Editorials 17 June 2010

The Herald hits out at dubious pet projects:

The latest example of misuse is the $120,000 that the Auckland City Council’s finance and strategy committee has voted to spend on commissioning a history of the council from 1989 to 2010. …

Never mind, also, that the money is being spent on a work which, no matter how worthy, will be of interest to few and read by even fewer.

Two previous volumes covering the history of Auckland from 1871 to 1989 hardly featured on bestseller lists. …

In time, an uncommissioned historian would surely come up with a far more interesting and relevant work.

I blogged on this, this morning, and agree with the Herald that it is un-necessary expenditure.

The other three editorials are all on Labour and Chris Carter. First The Press:

Last week, before his demotion from the Labour Party front bench over his misuse of his ministerial credit card while in government, Chris Carter spoke of being close to quitting because of the uproar over the matter.

It was apparently only a passing thought but now that he is cooling his heels at home after the Labour leader, Phil Goff, bluntly told him to take some time off to consider his future, it is a question he should seriously consider. Carter’s appalling behaviour in the days after the exposure of his credit card transgressions is only the latest indication that he may lack the temperament, moral compass and gravitas that should be the basic equipment of a member of Parliament and Cabinet minister. …

Carter’s first response, on the other hand, was a pig-headed refusal to accept that he had done anything wrong. Even when Goff finally made it clear to him on Tuesday that his performance had not been acceptable, he still declined to apologise to his fellow Labour MPs and fled from journalists who tried to question him on the matter. It was only after Goff told him to go home and calm down that he finally made the public apology he should have made days earlier. By this time he had forced Goff into the farcical position of having to hold a third press conference of the day to deal with the matter.

The Dom Post:

They show that ministers in the last Labour government thought nothing of spending more on a night’s accommodation, a meal or a taxi ride than some of their constituents could earn in a couple of weeks. The difference between Mr Carter and the other two Labour MPs who misused their ministerial cards for personal expenditure – Shane Jones and Mita Ririnui – is his lack of contrition. …

There are even times when it is in the national interest for them to splash out on a particularly good bottle of wine or expensive meal, for example, when hosting their international counterparts. What the records released last week show, however, is that ministers in the last government lacked the ability to distinguish between spending in their interest and the country’s interest.

That is a problem not just for Mr Carter, who cannot ever hope to hold another ministerial post, but for his party. Bollinger, lobster, massages, limousines, helicopter rides and $700 taxi fares are not the way middle New Zealand lives, let alone Labour’s traditional supporters, the ones Labour’s MPs rely on to give up their free time to hand-deliver mail, knock on doors and ferry supporters to the polls on election day.

Labour has a credibility problem. It will not be fixed by ceremonially beheading three big-spending MPs. It has to reconnect with people who don’t drink Bollinger, stay at luxury resorts or eat like royalty by demonstrating that their concerns are its concerns.

That is the long term challenge indeed.

The ODT opines:

When Labour leader Phil Goff named his shadow cabinet in November 2008, it was clear his natural caution influenced his decisions.

He did not promote any of the new entrants in Labour’s caucus, relying instead on the experience of ministers who had served in the Clark government.

His rationale may have been that they would be best suited to attack the new government and maintain Labour’s poll standings; if so, it was a strategy that failed.

Which is why he will do a full reshuffle later this year.

In that sense, the opportunity presented to Mr Goff by the expenses scandal has proved a godsend.

He was able to remove from the spotlight one serious contender for the leadership in Shane Jones, and in dealing with the other major offenders would finally be able to give a public demonstration of the strength of his own leadership.

Labour has been damaged by this, but Goff personally has come through it ok.

If Mr Carter gets the message, he likely will return in a state of contrition.

If he does not, he will resign, forcing a by-election – a prospect Mr Goff probably would not welcome.

Well who wants to fight a by-election caused by an MP resigning because he resented criticism of his overseas travel?

A leader with better advice than Mr Goff appears to be getting would have acted more ruthlessly, and perhaps Mr Goff – who evidently does not have a personal chief of staff – should consider hiring a political adviser not inclined to shelter him from unpleasant realities.

I recently saw an exceptionally good quote from Solon, a Greek lawgiver in around 600 BC, which was “In giving advice, seek to help, not please, your friend“. This should be pinned up in most parliamentary offices.

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