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A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully

MP for East Coast Bays

A Tsunami of Cronies?

A tsunami of cronies? Maybe an avalanche? Whatever the appropriate expression, we surely are witnessing one of them right now.

It is established constitutional convention that governments do not make appointments to boards and public bodies in the three months before an election. But as we draw close to the three month cut-off (assuming the election will be as late as Clark can make it) the appointments are spewing out of the Beehive as fast as the Governor-General can sign them. Indeed, another week like this one and poor old GG Satch will be fading away due to the inability to get a meal break.

As at Thursday evening there had been 43 government appointments this week. Yes, 43 appointments in four days. That’s part of a tally of 140 in the past five weeks. So, on the assumption that Clark is intent on an 8 November election, we can brace ourselves for another full week of Labour Party flunkies receiving their unjust rewards.

Anyone who has held office in a trade union or a Labour Party branch appears to have sent their updated cv to Wellington. Clearly any Labour lackeys who haven’t been appointed to something by the end of next week must be seriously out of favour.

Over at the New Zealand Transport Agency (the result of the merger of Land Transport NZ and Transit) they will be able to form their own Labour Party subcommittee of the board. Labour Party President Mike Williams has found time around his other public appointments (GNS Science, Genesis Energy, OnTrack, ARTA) to take on a directorship. As have Labour Party lackey and former mayor of the United Socialist Peoples Republic of Christchurch, Garry Moore, and former Labour Party deputy mayor of Wellington Alick Shaw.

This week also saw long time Labour activist and former Labour Wellington City Councillor Sue Piper appointed to the board of Te Papa. As if her roles as chair of the Local Government Commission, Quotable Value NZ and the Law Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal were not enough.

The appointment of new directors to the Growth and Innovation Advisory Board (GIAB) this week provided further opportunity to reward the richly undeserving. The nation’s top unionist, NZCTU President Helen Kelly, has been appointed to the board, along with former UK Labour MP Brian Gould (also a TVNZ director). And Deloitte’s chair, Nick Main, who has been doing the Clark Government’s bidding over the Emissions Trading Scheme as chair of the Business Council for Sustainable Development, receives his reward in the form of a GIAB directorship. Reappointed for a further term were left-wing economist Brian Easton and former Labour candidate David Shand, already appointed chair of the Tertiary Education Commission, a director at Meridian Enery and a member of the Royal Commission into Auckland Governance.

But there’s more. Labour Party hack and former Clark staffer Chris Eichbaum has been appointed to the board of the Reserve Bank. Former lefty mayor Yvonne Sharpe, fired by the voters of the Far North, has picked up a job as a member of the New Zealand Conservation Authority to add to her role as chair of the Road Safety Trust. All of the above on top of the four Government appointments worth $80,000 for former Labour MP Diane Yates (see of 11 July 2008).

The Cabinet Manual (6.9) makes it clear that there is a convention that government appointments should cease in the period before an election. “In practice, restraints have tended to be applied from about three months before the general election is due...” But whether adherence to the Cabinet Manual is a particular priority for the Clark administration is now in question.

When she signed the foreword to the most recent edition of the Manual, it was deemed to be “authoritative,” and, according to Clark, “successive governments have endorsed the Cabinet Manual as a sound, transparent and proven basis on which to operate.” However this week, asked to explain the degree of flexibility she was prepared to allow her Foreign Minister to depart from the Manual’s very clear requirements regarding the receipt of gifts, Clark told the House “the Manual is not a rule book, it provides guidance.”

So on that basis, while the growing tsunami of cronyism might point to a November election date, we should not draw conclusions based upon the naïve assumption that our Prime Minister will adhere to the strictures of what was previously accepted as unbreakable constitutional convention, but has now been down-graded to a piece of mere “guidance”.


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