Sir William Birch

Normally I’d just comment on the post, but as doesn’t allow comments, I have to respond here.

In a tribute to Jeanette Fitzsimons, says:

But I also like her because she’s an unashamed wonk who seriously knows her stuff. It’s a rare quality in a politician – reportedly didn’t even know how to read a graph

Now I have no idea where the hell that comes from, let alone why I/S would repeat something so stupid, but I can’t let it go unchallenged that Bill Birch was some sort of lightweight politician who had no grasp of policy or detail.

Quite the opposite in fact. It is well known that when he was the (junior) Finance Minister to Winston’s senior role as Treasurer, Birch took care of all the detailed stuff, and Winston read the executive summaries.

But his eye for detail went far beyond that. I used to flat with Treasury staff, and I remember one story of the first time they had to sit in on a Birch bi-lateral.

The general rule of thumb at Treasury was that a vote analyst should only worry about stuff greater than $2 million.

Anyway in the first bilateral, not only does Birch go into every line in detail, demanding it be justified, he recalled the previous year they had stuck away $500,000 in some contingency account, and asked if that was still needed, and if not, he wants it back.

Now imagine how stunned the vote analysts were, that the Minister of Finance knew their votes to an even greater detail than they did!

So the suggestion by I/S that Sir William did not know his stuff, is ludicrous and preposterous. One could well criticise him for his policies, but to suggest what I/S did, is more a reflection on him that he spoils a nice tribute to Jeanette with an un-necessary and inaccurate swipe at someone who hasn’t even been in politics for a decade.

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