Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Collins, Conflict of Interest and Trust
The Judith Collins conflict of interest affair has revealed again how this Government operates: lies, coverups, shifting blame and (only when the evidence is irrefutable) reluctant admissions. It is not in a National Minister's DNA to be able to admit fault or accept responsibility when mistakes are made.
Collins has not managed her Oravida activities well and it has taken some dogged questioning and background research to reveal the true extent of Collins' deception. The worrying thing is that it needn't have ended as badly if she had owned up in the first place. Collins even stated herself that it was hard for her to ever admit she is wrong:
"What's probably extraordinary is I am saying 'I apologise'. That is extraordinary for me."
The fact that she would say this is worrying in itself, apologizing is not failing, it demonstrates the ability to recognise one's fallibility and the decency to take ownership of a mistake. An honest approach and the ability to take responsibility for errors actually generates trust rather than the other way round.
For Collins to brush the original accusations aside by claiming it only involved a quick visit in passing was totally dishonest when she actually met with Oravida on three occasions: a lunchtime meeting, an evening meal with the managing director and a visit to their premises. The fact that she did not think to remember these, or think they are of consequence, is in the same league as John Banks not remembering a helicopter ride to Kim Dotcom's mansion. Unbelievable!
It is beyond naive (as Michelle Boag claimed) for Collins to think there wouldn't be a conflict of interest and bordering on incompetent that she didn't even mention the contact in her cabinet report. Nothing is wrong with supporting NZ Inc, as Collins claimed she was doing, however her husband is a director of Oravida and she definitely used her Ministerial position to advance its fortunes. It is obvious that she knew what she was doing and thought she could get away with it.
The fact that similar dishonesty and corporate favoritism has occurred often before makes trusting this Government very difficult. It is also obvious that this behaviour is part of National's cabinet culture, they all do it and try to cover each other's backs. John Key used the cabinet office to clear Collins of conflict of interest based on what he provided them. He had to later admit that the cabinet office wasn't provided with all of the information to make a proper decision.
If Collins had been up front when the Oravida visit was revealed, and apologized then for the obvious conflict of interest, the whole thing probably would have been news for a day or two, then forgotten. David Cunliffe was foolish to use a trust for his leadership campaign but he has apologized and dealt with it as openly as he could and Russel Norman managed the billboard incident by fronting up and taking responsibility immediately, even when he didn't actually have to. I can see a different style of governance will emerge in any Green/Labour coalition.
The right thing would be for Collins to now resign from her Cabinet responsibilities as Nick Smith did when it was discovered he had ignored clear conflicts of interest. It is unlikely that this will happen when the ethical bar is now so low in this Government that the word no longer appears to have a place in the cabinet manual. Ethics need only apply when one is caught.
Postscript: Grant Robertson has done well to expose the realities of Collins' failings and especially in this speech as part of an urgent debate. Gareth Hughes, in his speech, talks about how a Green/Labour Government would behave differently. Voters are now seeing more clearly the stark differences between future governments.