Criticism of Collins

March 10th, 2009 at 8:50 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The father of Karl Kuchenbecker says Minister is “all bark and no bite”, after she failed to remove Barry Matthews.

said Mr Matthews now appeared to be “untouchable” as the department’s chief executive, despite presiding over a string of failures such as parolee Graeme Burton being left free to murder his son.

To be fair to Matthews, the story notes:

Mr Rennie noted that Mr Matthews had failed last year to get the Government to fund 61 extra staff to monitor parole.

Ms Collins said she had asked for extra funding in this year’s Budget and the Government would be responsible when considering it.

So maybe the former Minister has some responsibility? But having said that, the Auditor-General made it clear that the failings can not be attributed to lack of resource alone.

John Armstrong also comments:

The “crusher” crushed? Well, for the time being at least.

But don’t expect Judith Collins to take defeat sitting down. Though the Corrections Minister may have been comprehensively wiped in her battle to have her department’s chief executive Barry Matthews removed from his position, he would be fooling himself if he thinks he has won the war. …

She said later that she had told him exactly what she was telling the media. If so, she would have served notice on him that he would not have her confidence until he had rebuilt public confidence in the department. She would have dropped a strong hint that requires a clean-out in the department’s senior management which has been seen as an obstacle to the “culture change” she is seeking in the way the department operates.

She is not the first minister to demand that. Labour’s Damien O’Connor pleaded with Matthews to do it. Unlike O’Connor, Collins is not going to allow herself to become a victim of the department’s failings.

As I said yesterday, the improvements need to continue. If so, that is a win-win. If not, then I see more interventions by the State Services Commissioner.

Also worth highlighting a comment by former State Services Minister Trevor Mallard on this blog:

My advice on colleagues was always to say :- “Matters of confidence in Chief Executives is a matter for the State Service Commissioner.” And nothing else. It didn’t always feel great especially when I thought a CE was being unfairly criticised but is really the only approach if one wants to maintain the integrity of the appointment system.

Reasonable advice, but does it apply when you think the criticism is fair, and you don’t have confidence?

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47 Responses to “Criticism of Collins”

  1. Patrick Starr (3,674 comments) says:

    Remarkable to see such diplomacy from Mallard – maybe Tau should be asked to comment

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  2. Glutaemus Maximus (2,207 comments) says:

    No show without Judy though!!

    Sorry, I meant Punch!!!!

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  3. greenfly (1,059 comments) says:

    Duck Tau!

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  4. dad4justice (8,238 comments) says:

    Do Duck Tau’s savage the crops like the greedy Mallard Duck variety? Talk about a Donald Duck Crusher.

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  5. CraigM (694 comments) says:

    Collins has been left hanging by the SSC who are looking after their own.

    She made a novice mistake with her public comments. It was however refreshing to hear her speak out and say that ‘this is unnacceptable’ rather than just the tired old ‘waiting for a report’ comment, which she would have been chastised for making anyway.

    A Minister without the power to effect change in her ministry. Who would want that job.

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  6. greenfly (1,059 comments) says:

    DPF says “it’s a win-win”. I agree with Mr Farrar, whole heartedly.

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  7. Right of way is Way of Right (1,122 comments) says:

    Well, if Mr Matthews want’s to stay, then he is certainly going to be highly motivated to actually do something about the mess that LABOUR has left the corrections department in. Underfunded and with morale in the toilet, and all the too hard decisions waffled on about for the last 9 years. It was a Labour government that Mr Matthews asked for more money from, wasn’t it?

    It’s quite clear that the Minister will be keeping a very close eye on this department for quite some time. However, if I was Mr Matthews I probably would not bother getting my business cards reprinted in the near future!

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  8. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    wonder if bazza has much experience outsourcing prison management – shame. surplus to requirements, JD has changed.

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  9. Trevor Mallard (248 comments) says:

    David – yes it does apply – even more so – I thought Judith Collins turning herself from Bonecrusher to dogtucker and at the same time making it harder to move Barry Matthews on was pretty clear evidence of that. Pretty hard to lose both ends of an issue but she managed to do it when with a little consideration she could have had a win win.

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  10. Patrick Starr (3,674 comments) says:

    You make it obvious Matthews should not be there. Begs the question why you buggers did nothing over the years?

    What an absolute shithole you’ve left the Nats with huh?

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  11. goodgod (1,348 comments) says:

    If Collins cannot express confidence in Mathews then he must go or she must resign.

    The alternative is to shut down Corrections, because if the CEO cannot effect change in his own organisation it has lost it’s cohesion and can no longer be called an organisation. A private company has provisions for this sort of thing, and would act rapidly, but since it’s a government dept. it’s turning into a complete farce.

    The current situation is absurd in the extreme. It appears there is no one in control, not even the minister, and there hasn’t been for several years. The SSC has published their contempt of the intent of employment law by saying the dismissal is not justified, because the above scenario now exists.

    Time for someone to get tribal. This level of political impotence should have John Key stepping in to sort the mess.

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  12. Buggerlugs (1,592 comments) says:

    Even though the report is clearly only fit for use as toilet paper, at least Collins tried. Labour would be calling for another report from another flunky who would be carefully briefed on what to write. Is the A-G the only truly indepdendent voice left in the public service?

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  13. JC (958 comments) says:

    This isn’t a problem of CEO versus Minister, but a complicated loop involving the SSC that is acting as both employer and champion of Matthews, and servant and champion of the Minister.. it’s a buggers muddle of conflicting roles.

    On the surface it seems more straightforward.. the CEO should be on a contract of specified length and serve at the pleasure of the Minister.. and be paid out the remainder of his contract if the Minister wants to dump him. But developments over time mean it’s politically embarrassing to pay out large sums to the CEO and the CEO gets to hide behind the SSC as if he were some damned employee.

    JC

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  14. jacob van hartog (300 comments) says:

    The Mad Marchioness of Maraetai has come down from her eyrie all fire and brimstone and shown she is another puffball.

    Will she get the bus backed over her again when the 440,000 volt line through her electorate is approved, by the cabinet on which she sits.

    It seems her bluster before the election about ‘on her watch’ means she is now powerless and the whole country knows it.

    Oh well back to the shoe department at Farmers for her

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  15. slightlyrighty (2,475 comments) says:

    According to some, the solution would now be to replace Collins because she has not expressed confidence in Matthews. We can all agree that the department of corrections is not functioning as it should be, and the reasons for this would appear to be systemic.

    Are these people serious? Replacing Collins with a minister who will express confidence in Matthews will not solve the systemic failure in that department. There is a culture there that is deeply flawed, and the AG report has only made the necessary reforms that much more difficult.

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  16. Tim Ellis (251 comments) says:

    Jacob, do you mean the power line that was first mooted seven years ago as vital for national electricity supply, but the last government sat on for so long in fear of upsetting anybody?

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  17. JC (958 comments) says:

    The other thing to keep in mind about Matthews and the SSC crying poverty is that the Core Crown Expenditure statement of 2008 shows that when Matthews was appointed in 2005 the Dept’s expenditure was $483 million. For 2009 the forecast is $830 million.. some poverty!

    JC

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  18. greenfly (1,059 comments) says:

    “Bonecrusher to dogtucker” Mallard doesn’t pull his punches, does he!

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  19. Komata (1,191 comments) says:

    I am quite sure that Mr. Matthews is very aware of the situation, and wonder if a ‘quiet word’ would have been a better option.

    Because this didn’t happen, and it would seem that Madam Minister spoke before thinking (peresumably on the advice of ‘someone’), she is now in the position of having egg on her face for no good reason, and having effectively dug a very large hole for herself can only bluster and splutter about ‘having no confidence etc, etc, etc.

    All of which has been gleefully seized-upon by the (somewhat left-inclined) MSM.

    Thankfully, like all nine-day wonders, it will blow over – eventually.

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  20. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    Matthews, you will note, hasnt had any supporters just a line of Labour people tut tutting and extracting a bit of michael (cullen?). Collins would do well to take note, which I think she has and I don’t see any Labour opponents getting too jiggy on it over this one, maybe because they are a wee bit afeared of JC?

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  21. jacob van hartog (300 comments) says:

    Shoe saleswoman to employment lawyer to Corrections minister.

    Which one of these jobs has Collins excelled at?

    Now the Police department will use her backside for testing new issue police boots, as they are far more tougher than Corrections

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  22. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    Thats a derrogatory comment to make Jacob. Is there something wrong with a woman who used to sell shoes becoming a politician? Do you prefer androgynous politics students of the late 60’s?

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  23. Inventory2 (10,342 comments) says:

    jacob van hartog said “Shoe saleswoman to employment lawyer to Corrections minister.”

    Quite right jacob – someone who’s worked in the real, commercial world. It makes such a refreshing change from teachers and trade union officials ;-)

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  24. petal (706 comments) says:

    @Trevor Mallard – I imagine Collins has had an opportunity to learn from this and will be the more effective for it.

    That said, there is a serious lack of backbone in this country when it comes to senior people taking responsibility for poor results. Why else are they in the position and receiving the pay?

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  25. jacob van hartog (300 comments) says:

    IV2, Collins boss when she was an employment lawyer, is now a Labour MP!!

    Plus there is a few teachers in nationals ranks( even PM , Shipley was one) but of course Gerry Brownlee was a woodwork teacher at St Bedes after he was kicked out of the family business.

    And looking at ACT , Hide of course drove trucks while he was a professional student( for the family business of course) before he become a Lincoln university tutor

    Petal she was an employment lawyer , so ‘learning’ doesnt come into it,

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  26. greenfly (1,059 comments) says:

    Shoedith Collins sure knows how to sock it to ‘em!

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  27. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    very good fly

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  28. big bruv (13,934 comments) says:

    Greenfly

    Do you have a suggestion that might improve matters, is there a Green policy that might fix corrections?

    Or are you just a mindless troll who never offers an opinion other than a juvenile one liner?

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  29. Brian Smaller (4,023 comments) says:

    “Bonecrusher to dogtucker” Mallard doesn’t pull his punches, does he!

    No he doesn’t. That is why he had should of had anger management classes.

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  30. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    come on, shoedith collins, thats quite a good one liner.

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  31. greenfly (1,059 comments) says:

    big bro – juvenile? I’m hurt! I offer plenty of opinion, I’d have thought. Yes, the Greens do have what you ask for. Go and read their policy (I think you knew that anyway). Levity, eh! Oh, how we despise it!

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  32. peterwn (3,277 comments) says:

    Jacob – Judith may have been a shoe saleswoman in her student days – nothing wrong with that. I know another woman who apparently sold shoes and was a part time tour guide at Parliament in her student days and now has a higher status job there – a Beehive office may well be on her ambition list.

    IMO Judith was not too wise to take ‘sides’ on the power line business – she may have got a bit of recognition then, but it is now a rat she will have to swallow att some stage (unless she can persuade her colleagues that one of the lines that run close to SH1 south of Auckland would be a better candidate.

    IMO too Judith should have known better than to take on one of her Department chiefs in a blaze of publicity and then have to back off. She could have called in the State Services Commissioner for a chat to sound out possibilities – it may be that the Commissioner would know how to hand the guy sufficient rope to hang himself with. In retrospect, John Key would have probably advised new Ministers how to handle situations of this sort with the offer of assistance of people skilled in that sort of thing.

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  33. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    Stand firm Judith Collins. Among the huddling mass of wafflers with yellow stripes down their backs a kilometre wide, NZ needs brave politicians so badly.

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  34. greenfly (1,059 comments) says:

    So much egg on her face she don’t need to cook breakfast.

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  35. baxter (893 comments) says:

    ” Mr Rennie noted that Mr Matthews had failed last year to get the Government to fund 61 extra staff to monitor parole.

    Ms Collins said she had asked for extra funding in this year’s Budget and the Government would be responsible when considering it.”

    JUDY:……….Don’t ask for extra funding. Tell the government that if they abolish parole they can dispense with the parole board and instead of needing more Probation Officers you will need less.

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  36. jacob van hartog (300 comments) says:

    …he had asked for extra funding in this year’s Budget and the Government would be responsible when considering it.”

    Sounds like that bus being backed up ready to run over her again.

    What ever happened to key and Englishs call for the public service to make to with less, that money instead of going to Corrections will go to private schools instead.

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  37. gd (2,286 comments) says:

    As a student of good governance what we have here is a nonsense beyond belief. Its like a Chairman of a Board saying they think the CEOs no good and want them gone but the CEO doesnt report to the Chairman so the Chairman cant fire them

    It a lose lose situation A totally completeing intolerable situation Human nature is human nature and when relationships are broken then they are broken and no amount of pretence and sophistry can change the reality.

    For the citizens and taxpayers to have this situation foisted on them is simply inapporpriate and unacceptable

    there is no excuse there is no defence. Our governance model is broken and must be fixed

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  38. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    Trevor Mallard concludes:

    …with a little consideration she could have had a win win.

    Alright Trevor. I know you to be someone who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and who works damned hard at his portfolio and wants to see what you perceive to be positive changes. So let’s say you’re appointed to a portfolio where you consider the Chief Executive to be a fool, and all objective performance measures back that up.

    Yet the SSC maintains it was right in recommending his or her appointment. You realise that falls under the category of “they would say that, wouldn’t they?” and maintain your opinion that the CE is incompetent.

    You haven’t made the mistake of a rookie like Collins and started making public noises, but the SSC refuses to budge. How do you come out of that with a win / win other than backing down and accepting your primary conduit to departmental policy and operations will do as s/he damn well pleases regardless of your displeasure (yet you’ll continue to be regularly criticised for what are, in effect, his or her failings)?

    And how does that mesh with our Westminster tradition of expecting the buck to stop with the Minister, up to and including resignation for a catastrophic failure by his or her department?

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  39. CraigM (694 comments) says:

    I have a buck that says Rex won’t get a real answer.

    I had another buck that had “stops here” written on it, but I passed it on.

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  40. peterwn (3,277 comments) says:

    gd – If a company Board wants to fire a CEO the Board generally has to pay out the incumbent to end of contract period. That is unless there is solid ’cause’ eg embesslement. Company boards will do this where they perceive it is costing the company a fortune to ‘carry’ a lame CEO – cheaper to pay the s*d out and start again.

    In this particular case, the SSC Commissioner would most probably need Cabinet approval to fire the guy if it puts the Government at significant risk of a payout. He cannot justify it and would have to say as much in his Cabinet submission, so the proper course of action is for Judith Collins to put her own submission to Cabinet to fire him.

    Trouble too is she ‘went public’ on it. More often than not an unwanted CEO will go quietly. If the SSC Commissioner plans not to renew a contract he would let the CEO know in good time so the CEO can start job hunting.

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  41. jacob van hartog (300 comments) says:

    peterwn is on the right track. matthews has two years at $350,000 pa left on his contract. So its $700,000 to have him gone tomorrow. Collins nad Key dont want that to happen ( otherwise it would have allready)

    What will likely happen SSC will find a new job for him somehere at say $300,000 and give him a new 4 year contract.

    Funny that Doone was easier to sack, since his boss is The Governor General not Rennie at SSC

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  42. PaulL (5,987 comments) says:

    Hmm. I seem to remember a similar process with a certain CEO of WINZ. Whom the new govt got soon enough. I don’t think Mr Matthews will have long tenure in his position.

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  43. Trevor Mallard (248 comments) says:

    Rex :- My experience was that every time that a competent Minister was convinced that a CE was not capable of doing their job then they were able to convince the Commissioner of that. Sometimes they needed the support of a senior colleague and sometimes the CE was present for a discussion of the issues.

    There is of under the State Sector Act the ability of Cabinet to decline a Commissioner’s recommendation for appointment or reappointment. That decision is of course publicly notified and may be seen as an indication of Cabinet not having confidence in the Commissioner as well as the proposed appointee.

    My experience is that Commissioners are amongst the people most upset when they see a CE bringing the public service into disrepute. Ongoing public debates like the Matthews one make it much harder to recruit competent CEs. They live very much in a fishbowl environment but are unable to answer political critics the way politicians are.

    If it is a matter of personality clash as is sometimes the case then it may be that either the Minister gets a portfolio swap or the CE moves to another agency.

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  44. Trevor Mallard (248 comments) says:

    Craig : – Keep your buck

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  45. dad4justice (8,238 comments) says:

    Trevor; forget the buck and go smack a duck in the head.Quack!

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  46. PaulL (5,987 comments) says:

    Trevor, I agree that it is complex. But it is pretty much par for the course for an incoming government to have a couple of CEs that it really doesn’t want to keep. In the case of Christine Rankin, the incoming Prime Minister had made it clear before the election that upon the Labour Party coming to power that Christine would be gone.

    Yes, it makes it hard to be a CE. But many CE’s in government departments are very well paid compared to their private sector peers. The job is different (and more complex in some ways), but it certainly shouldn’t be treated as a sinecure. If a CE is not performing or fails to retain confidence of their Minister, they should go.

    I would personally rather that we were prepared to pay out a CE on a no fault basis. The political environment we’ve gotten into over the last couple of changes of government is that we don’t like payouts. The consequence of this is that a Minister has to engineer the removal of a CE purely for political reasons, where the better answer may have been to just agree that it isn’t working, pay some money, and move on. Both major parties have been complicit in bringing about this state of affairs.

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  47. Ross Miller (1,704 comments) says:

    Been absent for a couple of days playing golf and cutting trees but it gives me no great pleasure to say that I forshadowed the SSC Report. The Commissioner performed his job of union organiser for departmental chief executives to perfection. I expected no more or less. In doing so he lowered the bar for accountability to something approximating Labour Party MPs ethical standards … so low a worm couldn’t sneak under it (Mr Cosgrove should excell).

    But in refusing to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation doing so he presented Collins with all the ammunition she needed to proceed apace with private sector involvement in the managment and operation of prisons. Simply, if the status quo is as good as it gets then the public sector model has well and truely done its chips. And if there were any ‘doubters’ in cabinet as to whether to proceed with the opening up of the prisons to the private sector then the SSC cut the ground from under their feet.

    Its called winning a battle and loosing the war. The SSC, by his refusal to act against the demonstrated incompetence in the Corrections Department, has ensured that Department has a future in name only.

    There are many ways to skin a cat so crow if you want to Phil and Damien but humble crow tastes bloody horrible.

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