I’m Glad I’m not an ACTivist

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

Labour seems to be getting a little traction with Rodney Hide and Heather Roy’s ‘abuse of power’ surrounding party fundraising breakfasts where they are billed as speaking in their ministerial capacities. Using your Ministerial position for the financial gain of your Party is stupid, and it must be nice to ‘bust’ the perk buster ‘abusing’ the power of his office – much like catching Grammar boys doing something really stupid. But, to be honest, unlike the guys over at The Standard, I find it difficult to get worked up over this one.

Well, at least not over the ‘crime’ itself.

Yes, it’s not a great look, but we’ve seen Hide and Roy squirm for a while and admit what they did was wrong. My reservations are that this seems to be a little bit of a grey area to me. For example, is a Minister speaking as a Minister whenever they speak in public? What happens if a Minister speaks at a fundraiser in their capacity as a constituency MP, but is asked a question about their Ministerial portfolio? What if the function was billed as being a speaking engagement with the Minister, and was free (or at-cost), but there was a collection or a raffle for the local party branch? I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect Ministers not to undertake fundraising activities, and I think it’s difficult for a Minister not to draw on their Ministerial portfolios when speaking – it’s often their area of expertise and what they are passionate about.

What annoys me is hearing Heather Roy (parroted by her loyal party hacks) lay the blame on an over-excited (and obviously ill-informed) party activist, as if it were actually the activist’s fault. Since when did party activists determine the diary arrangements of a Minister of the Crown?

It wasn’t the fault of an unpaid activist that Hide and Roy were put into this position – it was the fault of the Minister’s paid staff. All Ministers (even Ministers outside of Cabinet) have advisors whose job it is to make sure the Minister is not put into a position which could potentially embarrass them. I’ve organised events that were attended by then-Labour Ministers, as well as senior National MP’s (and even Rodney Hide) – a good Ministerial advisor or parliamentary staffer will check the details (like, is there a charge to attend the event? Is it public? Who will be there?) before accepting any invitation – Steve Maharey’s office used to even send out a three-page form to fill out, and Bill English’s office used to do a similar check to the n-th degree. I would have thought that any Minister worth their weight would have similar checks and balances.

If I was a member of ACT, I’d be questioning ever offering to help out Roy in future.  Obviously, if she does something which draws flack, she has no hesitation in sacrificing those unpaid activists who worked so hard to put her where she is.