I don’t think it is the job of the Opposition Foreign Affairs Spokesperson to fly into foreign disasters, any more than it is the job of the Opposition Police Spokesperson to fly into fatal crime scenes, or the Opposition Health Spokesperson to fly into quarantine areas.
Sometimes (not always) it is appropriate for Government Ministers to do so, because they are decision makers and a first hand view can help with that, plus they do represent the Government.
The other “reason” I have heard is so he can report back to the Government on what needs to be done. Well the MFAT staff at the NZ Embassy tend to have that in their job descriptions, and they report back with comprehensive reports, not Twitter updates.
Now again I am sure Chris was acting with good motivations in going over, and like many others Kiwis there, are helping where they can with the relief effort (I hear many tourists are staying on to help with the cleanup which is great).
But I am imagining what Helen Clark would have said if a the then National Foreign Affairs Spokesperson had flown into a foreign disaster in the Pacific, started meeting with the Samoan Prime Minister, announcing he would report back to the Government on what is needed, criticising NZ’s response and twittering about how things were so bad for some New Zealanders there he’s had to give away his spare t-shirt. I suspect Miss Clark would have been very vocal with her views.
Chris is perhaps somewhat fortunate that John Key is not Helen Clark. Now again, I think Chris’ motives were to be of assistance, but he perhaps should have considered how things would be perceived, and how appropriate it was.
UPDATE: The Herald on Sunday editorial touches on this also:
The spectacle of Labour MP Chris Carter slyly attempting to make political capital out of the disaster by telling the Government how it should respond was slightly distasteful. Badly co-ordinated aid initiatives at a time like this can be more hindrance than help and the disaster relief organisations on the ground will have been in no doubt about our Government’s readiness to assist where and when that assistance will be most effective.