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.

Turei and a Pharmac fallacy

There’s been a lot of speculation about Pharmac in relation to the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. And misinformed comment and misinformation.

In a column (MP’s View) in Dunedin’s The Star Metiria Turei wrote:

Is the TPP agreement good or bad?

There are many questions about what it means, largely because we have been kept in the dark. The agreement has been negotiated in secret and that has made it hard for everyone on both sides of the debate to really understand the impact of it.

Until the Agreement was agreed on of course it was difficult to know what the impact might be. But it was finalised and the full text was made available last year.

So now the text has been released, we can all, for the first time, really look at what is negotiated and make our own judgements.

Let’s look at Pharmac for example. There are many people who are concerned about maintaining access to free and cheap medicines.

So, we are seriously concerned about then increased cost of medicines, especially the new and better ones emerging called biologics. As more of these become available in New Zealand the cost will rise.

It’s unclear what she means by that. Of course if there are more of a group of medicines the cost of that group will probably rise.

The Government estimates a $1 million annual cost to Pharmac but says nothing about increased costs of new medicines.

It’s likely new medicines will be more expensive with or without the TPPA. Medine costs have been rising for decades.

The Government also estimates $4.5 million for the set-up cost and a $2.2 million annual cost of a process to allow Pharmac decisions to be reviewed by other agencies.

Even the most conservative analysis from MFAT shows costs rising but little benefit to sick New Zealanders needing help.

I don’t think anyone expected there would be definable benefits to sick people from the TPPA. I doubt MFAT made an emotional ‘analysis’ like that.

What they do say in Cost to PHARMAC of Implementing the Transparency Annex of TPP :

The analysis below outlines the estimated costs of operating new administrative procedures required under TPP. While these procedures will not change the PHARMAC model or its ability to fund, prioritise, approve or decline applications for funding pharmaceuticals, they do involve some cost to implement.

The actual operating cost to PHARMAC of implementing TPP is likely to be less than the estimates below, partly because PHARMAC may be able to absorb some of the activities required by the Annex within existing resources.

Estimated costs are then detailed, coming to the totals cited by Turei. But Turei doesn’t say that MFAT said that the operating costs are likely to be lower. And MFAT doesn’t say anything like “little benefit to sick New Zealanders needing help”.

And we have listened carefully to the arguments on both sides of this debate.

Medicines is just one example where the details give us all better information about the effects of the TPP agreement.

I encourage you to look a little deeper into it.

This exchange on Facebook has been circulating:

PharmacTPPAMueller

Pharmac director Jens Mueller said:

Any PHARMAC cost increases will be absolutely negligible in comparison to the total PHARMAC budget and the additional export revenues from the TPPA.

An MFAT Fact Sheet says:

Consumers will not pay more for subsidised medicines as a result of TPP. Most prescription medicines are fully subsidised and, with few exceptions, New Zealanders pay no more than $5. TPP does not change this in any way.

I wonder how carefully Turei and the Greens have listened to both sides of the argument. Turei is playing on people’s fears with little justification and only vague assertions.

Reports I’ve seen in media show little concern about the effects of the TPPA and medicine costs.

It looks like Turei is playing on a Pharmac fallacy.