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March 26, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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Political Porn with Hamish

SMITH’S DEPARTURE SETS THE TONE FOR THE YEAR TO COME

The resignation of Nick Smith from his Ministerial portfolios was a reminder that the public, and party bosses, hold Ministers and MPs to high standards.

The resignation came following the disclosure of not one, but two letters written in support of Bronwyn Pullar’s ACC claim. Dr Smith was Minister for ACC at the time. He failed to disclose a conflict of interest and in one of the letters uses Ministerial letterhead. Two other National MPs, Pansy Wong and Hekia Parata, were also asked to support her claim but declined, due to the obvious conflict of interest.

In recent years, MP Darren Hughes, Pansy Wong, Phil Heatley and Richard Worth have all resigned over a range of allegations; from a serious complaint from a Victoria University student, to one using Ministerial travel entitlement to fund a spouse’s private business trip.

Mr Hughes and Mr Worth were both investigated by police but neither had charges laid against them. The mere investigation was enough to end their respective Parliamentary careers. Ms Wong also resigned, with the Prime Minister saying he would’ve sacked her if she hadn’t jumped first. Of the four, only Mr Heatley was reinstated, following an inquiry clearing him of wrongdoing.

In these situations, it’s not just the MPs with the allegations laid against them under pressure. Their party leaders are also burdened, needing to ensure that the allegations don’t damage the party as a whole, that they’re not too hasty in any sacking, or too slow.

Last year, Phil Goff, the then-Labour leader, was criticised over his handling of the Darren Hughes investigation; Mr Goff was aware of the student’s complaint against Mr Hughes for some two weeks prior to the investigation becoming public. Upon the investigation becoming public knowledge, Mr Goff then said he wouldn’t be standing Mr Hughes down, as doing so would be interfering in the police investigation. However, the next day, Hughes was stood down.

The Nick Smith “saga”, which lasted all of 36 hours, has provided further evidence that the honeymoon is now over for John Key, with some of the Teflon-coating starting to wear thin. It also provided an opportunity for new Labour leader David Shearer to make an impact, building upon the previous week’s ‘Super Thursday’ speech.

Instead, Shearer was overshadowed by New Zealand First’s Winston Peters, who called an urgent debate to discuss Dr Smith’s behaviour, and the Greens. Following last year’s election result, the media labelled Peters “the real leader of the Opposition”. In truth, he has been.

Shearer has taken his time to find his way in his role as leader. He has failed to take advantage of recent unpopular policy announcements by National. Peters’ status as the “real leader” was best exemplified when Labour transferred one of its questions to New Zealand First during question time.

Mr Key can count himself lucky that Shearer hasn’t been able to capitalise on these opportunities, with 3 News’ Patrick Gower noting that on Tuesday, following revelations of the first letter from Smith to ACC, Shearer had a knockout in sight; instead, Key finished Question Time with a points victory.

Key failed to communicate with Dr Smith over the allegations in a sufficient manner, as shown by Key not being aware of a second letter until the morning of the resignation. The timeframe between the allegations coming to light and Smith resigning was a similar length to when Hughes was stood down following allegations. Key heavily criticised Labour over that, but Shearer missed the opportunity.

The second letter has been labelled a “smokescreen” by opposition parties. Delaying the announcement of the second letter did create the appearance that Dr Smith was resigning promptly. If it was indeed structured in such a manner, we can be satisfied that at least it was a great piece of crisis management PR.

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  1. Nicky says:

    After a bit of reseaerch I’ve come to the conclusion that Sleep has obviously carved out a unique space that many young party activists don’t get to. I do think they do good work and are hard working. so you need to take that into consideration about Sleep. A right wing equivalent of where Sleep sits on the left would be the youth spokesperson for Business New Zealand, for which a position doesn’t exist. I think it was this guy i saw on tvnz’s Backbenches show on election night. Was quite good – because he didn’t carry a youth political sector label it came across much, much better. The youth wings can do the same if the media gave them more time as I tihnk many of them have some excellent things to say.

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