Editorial: Spotlight on Brown catches critic in glare

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Is an inflated sense of entitlement somehow part and parcel of election to public office?

Brewer says his offending was not in the same league as Mr Brown's $39k undeclared hotel use, but that is hardly an excuse for a cavalier attitude. Photo / NZ Herald
Brewer says his offending was not in the same league as Mr Brown's $39k undeclared hotel use, but that is hardly an excuse for a cavalier attitude. Photo / NZ Herald

What is it with politicians that they find it so hard to either file annual declarations of interests or ensure they are accurate and complete? The spotlight on Len Brown's transgressions has flushed out yet another culprit in the shape, ironically, of Cameron Brewer, one of the Mayor's chief critics. Such is often the case when a focus falls on this issue. Whatever the level of politics, others who have flouted the rules are exposed. Cue questions about trust and honesty that serve only to tarnish the public view of those in positions of power.

Mr Brewer has admitted not declaring a four-day junket to the Gold Coast, which included free air tickets and accommodation paid for by MediaWorks. This took place in 2012, a year for which he filed no declaration of interest whatsoever. Mr Brewer said his intention had not been to try to obstruct the process, and suggested his offending was not in the same league as Mr Brown's $39,000 undeclared hotel use.

Maybe so, but that is hardly an excuse for a cavalier attitude.

He is far from alone in this. Last year, just nine of the 20 Auckland councillors filed returns. Presumably, many of them would echo Mr Brewer's sentiments. Or some might turn to the excuses trotted out regularly by central government politicians when they are caught out in similar situations. The former Labour Party leader, David Shearer, reckoned his failure to declare a United States-based bank account with more than $50,000 in it on the MPs' Register of Pecuniary Interest was simply an oversight. Others have sought refuge in a misunderstanding of the rules. The Prime Minister covered most of the bases when he portrayed Cabinet minister Phil Heatley as sloppy, untidy, stupid and careless after he fell foul of the rules on ministerial expenses.

The former housing minister's inaccurate declaration led to him being vilified for the misuse of taxpayers' money. He resigned, only to be reinstated after the Auditor-General effectively cleared him of deliberate wrongdoing. It might be thought that his travails would be a cautionary tale for all politicians. Yet there is scant evidence they are taking more care. Is an inflated sense of entitlement somehow part and parcel of election to public office? It seems that, overnight, flouting the declaration rules or essentially ignoring them is regarded as acceptable. Yet if something similar happened in the private sector, it would warrant dismissal or, at the very least, stern censure.

The way that a spotlight on the transgressions of one person reveals other offenders suggests another shortcoming. Not enough emphasis is placed on ensuring the likes of the Auckland Council's code of conduct is followed. Transgressors are not pursued with sufficient vigour by the council bureaucracy. How else could 11 of 20 councillors get away without filing a declaration of interests for a year? That failing, in turn, can only reinforce a belief that such returns can be treated with disdain.

Mr Brewer's criticism of Mr Brown means he will face repercussions. He finds himself in similar territory to that of former Act Party leader Rodney Hide, the self-proclaimed perk-buster who was found to be going out of his way to obtain perks. It might be tempting to think Mr Brewer's discomfort will finally convince others to take such declarations more seriously. But history suggests that would be wishful thinking.

- NZ Herald

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