Comment

Yesterdaze: A race to the bottom

One dignified resignation was a bouquet in a sea of brickbats this week as low levels of accountability had eyes rolling. James Elliott has the news of the week. 

It wasn’t a good week if you’re an All Blacks supporter. It was a worse week if you’re an All Blacks supporter and a Fonterra shareholder. And it was a catastrophic week if you’re an All Blacks-supporting, Fonterra-shareholding postmaster at Paremoremo looking forward to a holiday in Hong Kong after next week’s performance review. Altogether it was a week full of brickbats and only one bouquet.

The sole bouquet goes to CEO of Statistics NZ Liz MacPherson who resigned after a critical review of what was described as the “troubled 2018 census”. It’s a bouquet for meaningful accountability when things go wrong in a senior role. And by my reckoning it’s a departure that creates its own statistic of being the only such responsibility-driven resignation of its kind in recent memory.

Contrast that with Corrections boss Christine Stevenson who acknowledged that allowing the alleged Christchurch gunman to post mail from the high-security wing at Paremoremo that ended up on extremist websites fell “very short” of Corrections’ high standards of public safety. If you don’t speak bureaucratese “very short” means “completely and utterly failed to in a way that most people find absolutely inexplicable if not unfathomable, and in respect of which heads must surely roll but won’t”. Not only that, Stevenson refused to say whether she’d resign if it happened again – and just a reminder that “it” is the posting of mail from the high-security wing of a high-security jail. To summarise, “it” should never have happened, “it” won’t happen again, but should “it” happen again, a resignation may or may not follow. That’s a level of accountability that falls “very short” of what can reasonably be expected from someone at the top of a government department. Heads may not be rolling but eyes definitely are. A brickbat is on its way. In the mail.

To the south of Paremoremo the Auckland mayoral race heated up this week, from tepid to nearly lukewarm. First John Palino dropped out of the race. Palino now bears the moniker three-time Auckland mayoral hopeful and his dropping out of this year’s mayoral election is like me making myself unavailable for All Black World Cup selection. Palino’s departure means that it’s effectively a two-horse race between the incumbent Phil Goff and the challenger John Tamihere.

Tamihere then reverted to type by announcing that as mayor of Auckland he would establish an 0800 JACINDA phone number for Auckland residents to call if they see rough sleepers. I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen after you’ve made the call but perhaps you can find out more about this policy by calling the hotline I’ve set up for his campaign, 0800 3425 4323 – geddit?

Goff and Tamihere have a bit of history and it showed when Goff labelled Tamihere “a failed Cabinet Minister” in a mayoral candidates’ debate this week. It’s no secret that Tamihere has what the Corrections boss would describe as a “colourful” political past, so of all the putdowns that Goff could have lobbed at Tamihere, calling him a “failed Cabinet Minister” should have been last on that list. And it offered Tamihere the opportunity for the perfect reply. Former Minister of Defence, Minister of Corrections, and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Phil Goff, calling former Minister of Small Business, Minister of Youth Affairs and Minister of Statistics, John Tamihere, “a failed Cabinet minister” is surely one of the very few occasions when the perfectly appropriate response is “I know you are but what am I?”

And yes that’s a playground taunt that most kids grow out of by the time they reach double-digits, but it looks classy alongside some other components of Tamihere’s mayoral campaign. His recently deactivated campaign Twitter account had a series of tweet polls where all the answer options slagged off Goff - geddit? - but which were nonetheless worth reading for the punter replies that more than balanced the scales in Goff’s favour.

Perhaps recognising that he needed to raise the tone, Tamihere then over-compensated by channelling his inner Winston and likened Phil Goff to very former and much-maligned British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Somehow Tamihere managed to conflate Auckland’s regional fuel tax with the German invasion of Poland in 1939. I’m no historian but I’m fairly comfortable in saying that particular international dispute had very little to do with regional fuel taxes.

Tamihere then reverted to type by announcing that as mayor of Auckland he would establish an 0800 JACINDA phone number for Auckland residents to call if they see rough sleepers. I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen after you’ve made the call but perhaps you can find out more about this policy by calling the hotline I’ve set up for his campaign, 0800 3425 4323 – geddit?

Paula Bennett will be paying close attention to the balance of this mayoral campaign to see which gimmicks work and which don’t ahead of next year’s general election. Bennett announced this week that she’s giving up her Upper Harbour seat to become a list candidate while managing National’s campaign next year.

Upper Harbour is regarded as a safe National seat so it’s odds on that “will-he-run?-won’t-he-run?-he’ll-definitely-run” former Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon will get the bouquet as the National candidate for that seat. If I’m wrong about that I won’t be resigning, but mainly because I’m self-employed

Have a peaceful weekend.

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