Time for some spring clean­ing

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION/NEWS -

Sad to re­port, but a forced res­ig­na­tion from Cab­i­net rarely brings down the cur­tain on a po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. Of­ten, it barely re­sults in a red card.

In re­cent times, the likes of Peter Dunne and Nick Smith spent only a short pe­riod in the sin bin be­fore bound­ing back into the field of play as if noth­ing had hap­pened.

For them, noth­ing much did change.

The de­fault po­si­tion of Cab­i­net Min­is­ters who leave un­der a cloud is to deny any wrong­do­ing at all – with­out any dis­play of pen­i­tence, or a prom­ise to mend their ways.

For­mer Jus­tice Min­is­ter Ju­dith Collins, for ex­am­ple, will prob­a­bly be bank­ing on a speedy re­turn to business as usual, after her ac­tions have been given a on­ceover via an in­quiry set up by Prime Min­is­ter John Key.

Collins may not be quite so lucky.

Last Fri­day, her res­ig­na­tion was trig­gered by an email from blog­ger Cameron Slater that ap­par­ently im­pli­cated her in a cam­paign to un­der­mine the then head of the Se­ri­ous Fraud Of­fice, Adam Fee­ley.

That came in the wake of other grimy al­le­ga­tions about Collins’ deal­ings with Slater, in Nicky Hager’s book, Dirty Pol­i­tics.

Collins had barely sur­vived the Oravida scan­dal, where spe­cial treat­ment was al­legedly af­forded to a business run by her hus­band.

After that de­ba­cle, Key had re­port­edly given Collins her ‘‘last, last warn­ing’’.

Since Collins re­signed, there have been fur­ther rev­e­la­tions that the Slater-led cam­paign to un­der­mine the Se­ri­ous Fraud Of­fice and the Fi­nan­cial Mar­kets Au­thor­ity may have been bankrolled by failed fi­nancier Mark Hotchin.

At the time, Hotchin was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated over the fail­ure of his company, Hanover Fi­nance.

Last year, the au­thor­i­ties fi­nally de­cided not to pros­e­cute Hotchin over the Hanover col­lapse in 2008, which cost 13,000 in­vestors a to­tal of $465 mil­lion.

If fur­ther rev­e­la­tions do tie Collins into such a cam­paign – which seem­ingly could amount to a con­spir­acy to thwart the course of jus­tice – then not re­turn­ing to Cab­i­net may be­come the least of her prob­lems.

For Key, th­ese are se­ri­ous mat­ters.

Collins’ exit gives cred­i­bil­ity to Hager’s book, which links the Prime Min­is­ter’s of­fice to peo­ple en­gaged in un­savoury and (if the Hotchin money trail can be proven) po­ten­tially crim­i­nal be­hav­iour.

So far, Key has claimed to know noth­ing about this, or about the speedy re­lease by the SIS (which he nom­i­nally con­trols) of dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about Labour leader Phil Goff, shortly be­fore the 2011 elec­tion.

With the ad­vent of spring, maybe Key needs to em­bark on some spring clean­ing.

If only to re­store dig­nity to the po­si­tion he holds, the Prime Min­is­ter will need to con­demn Slater, and not con­tinue, di­rectly and in­di­rectly, to de­fend him.

Some­one in his of­fice may also need to be held ac­count­able for the ac­tions of staffer Ja­son Ede.

Fi­nally, the in­quiry into the Collins af­fair – and the wider is­sues raised by the Dirty Pol­i­tics rev­e­la­tions – has to be a truly in­de­pen­dent one, headed per­haps by a for­mer High Court judge.

The cred­i­bil­ity is­sues in­volved go to the heart of our democ­racy.

After all, or­di­nary cit­i­zens who trans­gress are shown lit­tle mercy. Crack­downs on wel­fare fraud are trum­peted by our politi­cians, who seem equally proud of their ‘‘Three Strikes’’ tough stance on law and or­der.

Yet when it comes to polic­ing their own be­hav­iour, politi­cians seem to be end­lessly for­giv­ing.

GOR­DON CAMP­BELL

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