Before I get into this substance of this, I want to say a couple of things. The first is that I have known Chris Carter for around 15 years, think he has a great sense of humour and has been an effective MP. In fact it isn’t a great secret that I was hoping he would beat Brian Neeson when they both stood for Waipareira in 1996 as I found Neeson just far too conservative for me (and note Neeson in 2002 broke his written pledge to not stand against a National candidate by standing as an Independent in 2002 when he failed to be reselected).
Also it drives me crazy that some people are unable to comment on any issue about a gay MP, without making some dig about his sexual orientation. People really need to get over it. And Chris has had a longer relationship with his partner than most married couples, let alone divorced ones.
Now I blogged on Sunday:
I’ve been musing about whether to post on this topic, because I think Chris Carter was acting with good motives in flying to Samoa, but nevertheless I do question the appropriateness of it.
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.
Three times I stressed I was not questioning Chris’s motives in going to Samoa, just his judgement on appropriateness. And I still stand by that. I think the motives were honourable.
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Winne Laban headed to Samoa to assist her family there. Carter went as her support person, the two are close I understand. He did not go there to be Labour Foreign Affairs spokesperson.
Now I don’t know anyone at all who thinks or has said Winnie going there was inappropriate. And going as a support person for Winnie would be entirely uncontroversial. One could quibble whether it is a good use of parliamentary funding to have an MP go as a support person, rather than say a family member, but I don’t think that is an issue.
This has not been disaster tourism by Carter
I have never used the term disaster tourism, and would not. In fact the blogger I recall using the term is No Right Term who used the label against John Key.
But sadly for The Standard and Russell, Chris Carter himself shoots down their defence f him that he was there solely as Winnie’s support person. Chris blogged:
What a great posting from Winnie. I am so glad she agreed to go with me to Samoa. She was not only a wonderful travelling companion, but her understanding of the appropriate cultural approach and her Samoan language skills meant we could engage with those affected by this terrible natural disaster in the most sensitive ways.
This makes it very clear Chris was going regardless of Winnie going. Later on he says Winnie asked him to go, but that be referring to the specific flight they caught.
It was clear to us that Winnie as Labour’s spokesperson for Pacific Island Affairs, and me as our Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, needed to be there, on the ground, supporting the victims and listening to their plight.
And here Chris makes very clear he was there not just as Winnie’s support person, but as the Foreign Affairs Spokesperson.
And with respect I disagree that rushing into a foreign disaster should be the job of the opposition foreign affairs spokesperson, just as I don’t expect the opposition health spokesperson to rush to medical emergencies.
It was important for Samoans and holidaying Kiwis to know that the Labour Party cared about the disaster and was quick off the mark to demonstrate its concern.
And here Chris says it was about showing the Labour Party cared. Now by his own words that raises the issue of appropriateness. Should the Greens have flown over also to show they cared? I think what was needed is to show New Zealand cared, regardless of political affiliation. And that is the job of the Government – whether that be National or Labour at the time.
It is an important role of the Opposition in a Parliamentary democracy to challenge, push and where appropriate support the actions of the government of the day. It is a legitimate role for Opposition MPs to provide a different voice and often alternatives to government policy or action, whether it be in domestic affairs such as Education, Health, Housing or Welfare, or dealing with issues concerning Employers, Workers, Unions, in International Relations/Foreign Affairs, and even in disaster relief.
That’s our job!
It was immediately obvious to us that what Samoa urgently needed was doctors, nurses, immediate food, fresh water supplies and medical equipment.
Now I absolutely agree Opposition MPs should and must hold the Government to account. But I do not accept that means it is appropriate for the foreign affairs spokesperson to fly into a foreign disaster, any more than you expect the opposition Police spokesperson to fly to the scene of an armed siege so they can comment on whether or not they think the Government or Police handled the siege well.
An Opposition spokesperson can critique the Government’s response to a foreign disaster by reports from the dozens of media at the scene, by talking to non-media on the ground, by asking MFAT (through the Minister) for a briefing etc etc. I’ve never before known an opposition spokesperson to assert they need to fly to the scene. And as I said in my original blog, Helen Clark would I am sure have ferociously denounced a National MP doing the same.
So if Chr ris had gone purely to support Winnie, I would have no criticism. But The Standard clearly invented that as a defence, to have Chris himself contradict it. And I think it is legitimate to have a debate on whether that is the correct role of an opposition spokesperson. Again, I have never criticised the good motives in going, but it is fair to question judgement.
Now Chris also made the TV3 news last night about the fact the published figures showing his spending on international travel over six months to be $83,000 was wrong, and in fact it was $131,000.
Now many will condemn him on that lavel of spending, but I do think people should not rush to judgement until all the facts are known.
I’ve had friends travel with Ministers in the past, and they get back absolutely knackered. One mate(ess) got back from a trip to UK and Netherlands for a week, and apologised for no souvenirs. She had worked from 7 am to 10 pm from when they land to when they took off apart from a two hour break one afternoon which she spent sleeping.
Many Ministers (and staff) do have punishing schedules on their trips. I suggest that the fairest thing would be for the itineraries for the travel in question to be released, so people can judge the value for the $131,000. Duncan Garner blogs that he has asked the Cabinet Office for the travel reports but for some reason this will take at least another week.