More scrutiny of O’Rourke

May 2nd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Hamish Rutherford at Stuff reports:

Parliament’s Speaker is refusing to disclose whether a New Zealand First employee has travelled at the expense of the taxpayer, after the MP he lives with, Denis O’Rourke, denied the two are partners.

Yesterday Parliamentary Service confirmed it was investigating a complaint into O’Rourke, who entered Parliament in 2011, and Stephen James, an out of Parliament staff member for the NZ First transport spokesman.

Under the directions of the Speaker, David Carter, MPs are not allowed to employ their partner, husband or wife. O’Rourke has denied that James is his partner, reportedly saying that the two live in different parts of a single house.

Electoral records from 2011 showed O’Rourke and James living at the same address. Although the latest electoral roll shows James now lives at a different address, property records show it also relates to O’Rourke’s Christchurch home.

The two were previously directors of the same company, and companies they continue to run give similar contact details.

So they live together, and run business together, and O’Rourke has out him on the taxpayer funded payroll. It’s not a great look.

James is said to frequently travel from Christchurch to Wellington during weeks when Parliament is sitting. It is unclear whether he travels at his own expense, and a spokeswoman for Carter said the Speaker would be making no comment on the matter until Parliamentary Service had completed its investigation, expected next week.

It is rare for Out of Parliament staff to come to Wellington. Most OOP staff would probably come to Wellington just once a year or so. James has been seen out and about in Wellington, often with O’Reilly O’Rourke.

MPs are allowed to have their partner or spouse travel with them, or if they do not have one, nominate a family member, under the directions of the Speaker.

Staff members can also travel via funding from the MPs parliamentary budget.

The Herald also has a new angle:

New Zealand First MP Denis O’Rourke is under further pressure after being caught out over a fake testimonial on the Trade Me page of his classic car rental business. …

However, the complaint from Queenstown resident David Simpson which sparked the investigation said there was “a clear case of Mr O’Rourke and Mr James conspiring to create bogus testimonials about a wedding car hire firm they both have an interest in”.

The pair were directors of Christchurch-based wedding business Garden City Weddings.

After the business ceased trading, Mr O’Rourke continued to lease classic cars for weddings, including a 1948 Jaguar Mark V named Winston.

Under his Trade Me handle DJSteve, Mr James wrote: “Such beautiful black cars – thanks for your great service for our wedding.”

Mr O’Rourke replied: “Denis: Many thanks Steve. it was our pleasure.”

The post was placed three months before Mr O’Rourke was elected to Parliament in 2011 and has since been deleted.

Mr O’Rourke said he knew Mr James had placed the reference but, because it was done before he was an MP, he did not need to apologise to the public.

Yep fake testimonial from your business partner are fine so long as you did them before you were an MP!

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Herald on MP staffing

May 1st, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A New Zealand First MP is the subject of a complaint to Parliament’s Speaker over the employment of a person who lives at the same property.

Queenstown resident David Simpson has raised questions about the nature of the relationship between MP Denis O’Rourke and Stephen James, whom Mr O’Rourke employed after the 2011 election. MPs are not allowed to employ their partner, husband or wife in or outside Parliament.

A spokeswoman for Parliamentary Service, the in-house watchdog, confirmed Speaker of the House David Carter had “referred an issue to us and we are looking at it, but that’s between us and the Speaker’s office. I’m not going to say any more than that”.

She said there was nothing in its files to indicate that Mr James was Mr O’Rourke’s partner.

Living at the same property doesn’t mean they are partners. I’ve lived with many people who are not partners.

There is probably no one single test for whether or not two people are partners. Obviously one aspect is whether or not the relationship is platonic. But I imagine that the best way to assess is to use the same criteria that WINZ uses in determining the same thing. I’d look at stuff such as whether they go out to functions together, do they cook for each other, shop together. 

Mr O’Rourke also said rules around MPs employing their spouses or partners were “something we looked at very closely after the election … . and we understand the situation”.

“Stephen is definitely not my partner, he lives at a separate address in Christchurch.”

Mr O’Rourke and Mr James were listed as living at the same address in the 2011 electoral roll, but Mr James is listed as living at a separate address in last year’s roll.

However, Herald investigations reveal both addresses apply to the same property – Mr O’Rourke’s home. …

On Tuesday Mr James emerged from the Mt Pleasant property to check the mailbox. He was later seen inside the property but refused to answer the door.

Mr O’Rourke later confirmed Mr James lived at the same property.

“Yes, there’s a flat attached to my home with separate bedroom and kitchenette and an ensuite and so on. It’s separate accommodation.”

Online records show Mr O’Rourke’s property is listed as a single dwelling. Mr O’Rourke later said Mr James lived in “a room that’s been separated from the house and used as a bedsit”.

“It’s not a formal subdivision … I did upgrade it a couple of years ago and that’s the same time that we got the separate letterbox.”

He reiterated that he and Mr James were not partners. “We’re deliberately not partners and whatever it takes to convince people we’re not partners, that’s what we’ll do. We don’t intend to be partners, we’ve agreed not to be partners, we don’t do the things that partners do, so we’re not partners.”

I don’t think O’Rourke’s comments help him. Saying that we are deliberately not partners is a strange thing to say. If someone is not your partner, or someone you have a relationship with, then you don’t need to make a deliberate decision not to be partners. When I have a flatmate, we never have a discussion about being partners or not – because there is no need.

So O’Rourke’s comments do not help him. I don’t know if James and O’Rourke are partners but a friend tells me they have been seen out together regularly around Wellington. Again that doesn’t mean they are partners – it is not a single test. But O’Rourke’s comments and the changing of the addresses does make it look like they do have some sort of relationship and have deliberately tried to structure it so James can be employed.

And regardless of the legality, I think it is unwise to hire as a staff member someone whom you live with. The complications are significant if something goes wrong. How do you reprimand them if they stuff up, if you are living with them?

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NZ First infighting

October 17th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Sam Sachdeva at The Press reports:

NZ First has been embroiled in infighting after a blog slammed the performance of some of its MPs, leaked party emails show.

Internal emails, passed on to The Press, have revealed discord within the party, with Christchurch MP Denis O’Rourke among those attacking their Whip and the party’s board.

The emails relate to a post by website Kiwiblog that used a range of statistics to rank Opposition MPs.

The rankings placed Canterbury NZ First MPs O’Rourke and Richard Prosser in the bottom five for the third quarter of 2012, along with colleague Asenati Taylor.

I wouldn’t say the blog slammed any of the NZ First MPs. In the post I did, I mainly just report the data. Rajen Prasad is the only MP I really gave much of a swipe to.

As I said in the post, the data is quantitative, not qualitative. However I think it has some value as it does at least show if MPs are being active asking PQs and doing press releases.

To be fair to NZ First MPs, many will always struggle as Winston hogs most of the media stories, and front on almost any high profile issue. But that is no reason you can’t still be churning out some releases and gathering data through PQs.

NZ First Whip Barbara Stewart emailed the rankings to the caucus on October 4.

She said they showed “how others are judging you”.

O’Rourke and former North Shore mayor Andrew Williams hit back, criticising the rankings and Stewart’s decision to email them out.

What is fascinating is not that MPs disagree, but that one of the MPs has leaked the e-mails to the media. Not a good sign.

O’Rourke said the rankings were “not even remotely interesting or relevant” and were “utter nonsense”.

“I find it hard to believe that anyone with any brains would actually take any notice of a stupid Right-wing blog site,” he said.

Hey, I resent the “stupid” comment! And yes my blog is from the right and I am known to be a critic of Winston, but the MP stats are not designed to be pro or anti any party or MP. They are designed to both reveal how much work MPs are doing in certain areas, and how effective they are at gaining media attention. I do them for Government Ministers also.

Williams said Stewart’s decision to place importance on the rankings was “a sad inditement [sic] on you as Whip and of this party”.

“[Q]uite frankly I do not want to receive these ‘nanny’ type sermons from you. Have better things to do than be preached at.”

It is interesting that Winston promised soon after the election that the caucus would elect a Deputy Leader by the end of March 2012. They still haven’t elected one. Is it because they can’t agree?

In response, Stewart warned the MPs that their performance had been noticed by the NZ First board.

“The number of contributions or lack of – that you make . . . is also being noticed. A picture is being created about you!”

I’m biased, but I think the data in the ratings can be of some use to a party. Certainly only of some limited value, but it allows a party to say why has Brendan Horan does 16 press releases and Denis O’Rourke only one? Now there may be a simple answer such as Horan has a portfolio that has been more high profile. So the data is not the answer, but at least allows questions to be asked.  Likewise why has Andrew Williams asked 22 PQs and Asenati Taylor just three?

So even I wouldn’t place huge reliance on the data, but that isn’t to say it can’t be of some value.

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Denis O’Rourke maiden speech

February 9th, 2012 at 9:52 am by David Farrar

I can’t cover all of them, but am trying to cover a few of the maiden speeches in Parliament. New NZ First MP Denis O’Rourke spoke primarily on Christchurch in his speech. He is (off memory) a former City Councillor.

He said:

Magnitude 6.3 for the February 2011 quake does not adequately describe it.

 In my home on the Port Hills, directly above the fault, I felt the indescribable force of vertical ground acceleration 2.2 times the force of gravity, the largest ever recorded anywhere in a populated area.

But it was the great rolling waves following the initial shock which threatened to turn my home onto its side. Luckily it came back to the vertical again.

 And on top of all that was the severity of the shaking for nearly a minute.

 I helped neighbours out of shattered homes, and I looked across at the cloud of white dust rising over the central city, a thousand feet high and four kilometres wide.

 Then came the exodus from the central city.

People abandoned their cars on unpassable roads covered in liquifaction, and were exhausted even before reaching the hill, often with cuts and bruises and tears streaming down terrified faces, searching for children at the local school, or rushing home to loved ones.

Those terrible experiences are now all in the past.

But the effects are not.

A vivid recalling of the earthquake. Those of us not there, can only imagine what it was like.

And we all want to know what will happen to the red zoned land.

As the thousands of houses are demolished, we must not be left with vast areas of dusty demolition deserts  to add to the problems we already face.

 I call upon the government to urgently establish and fund a plan to turn these areas into properly maintained grassed parklands which will enhance the environment of the city, while final decisions are made on how to deal with this land in the longer term.

What happens to the red zone is one of the big issues.

I call upon the government to quickly establish

a major urban renewal fund for central Christchurch,

-       provided over a period of years,

-       designed to assist the rebuild of both public and private structures,

-       for access by way of grants and concessionary loans,

-       by building owners and businesses,

-       and by the City Council for public space and transport enhancements.

Interestingly, I’m hearing a view from more and more in Christchurch that rebuilding the CBD might just not be practical, and possibly Christchurch would made better progress by becoming a decentralised city.

I call upon the government to re-establish a government backed insurer in New Zealand with a mission to provide cover for everybody who needs it. 

I suspect at this stage, Bill English is in physical pain at the fiscal implications. But it may well eventuate that the Government does have to take a role in insurance in Christchurch. I hope not though.

It is time for a new unitary authority for Christchurch to be established for election in 2013

I think unitary authorities have considerable merit.

The full speech is over the break for those interested.

(more…)

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