$33k price tag for Clark’s parties
Ex PM’s global book tour has come with a hefty hospitality bill, writes Andrea Vance.
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.