It's time to end one of the most ridiculous charades in New Zealand politics and clear the way for Cabinet Ministers to openly take part in political party fundraisers without having to disavow that they hold their portfolios in the first place.
Political cynics would say that yesterday's "Labour Party Business Conference" in Auckland was really about selling access to Cabinet and getting the inside scoop on the thinking of senior ministers.
That is the problem with the way the charade was presented.
Businesspeople I have spoken with say they were happy enough to pay $1795 plus GST for a day spent with the bulk of Jacinda Ardern's kitchen Cabinet.
A day spent with senior Cabinet Ministers can be incredibly worthwhile for both businesspeople and the politicians themselves, who can speak frankly within a trusted environment.
This can help cohesion. Particularly, at a time when the persistent Covid-19 pandemic still casts a shadow of uncertainty over business and the economy. And the major reform agenda that the Labour Government has embarked on carries with it both the opportunity for some sensible and fundamental change, but also the risk that the wheels come off from trying to mount too many reforms at once in the midst of a pandemic.
But here's the absurdity: Ardern's "tight five" — herself, Grant Robertson, David Parker, Nanaia Mahuta and Michael Wood — all had to shed their portfolio titles for the day and instead costume-up as Labour Party spokespeople for their respective roles, so as not to breach what has become a New Zealand convention on fundraisers.
There is, as the Australians would say, an obvious furphy here.
Who seriously believes businesspeople would stump up just over $2000 each for an exclusive briefing — involving "interactive policy sessions" — if the five did not also happen to be Prime Minister (as well as Labour leader), Finance Minister (as well as Labour finance spokesperson), Environment Minister (as well as Labour environment spokesperson), Local Government Minister (as well as Labour local government spokesperson) and Transport Minister (as well as Labour transport spokesman)?
They each have major reforms they are implementing now: Ardern with the Covid recovery plan — a task in which she has now involved Robertson, with him driving major infrastructure programmes, Parker with the RMA rewrite, Mahuta with the Three Waters reforms and Wood with decarbonising transport.
Businesspeople are very interested in these Government-led reforms.
These are complex policy challenges for any Cabinet. But — to labour a point — how do these politicians present as mere Labour "spokespeople" when all their preparation will be off the back of Cabinet papers?
The invitation for this fundraiser went out from Labour Party president Claire Szabo.
But go onto the Labour Party website and there in their full glory are the five, represented not as party spokespeople, but as Cabinet Ministers.
In fact, the Cabinet Manual says "as senior members of political parties, Ministers are often asked to participate in fundraising activities for their parties, their own electorate organisations, or those of other members of Parliament." So why persist with this charade?
Compare this with Australia, where reports suggest the Coalition and Labor had begun ramping up fundraising efforts in April ahead of the next federal election, charging up to A$10,000 for online or in-person dinners with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Opposition leader Anthony Albanese and their frontbench teams.
The Australians do not pussyfoot in this area. The traditional post-Budget dinners in their Parliament's Great Hall, presided over by former Liberal Prime Ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott, were legendary.
There used to be a huge bustle in Canberra on Budget night, with CEOs flying in from across the country to be present at the dinner and after-match soirees across the Australian capital.
The events were said to raise as much as A$500,000 in a night with the funds tally rising higher at other post-Budget events across the country.
It's not as if Labour is the only party to have trodden what some see as an ethical fine line. In 2014, former Prime Minister Sir John Key said he had attended more than 50 Cabinet Club meetings organised by National. Key said then that it was within Cabinet rules.
There is an obvious cone of silence across what happens inside Labour's business briefing room.
It may be that it is not so different in substance from the multiple dinners and briefings that Robertson, in particular, holds with various business groupings across the country that do not fall into the party fundraiser category.
But please, let's just drop the charade.
It stretches credulity and frankly undermines the integrity of politics rather than preserves it.