Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Former ministers failed to draw the line, Jones fatally crossed it

5 comments
Shanes Jones clutches credit card statements which will kill his political career. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Shanes Jones clutches credit card statements which will kill his political career. Photo / Mark Mitchell

That John Key is a very smart operator. When Phil Goff a few weeks back demanded Key sack National's Phil Heatley after the use of his ministerial credit card to buy wine, Goff had the Government on the back foot.

Key offered not only to check all his ministers' expenses but cheerily offered to extend it to the last term of the Labour Government as well.

Goff's heart must have sunk. This week the credit card expenses came out on Thursday and none of it was good for Labour.

A number of former Labour ministers clearly didn't know where the line between their public responsibilities and personal luxury needs started and finished.

Lucky for them the attention was all on Shane Jones.

Jones confessed it was a day of humiliation for him after it was revealed he'd booked 50 hotel in-house videos over the period, with the odd magazine and expensive wine.

Earlier on Thursday he'd been coy over what sort of videos he'd been charging up by kidding he was a movie buff.

It took only minutes for journalists to contact the various hotels to verify skin-flicks are charged at one rate and other movies at another. All Jones' rentals were at the porno rate.

After that he was cornered and had no choice but to accept his public flogging. Unfortunately for him, it isn't a day-long ritual. His indiscretion will haunt him forever.

New Zealanders are a forgiving people and after a week or so of scandalised tut-tutting most will think he's had enough of beating and move on.

After all, other MPs have misused their cards too. Even old pols like Jim Anderton, who know better, charged a massage for him and his wife, as did Chris Carter.

Several of them bought booze and flowers for either their spouse or someone else. But given it appears they had, in the main, reimbursed their personal items it's hardly a scandal that should keep us outraged for more than a day.

I'm sure many employees with company cards have rung up the occasional personal item. Provided they explain the circumstances with a quick reimbursement then most employers will accept it.

But what these ministers didn't get is there are rightly different standards for them. They are in the privileged positions of being leaders, where their personal ethics and integrity are important no matter what their political stripes. Carelessly using a ministerial card for personal luxuries is thoughtless at best and corrupt at worst.

There are two types of politicians - those that think it's a privilege to be a representative of the people and those who think it's a privilege for us to have them. You can guess which category the ministerial card abusers fall under.

But for Jones it's so much worse. He was considered a favourite to replace Phil Goff at some time. Any aspirations for Jones died this week. Given Goff's calling for Heatley's resignation, it's untenable for Jones to stay on his party's frontbench.

Jones is a list MP and hasn't got an electorate seat to protect him. Other contenders for Labour's top jobs will ensure he drops down the party list if he stays.

It's hard to see how Jones can get through this humiliation and be taken as a serious player in future. Every time he gets up in the parliamentary bear pit he's going to be lampooned.

The real problem for Jones is people can grasp the sordidness of the hotel porn and in their mind he will always be associated with it.

Even if you're not morally offended, it is his carelessness that has brought him down. His actions show arrogance, naivety, bad judgment and, for an ambitious politician, a complete lack of self-preservation skills. These are flaws you don't find in a successful politician.

One good thing from out of this week - no politician will misuse their cards again.

- Herald on Sunday

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 20 Aug 2014 20:52:27 Processing Time: 441ms