Bryce Edwards: Mallard’s diplomatic appointment lacks integrity

Bryce Edwards: Mallard’s diplomatic appointment lacks integrity

Trevor Mallard is widely regarded as the worst Speaker of Parliament the country has ever had. He has always been a controversial and divisive figure, prone to temper tantrums and nasty attacks, but in his role as Speaker he has seriously botched a number of issues he has been responsible for.

A recent 1News opinion poll found only 17 per cent of the public approved of the way Mallard was doing his job. He had to go because he was causing too much reputational damage to both the institution of Parliament and to the Labour Government, and so he has finally been eased out of Parliament’s top job.

However rather than simply being kicked out, his close friend and colleague, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, has organised something of a promotion for him. Mallard has been made New Zealand’s Ambassador to Ireland. It’s an elegant solution for the Labour Government, as they get to remove an increasing problem for them without causing Mallard to lose face.

Mallard’s new job is a crony political appointment. It goes against the ethos of New Zealand public service values in which public servants are selected based on political neutrality and professionalism. Instead, he’s been selected because of his political connections, and as a way to get rid of an embarrassment.

The Public Service Act passed in 1912 was supposed to prevent this type of behaviour by our politicians. This landmark legislation came after years of government ministers rewarding their mates and supporters with plum civil service jobs. After years of such patronage and cronyism, New Zealand’s new rules were meant to prevent corruption.

In recent years there’s been a weakening of these rules, with governments of all stripes increasingly using taxpayer-funded positions to reward their own side. This has been especially apparent in diplomacy, because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a number of plum, high-status positions that can be bestowed on former politicians.

This isn’t to say that politicians should never be appointed as ambassadors or high commissioners to foreign postings. Some former politicians have the skills to undertake these jobs very competently. The problem is these appointments are not carried out in a professional and robust way which ensures they win their new jobs on merit.

If the politicians went through the proper channels of applying for advertised jobs, in an open and competitive process, then their appointments would have greater legitimacy. Instead, the official recruitment rules of the Ministry are waived aside by ruling politicians, the appointments are made in secret, and the ability to dole out such plum jobs are therefore treated as the spoils of office.

Unfortunately, this cronyism has been increasing in recent decades, with appointments of varying degrees of merit, but always without any transparent and professional process. Mike Moore and Jim Bolger were appointed as New Zealand’s ambassadors to Washington. Former parliamentary speakers Jonathan Hunt and Lockwood Smith were appointed as High Commissioners to London. And it’s rumoured that Phil Goff is next in line to be New Zealand’s representative in the UK. Of course, Ardern’s close friend and mentor, Annette King, was also appointed as High Commissioner to Australia.

The diplomatic patronage trend is particularly dodgy when governments have created entirely new jobs with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in an apparent attempt to get rid of politicians in a way that serves the electoral interests of the parties in power. This was first seen in 2014 when Foreign Minister and National Party election strategist Murray McCully created a plum job called “Pacific Economic Ambassador” for opposition MP Shane Jones. The Labour politician had been a particularly effective critic and campaigner against the National Government, and so the Jones appointment was seen as a very astute move to increase National chances of re-election that year.

This year, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta created a new job of Pacific Gender Equality Ambassador for her friend Louisa Wall. Wall had fallen out with the Labour Party leadership and there were intense internal party controversies involving the rogue MP. Finding her a new job ensured Labour would be rid of a destabilising political problem.

Since Wall’s departure in April, revelations from MFAT show that officials had reservations about creating the new job for Wall. Internal documents released to journalist Sam Sachdeva show that the “Labour MP’s new diplomatic role was set up despite officials’ concern about duplicating existing work and getting offside with Pacific leaders expecting more senior engagement”. Similarly, Māori TV reported on the ethics of the appointment, revealing that “it has emerged that Pacific Island nations never asked for such an ambassador.”

Some argue that the appointment of such former politicians is entirely justifiable, as the personnel are especially talented and skilled in diplomacy. Some commentators even make this case for Trevor Mallard, although given his track record it is hardly convincing.

Regardless of the merits and drawbacks of the individual politicians as diplomats, New Zealand’s reputation for low levels of corruption in the public service needs to be better protected. If ruling politicians want to make the case for a change in the rules about the appointment process of public servants, then they should do so transparently rather than slowly but surely reducing the integrity of New Zealand’s political system.

This is a trend that is now too advanced to be ignored.

 

Dr Bryce Edwards is Political Analyst in Residence at Victoria University of Wellington. He is the director of the Democracy Project.

This article can be republished under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0  license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project.  

 

Further reading on Trevor Mallard’s appointment as Irish ambassador, Adrian Rurawhe’s appointment as Speaker

Damien Venuto (Herald): Is Trevor Mallard suited to being Irish ambassador?
RNZ: Winston Peters hits out at Trevor Mallard’s posting to Ireland
Richard Harman: The tortuous saga of the Peters-Mallard grudge match (paywalled)

Ben Thomas (Spinoff): The two sides of Trevor Mallard
No Right Turn: Mallard and crony appointments
Claire Trevett (Herald): ‘Not his first calling’: Christopher Luxon’s verdict on Trevor Mallard’s move to ambassador in Ireland
Mark Quinlivan (Newshub): Christopher Luxon reacts to Trevor Mallard’s appointment as Ireland Ambassador, voices support for Adrian Rurawhe
RNZ: Speaker apologises for issuing Winston Peters with trespass notice
John MacDonald (Herald): Trevor Mallard gets 2-out-of-10 from me

David Farrar: My confession: I like Trevor
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): New Speaker Adrian Rurawhe threatens to give Opposition more chances to question ministers if Government doesn’t change tack
RNZ: New Speaker Adrian Rurawhe stresses he will be ‘fair’ when presiding
Glenn McConnell (Stuff): Cross-party support for Adrian Rurawhe as Speaker, after a controversial predecessor
Jacob McSweeny (Herald): Te Tai Hauāuru MP Adrian Rurawhe elected Speaker of the House of Representatives
Cathy Odgers: Grant Robertson slams new Speaker Rurawhe’s abortion stance

 

Other items of interest and importance today

 

GAURAV SHARMA
Peter Dunne (Newsroom): Labour chooses to tolerate Sharma rather than risk an unwelcome by-election
Dita De Boni (NBR): Sharma: perhaps he’s no charmer, but it’s an own goal for Labour(paywalled)
Brigitte Morten (NBR): Access to official information needs change of culture (paywalled)
Heather du Plessis-Allan (Newstalk): We all underestimated Gaurav Sharma
Steven Cowan: Gaurav Sharma and the politics of “meh”
Sharnae Hope (Stuff): Expelled MP Gaurav Sharma gets Labour ‘buddy’ from across the river for Hamilton electorate

PARLIAMENT AND GOVERNMENT
Matthew Hooton (Herald): Forget the facts, just focus on the vibe (paywalled)
Claire Trevett (Herald): Ministers notch up almost $1m in international travel after borders open
Grady Connell (Today FM): NZ$1,418,172 spent on travel and accommodation: Parliamentary big spenders revealed
Henry Cooke (Spinoff): Politicians owe it to us to write more books

ANTI-GOVERNMENT PROTEST
Charlie Mitchell (Stuff): The failures of the latest Parliament protest demonstrate ways the ‘anti-mandate’ movement has moved on
Herald: Parliament protest ‘more like a campaign launch’: Why Brian Tamaki’s gathering fizzled

Bridie Witton (Stuff): Parties line up against National for refusing to rule out working with Brian Tamaki’s Freedoms NZ
Thomas Manch (Stuff): ‘Shocked’ Outdoors and Freedom Party has not agreed to political alliance with Brian Tamaki
Mana Wikaire-Lewis (Māori TV): Protestors may waste vote on Tamaki’s new party – pundit
Claudette Hauiti (Waatea News): Tamaki parties face tough battle to unit
RNZ: Christopher Luxon won’t rule out working with new Freedoms NZ party, but doesn’t believe it will enter Parliament
Kate Green (Stuff): Why Brian Tamaki-led protest didn’t turn into Parliament Occupation 2.0
Nick James (Herald): Five hundred police brought in for Brian Tamaki’s anti-Government protest
1News: February’s Parliament protest cost police $3.7 million

HOUSING
1News: Negative equity in housing market ‘not a big issue’- Hickey
Bernard Hickey: The 20% house price fall is not much of a problem at all

Rob Stock (Stuff): Were people stupid to buy a home in the last two years?
Rob Stock (Stuff): Kiwibank says housing shortage down to 23,000 homes, predicts 13% price fall
Stephen Minto (Daily Blog): Affordable housing for dummies
Miriam Bell (Stuff): More than half of household income goes on the mortgage, CoreLogic says
David Hargreaves (Interest): The retreat of the housing investors
Paul Hunt (Stuff): Why we must change our rental system to meet basic human rights
Connor Molloy (Taxpayers Union): Human Rights Commission fails Economics 101

EMPLOYMENT, ECONOMY, IMMIGRATION
Richard Prebble (Herald): You know what you are in when there is no plumber(paywalled)
Wilhelmina Shrimpton (Today FM): Why do some of our hardest workers have to fight for fair working rights?
Morgan Godfery (Stuff): Who should bear the burden of inflation? Not the workers
John Minto (Herald): Tax cuts? Yes, please, but start with GST (paywalled)
Daniel Smith (Stuff): Workers are winning pay increases at rates above inflation
Chris Lynch: Poverty in Christchurch: homelessness getting worse in the city
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Ardern says supermarket move will ‘unlock stockroom doors’ for rivals
1News: Prepare for ‘more pain’ at the supermarket – agricultural analyst
Mike Hosking (Newstalk): Government’s moves won’t mean cheaper groceries
Richard Harman: Government still talking about divesting supermarkets (paywalled)
Dileepa Fonseka (Stuff): Why lower immigration won’t ensure Kiwis are better off

Heather du Plessis-Allan (Newstalk): Immigration is a ‘chicken and egg’ situation
Waatea News: Migrant wage policy reset confuses Delamere

ROYAL COMMISSION INTO ABUSE IN CARE, ORANGA TAMARIKI
Russell Palmer (RNZ): Labour passes Oranga Tamariki reforms despite opposition from other parties
Aaron Smale (Newsroom): Officials’ finger pointing over abuse scandals

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): What publicly funded Wellington Bureaucrats are doing when you aren’t watching
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): The horror of Oranga Tamariki & the crime of Labour helping hide their abuse while Sepuloni holidays in Europe
Herald Editorial: Lessons from abuse in state care must be heeded (paywalled)

Stephen Winter (Newsroom): Royal Commission at critical juncture
RNZ: Abuse in care inquiry: Competence in te reo will eventually be mandatory for teachers – council

FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Jacinda Ardern (Guardian): The world stands on a nuclear precipice – we must avoid catastrophe
Newshub: Jacinda Ardern calls for United States, Russia, China, France, United Kingdom ‘to step back from the nuclear abyss’
Thomas Manch (Stuff): Taiwan would ‘love’ more support from New Zealand, envoy says
John Minto (Daily Blog): Aotearoa New Zealand has become an enabler of human rights abuses by Israel
Alexander Gillespie (The Conversation): With the death of a Kiwi fighter in Ukraine, should the government make it harder for volunteers to go?
Tova O’Brien (Today FM): The death of this New Zealand soldier in Ukraine is a tragedy
Kurt Bayer (Herald): Russia-Ukraine war: Off-duty New Zealand soldier Dominic Abelen killed in Ukraine

LOCAL GOVERNMENT, THREE WATERS
Emma Vitz (Spinoff): Why do so few people vote in local elections?

Karl du Fresne: “Coconut”? I thought New Zealand left that sort of language behind in the 1960s
Max Frethey (Local Democracy Reporting): Māori Ward expenditure limits ‘frustrating’ for candidates
Maia Hart (Local Democracy Reporter): Councils need ‘mini-DOC departments’ to handle significant natural areas
Glen Bennett (Stuff): Myth busting at the business end of water reform
Chris Trotter (Daily Blog): Radical remedies
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Why Kiwis don’t understand 3 Waters and get so racist over it

HEALTH
Ian Powell (BusinessDesk): The grocery product that kills when used as intended
Andrew Young (Herald): Crucial day for New Zealand’s fight against cancer
Dewi Preece (1News): Orthopaedic surgeries: We’re getting further behind, experts warn

Juliet Speedy (Newshub): National accuses Government of ignoring bleak warning that aged care sector will fail if staff shortages aren’t addressed

EDUCATION, CHILD WELFARE
John Gerritsen (RNZ): New mega-polytech Te Pūkenga may need to cut staff
John Gerritsen (RNZ): Government considers cutting 3000 senior teaching roles from budget
Herald: Kiwi preschoolers face worse health and welfare outcomes than older children, according to new report

FREE SPEECH, HATE SPEECH
David Farrar: Ranking the Universities on free speech
Josie Pagani (Stuff): Feeling offended? Fight it with words, not violence
Rachel Stewart: Dying in a ditch
Sinead Gill (Stuff): Hosts of far-right media outlet Counterspin reportedly arrested and charged

Herald: Police arrest and charge far-right Counterspin Media pair in Christchurch with allegedly distributing objectionable material

OTHER
Ella Morgan (Stuff): The big issues New Zealanders are most concerned about
Ella Morgan (Stuff): Survey reveals surprising facts about which New Zealanders are the happiest
Thomas Coughlan (Herald): Government’s $8.7 billion transport projects flash ‘red’, one year after first budget blowout
Damien Venuto (Herald): How much NZ Government paid towards Lord of the Rings spinoff
David Farrar: Govt stopping the contractor recruitment gravy train
Thomas Manch (Stuff): Do intelligence agencies need greater spy powers? A review of the law could ‘loosen the reins’
RNZ: Retirement villages body wary about scale of industry reforms
Rob Stock (Stuff): ‘We’re not scared of a review’, retirement villages boss says

Olivia Wannan (Stuff): Students lose climate case against Energy Minister
RNZ: RNZ among media to secure news content deal with Google
Guyon Espiner (RNZ): ‘Hero of the year’ led food bank with low wages, poor culture, ‘camera monitoring’
Rachel Smalley (NBR): Just how outrageous is it out west? (paywalled)
Victor van Wetering (Herald): Sexual identity: why it’s important to stand up and be counted in Census 2023 (paywalled)