Paul Holmes on New Zealand

Paul Holmes is an award-winning Herald columnist

Paul Holmes: Cops and MPs feeling the heat

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Police commissioner Howard Broad wants police to keep guns in their patrol cars. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Police commissioner Howard Broad wants police to keep guns in their patrol cars. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The end of the second month and the end of a frightful week for the now former minister of housing and fisheries, Phil Heatley, the MP for Whangarei.

He will have gone back to his electorate this weekend with the taint of disgrace about him. It must be the worst thing, I imagine, for a fallen minister.

Apart from the public shame and the loss of the salary and baubles, he has to face the people who believed in him and who worked so hard to get him into Parliament in the first place and continued to do so to keep him there.

The volunteers must feel terribly let down. And their MP is no longer a minister with all the influence that bestows.

Heatley was in the habit of putting some charges on his ministerial credit card and paying back afterward spending that was quite obviously private.

This practice doesn't seem that unreasonable - in fact it seems diligent and honest. So Heatley spent $549 at Bags of Difference in Wellington and reimbursed the taxpayers $65.95 for a wallet.

Fair enough. He spent $47.50 on a family outing to the cinema, charged it to the credit card and paid it back the next day.

He charged up $605 for taking his car and his family on the Interislander before he drove round the South Island on ministerial business, and paid back $105 for taking his kids across. Fair enough, you might think.

Trouble was, this practice of charging amounts of private spending on the ministerial card and paying them back within reasonable time is expressly forbidden by the ministerial handbook.

Heatley says he didn't know that. And that he was careless. You'd have to agree. But again, it is not the crime of the century. He is not tainted in the way of Richard Worth with all of the sexual innuendo around him at the time John Key sacked him.

He also said he deserved a long time on the back benches. Enough of the self-flagellation.

However, there is some expenditure on the Heatley file that really does raise the eyebrows. For $70 he bought a couple of bottles of wine to share with a couple of MP mates, charged it to the card and didn't reimburse it.

In fact, he claimed it as food and beverage. Then he has dinner with his wife. Hello? There is a little calculation going on there. And two bottles of wine is hardly ministerial business. It is certainly robbery by catering, and, I suppose, according to the Ministerial Handbook, it was robbery of the taxpayers by the minister.

The one that gets me, however, is the use of the ministerial card for the absurdly small sum of $9.50 for Burger King at Henderson. This was not reimbursed. I assume the Burger King spend was not for his family, or it would have been a larger sum.

I assume he was not buying Burger King for a hungry passerby. It was probably a quick bite on the run during the performance of his duties as a busy Minister. But $9.50? Why would you not pay for that on Eftpos? How could he in any way think of that as a ministerial expense?

As Michael Laws remarked on his radio programme on Thursday (sorry, Leighton, I was only listening for a few minutes because Deborah had him on in her car for some irrational reason), his own experience of politics had shown him that it is the little stuff that gets you.

PHIL HEATLEY'S fall aside, Parliament has been fascinating this week.

Some fascinating personal contests have developed. Anne Tolley, the Education Minister, manages to survive against the cool brutality of Trevor Mallard. She does this by speaking incomprehensibly about an arcane subject none of us understand anyway: education.

Mallard fails to land killer blows because he, in turn, asks incomprehensible questions about aspects of educational science that only primary teachers' teachers understand. And they're all away on a bus.

Tolley got Mallard a beauty by pointing out in a dispatch he sent from that bus that Mallard could not spell Invercargill and would benefit from her new National Standards. It was Mallard's turn to be flummoxed. His eyes flashed for a few seconds as he wondered how to rebut. He decided against it.

I have a soft spot for Mallard. I like the slight element of menace about him. And I never forget that as Rugby World Cup Minister, Trevor found half a billion dollars for a state of the art waterfront stadium for Auckland and the fools in Auckland turned him down.

There was a fine contest to be observed between Ruth Dyson, Labour's Health spokesperson, and Health Minister Tony Ryall. Earlier this week, Dyson set the extremely competent Ryall up beautifully.

Question after question from Dyson related to the loss of home help for elderly people in the region of the Otago-Southland DHB. Ryall explained that there will be some changes - Dyson called them cuts - changes in Otago-Southland because the Labour Government had committed to $20 million dollars of services there that are not yet funded.

He explained that this was an inheritance issue and was a difficult one.

Dyson kept at him, with the anger of injustice, her voice low in her throat.

Ryall began to sense a trap. He countered that if the member had a particular instance she would like him to take up she was free to come and address him on the matter. Dyson pounced. She laid out four specific cases where this had happened.

A couple of days later, I tuned in and watched her picking away at Ryall again, still in Otago-Southland. This time, Ryall and his colleagues were ready for her. The ambush was set. National MP Chester Burrows rose for a supplementary question.

Was the Minister aware that while Dyson was disability minister there had one year in Wanganui been 300 people whose services had been cut and the same number in the next?

The Minister rose again and answered slowly, deliberately and with glee.

Yes, he was aware of this, he said. But in all the paperwork he could find not one letter of protest, not one press statement of protest about the cuts from Ruth Dyson, then the disability minister.

And that finished that.

AS FOR this heinous rash of assaults on police officers, John Key and Howard Broad are right to seek greater deterrents. Howard Broad suggests putting guns in the boots of patrol cars.

Barry Wilson, the Civil Liberties president in Auckland, says the Commissioner should be honest and admit he wants the police to have "guns on their hips".

Actually Barry, what a good idea. Let's get over it. Arm the police. Let them be able to pull a gun immediately when there's any trouble from the low-life. Go most places in the world and you'll see policemen and women with "guns on their hips" and no one seems to be panicking.

And when you encounter a police officer with a gun on the hip, I would imagine you'd be more likely to call him "sir" than you would be to call him "a***hole".

- Herald on Sunday

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