John Armstrong writes:
It isn’t the amount of money that is at issue; it is that the declaration was inaccurate. Its inaccuracy raises questions of honesty and trust that should never have to be asked of a Cabinet minister.
Rather than immediately sacking him, the Prime Minister intended temporarily standing Heatley down from his portfolio responsibilities. This was a compromise position which made allowances for human fallibility on Heatley’s part, while at the same time calling in the Audit Office to run a fine tooth-comb through all the expenses he had claimed in the 15 months or so that he was a minister.
But John Key was seemingly gazumped by Heatley’s desire to resign altogether. That is the unusual feature of this resignation. Usually the minister is pleading with the Prime Minister to stay in the job.
Key urged Heatley to “sleep on it” before handing in his ministerial warrant. Significantly, that gesture did not extend to refusing to accept Heatley’s resignation. That is telling. It suggests although the Prime Minister is not ruling out Heatley’s return to the Cabinet, there is not much optimism that the Audit Office probe will not reveal further shortcomings with the ex-minister’s expenses.
Heatley’s route back to the Cabinet will require that everything is squeaky clean. It also presumes he wants his job back. Heatley’s statement about needing to spend a long time on National’s backbenches suggests he realises that is not going to happen.
I have commented at NBR along similiar lines;
For Heatley to return to Cabinet after resigning, he would need to have the Auditor-General provide an unqualified report with no finding of any fault at all. It is difficult to believe that the public sector watchdog will find that it is okay to describe a purchase of alcohol only, as a food or a meal.
Claire Trevett observes:
So it is that National finds the full truth of the maxim that “wine and women bring misery”.
Former minister Richard Worth resigned over rumours about women. Now Phil Heatley resigns over two bottles of wine. It was not a pretty sight. …
Small and Watkins in the Dom Post reveal:
But documents issued yesterday show Mr Heatley was warned on several occasions about providing all the paperwork needed.
In July and September, Mr Heatley was told by a Ministerial Services manager: “Due to the scrutiny that credit cards attract we would like to remind you that all records are open to review and should comply with the five expenditure principles … of the Ministerial Office handbook.”
While this was not about the two bottles of wine, it should have still served as a warning to the Minister and his staff, that one had to be very careful in this area.
Colin Espiner blogs:
I don’t think Heatley deliberately tried to mislead anyone, for the record. I think he genuinely didn’t understand the rules, or the political consequences of breaking them. But that’s still his responsibility, and proffering his resignation was the right course of action.
Key will be annoyed and embarrassed by this, but not overly concerned. Heatley was by all accounts a competent and hard-working minister, but there are others in National’s ranks who will do an equally competent job.
My money’s on Chris Tremain, the hard-working and capable Napier MP and chief whip to replace Heatley and take his housing portfolio. I’d leave fisheries with David Carter, since it’s a good fit with agriculture.
The issue of who will be the new Minister is an interesting one. It is possible no appointments will be for a while, but there are three possible courses of actions:
- No new Minister is appointed, and portfolios just reallocated. Carter is an obvious choice for fisheries. Housing is a tougher fit, as it is a quite time intensive portfolio.
- A Minister outside Cabinet is promoted to Cabinet (almost certainly Nathan Guy) and an MP is promoted to be a Minister outside Cabinet. If this happens, it is possible Guy could pick up Housing (so it is represented within Cabinet) and the new Minister picks up Internal Affairs.
- A backbench MP is promoted directly into Cabinet, possibly taking both of Heatley’s portfolios.
It is possible Key will use the vacancy to do a minor reallocation of portfolios also. The main interest however will be on which backbench MP gets made a Minister.
The consensus is it will be one of the two Hawke’s Bay MPs – Napier’s Chris Tremain and Tukituki’s Craig Foss. I think that is quite correct. They both hold one of the twp jobs which almost inevitably leads to becoming a Minister – Chief Government Whip and Chairman of the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee.
There isn’t anything much between the two MPs, and friends. And whichever one doesn’t make it this time, is pretty certain to be the next one through the time after. They are both judged to be “Minister ready”.
If iPredict does a stock on who it will be, I’d probably put a small bit of money on Foss, purely because Tremain’s role as Chief Whip is quite integral to the smooth running of the Government, and his promotion means you need a new Chief Whip, and if Jo Goodhew moves into that role then you need a new Junior Whip, and if they are a Select Committee Chair, a new Select Committee Chair.
A promotion for Foss is less disruptive. The Deputy Chair of the F&E Select Committee is Amy Adams, and she would be more than capable of steping up to be Chair, with Pesata Sam Lotu-Iiga a likely replacement Deputy Chair.
As I said though, it could easily be either one of them.