Brownlee's inflated quake panel fee

By Derek Cheng

Gerry Brownlee. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Gerry Brownlee. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee lobbied his colleagues to pay a Government-appointed panel more than twice the recommended rate because he claimed they would not do it for less - even though he never asked them.

But the chairman of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery review panel, Sir John Hansen, told the Herald he would have been happy to do the work at the lower rate, and probably for nothing.

On Mr Brownlee's advice, the Cabinet more than doubled the pay rates for the panel from the recommended fees, which was a daily rate of $360 to $655 for the panel chairman and $270 to $415 for panel members.

The Cabinet increased this to $1400 a day for the chairman and $1000 a day for the other members.

The panel oversees the Government's draft orders-in-council to ensure they are for the Canterbury rebuild. The panel members are former National Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, former Ngai Tahu chief executive Anake Goodall and Productivity Commission chairman Murray Sherwin.

When Mr Brownlee sought support for higher pay from State Services Minister Tony Ryall, he said: "It will not be possible to secure their services under the current fees range."

In his paper to the Cabinet appointments and honours committee, Mr Brownlee said he did not believe the recommended rate would be enough. But in response to an Official Information Act request by liberal blogger No Right Turn, Mr Brownlee said he did not discuss pay with the nominees.

"It was my judgment that given the important nature of the review panel's work ... a higher daily fee was justified.

"At no time did I have any discussion with the proposed review panel members about the level of remuneration offered for the position."

Sir John told the Herald he would have done the job for the original fee.

"I was happy to do anything to help. My motivation had nothing to do with the fee."

Asked if he would have done it free, he said: "I probably would have, but that's not really the point. It's a statutory appointment and rules and regulations apply."

Dame Jenny did not respond to interview requests.

Mr Brownlee said he did not consider asking if they would do the job for the lower fee.

"I didn't think it was appropriate to go to eminently qualified people and say, 'Look, will you do this extremely important job on the cheap?'."

He admitted the wording in the documents could have been better by saying that a higher fee was justified, given the specialised work.

"Perhaps my wording is not 100 per cent, but I think it's not unreasonable the rates that we're paying."

He appreciated that Sir John was not motivated by money.

"That doesn't stop the state from saying that we require your professional services and we're prepared to pay for them."

But Labour's earthquake recovery spokesman, Clayton Cosgrove, said Mr Brownlee had misled the Cabinet.

"Sir John Hansen was never consulted about the fee, would have done it for the original fee, would have done it for nothing. It's patently not true what Brownlee is trying to spin because Brownlee said they wouldn't do it for the original fee."

THEY SAID IT

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee to State Services Minister Tony Ryall:
"It will not be possible to secure their services under the current fees range."

Sir John Hansen, panel chairman:
"My motivation [in accepting the position] had nothing to do with the fee."

- NZ Herald

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