Jacqui Van Der Kaay: Mounting ministerial mistakes

Jacqui Van Der Kaay: Mounting ministerial mistakes

When two of the Government’s most senior Ministers are under investigation just months after another was sacked, a fourth didn’t follow Cabinet rules and a fifth unexpectedly resigned, questions need to be asked about what exactly is going on in this Government’s Cabinet.

In a week that Prime Minister Chris Hipkins will surely want to forget, Education Minister Jan Tinetti appeared before Parliament’s privileges committee to answer questions about not correcting a mistake in an answer to an oral question and Michael Wood was stood down from his Transport portfolio, and is being investigated for not dealing with a potential conflict of interest.

It has been just over two months since former Police Minister Stuart Nash was fired for not following Cabinet rules and in between times, Justice Minister Kiri Allan also flouted the rules when she criticised Government-owned Radio New Zealand for not promoting Māori staff, and former Minister Meka Whaitiri unexpectedly resigned and joined Te Pāti Māori.

The Tinetti and Wood investigations have also raised questions about the effectiveness of the Cabinet Office and of staff in Ministers and even the Prime Minister’s office. No one is suggesting malintent by any staff and the responsibility for these issues does, as Tinetti told the Privileges Committee, quite rightly, sit with the Ministers themselves.

However, both are highly-ranked ministers. Tinetti is ranked sixth in the Cabinet and Wood seventh. Last week, Tinetti told the Privileges Committee that she has changed processes around question time to ensure that such a mistake doesn’t happen again. And, Wood has now sold the shares in Auckland Airport after being asked by the Cabinet Office 12 times over the last two and a half years to do so.

Both these Ministers have said their busy roles prevented them from acting sooner. Their excuse really does beg questions about why. It would appear they have not placed enough importance on the rules in New Zealand’s parliamentary system that are there to keep our politicians honest and to uphold its integrity.

More widely it raises questions about the culture of the current executive. Why is it that so many Ministers seem to think the rules don’t apply to them? Is it arrogance? Is it incompetence? Do they simply think these issues will go away? And, why does it take the media to uncover these issues when, after the Nash scandal, Hipkins put his Ministers on notice?

Hipkins really must be starting to wonder what else he needs to do to ensure his Ministers understand and follow the rules. Last week acting Opposition Leader Nicola Willis suggested to the Prime Minister that he lock his Ministers in a room for an hour and get them to read the rule book. It might not be a bad idea.

He’ll certainly be hoping that no more transgressions come to light in the next four months before the election. Especially as, not only have all of these mistakes happened in the short time since he became Prime Minister, but also they’re happening at a time when the latest Ipsos New Zealand issues monitor research shows New Zealanders’ rating of the Government’s performance has significantly decreased since February. Further, New Zealanders believe National is the most capable of managing three of the country’s top five issues. Hipkins will want the focus off these and back on to what he terms the “bread and butter” issues.


Jacqui Van Der Kaay is a PhD student at Victoria University of Wellington. She is a former journalist, holds a Masters degree in Political Science from Victoria University of Wellington and has a specialist interest in political leadership, voter behaviour, immigration and how social media affects democracy.