Dunedin’s problem MPs

There has been a poor record with Dunedin MPs this century.

David Benson-Pope asked to be relived of his portfolios in 2005 after he was accused of bullying as a teacher, resigned as a Minister in 2007 and was not selected to stand in his Dunedin South electorate in 2008.

Metiria Turei in 2017.

Clare Curran in 2018

David Clark lost portfolio and was demoted to the bottom of Cabinet in 2020 and would have been sacked as a minister altogether if not for the Covid-19 pandemic (his knowledge as Minister of Health was deemed important enough to retain him in a crisis).

David Benson-Pope was a Labour Member of Parliament for Dunedin South from 1999 to 2008, and a Cabinet Minister from 2005-2008.

May 2005: Benson-Pope steps down as bully inquiry looms

David Benson-Pope stood down from the Cabinet last night until an inquiry decides whether he administered cruel punishment to former pupils and assaulted one of them.

The allegations were raised again last night on TV3 after three of the five accusers identified themselves. One included a man who says that as a 14-year-old he had a tennis ball stuffed in his mouth. They were all students of Bayfield High School in Dunedin, where Mr Benson-Pope taught for 24 years. They say there are other witnesses to some of the alleged incidents.

The accusations against him include throwing tennis balls at students to keep them quiet, striking a pupil with the back of his hand and making the pupil’s nose bleed at a school camp, and caning a student hard enough to draw blood.

Mr Benson-Pope asked to be relieved of his portfolios, the compulsory education sector and fisheries.

Helen Clark referred to the allegations as “the start of what is a rather ugly election campaign, where a desperate and dateless Opposition will drag out whatever it can to smear the character of whoever they can”.

Benson-Pope was reelected in 2005, became a Minister in the next Labour-led government but had more problems, leading to his resignation as a Minister in 2007. From Wikipedia:

After a week of intense pressure focusing not only on the allegation that his staff had acted improperly, but also that he himself had misled Parliament, the media and his Prime Minister about his knowledge and involvement, Benson-Pope offered his resignation from Cabinet at noon on Friday 27 July 2007. Subsequent investigations by the State Services Commissioners Hunn and Prebble make it clear that neither the Minister nor his staff acted in any way inappropriately.

Prime Minister Helen Clark accepted the resignation, saying: “The way in which certain issues have been handled this week has led to a loss of credibility and on that basis I have accepted Mr Benson-Pope’s offer to stand aside”. An editorial commented “Not for the first time, he and the Government have been embarrassed less for what he has done than for his inability to simply say what he has done.”

Benson Pope sought the Labour nomination for Dunedin South for the 2008 election but was replaced by Clare Curran.

Metiria Turei was a Green list MP based in Dunedin North from 2002 to 2017, becoming Green co-leader in 2009. In the lead up to the 2017 election she admitted to benefit fraud over a period of three years in the early 1990s and after the Green Party plummeted in the polls she resigned as co-leader and withdrew from the Green list, stood in the Te Tai Tonga electorate only and failed to get back into Parliament. Wikipedia:

Turei resigned as co-leader of the Green Party and as a list candidate for the 2017 election on 9 August 2017, saying that the “scrutiny on [her] family has become unbearable.” She stated that her intention was to not return to Parliament after the election. Not being on the list meant that, if she failed to win the electorate of Te Tai Tonga where she was standing, she would not return to Parliament after the election. During August, the Green party fell in opinion polls to around the 5% threshold, below which there wouldn’t be representation in Parliament, and Labour’s new leader, Jacinda Ardern, generated such a turnaround that by the end of the month, Labour overtook National in the ratings.

“Metiria Turei’s spectacular own goal in admitting to benefit and electoral fraud not only effectively ended her career but also took down two of her colleagues, savaged a healthy poll rating and led to Labour’s changing of the guard and reversal of fortunes.”
— Clare de Lore, New Zealand Listener

Clare Curran took over in Dunedin South from Benson-Pope in 2008 and became a Cabinet Minister in the Labour led government in 2017. Wikipedia:

In late March 2018, Curran became the subject of media attention after it emerged that she had secretly met with Radio New Zealand broadcaster and senior manager Carol Hirschfeld on 5 December 2017 outside of parliamentary business. Curran initially claimed the meeting was coincidental but later admitted it had been pre-arranged. These revelations led to Hirschfeld’s resignation from her position as senior manager at Radio NZ. The meeting was related to the Labour-led government’s plans to expand public broadcasting through Radio New Zealand.

On 24 August 2018, Prime Minister Ardern dismissed Curran from the Cabinet after Curran acknowledged that she had kept a second meeting off the records. In February, Curran had met with tech entrepreneur Derek Handley at her Beehive office to discuss his interest in the vacant Chief Technology Officer role. Curran had failed to disclose the meeting in her ministerial diary and to inform staff or officials about it. Curran apologized to the Prime Minister for her actions and also resigned from her positions as Minister of Government Digital Services and Minister of Open Government. Curran kept her Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media and associate ACC portfolios.

On 5 September 2018, Curran “appeared flustered” and “stumbled over her answers” when answering questions during question time from opposition National MP Melissa Lee regarding Curran’s use of a personal Gmail account for Ministerial use.[34] Two days later Curran resigned as a Minister of Broadcasting and Associate Minister of ACC, saying she could “no longer endure the relentless pressure I’ve been under”.

On 27 August 2019, Curran announced that she would be retiring from Parliament and not seek election at the 2020 general election.

David Clark became Labour MP for Dunedin North in 2011. He became a Cabinet Minister in the incoming Labour-led government in 2017. As Minister of Health he had a key role dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. New Zealand was put into lockdown on Thursday 26 March. A week later it was revealed that Clark had driven to a mountain bike park for a ride during the lockdown, a marginal action under the lockdown rules.

Clark avoided interviews and said little for four days until he revealed that in the first weekend of the lockdown he had driven 20 km with his family to a beach, which clearly breached the rules and the repeated requests from Prime Minister Ardern.  Statement from the Prime Minister on Dr David Clark:

“Yesterday evening the Health Minister advised me of his trip to a beach during the lockdown and offered his resignation,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“Under normal conditions I would sack the Minister of Health. What he did was wrong, and there are no excuses.

“But right now, my priority is our collective fight against COVID-19. We cannot afford massive disruption in the health sector or to our response. For that reason, and that reason alone, Dr Clark will maintain his role.

“But he does need to pay a price. He broke the rules.

“While he maintains his Health portfolio, I am stripping him of his role as Associate Finance Minister and demoting him to the bottom of our Cabinet rankings.

Journalists see his ministerial career at least as untenable after the Covid-crisis, or after the next election. Asked after this if he would stand for reelection Clark has been non-committal.

That’s a poor record from Dunedin based MPs over the past 15 years.

It hasn’t been all bad.

Pete Hodgson was Labour MP for Dunedin North from 1990 to 2011 And was a Cabinet Minister in the Clark led government from 1999 to 2008, including as Minister of Health. He is now working on behalf of Clark managing the Dunedin Hospital rebuild.

Michael Woodhouse has been National list MP for Dunedin North from 2008 to the present, became a Minister outside Cabinet in 2013 in the Key Government and served various ministerial roles through to 2017.

Current senior Ministers in the Ardern Government Grant Robertson and David Parker are based elsewhere now but have strong connections to Dunedin.

Labour moves into local body politics

The Labour Party are at least looking in to becoming more closely involved in local body politics.

It’s impossible to avoid questions about Phil Goff’s bid to become Auckland mayor while remaining a Labour MP.

Further to this the Taxpayers’ Union has raised the issue of whether Labour is using taxpayer funds set up an Auckland office “to co-ordinate the local government and General Election campaigns” – see REVEALED: SPEAKER’S WARNING TO LABOUR ON TAXPAYER FUNDED CAMPAIGNING

The concerns raised with the Speaker came after an email was sent by Paul Chalmers, the Project Manager at Labour House, to Labour’s Auckland supporters detailing how Andrew Little had opened an Auckland office that will be “the centre of the Labour and progressive movement in Auckland and the place to co-ordinate the local government and General Election campaigns.”

“It appears that Andrew Little and his MPs are pooling together taxpayer resources to open a campaign office in central Auckland for the Party and Phil Goff’s campaign for the Auckland mayoralty,” says Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director, Jordan Williams.

The Speaker has confirmed that the Parliamentary Service will be monitoring Mr Little’s spending and has written to him setting out the rules for taxpayer funded out-of-Parliament offices.

Mr Williams says, “We’ve expressed concern before that Mr Goff intends to be paid as an MP in Wellington, while he is campaigning for a new job in Auckland. This letter from the Speaker suggests that he too is concerned with MP’s taxpayer funded resources being misused for political purposes in Auckland.”

The original email, and the correspondence between the Speaker and the Taxpayers’ Union is available here.

But it’s not just in Auckland that Labour are looking at local body campaigns.

Palmerston North:

Party politics enters Palmerston North City Council election campaign

Party politics could be about to become a feature of the Palmerston North City Council.

The Labour Party is seeking to endorse councillor candidates at October’s local body elections.

Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway and Labour electorate committee chairwoman Lorna Johnson said the prospect had been considered for some time.

Lees-Galloway said the abolition of wards in 2013 had made it inevitable that many potential candidates would need support to campaign across the whole city.

“We think it will help get more diversity on the council.

“We want to add to the council, not dominate it.”

Why is an MP involved?

And Dunedin:

Councillors split over Labour ticket prospect

Councillors have divided into camps over the prospect of more party politics inside the Dunedin City Council.

Some city councillors welcomed the prospect when contacted by the Otago Daily Timesyesterday, saying any initiative that helped quality candidates to step forward should be encouraged.

But others warned any councillor elected under a national political party’s banner risked being beholden to Wellington, ahead of the city’s electors and ratepayers.

The divergent views came after it was confirmed the Labour Party was considering a “Local Labour” ticket to promote candidates for DCC council seats, and possibly the mayoralty, in October’s local body elections.

Cr Andrew Noone said he would not object to the initiative if constituents were calling for it, but “I feel it’s being driven not by the local community”.

The test would be whether Labour-aligned councillors made decisions based on evidence and advice from council staff, “or whether they do it on the basis of Labour Party policy”.

Other councillors welcomed the initiative, including Cr David Benson-Pope – a former Labour-aligned councillor and Cabinet minister – who said he was considering joining the ticket after running as an independent in 2013.

Not surprising to see Benson-Pope keen on a Labour ticket.

Is Labour looking at a more prominent involvement in local body politics elsewhere in the country?

 

 

DCC votes to be Green climate lobbyists

The infiltration of Green national politics into local body government took a worrying turn yesterday. Dunedin City Council has voted in four climate change resolutions:

• Urge the Government to adopt a tougher carbon emissions target.

• Support the Government in that goal by reducing Dunedin’s carbon emissions.

• Join the international ”Compact of Mayors” agreement to measure and reduce emissions across Dunedin.

• Ask the Government to place a moratorium on deep sea oil and gas exploration.

It looks like there is a big dollop of Green Party national politics in those resolutions, with the Dunedin City Council voting to allow themselves to be Government lobbiests on issues of national and international interest.

The resolutions were brought before the council by Crs Jinty MacTavish and Aaron Hawkins.

I don’t think McTavish is officially in the Green Party but is closely aligned with more extreme Green policies, and has been influential in promoting Green policies and practices at a local body level.

Hawkins stood as a Green Party candidate in 2013 local body elections when he became a councillor.

The ODT reports in Council says yes to climate change resolutions that there was some opposition:

Cr Andrew Noone said Dunedin would be better off ”walking the talk” than telling the Government what to do.

Cr John Bezett said the issue was one for central Government, and Dunedin was ”wasting our time” giving its opinion.

Cr Andrew Whiley said climate change was a problem needing to be addressed first and foremost by the world’s biggest polluters, including China and India.

Both there was more support in a fairly left leaning council:

But that view was rejected by Cr Richard Thomson, who said grass-roots pressure was what drove governments to make big decisions.

Cr David Benson-Pope brought cheers from the gallery for his speech on why Dunedin had to take a stand.

”Like it or not, colleagues, we are part of our community. In fact, we are supposed to be some of the carriers of the moral leadership.”

”There was no question what thousands of New Zealanders thought about the issue during the weekend’s climate change marches,” he said.

”They think this community needs to move.

”I agree with them, and I’m not reluctant to … tell the Government it’s time that they got real and re-established a degree of political integrity and moral fibre on this issue.”

Benson-Pope has a Labour rather than a Green background. He was an MP from 1999-2008.From 2005-2007 he was Minister for the Environment in the Clark Government.

Unusually for a setting MP he was not selected by his party to stand again for Dunedin South in 2008. It seems like he still has a hankering for being involved in national politics.

I’m not surprised with this Green politicking in Dunedin, the Greening and Lefting of the council was an issue of concern raised in the 2013 election.

I would rather the Dunedin council put more effort into administering and improving Dunedin for their rate payers rather than delving into Green national politics.

UPDATE: In other news in the ODT today things that don’t seem to matter so much to DCC councillors:

Queenstown-Lakes also fared well in the number of dwelling consents issued in October with 96, up from 65 in September and by far the highest for the past 12 months.

Central Otago had 19 dwellings consented, up from 16 and again the highest total for the past 12 months.

Dunedin slumped to 19 dwelling consents in October from 25 in September.

That’s depressing enough, but more so given the headline: New year looks good for Otago builders.  Not so much for Dunedin builders.