Perhaps the most concerning facet of the Government's latest ministerial embarrassment was a comment yesterday from a former Labour Party president, Mike Williams. He told Newstalk ZB the incident reflected a lack of training for those appointed ministers. "I think it's probably lack of supports," he said. "Ministerial Services don't seem to think it's their job to give these new ministers basic instructions on staffing."
It certainly should not be the service's job. It shouldn't be anyone's job to give a minister basic instructions in how to manage a small staff. Voters and taxpayers have a right to expect that all of the people a political party offers for election — let alone those chosen to be ministers in a government — possess the personal qualities needed at any level of leadership.
Some of the MPs promoted to lower ministerial ranks these days are hardly known to the public. Few outside her home region probably knew we had a minister named Meka Whaitiri until Thursday's announcement of her suspension while an investigation is held into an alleged altercation with a new staff member. But it turns out that before being elected to Parliament from Ikaroa-Rawhiti she was chief executive of the country's third largest iwi, Ngati Kahungunu, for four years.
That suggests she has some experience in dealing with staff. Nor is she new to the culture of the public service and the Beehive, having been a senior adviser to a previous Minister of Maori Affairs. Yet all this Mike Williams would have known. He also hails from the East Coast of the North Island and remains well acquainted with the Labour Party. If he thinks its junior ministers need basic training in staff management it is a worry.
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It is worrying enough that Whaitiri is the second minister to slip up badly in as many weeks. Last week Jacinda Ardern was announcing the demotion of Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran to a seat outside the Cabinet. This week she announced Whaitiri, already below Cabinet rank, would stand aside as Minister of Customs while the incident is investigated.
These problems do not encourage confidence in the calibre of people in the present government. Like most governments it has a presentable Prime Minister, a capable Finance Minister and a number of others who perform comfortably on the public stage.
But there are others whose names are never heard and it can only be wondered how many of them are struggling with the requirements of ministerial work.
Curran twice failed to properly record and report meetings with people in her areas of responsibility. It sounds like Whaitiri has failed at the very least to maintain the standards of professionalism and decorum needed in a ministerial office.
Training is the suggested panacea for just about every workplace problem these days but political parties and Parliament are the training grounds for ministers of the Crown. A young person working for a political party receives plenty of opportunities to learn how to deal with people and disagreement and if they become a candidate for Parliament they will lead an electorate team.
If successful they will be given staffed offices at Parliament and in the electorate. National's Todd Barclay failed at that level in the previous term. It is all the training a person with ministerial potential should need.