Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search 28 October 2005 28 October 2005

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

The Minister Outside

The first cracks in the foreign affairs façade of the Clark/Peters Government emerged this week with the dispute over an Australian newspaper report still unresolved. "Australian help sought to repair ANZUS alliance" was the headline of a Sun-Herald article based on "an exclusive interview"with Peters by journalist Frank Walker. "But", the article explained, "he said he needed Australia's help to patch up relations with the US. He had spoken to Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and said they got on well."

Helen Clark firmly rejected the report, asserting that New Zealand is "more than competent to paddle its own canoe." The comments attributed to Mr Peters had been rejected by her Minister of Foreign Affairs, who had "pronounced it to be drivel."

But the Sun-Herald is standing by its account. Mr Peters had committed himself to getting ANZUS operating again. And he had said he would seek Australia's help in improving relations with the US. "We stand by our story," said the writer, Mr Walker.

So, did our new Minister of Foreign Affairs tell the Sun-Herald, as reported, "his top priority as Foreign Minister would be to revive the ANZUS alliance."? Does his boss Helen Clark concur with this bold ambition? Has Mr Peters spoken to Minister Downer and has he sought any assistance along the lines suggested by the Sun-Herald? In short: what the Hell is going on here?

Payday for Top Bureaucrats

It was payday for the nation's top bureaucrats this week with the unveiling of huge salary increases for departmental heads. And State Services Commissioner Dr Mark Prebble warned there is more payolla on the way. "I am now at a point where I need to give serious consideration to a step change in the levels of remuneration offered to public service chief executives. Without this change I believe I will be unable to attract and retain highly competent public service chief executives," said Dr Prebble.

Highly competent public service chief executives like, no doubt, Howard Fancy, chief executive of the Ministry of Education. That would be the same Mr Fancy who has presided over the NCEA debacle. And on whose watch we have seen the blowout of the Wananga budget to $239 million a year. And the problems with NZQA. And TEC. And the disintegration of ERO into a laughing stock. For these, and all of Mr Fancy's other outstanding achievements, he has just been awarded a $50,000 a year increase ($400,000 to $409,000 band).

Then there's our old friend Dr Bewildered, the Secretary of Labour. The man who presided over the attempted cover-up of the Lie in Unison email. And whose department dished out all those wonderful CEGs grants (hip-hop tours etc). His reward: a $60,000 salary increase.

Not to mention the former deputy director of the Labour Party Research Unit, now the Secretary of the Treasury, John Whitehead. His reward for the stunning accuracy of Treasury's Budget forecasting over recent years - always at least several billion dollars astray - a whopping $60,000 a year salary increase ($420,000 to $429,000 band).

Thankfully, former Treasury Secretary Dr Graeme Scott brought some sanity into the debate suggesting that if public service chiefs wanted private sector salaries, they would need to accept the same risks and accountabilities as private sector CEOs.

The keen observers at the worldwide headquarters suggest that the application of private sector principles of accountability would result in a fair number of our public service CEOs nervously scanning the Situations Vacant columns. So, before Dr Prebble goes completely mad with the taxpayers' cheque-book let's hope he reflects briefly on the advice of his former boss at the Treasury, Dr Scott.

More Sanctimony from Dr Prebble

Announcing the chief executive salaries in the SSC Annual Report, Dr Prebble saw fit to express concern about internet blog sites. "In some online forums," he said, "there have been various allegations, or personal slurs, made against senior public servants."

"It would be regrettable if this new medium gave unjustified currency to baseless accusations. On occasion the entries in some weblogs have amounted to political personal attacks on public servants."

Well, we at the worldwide headquarters of have one emphatic response to Dr Prebble: GUILTY.

If Dr Bewildered is going to preside over a department which lies to Parliamentarians, then lies to the Ombudsman for several months, and then attempts a cover-up through an internal enquiry, for the guilty officials to be exposed only because of the intervention of the Ombudsman, then Dr Bewildered deserves all of the "political personal attacks" he gets.

But then, Dr Prebble is just a little touchy on the subject of criticism from politicians. You see, it was Dr Prebble, in his former role as head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, who withheld the politically explosive Corngate documents that the Prime Minister had promised would all be released, right on the eve of the 2002 general election.

That amounted to interference by a senior public servant in the sharp end of the political process. And Dr Prebble thinks he should be able to do so without attracting "political personal attacks". Oh, and presumably that he should be rewarded for his efforts with a salary increase.

More Re-Branding Nonsense

When Dr Prebble has finished counting his recent pay rise (a further $30,000, to $390,000 to $399,000), he might care to check on goings on in the Crown Research Institute formerly known as Geological and Nuclear Sciences Ltd. The CRI is now sporting a new name, GNS Science, a new logo, and of course, a new Maori name, Te PÅ Ao.

"The stronger visual identity will make us recognisable as the major organisation in New Zealand focused on a broad spectrum of sciences from earth sciences to isotope technologies," the chief executive explained. Oh, well, that's OK then.

And GNS can hardly argue they are sharpening up their image to attract more customers. The vast bulk of their cash is from government grants.

Re-branding exercises of this sort typically occur in state sector organisations that have too much cash, too little real work to do, and too little supervision from on high. Perhaps Dr Prebble might like to check the total cost of this pointless re-branding exercise. Or, of course, he can just read about it here, in his favourite Friday publication.


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