Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search 11 November 2005 11 November 2005

(#229) A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully MP for East Coast Bays

More Trouble Looms at TVNZ

Readers of last week’s distilled wisdom from the worldwide headquarters of were treated to the exclusive revelation that TVNZ advertising revenues were down by 10% in the last quarter. The news sent shock waves through the TVNZ boardroom. And the company’s management were told in no uncertain terms to do something about it.

For once, the reaction of TVNZ managers was swift and sure: they sold off Judy Bailey’s wardrobe, complete with garments owned by Bailey personally. Oh well, even allowing for some modest reimbursement of a furious Bailey, that will give the turnover figures a nice little kick along for the past month.

But what to do for the rest of the quarter?

Bill Ralston would be advised to lock up the liquor cabinet and secure the wine cellar before heading off on his next overseas trip. That evil little Rodney Parker and his cardigan-wearing bean counters are on the rampage. Raiding Ralston’s essential work-related entertainment provisions might help the numbers for a couple of months. But then they are going to have to get back to selling some more ads.

Which is going to be difficult when the Sisterhood is insisting on so-called charter programming. Like the $4.5 million "Frontier of Dreams" series, designed to retail the official Sisterhood-sanctioned politically correct version of New Zealand’s history (where is that Wayne Mapp when we need him?). All of which is driving audience over to TV3 in droves.

Just to make matters worse Parliament is now back in session, with select committees being formed last week. So now the race is on to see which select committee can be first to call an official enquiry into recent TVNZ troubles and bag a few easy Bow Tie and Ballet Tights Brigade scalps. And score some cheap newspaper headlines by demanding that TVNZ executives produce their credit card entertainment receipts for the past few months.

Against which prospect, of course, the only guaranteed insurance policy is to ensure that the most likely trouble-makers have their own names recorded against embarrassingly lavish luncheon receipts. In which respect we must
report that TVNZ has been careless, some would even say cavalier, in recent times.

What Battle Lines?

The electoral dust has settled, the baubles distributed. The Prime Minister has called the Parliament together and established a sitting timetable. Next Tuesday has been identified by the Prime Minister and her supporters as the first day in which the new Government and its bauble-laden lackeys will be subject to the scrutiny of the House at Parliamentary question time. And so, in the true spirit of transparency and accountability Helen Clark, Winston Peters, Phil Goff and Jim Sutton have all clambered on board Broomstick One and fled the country.

A critical APEC meeting we are told. And fair enough, the Prime Minister and key ministers need to be at the annual APEC meeting. But the Parliamentary sitting timetable is totally a matter for the government. She CHOSE to run the first effective week of Parliamentary sittings on a week when she and three other senior Ministers would not be able to be present. Which speaks volumes of her attitude to accountability to the Parliament. And suggests that next year’s Parliamentary timetable will be very slim indeed as our do-nothing government focuses on the truly important task of boosting the accumulating Ministerial international airpoints.

Auditor-General Report on Health Nazi Contracts

A report of the Auditor-General on a series of cosy little Ministry of Health contracts is now only weeks away. Regular readers may recall that previous Health Minister Annette King engaged in a cover-up operation for many months, refusing to answer Parliamentary questions about contracts awarded by public health officials to a coterie of former Health officials, now trading as Allen and Clarke.

Finally worn down by the efforts of the humble but persistent Member for East Coast Bays, King did furnish an answer (owning up to 24 contracts). An answer that turned out to be very wrong. And one she hastily corrected when she was alerted to the fact that the Auditor-General had agreed to investigate (fessing up to a further 18 contracts).

Weeks later King was forced to again correct her answer as her officials "found" more contracts that had previously escaped their notice. Allen and Clarke, the former Health officials, had been awarded 60 separate contracts by their former Ministry, only three of which had been tendered.

Due partly to the inability of the Ministry to supply accurate information, the Auditor-General has taken months to compile a report. A draft has been in the hands of the Ministry for some time. A sure sign that it contains adverse findings against the Ministry, and that their expensive, taxpayer-funded lawyers will be attempting to get the final report watered down (don’t worry, we will tell you what the lawyers cost in due course).

So, watch this space. The full story will show a Ministry that was out of control, being presided over by an incompetent and lazy Minister. And you know where you will read about it first.

Mark Prebble Spits the Dummy

Amongst the dozens of congratulatory and supportive letters received from regular readers this week, there was one very uncongratulatory, unsupportive, very grumpy letter. It was from none other than the State Services Commissioner and regular reader Dr Mark Prebble.

Dr Prebble is concerned about references to the Secretary of Labour Dr James Buwalda, better known to readers as Dr Bewildered. Dr Prebble is concerned that "the making up and repeated use of pejorative names is abusive".

"As Dr Buwalda’s employer I am concerned to ensure that his work environment is reasonable. In line with that concern I request that you stop this abuse," says Dr Prebble.

Well, we at the worldwide headquarters are concerned to ensure that lying to Members of Parliament, lying to the Ombudsman, and full frontal breaches of the Official Information Act by officials, are resolutely stamped out.

In line with that concern we intend to ensure that departmental chief executives and State Services Commissioners who attempt to cover up such malfeasance by thwarting calls for an independent enquiry and instead opt for a shonky internal whitewash are held up for the public ridicule and contempt they deserve.

Three times, by letter, Dr Prebble’s predecessor (the famously celibate Mr Wintringham) was appealed to, to instigate an independent inquiry into the “Lie in Unison” scandal, and three times he declined to do so. Those responsible were ultimately sprung in spite of, not because of, the actions of Dr Bewildered and the then State Services Commissioner.

Dr Bewildered conducted an internal whitewash finding “no evidence that officials deliberately misled the Ombudsman.” It was only an own-motion enquiry by Ombudsman Mel Smith that exposed officials’actions as “contrary to law” and “wrong”, and found they had “deliberately dissembled”. In other words, the officials had lied like flatfish. Even the then Minister, Paul Swain, has admitted that it was a mistake not to have an independent enquiry.

If Dr Bewildered wishes not to be held up for public ridicule then he should apologise for his role in the shabby affair and give some assurance that it will never happen again, not run snivelling to the State Services Commissioner, whose predecessor in that office was equally culpable in one of the most disgraceful episodes to afflict our public service for many decades.


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