A quiet, conscientious National MP, Jackie Blue, has made an unusual career move, forsaking Parliament for the Human Rights Commission where she will be the next Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner. People with political inclinations sometimes graduate from this sort of agency to Parliament, but the movement is seldom the other way.
Dr Blue's appointment by Justice Minister Judith Collins has disturbed their political opponents for good reason. Labour's Sue Moroney noted that it closely followed the appointment of Dame Susan Devoy to be Race Relations Commissioner and accused the minister of using the Human Rights Commission as "a recruitment agency for supporters". Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly feared for the commission's independence.
It is not healthy for a commissioner to come directly from the Government's parliamentary ranks. Dr Blue was chosen by a panel that interviewed three others for the job, but her appointment was announced by the Justice Minister. It is hard to see the next Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner as anything other than a crony "jobs for the girls" appointment. Dr Blue's comment on Radio New Zealand that her occupying the role would mean the commission could work with the Government rather than against it spoke volumes for the partisanship behind this appointment.
Ms Collins appears to be too fond of shoulder-tapping her acquaintances. The new director of human rights proceedings, Auckland lawyer Robert Kee, is a friend of her husband, David Wong-Tung. As the Herald revealed in February, the minister personally nominated him for the position and appointed him over two other candidates, one recommended by Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford.
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It would be idle of Ms Collins to pretend she is not deliberately changing the political character of the commission, as idle as it would be to pretend some previous commissioners have not had Labour leanings. But that is in the nature of the subject, especially for commissioners on ethnic and gender issues. National is normally more interested in individual rights than social engineering.
We may expect Dame Susan and Dr Blue to concentrate on individuals who bring specific complaints of unfair treatment to them, rather than concern themselves with statistical reports that suggest discrimination against minorities and women in general. That is probably Ms Collins' expectation, too.
Her appointment of Dr Blue is less surprising than the MP's application for the role. Dr Blue has been on National's back benches for three years in opposition and four years in government. Despite her medical credentials she has not made it into John Key's cabinet, even in the reshuffle that brought Nikki Kaye and Simon Bridges into ministerial offices this year.
In the normal course of events, no more National MPs can expect promotion until the Government is expiring and senior ministers are retiring. At that point the prize is usually not worth the wait. So it may be natural for a public spirited MP to look around now for something else to do. But it is a pity she had not found a seat in Parliament more rewarding.
That is one underlying concern with this appointment. A governing party ought to be able to give all its MPs an active role in some area of interest to them. MPs without a role should be in a position to seek one. Surely they can make themselves useful and even influential by being well informed and capable of contributing to caucus discussion.
Someone who relinquishes Parliament for a role that does not receive much attention from her Government is telling us how limited she felt she was. That is sad.