Sloppy hysteria

The Herald reports from Parliament:

Finally it was back to the Prime Minister for the last question – this time about his holding of shares in Jackson Mining.

Asked how he could not have known the company had merged with another and was now involved in uranium mining, he began with: “There was the small technical issue – I have been busy the country.”

He added that he would be the first to admit it was “sloppy” but said the last time he had looked they were trading at 3.5c “and when I offered them to my son, was 12 at the time, even he did not want them”.

I was absolutely stunned that TVNZ had as their lead story that the PM had admitted he was “sloppy”, as if this was Watergate II.In there was nothing that came within a million miles of being a conflict of interest.

John Key had declared the mining shares in his register of interests. This is what you are meant to do.

Now a conflict of interest tends to relate to something favouring a specific company, not something that affects an entire industry.

The mining company in question is Australian, does not operate in NZ, and has no plans to operate in NZ. Anyone thinks this creates a conflict of interest, just because the Government is promoting mining is biased or stupid.

The Government promotes agriculture. So should Jim Bolger have had to sell his family farm when he was PM?

Helen Clark was a residential property investor. Should she have sold all her houses because the Government made decisions that affected rental properties?

Of course not. No reasonable person thinks that is a conflict of interest. If you adopt that standard, then every MP would be forced to liquidate all their assets and have only cash in a bank. But oh no, wait Government can affect banks, so lets force them to store their cash under their bed.

Having shares in an Australian mining company that does not operate in NZ is not a conflict of interest. Even if they did operate in NZ, it would not be a conflict of interest. The conflict of interest would be if a decision was made to grant some licence to that particular company, which the PM took part in.

The PMs statement that he had been sloppy, simply relates to the he hadn’t bothered to keep track of what the company was doing, as its shares were near worthless.

Now that may deserve a couple of paragraphs in a political story in a newspaper, but to have TVNZ make it their lead story is unbelievable.

UPDATE: Colin Espiner has previously blogged much the same thing:

As for the mining story, I’m a bit nonplussed. Frankly I don’t give a monkey’s whether Key owns shares in an Australian mining company, and I think TVNZ’s pretext that it’s a story because the Government is planning to mine national parks is a little flimsy.

If owning shares in a mining company could become an issue, it should already be an issue, since there is already extensive mining in this country. And we’ve known for ages that Key’s share portfolio includes mining companies. I remember him talking about it during the election campaign.

As for the second leg of the story – that it’s a bad look for a PM of a nuclear-free country to own shares in a company that mines uranium – I’m sorry, but I don’t get that. Uranium might be a precursor to the manufacture of plutonium, which is used in nuclear weapons.

But it’s also used in a vast array of medical and scientific procedures. I’ve always thought it funny that people claim we’re “nuclear free” when there’s enough plutonium in our hospitals and universities to make your hair fall out.

This is about TVNZ promoting itself. Because the so called “revelation” was made on a TVNZ show, that means they feel they have to keep it alive as a news story.

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