John Key, Blame Shifter
Watching John Key wriggling and squirming his way out of political corners of his own creation could be entertaining if it wasn't for the fact that he is the Prime Minister of our country. It appears that no matter what happens the buck never rests with him. Apparently lack of oversight and ignorance excuses him of any responsibility and he never questions what he is told. It is like watching the comedy "Yes, Prime Minister" and the Prime Minister in this New Zealand version has little influence over his staff, who operate in a randomly independent fashion and constantly cause embarrassment to him.
Yesterday Phil Heatley followed Russel Norman's powerful speech about journalistic independence with a petty little speech that focussed on selected pieces from Green MP's biographical statements. His intention was to question their characters and imply that they would lack the gravitas to function as Ministers of the Crown. This is an often used ploy by the National Party where they pose the hypothetical question "what would a Green Minister do?" as if it were a scenario not worth contemplating.
However we do have evidence of how Green Ministers may operate and it is quite different to the image that National likes to foster. We rarely see the Greens in the house braying like donkeys when they think one of their own has scored a hit against an opposing member or shouting abuse when speakers make points against them. In terms of policy and working collaboratively with other parties the Green's memorandum of understanding with National created the very successful home insulation scheme that National now claims as its own and even promotes it is one of their key policies to address poverty.
It is also worth remembering how the Green's managed a situation that caused the Party some embarrassment during the 2011 election campaign. Russel Norman's handling of the billboard defacing incident was in stark contrast to Key's management of this current situation and many that have occurred before. When the Russel heard that a partner of a Green staff member had been responsible for defacing a number of National billboards with alternative slogans, he immediately made an unequivocal apology to the National Party and offered assistance to put things right. The staff member involved had their conduct reviewed and there was concern that she hadn't passed on valuable information in a timely fashion. The Greens had never instigated the behaviour concerned but as it involved members and staff, immediate and direct action was taken and the matter dealt with publicly. It also made it very clear to members of the party that unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated and that there was an ethical bar that should not be crossed.
The billboard situation pales in comparison to what Key is having to deal with, but the Prime Minister's management is very different. Rather than acting immediately on information he receives, his first instinct is to ignore it and hope that no one will notice. Once something becomes public knowledge he then attempts to brush it off as an opposition beat up and nothing of consequence. When questioned further as new evidence becomes available he shifts the blame onto staff and Parliamentary Services even though the enquiry was under his name. He claims no responsibility for his staff misinterpreting his expectations (a little like John Banks is innocent based on a legal technicality). Unbelievably Key also refuses to front up to the Privileges Committee because he was only a "bit player".
Imagine if he applied Russel's approach and as soon as the error was noted it was publicly revealed and a fulsome apology was made to the journalist from the Prime Minister himself. The matter would have caused some embarrassment, but it would have appeared as if it had been a genuine mistake and there would be some reassurance that the PM was on top of his responsibilities. He didn't do this and a rotten smell is now wafting out of his office.