speaking to the persons of whom they were intending to write. Then the Herald might have discovered that the trip was far from secret, and clearly listed in the MP’s diary for the benefit of anyone who asked. They might also have discovered that the hardworking Member for East Coast Bays had gone to the trouble of acquiring a local cellphone, to keep in regular contact with his office, and any journalists with the courtesy and professionalism to bother calling him.

The courtesy of a telephone call would also have exposed the Herald to the serious risk of becoming acquainted with other relevant information. Like the fact that said Member is a past chairman of the Finance Committee, and is regularly substituted onto it for the purpose of examining recalcitrant public organisations. Or the fact that, as spokesman on Foreign Affairs, he had arranged side-meetings with the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

We at the worldwide headquarters have no problem with the Herald asking the hard questions about the expenditure of taxpayers’ money on such a trip. It’s their failure to ask those questions (instead, making assumptions) of the individuals involved that rankles.

But don’t worry folks, the fact that the Herald no longer bothers to make a few phone calls, before plastering nonsense over its front page, will not be news to anyone. And the not-very-easily-intimidated member for East Coast Bays has no intention of letting an exercise in naked scumbaggery from the Herald deter him from doing his job.

The Cook Islands Workshop

The Cook Islands has not always, to put it delicately, enjoyed a high level of transparency in the presentation of its public accounts. Some government departments are routinely late with annual reports, key information is not provided, and there have been questions around the manner in which some aid monies have been spent. The Auditor-General has filed a number of deeply unflattering reports to the Parliament. And so they have, for the first time, established a Public Accounts Committee, to pursue accountability for the expenditure of public money.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has encouraged New Zealand and Australia to provide expertise and assistance. As a major donor to the Cooks, and as their partner in a special constitutional relationship, it is hugely in New Zealand’s interest to do so.

The two-day workshop, driven largely by the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Terepai Maoate, who is also the Minister of Finance, brought together most of the key players – the key Ministers, most Members of Parliament, and the chief executives of the Ministries, including the Auditor-General, the Public Service and Police Commissioners. Chaired jointly by the chairs of the Cooks and NZ Finance Committees, the workshop provided pointers on everything from techniques for examining departments, to the conduct of select committee inquiries into troublesome public bodies (using TVNZ and NZ Post as prime examples).

There is a growing commitment to a general lifting of standards amongst key players in the Cooks. And they will no doubt need ongoing support and encouragement from New Zealand. But, be warned. If called upon to assist, make sure you tell the New Zealand Herald. And if called upon to visit the Cooks, make sure you invite the Herald to come too.

Global Business Forum

Due, no doubt, to their inability to make telephone calls at the Herald these days, the newspaper has also failed to ask the very same questions (about value for taxpayers’ money) they should have posed about the Rarotonga trip, in relation to the recent Global Business Forum in Auckland, attended by Bill Clinton and other luminaries. Did, for example, any public servants attend the $2,700 a head bun-fight? If so, was there some legitimate public purpose involved?

Answers to Parliamentary questions from Economic Development Minister Trevor Mallard this week disclose that one Auckland staff member from the Ministry attended the Forum (at a cost of $1,895 plus GST), and two from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (at a cost of $4,361.46). It’s possible that officials from the Economic Development sector had a legitimate purpose in being there. But won’t it be interesting to find out at what level of seniority these officials work, what required their attendance, and, indeed, whether they went with the Minister’s approval?

Despite the fact that Ministers were obliged to have filed answers to this Question by Wednesday of this week, responses remain outstanding from Justice, Defence, Labour, Corrections, ACC and the Prime Minister’s Department, and leaving aside the obvious contempt which Ministers continue to show for their obligations under Standing Orders, won’t it be interesting to see which of these Ministries is not only tardy but also has something to hide?


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