Editorial: Inability to be 'free and frank' the last straw

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It's cruelly ironical that David Benson-Pope should end his Cabinet career over a statement that he would "likely be less free and frank" in meetings with a departmental communications officer whose partner worked for the Opposition leader, John Key.

Mr Benson-Pope is departing because he seems to be congenitally incapable of "free and frank" explanations when he is cornered.

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.

As with the tennis ball and tape when he was a teacher, so with the sacking of Madeleine Setchell. Had he admitted at the outset that he told the head of the Environment Ministry he would not be comfortable dealing with her in view of her partner's position, most people would have understood.

Technically he should not have tried to influence a public service appointment, but nor should a minister have to confide in anybody he distrusts.

Whether Mr Benson-Pope had good reason to distrust Ms Setchell purely on account of her private relationship is another question.

Most people might suppose that a couple working in different political camps had a conflict of interest, but it is a conflict that can be handled professionally.

It is sad that at least one member of this Government and his political adviser do not credit people with professionalism. They are creatures, probably, of their own partisanship. That is not a sackable offence though perhaps it should be.

The country is better off without ministers and staff whose political instincts are so tribal they cannot trust anyone who consorts with the other side.

Good riddance.

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