Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on pay hikes for MPs, and year’s end

December 21st, 2012

At Christmas time, the thoughts of the Remuneration Authority are evidently not with the Child in the manger kind of stuff, but with the somewhat colder Biblical message of Mark 4.25: “To those that have shall more be given, and to those who have not, what little they have shall be taken away.” That used to be a favourite text of the Soledad brother, George Jackson, who added his own commentary to it: “I don’t like this life. I feel that I have been basely used, hated, abused and cast aside, as if it were the natural order of things.”

That’s why I think Mana Party leader Hone Harawira is wrong about wanting to shift the Authority’s pay determination to mid year, to avoid the socially abrasive issue of back-dating the inevitable pay increase – although he’s dead right in saying there should be no pay hike at all this year. To my mind, the Remuneration Authority serves the useful social role of exposing the political mythology of the need for belt tightening by all, and of everyone sharing the hardship during difficult economic times. Many ordinary people and most government departments are being told that even genuine needs have to be met –somehow – out of current budgets. Yet the political leaders telling them this all year always seem happy enough to allow a different standard to be applied to themselves, come year’s end.

As a result, one Christmas reality is this. Driven by the highest unemployment rate for 13 years, record numbers of New Zealanders are queuing for food this week.

“I keep saying every year it’s unprecedented … but I’m almost beyond words when I look out there,” said missioner Diane Robertson. “This is nothing to celebrate.” More than 100 people were lined up on Hobson St and round a corner into a neighbouring lot yesterday, some since 5am, to receive charity – Christmas food parcels and donated gifts for children….Ms Robertson said the mission’s clients were struggling with unemployment and entitlement cuts. “They’re losing options.”

And the continuing recession was adding people to the queue as those on low incomes fell into the same poverty cycle as beneficiaries.

The other festive season reality is this one, whereby backbench MPs are given an extra $53 each week (before tax) pay increase, with a $932 (after tax) back-dated dollop of cash on top. That’s aside from the $24,000 a year assistance with the cost of their accommodation in Wellington, and a further $16,100 a year for incidental expenses such as gifts of flowers, club memberships, meals and other expenses that can be imaginatively traced back to their jobs. The after tax back-dated payout alone to the Prime Minister this year will come to a very handy $2,594.

Clearly, there is no performance pay ingredient to the calculations done by the Remuneration Authority. In passing therefore, let’s recall a few very special Cabinet Ministers, each of whom we are paying in excess of a quarter of a million dollars a year. ($262,700 p.a. to be precise, plus expenses)

1. Hekia Parata, Minister of Education. The peerless Parata tops everyone’s list of 2012’s worst political performers for her mismanagement of the classroom sizes issue, the ongoing Novopay fiasco, the charter schools experiment, the illegal Salisbury social girls schools closure, the resignation of Education Ministry CEO Lesley Longstone etc etc. A walking liability indeed. As even Cameron Slater has noted, Key would have fired Parata in a millisecond from Merrill Lynch, but her forced exit from Cabinet seems to be being taken as a sign of political weakness that Key can’t afford. (He’s been too close, praised her too highly to back out now.) Meaning: Parata appears to have created a “Too Bad To Fail” category all for herself.

2. Murray McCully, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Has anyone done more damage in a shorter period of time to what used to be the star performer among this country’s government departments? For that reason, I’d rate McCully as worse than Parata, because his incompetence was more gratuitous, and less reversible. (The talent he’s driven out will take a generation to recover, if ever). Amusingly, McCully has become the unlikely anti-hero of a couple of Matthew Hooton’s political romances. This series of NBR articles – it could become a franchise – began with “Right Sizing Just First Step For MFAT” in which the mercurial Minister allegedly puts MFAT on the right track at last, while the even more ridiculous “No Nonsense McCully Rides To The Rescue” casts McCully (in Hooton’s imagination at least) as the fearless ‘no rules’ rescuer of our export education industry from the foul orc-like bureaucrats of the Immigration Service. In reality of course, it was McCully’s own cost cutting shenanigans at MFAT (that included restricting NZ embassies from issuing IS visas) which had triggered the very problem that McCully was later purporting to solve. But that’s vintage McCully for you. First create a problem where none previously existed, and then depict yourself as the saviour who resolves it.

All up, 2012 has been a year in which McCully showed just how much he secretly owes to an earlier, even more iconoclastic diplomatic figure. I’m talking about Rufus T. Firefly of the Republic of Freedonia. Study this clip and note the uncanny similarities of tone and response. No wonder McCully’s removed his moustache, in order to throw future historians off the scent.

3. Judith Collins, Minister of Justice. A raft of contenders for the third spot. Nick Smith formerly of the ACC parish, Steven Joyce’s ill-fated oil and gas exploration El Dorado, Gerry Brownlee’s role in the Christchurch rebuild – which includes this latest ‘hang the expense, let’s go to court again’ exercise. But a late run by Collins seals the deal and earns her the number three spot. Due reward for her trashing of the Binnie report on the Bain compensation and shameless attempts to secure a hometown decision on the issue, whatever the cost may be to New Zealand’s international reputation.

Collins’ stocks, though, seem to have risen as a likely successor to John Key as PM, in the wake of the Binnie episode. No one should ever underestimate the extent to which the National Party loves a bully – and lo, the Iron Lady comparisons are already being dusted off for Collins. Not a happy note to end the year on, but Collins is merely the logical outcome of the process. You can only charm, wheedle and sweet talk people for so long (John Key come in, your time is almost up) before you resort to brute power.

There are more pressing problems this week. Amid the last minute Christmas shopping, we all need to find the time and resources to donate to the food banks and charitable organizations who are in the front lines of coping with those suffering the most within our unequal society. BTW, thanks to everyone who has read this column and/or read anything on Werewolf this year. 2013 has to be better, right? Have a good Christmas, and see you again I hope, after the break.


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    1. 11 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on pay hikes for MPs, and year’s end”

    2. By Alan Ivory on Dec 21, 2012 | Reply

      Thanks for your superb contribution to New Zealand this year. Have an excellent holiday.

    3. By Golden age on Dec 21, 2012 | Reply

      Happy Christmas Gordon.
      Collin’s behaviour was brutish( one could say aggressively animalistic) and the nickname ” iron lady” requires that of one with a sharper intellect than Collins possesses .

      Its a shame that all those over paid policy makers and MP’s don’t have to line up for food at a food bank this Christmas.
      The hungry, poor and sick are the measurement for how we are doing, paying yourself bonuses for increasing social failure is so wrong.

    4. By Tom on Dec 21, 2012 | Reply

      Hear hear, yours is the only column in NZ that I have followed all year. Maybe because of the RSS feed 😉 No, seriously, great writing and analysis, much appreciated, keep it up.

      p.s. How much extra website traffic is needed before they sign you up at NZ Herald? Armstrong and O’Sullivan must be begging the editor for just that!

    5. By Matt on Dec 21, 2012 | Reply

      Thanks, like wise for your column and considered contribution.

      All the best.

    6. By Dave on Dec 21, 2012 | Reply

      Thoroughly enjoy your columns, your work is almost without peer in this country where as most so-called journalist seem to have become cheer leaders for the government (and the Business community) and unfortunately we have a government that is almost immune to criticism as there is very little critique and scrutiny of this government.
      We live in difficult times made more difficulty due to such an impervious negligent government that surprisingly remains so popular.
      Keep out the outstanding work.
      Seasons greetings

    7. By Joe Blow on Dec 21, 2012 | Reply

      Thanks Gordon. Keep up the good work! Until next year…

    8. By blue on Dec 22, 2012 | Reply

      Thanks for your invaluable contribution to our political discourse, in which it is increasingly difficult to find a voice that doesn’t originate from the minds of ideologues, spin merchants, or brand marketers (of the right and lately the dinosaur left). Happy Holidays.

    9. By J on Dec 22, 2012 | Reply

      The saddest result of all, in late 2012, is that so many of those people in the food bank queues voted Key in, in 2008 and again in 2011 and they still think he’s a nice man…

      I will donate some money to Werewolf where at least I can trust it will benefit Kiwis’ future, and not to yet another uninformed KeyNatAct vote in 2014.

    10. By J on Dec 22, 2012 | Reply

      To Golden Age,
      “Its a shame that all those over paid policy makers and MP’s don’t have to line up for food at a food bank this Christmas.”

      They are; it’s called Bellamys, but these beneficiaries will be seated a lot faster.

    11. By Golden age on Dec 22, 2012 | Reply

      Yes J and the whole time they are eating and drinking they will not be made to feel ashamed, defective or repeatedly exposed to behaviour that is specifically designed to try to strip them of their dignity.

      But on a positive note, thank you Gordon for your voice of eloquent reason in the polarized toxic political environment ( ie the politics of the self interest NWO).

    12. By Nomi on Dec 27, 2012 | Reply

      Hi Gordon,

      your contribution to New Zealand political commentary is so invaluable, it’s like an oasis of intelligence, insightfulness, logic, reason and human compassion – for myself and many other sad Kiwis, this is very important to our sanity! We salute you sir!

      Thank you so much, your writing gives me a small ray of hope for the otherwise abysmal future of this country, knowing that not everyone has been bitten by the Shonkey Zombie juice!

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