I’m amazed. It seems that Phil Heatley’s resignation is a genuine resignation, not a sacking. This is incredibly rare, and I cynically assumed this was the case.
Let me explain what is normally the case. 95% of Ministerial departures are “officially” resignations, but are de facto sackings. Richard Worth in an official sense merely resigned, but in an unofficial sense he was sacked.
A resignation is almost always at the request of the PM. Maybe not directly, but because the Chief of Staff or PM has advised the Minister their situation is probably untenable.
Alastair Campbell in the UK was often the person who negotiated resignations on behalf of the PM.
But in this case, it does appear to be the very rare beast, that a Minister voluntarily went, while the PM was still willing to keep him on. The Herald reports:
Prime Minister John Key says he hasn’t lost confidence in resigning Housing Minister Phil Heatley and wouldn’t have asked him to quit had he not insisted on resigning.
Mr Heatley resigned from his housing and fisheries portfolios this morning over an error in his expense accounts.
Mr Key says he has accepted Mr Heatley’s resignation “with regret”.
“I wouldn’t have asked him to resign. It would have been my preferred pathway that he chose to stand down [during the Auditor-General’s investigation] because I think that’s important, but I wouldn’t have asked for his resignation. It was the minister himself who offered his resignation and I have respectfully had to accept that.”
This also means that Heatley’s exile may not be as permament as I assumed. However Phil himself said that he is not expecting a quick return.
Mr Key did not rule out bringing Mr Heatley back into Cabinet and returning his ministerial portfolios in the future. But he said he would wait for the Auditor-General’s report.
The sad reality for Phil is that unlike the previous Government, there is a fairly talented backbench who are eagerly waiting for their chance to have Ministerial responsibilities.
Last night Mr Heatley told Mr Key that he wanted to resign and hand over his accounts to the scrutiny of the Auditor-General, but Mr Key told him he would prefer that he stand down during the Auditor-General process.
He told Mr Heatley to sleep on it, and he would accept whatever decision he came to in the morning.
Mr Heatley called to offer his resignation this morning, and it was accepted.
While Phil’s actions with the expenses were wrong and not acceptable, his decision to resign, rather than wait for the Auditor-General’s report, does him credit.
Other Ministers will be somewhat nervous, as this effectively lowers the barrier to what one should resign over. I suspect more than two Ministerial credit cards are heading towards the scissors.