Editorials 12 June 2010

All four major editorials are on the credit card revelations. First the Herald:

Such scrutiny is, obviously, overdue given some of the ministerial behaviour that has come to light. Equally, it must be recognised that the very functioning of government sometimes requires ministers to dip into the taxpayer pocket.

In this regard, some of the criticism directed at ministers has been well wide of the mark. Take, for example, the fact that Trade Minister Tim Groser paid what, for New Zealanders, represents a lavish restaurant tip while at an Apec summit in South America.

Quite simply, that was the level of gratuity expected in Peru. Equally, the same minister, as part of his official duties, is expected to entertain dignitaries on his many trips overseas.

There should be no surprise that his spending on liquor and food is reasonably substantial.

Likewise, there is nothing out of the norm in Murray McCully spending nearly $2000 of taxpayer money on laundry services.

His role as Foreign Affairs Minister dictates not only that he travels frequently but that he presents a good image when meeting foreign dignitaries.

McCully naturally looks unkempt, so any investment in keeping his shirts wrinkle free is worth it 🙂

And there is Shane Jones’ lust for pornography, which led him to watch as many as three pay-per-view blue movies a night in hotel rooms and then charge them to his card.

The revelation will surely lead to the demotion of the former Building and Construction Minister when he faces his Labour caucus colleagues next week.

Labour leader Phil Goff has little option given his strong criticism of Housing Minister Phil Heatley, whose infringements were mild by comparison.

As Mr Jones conceded, he has dug a hole that may well prove to be his grave. It is difficult to see a way back, so deep and enduring will be the taint of the revelations and what they say about him.

Labour MPs are busy lining up to tell Shane that he can recover from this, but the political reality is that if he carries on he will spend 18 miserable months on the backbenches, and then disappear at the next election. They just want him to stay on, to avoid Judith Tizard returning.

The Press slams appalling judgements:

Some might argue that the credit card revelations are a media beat-up, but in the case of the worst offenders there are serious issues. The spending reflects appalling judgment and a misplaced sense of entitlement on the part of several senior politicians who once held ministerial portfolios, with some no doubt aspiring to do so again.

Another disturbing feature thrown up by the release of documentation is the tardiness of some ministers in filing receipts for their spending, with officials having to pester them to do so. Again, this reluctance to be accountable for spending taxpayer money showed poor judgment.

But again some balance:

This helps explain why food and drink receipts loom so large among the released documents. The current Trade Minister, Tim Groser, who was the subject of a complaint about his behaviour on an international flight, has now raised eyebrows with his mini-bar tabs. But Groser should not be judged harshly too quickly. Groser is required to be frequently overseas on portfolio business and should not be begrudged, after a long day of trade talks, winding down in his hotel room with a drink. Perhaps it needs to be explained, however, how he came to buy five $92 bottles of Famous Grouse scotch during the climate change conference in Copenhagen. Whether or not another former Labour minister, Judith Tizard, should have spent $155 on a single bottle of champagne is another question.

People who don’t travel much think that travel is fun. Being in other countries can be fun, but travel itself is not. Spending 200 days a year travelling overseas is a pretty miserable existence.

The Dominion Post focuses on Shane Jones:

Former Labour minister Shane Jones’ biggest sin was not that he watched pornography. It was that he got the taxpayer to pay for the pornography he was watching. Mr Jones’ purchase of porn betrays of mammoth sense of entitlement and a minuscule sense of propriety.

He is not alone. Judith Tizard moved on from being a chardonnay socialist to become a Bollinger bolshevik, charging up a $155 bottle of bubbly to the taxpayers.

Chris Carter felt it was appropriate to use his ministerial credit card to buy flowers for his partner, Peter Kaiser, and for colleague Lianne Dalziel when she was sacked, plus kitchenware in London, and massages in Buenos Aires.

Mita Ririnui used his card for golf clubs and at a bike shop. The list goes on. They can clearly read the menus and wine lists but apparently not the ministerial guidelines on spending.

The lack of remorse is what grates:

Mr Carter says his mistakes were “perhaps inevitable, but never excusable”. That offers no insight into why he thought the taxpayer should be paying for “kitchenware” – apparently mugs bearing the British Labour Party logo – and its postage back to New Zealand from London.

Former agriculture and forestry minister Jim Anderton is little better. He has rejected any suggestion it was improper that spa treatments at a Malaysian hotel were charged to his ministerial card, saying he paid the money back and “it’s just silly to think you’re going to carry a number of cards and pay for this on one and that on another”.

He is wrong. That is exactly what he should have done, and what most in the private sector expect to do when they are travelling with a company credit card.

Exactly. And the excuse that Ministers are too busy to check out themselves is trite. They can give their personal card to staff to use at checkout. They can get the bill the night before and indicate then what items are personal and pay for them.

Mr Jones, once touted as a future Labour leader, will pay a high political price. His credibility is all but gone.

In many ways a pity. He was one of the economically most literate MPs in Labour. But his colleagues are deluding him if they say he can get over this.

The ODT points out not all Ministers have offended:

Many members of the public and probably most of the media have long suspected politicians have so designed their professional way of life in such a manner as to rort the taxpayers as often and as deeply as they can get away with, surrounded such behaviour with a thicket of prohibitions on disclosure, and adopted denial as the first defensive posture when challenged.

The accusatory brush has been broad, yet as the recent disclosures show, unfairly so. By no means all present and former ministers have abused their special privileges at our cost; indeed, several have been quite circumspect, using their ministerial credit card with caution and within the rules. …

The exceptions have been disappointingly cavalier with their private spending and their hypocrisy for doing so while generally railing against wasteful state spending will do their reputations no good whatsoever.

Winston Peters has denied using his credit card, but it is clear from the records that his staff charged many items to it claiming they were expenses, never mind a reminder of the “unarguable” policy that credit cards not be used for personal expenditure, regardless of repayment.

Jim Anderton was also shown to have used his card for a massage and spa services for himself and his wife while on Labour government business.

Others have treated the taxpayer-funded card just as carelessly, but on a far greater scale. The contrast on television between the smirking former Labour minister Chris Carter and his shamefaced colleague Shane Jones perhaps spoke volumes about attitudes.


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