New Zealanders of the year: Kevin Brady

By Michele Hewitson

A picture that you could paint," says a former colleague of the Auditor-General, "and I think it would be an accurate one, is that of Kevin Brady, who's an ordinary New Zealander, an unassuming man, in a very important job. He's doing that job for the ordinary Kiwi person who is expecting the Auditor-General - whoever he is and whatever he does - to make sure that things are looked after for the ordinary person. And Kevin is someone who's an ordinary person himself and so he's doing what he would expect ordinary punters to do."

The ordinary bloke has had an extraordinary year. He has been at the centre of a political rumpus after his report into election spending found that $1.17 million of tax-payer funded parliamentary funding had been misspent. The Labour Party had spent the lion's share: around $800,000 and had to plan what would be called "thebigwhiparound".

The PM accused the Auditor-General of smearing the reputation of her party and others; and then tore a strip off him for speaking to journalists about his inquiry. In October, the Herald ran an editorial which concluded, "His refusal to be cowed makes him a leading contender for any accolade of New Zealander of the Year, 2006."

So he presumably had fair warning that we might come calling about this time of year. And that we wanted to write something not too ghastly about him.

We already knew that the Auditor-General does not generally talk to journalists. And never about himself. He is not about to make any exceptions now. But he is a polite man so he calls to say that he won't be saying anything.

What he does say is,"Look, I've desperately tried to play down the personal side of the role and concentrate on the Auditor-General being the key thing, not who's sitting in the chair. And I lost control of that totally earlier in the year, I know."

Did he really? There are screeds and screeds written but you search, pretty much in vain, to find anything that tells you much about the man sitting in the chair which became the hot seat.

He says, "That's the way it should be."

It is not that he worries that nasty things might be written about him. "If it's accurate it doesn't matter whether it's nice or not. I just have to take whatever comes. I wasn't really worried about what would be in it. It's just that I'm a pretty quiet guy and I try to play things down, but I did want to ring you personally to say that." This is the expected response, but perhaps he could point us in the direction of some other people who might talk about him? The pretty quiet guy has an unexpectedly big hearty laugh.

"Definitely not. No, that would be even worse. I wouldn't dump that on my mates." Perhaps his enemies then? "Ha ha. I've got plenty of them." Is the PM one? "No, no. I don't think so."

He has already said he has no intention of doing an interview, but surely a few questions about how keen he is on the greyhounds wouldn't be too painful. "I own shares in a few, yeah." And their names are? "Miss Woofy ... " Now, really, the Auditor-General cannot have a dog called Miss Woofy. This is too whimsical to be true, so: "Miss what?"

"Miss Woofy Cooka," says the Auditor-General, who is now having a very good laugh at the expense of one of those journalists he doesn't speak to. Would he care to share what it is about the greyhounds he likes so much? "No. We're getting into ... [an interview here]. I'm getting sucked in here."

You would have to get up very early in the morning to suck in the Auditor-General but since he's in such a good mood, he might answer one question: How's his year been? "Oh, interesting, challenging; I don't know. It's just part of the job." Which he likes. "Of course I do, yeah." What he likes about it is? "Ha, ha, I'm trying to be nice to you."

Which is his nice way of saying: Now that's quite enough. He will say he has five dogs; shares in a racehorse, a trotter, which is called Very Cool and is quite promising. He will give away the name of his lawn bowls club (it has already been reported) but "They won't talk to you, I hope."

Perhaps he's shy. "Very shy and I just try to lead a quiet life." Given the year he's had, you have to ask: And are you succeeding in that? "Ha, ha. No. Not very. No."

Here is another picture of the Auditor-General. His greyhound trainer, Paul Freeman, says: "He swears like a trooper, smokes like a train, drinks like a fish. He's a good, typical Kiwi bloke. He's probably one of the most straight-up guys you'd ever come across."

The Auditor-General doesn't interfere with the training of his dogs. "He says, 'Well, you're like one of my workers. Your department is that, so you just do what you want to do'."

Freeman says Brady will have a flutter, but only a small one. "He reminds me of a trainer's wife. He'll always be loyal to his dogs and have a couple of dollars each way on his dog."

Brady is a big dreamer though, Freeman says. "If we've got a dog that's not up to the best in the country but we can line up and race against them, he wouldn't care what it cost - he'd want his dog lining up even if he knew it was going to run last. He chases those fairytale dreams."

Brady doesn't get to the track or the bowling club as much as he would like. He said, dryly, that people at the Tawa Services Bowling Club might well say nice things about him because, "I haven't won a lot of games this year." He is "very well thought of at the club", says Keith Rumsey, the secretary. Brady is graded as a skip, which means he's a good, average player. "People respect his position and don't quiz him, and you don't talk politics."

It would be most unwise, if not improper, for the Auditor-General to be giving interviews, was what people said about Brady's reluctance to give interviews. And that he cannot be unaware of the views of some politicians who regard his actions earlier in the year as grandstanding - "Trying to make a name for himself," as one political observer put it. There are those of the opinion that he "got himself in a corner and had to defend it".

His relationship with politicians has to be at a distance as required by the independent nature of his role. The only gossip of a faintly political nature came from somebody who said, "You might want to find out if Winston Peters and the Auditor-General might have a cigarette at Parliament together occasionally."

In the profession, according to the vice-president of the NZ Institute of Chartered Accountants, Graham Crombie, who has known Brady for more than 10 years, he has always been well-regarded.

"Most of the people I've spoken to say they couldn't fault where he was standing and the way he was handling himself. I think he did very well, actually."

Crombie, also an auditor, has worked closely with Brady over the years and has the utmost admiration for his collegial style. "He's a person who will always listen and, I wouldn't use the grandfatherly term, but it's a very considered 'Have you thought about this?' sort of response. But it's delivered in such a way that you think, 'Hey, we're working on this together.' He's a very balanced, sensible person who takes very seriously his responsibility. He's also a good guy to have a beer and a conversation with as well."

He was born in Oamaru on November 22, 1947, and went to St Kevin's Catholic boys' school. He has a Masters in Public Policy from Victoria University. He joined the Audit Office in 1971. He lives in Tawa. He has three grown-up daughters from a first marriage and two teenage sons with his second wife, Helen, who died this year of cancer.

A friend and former colleague, who doesn't want to be identified, when told Brady had described his year as challenging says, "Yeah, well, that's Kevin down to a T. Kevin will say that it's a challenge but he'll never say that it was too hard.

"He retains his positivity. It's on the public record that his wife died at the start of this year, so he's gone through that awful experience. He's had to deal with all of that as well as the pressures arising from the extraordinary events he was involved in."

What makes a good auditor, says someone who has worked with Brady, "is a good financial head, obviously, but it's the thoroughness and depth of knowledge. One of the things that needs to be known about Kevin is that before he was the Auditor-General he was in charge of local government auditing for many years ... and he knew the sector better than anybody.

"He was always available on the end of the phone, always available for some friendly advice. In his role as Auditor-General it is probably not his role to give friendly advice any more."

Crombie knows every joke about auditors, "which is why I go to parties and tell people I'm a helicopter tail gunner because if you tell them you're an auditor it doesn't go down as well." People think auditors are glorified accountants, and that they're dull. So, if people think auditors are dull, that must make Kevin Brady the dullest man in New Zealand.

Crombie thinks that's as funny as a joke about auditors. "I've never heard him described as dull."

No doubt the Auditor-General, the very private Kevin Brady, would much prefer to be described as the dullest man in New Zealand. Sorry about this, Mr Brady, because instead you are our joint New Zealander of the year.

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