$33k price tag for Clark’s par­ties

Ex PM’s global book tour has come with a hefty hos­pi­tal­ity bill, writes An­drea Vance.

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS -

Cock­tail par­ties and wine-fu­elled film screen­ings to pro­mote a He­len Clark doc­u­men­tary to for­eign VIPs have cost tax­pay­ers more than $33,000. Em­bassies around the world have been host­ing events with the for­mer PM to show off My Year With He­len, a fly-on-the-wall film about her failed bid for the top job at the United Na­tions. The hos­pi­tal­ity bill comes on top of the $870, 000 tax­payer-funded NZ on Air and the Film Com­mis­sion con­trib­uted to make the film. And it’s un­der­stood the bill, and num­ber of staff hours put into or­gan­is­ing the events has raised eye­brows at the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade. Four­teen NZ em­bassies have hosted, or were in­volved, in the events. Clark at­tended re­cep­tions in Tur­key, Ja­pan, Canada and Wash­ing­ton DC. Film-maker Gay­lene Pre­ston was also flown to Ankara and Is­tan­bul for an ap­pear­ance. The Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs cov­ered costs for 10 of the screen­ings. Events are planned for Madrid and Bo­gota later this month – but fi­nal costs were not avail­able. Hos­pi­tal­ity, cater­ing and venue hire soaked up the bulk of the $33,300 bill but em­bassies also had to pay a screen­ing fee of just over $1000 to show the movie. MFAT ne­go­ti­ated that down to $541 for the smaller diplo­matic posts. Emails re­leased to the Sun­day Star Times un­der the Of­fi­cial In­for­ma­tion Act show Ms Clark con­tacted Kiwi diplo­mats di­rectly to sug­gest they host an event – she would of­fer to at­tend and take ques­tions from the au­di­ence. Often she’d be in the city for an­other event. In Fe­bru­ary, she wrote to en­voys in Tokyo sug­gest­ing a screen­ing. ‘‘A num­ber of em­bassies and high com­mis­sions are as­so­ci­ated with screen­ings now – Tim Groser is host­ing on in DC next week, there was one in Fiji in early De­cem­ber, and posts in Geneva, Ber­lin, Ot­tawa and Ankara are mak­ing ar­range­ments . . . I have at­tended a num­ber of screen­ings . . . The film lends it­self to such con­ver­sa­tions – it pro­vokes many ques­tions,’’ she wrote. ‘‘Some travel and ac­com­mo­da­tion as­sis­tance has been pro­vided to Ms Clark and Ms Pre­ston,’’ a spokes­woman for MFAT said. ‘‘The Min­istry has pro­ce­dures in place to en­sure that the al­lo­ca­tion of fund­ing to sup­port our pub­lic diplo­macy ef­forts is well-di­rected and well-man­aged, in­clud­ing where over­seas travel by for­mer Prime Min­is­ters can be of as­sis­tance in sup­port­ing New Zealand’s in­ter­ests.’’ She added: ‘‘The Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade has sup­ported the pro­mo­tion of the film My Year With He­len in a num­ber of coun­tries be­cause of the valu­able role the film, sup­ported by the avail­abil­ity of Ms Clark, can play in pro­mot­ing New Zealand’s in­ter­ests. As a for­mer Prime Min­is­ter and Ad­min­is­tra­tor of the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme (UNDP), Ms Clark has a high global pro­file, and her avail­abil­ity when the film is shown and at as­so­ci­ated events has at­tracted the at­ten­dance of se­nior govern­ment and non-govern­ment guests.’’ Not all the events were as suc­cess­ful as they hoped. Only half the the­atre in Ankara was filled and no Turk­ish min­is­ters ap­peared, as it was the height of an elec­tion cam­paign. In Geneva, Clark ap­peared along­side Kiwi hu­man­i­tar­ian Ross Moun­tain, the UN’s as­sis­tant emer­gency relief co-or­di­na­tor for a one-hour Q and A. Around 200 peo­ple watched and in a re­port back to Welling­ton, staffers said the au­di­ence had ‘‘very pos­i­tive feed­back’’ and had ex­pres­sion ap­pre­ci­a­tion for ‘‘such good ac­cess to a prom­i­nent in­ter­na­tional fig­ure.’’ The screen­ing in Suva at­tracted 50 VIPs to watch the movie over NZ wine and re­fresh­ments. Ms Clark did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment. How­ever, Pre­ston stressed nei­ther she nor Clark have re­ceived pay­ment for their time. ‘‘There has been con­sid­er­able de­mand for My Year With He­len screen­ings from New Zealand’s over­seas posts,’’ she said. ‘‘The film is gen­er­ally screened with a q&a session to a mix of lo­cal in­flu­en­tial peo­ple . . . MFAT has for many years used op­por­tu­ni­ties to part­ner with screen­ings of NZ films abroad to en­hance the in­ter­na­tional pro­file of New Zealand arts and cul­ture.’’ She added: ‘‘I un­der­stand that the posts get very good diplo­matic value from screen­ing the film when He­len is avail­able. That is why my com­pany, Gay­lene Pre­ston Pro­duc­tions, makes best ef­forts to co-ordinate event screen­ing re­quests around the world with a visit by He­len Clark when she is in a for­eign city on other busi­ness. That has meant that He­len’s at­ten­dance has in­volved min­i­mal MFAT ex­pen­di­ture.’’

I un­der­stand that the posts get very good diplo­matic value from screen­ing the film when He­len is avail­able. Gay­lene Pre­ston

He­len Clark’s doco is called My Year With He­len.

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