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Opposition damages public morality with Oravida claims

  • April 16th, 2014

Political journalists continue to give credibility to the Oravida beat-up. I've not heard anyone I know, outside the 'beltway' set, who share their faux indignation. Perhaps aspects yet to be revealed will vindicate the accusers. But on what has been disclosed so far, those alleging corruption disgrace themselves.

We come from an era, widely regarded as our most incorruptible, when all manner of goods were marked with the Royal crest, and the words "By appointment to HM the Queen". Approval as suppliers to the Crown was overtly advertised, for the benefit of the supplier. I recall no concern that it was a corrupt practice.

Nor is there any objective argument that Ms Collins advocacy for any dairy interests in China or elsewhere, has been inimical to the interests of New Zealand. The allegations of corruption are the single element most likely to reduce the barriers to corruption. When it is acceptable to equate such innocuous behaviour with corruption, we lose the capacity to distinguish, and 'everybody does it' becomes a more likely excuse for genuine corruption at other levels

If there was some indication of covert payments then it might run. But most of us know that there is implicit personal endorsement, even if it is unwanted, in most engagements of powerful people.

As a humble opposition back-bencher I knew that when I was asked to open a building, or celebrate the commencement of a business, I was not asked for my rippling physique, or my rhetoric. I was asked because it was endorsement. It added weight to an occasion.

When I was asked to take up a complaint about bureacracy, of course I was putting my weight behind the complainant. That did not mean that I necessarily thought they should prevail. Nor did it mean they got a privilege. I was expected to do it even for companies and causes with which I had little sympathy. I went to their dinners and spoke at their AGMs, because they were entitled to expect me to be interested, and to help them if I could without impropriety.

In my mind, impropriety was simple. If I stipulated for, or accepted, a private benefit (more than a ceremonial bottle of wine, say) or failed to disclose any substantial pecuniary return, I was misusing my office. But othewise I should, and would advance the interests of any constituent or sector, with which I had sympathy, or a policy interest.

We do not want our leaders to be ignorant eunuchs, fed only the information they get pre-digested from officials. We want them to be well connected. We want them to test all they hear with people they know they can trust, from experience. And as I was warned when I entered Parliament by one of its most experienced Ministers, "Stick to the friends you had before you came here, because from now on you will not know who are your friends, and who are not, till you leave. You will not be sure which are the greasers, and those who are genuine".

So be staunch Judith Collins. And remind us all of the utter uselessness of an opposition (and political journalism that sustains it) in banging on about a Minister who is enthusiastic about a company her husband directs, when that opposition ignores huge issues, such as the risk expert report that suggests New Zealand is spending up to $10 bn on earthquake strengthening that is likely to save few lives if any.

 

Comments

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We come from an era, widely regarded as our most incorruptible, when all manner of goods were marked with the Royal crest, and the words “By appointment to HM the Queen”. Approval as suppliers to the Crown was overtly advertised, for the benefit of the supplier. I recall no concern that it was a corrupt practice.

Isn’t at least part of the reason behind the rules in the Cabinet Manual is a protection of the privileges of the Crown to choose which companies get approved as Official Royal suppliers. That is, the rule is there (in part) to stop Ministers from being seen to give Royal approval by themselves?

We come from an era, widely regarded as our most incorruptible…

Am interested in your evidence for this wide regard, and whether you think such regard is warranted.

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  • Martin
  • April 17th, 2014
  • 11:26 am

Pardon me but Get real
Do you really think that there were all the executives from the Oravida at the dinner including the owner and a person from customs and not once was Oravida mentioned?

Do you politiican ex and current really take us to be such dimwits?
Do you really think we should believe Judith when she says she had no idea that Oravida had border issues when all of NZ knew that companies were having problems importing into China? (and we didnt have one of the directors sleeping in our bed).
Yes i think the opposition have ludricious and bad ideas but i absolutely hate any govt looking after its mates instead of others, corrupt countries where that happens sucks. Go live there and try to start up a successful business with no govt contacts in china if you dont believe me.
Yes shes being staunch and shes looking like a fool as shes being found out to of mislead us to begin with and its getting worse for her hence her blabbering tears yesterday. Nothing better than when a bully gets shown to have no spine. Nothing worse than when the govt favours companies their husbands work for over others too

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  • Martin
  • April 17th, 2014
  • 11:42 am

With all due respect you actually dont argue the issue at all.
You state this

Nor is there any objective argument that Ms Collins advocacy for any dairy interests in China or elsewhere, has been inimical to the interests of New Zealand.”

Thats what everyone is saying who is trying to deflect the situation. Its not about that at all, its about did her husbands company he directs and which has heaps of other National people asociated with it get preferential treatment.
She said it was a private dinner.
How many private dinners do you go to that you dont pay for? She didnt pay for it thats why it wasnt in the disclosure of her trip
Sounds like a business dinner to me…..

You bring up HM products, why i dont know as we dont do any of that here in NZ according to my knowledge and it was probably such a bad idea too. As Graeme says show us the evidence that that was a most incorruption time. Perhaps that is why there is now the clear cabinet rule that no one can endorse a product.

Whats damaged here is politicians morality not the publics. A minister of justice trying to say she didnt know Oravida was having issues getting products into China when her husband (not estranged) was a director is so ridiculuous it would be ridiculed to pieces in the courts of law she supposedly governs.
So good on the opposition for doing it.

You need to become more impartial its more fun being able to attack both sides!

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  • Michael
  • April 17th, 2014
  • 11:48 am

“If there was some indication of covert payments then it might run.”

How about getting a free dinner by Oravida in China and not declaring it?

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If she is guilty of corruption sack her, and make sure she doesn’t get a National nomination next time.

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  • -D
  • April 17th, 2014
  • 4:09 pm

Gosh…what a sanctimonious bunch we live amongst.

Thank you Stephen.

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  • Michael
  • April 17th, 2014
  • 4:55 pm

@-D
Yes we are sanctimonious here against corruption, thats why we are at the top of the countries list.
Sounds like you dont mind taking some dirty bribes

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Graeme

I’ve spent nearly 30 years practicing at the intersection of commerce and government, and until the last 10 years never in New Zealand was offered bribes or expected to offer them, or invited to consider any corrupt arrangement involving misuse of state authority  for private pecuniary advantage. That included acting for the Crown and other parties in many of the large transactions that comprised our novel and far-reaching corporatisation and privatisation programme. I never came across any hint of corruption when acting for Treasury and other government departments on regulatory reforms. I was not confronted by corruption involving officialdom even when developing the modern form of the Stock Exchange Listing Rules, though much of that project was needed to cauterise the culture of self and related party -dealing that disfigured our listed company scene in the 1980s. I never came across circumstances in which any any one, client or lawyer or official or opposing client considered that another New Zealander would be corrupt in the use of official powers.

Sadly, that was not my experience of transactions for New Zealand clients in Australia, and my pride in New Zealand took some knocks when I became more familiar with the fiduciary abuses in Maori businesses and affairs. I was dismayed by Police statements to a Select Committee that in my opinion were best termed lies, folllowed later by the absence of Police enforcement of electoral law against Labour’s rorts. My disillusionment was deepened by the shock of my party’s discovery of Donna Awatere’s dealings (including ones that the Speaker declined to allow to be investigated because, it seemed, he would rather extend ACT’s embarassment), the PMs dogged protection of Taito Philip Field, then similar sheltering of Winston Peters from proper investigation of lies and other suspicious circumstances.

I’ve discussed such matters with a number of experienced Parliamentarians. I think that paradoxically, a decline in political morality neatly paralells the prevalence of high-minded posturing and calls for codes and allegations of infringement of stupidly aspirational “guidelines”. The Cabinet Guidelines are not well framed in this area. It is idle to pretend to prohibit the conferring of advantage on favoured parties by implicit or explicit endorsement. They should instead confine themselves to the more realistic objective of ensuring sunlight on dealings that could be self-interested, and rely on the normal political cost to be paid when power is thought to be abused for the gain of friends.

Because I want our Ministers out there doing the best they can for Fonterra, and every other New Zealand business they can find the time for, in representations to foreigners.

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  • Michael
  • April 17th, 2014
  • 7:48 pm

Stephen
“They should instead confine themselves to the more realistic objective of ensuring sunlight on dealings that could be self-interested, and rely on the normal political cost to be paid when power is thought to be abused for the gain of friends.”

Surely this is what the opposition is trying to do that you a actually complaining about? Arent they trying to get sunlight on whether Judith jumped in to help out a friends company and then tried to hide she had done that?

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yes its like he says we we say, it is boring except we went out today and caught 9 snapper, and eat them

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  • Jack
  • April 19th, 2014
  • 1:41 pm

Dear Stephen,

I believe your article is right on the mark. You should offer it to all the print media; the DomPost in particular to balance out the ludicrous “Quote of the week” section in today’s (Saturday, 19th)edition for example. The position the DomPost has taken in that section is a classic example of the faux beat-up you refer to.

While you’ll get opposition from Martin and those who believe as he does (which is healthy and I doubt will worry you), a wide readership will benefit from the clear way you have outlined both the reality of what was an everyday action by Ms Collins and the hypocrisy of Messrs Peters, Cunliffe and Robertson.

I’m in particular agreement with your statement, “When it is acceptable to equate such innocuous behaviour with corruption, we lose the capacity to distinguish, and ‘everybody does it’ becomes a more likely excuse for genuine corruption at other levels.” This is the exact situation that prevails in Australia where the highest offices and officers are routinely being charged with corruption – these include the Reserve Bank of Australia for god’s sake (bribery by its subsidiary Securency with knowledge of the RBA Board) the Australian Wheat Board (breaching embargo of Iraq and paying kickbacks), every level of the State and Federal governments (way too many to list but the latest are the Premier of NSW, Barry O’Farrell, for receiving an undeclared gift and lying about it to the NSW Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) and the Federal Assistant Treasurer, Arthur Sinodinos, who is being investigated by ICAC regarding his involvement with Australian Water Holdings and its links with a crooked former powerbroker named Eddie Obeid), the Police forces in most every State, the whole Union movement (currently under investigation of corruption by a Federal Royal Commission and I won’t even start with racing and sport.

To give an example of exactly this ‘everybody does it’ acceptance of corruption at all levels in Australia, where I lived for some years until recently. I had a conversation with a Melbourne lawyer about my surprise at how much corruption there is at all levels of Australian life, especially at so many critical / establishment levels, and how this isn’t the case in NZ. Her response was, “We operate on a higher level than NZ”, which she believed justified the ‘whatever it takes’ approach to business, politics and Australian life in general.

Now I don’t believe NZ is free of corruption but it’s certainly not endemic, let alone accepted across the board as it is in Australia. My particular concern in NZ is what takes place at the local body level, mainly with consents that are provided, especially for building developments, but that’s another story.

I reiterate and urge you to get your article published as widely as you can.

Regards, Jack

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All the polls are about the PM, we know that. the NZ Nat party will win election,we know that,
I do not feel too much corruption in our Country. I feel laziness but no corruption.
The common knowledge about John Key is that he does not need to corrupt us for money.
I heard some dude in NSW had to give up his political job for a bottle of Wine. We really do insist on being small minded.
In other Countries the leader sometimes takes a major part of the GDP.
But not here. Make some money go into I predict vote John Key, wait, and collect money

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