Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: Once more unto the breach ...

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The PM declined to accept Gerry Brownlee's resignation. Photos / Getty, NZ Herald
The PM declined to accept Gerry Brownlee's resignation. Photos / Getty, NZ Herald

As errors of judgment go, it was a pretty stupid one. Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee was running late for a plane to Christchurch on Thursday and decided he didn't have time to go through the security screening process. So he and his two aides went up to an exit door that would bypass the queue and the minister asked a member of airport security staff if he could go through the one-way door. He and his aides were allowed through unchallenged and the plane took off on time with the minister on board.

Now Brownlee, whose portfolios include the Civil Aviation Authority, is being investigated by his own department. There's the breach of security for which Brownlee is taking full responsibility. There's the error of judgment on the part of the security guard. And then there are the pilots who took off despite knowing there were three people on board who didn't have security clearance.

Quite the stuff-up — but Brownlee appeared to realise the full ramifications of his mistake only when he was phoned by Civil Aviation officials wanting him to please explain. Once the seriousness of the security breach had been sheeted home to him he apologised and immediately tendered his resignation to Prime Minister John Key, who chose not to accept but said that if Brownlee is found to have fallen foul of the law, there will be consequences.

In the meantime, while the investigation is under way, Brownlee has passed on responsibility for the CAA to his associate minister, Michael Woodhouse.

Public opinion seems to be firmly divided: mistakes happen, nothing to see here, move on; or outrage and opprobrium (another in a long line of ministerial muck-ups after Collins, Williamson and McCully; the typical two term-itis you see of an arrogant government; sack him).

I didn't think it was a hanging offence when I heard of the incident. It was a dumb mistake made by a man in a hurry. He took full responsibility once his error of judgment was pointed out to him and he offered his resignation. His response is certainly better than those of other ministers have been.

I do agree though, with those who think this attitude is one that comes with a Government that's pretty jolly pleased with itself. You saw that with the Helen Clark administration as well. The mistakes they make can be seen as trivial and the fuss made about them beat-ups, but over time, molehills become mountains. Brownlee thought he didn't have to follow normal airport protocol because he was a busy man. His business was of more importance than that of anybody else in the airport security line. He would have strode importantly towards the security guard, flanked by his two aides. It would have looked like a pretty impressive rolling maul bearing down upon the guard. And then he would have asked as if it were simply a matter of course that he be let through. He clearly assumed the security guard would have known who he was — which is getting all a little bit close to Aaron Gilmore and "don't you know who I am" for comfort.

Would Richie McCaw or Val Adams, who are surely just as recognisable as Brownlee, have done the same thing and asked for special treatment to bypass a security check in order to catch a plane? I don't think so. It's not so much arrogance as self-importance and the sign of a man who hasn't had to book his own flights for quite some time. Labour supporters are having a field day — as well they might, given that this is a let-up for their boss. And canny National supporters are shaking their heads and hoping that MPs keep their powder dry until election day is done and dusted.


Kerre McIvor is on Newstalk ZB, Monday-Thursday, 8pm-midnight.

- Herald on Sunday

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