By Audrey Young

Inside politics

No matter what the Audit Office's final verdict on Murray McCully is, the Prime Minister must be considering removing him from the tourism portfolio.

The Tourism Board fiasco is a plague upon the Government.

Like the Tuku Morgan saga that tainted the coalition Government's first year, it won't go away.


Just when it seems as though the issue has gone dormant, up it rears.

The board broke off its relationship with Saatchi & Saatchi this week, but the inevitable legal wrangles have almost certainly given the plague life beyond the election.

The tourism debacle has reached the point politically where it doesn't matter much who screwed up: the old board, the new board, Saatchi & Saatchi, Mr McCully, or the whole lot of them.

It is a mess and Mr McCully, as Minister of Tourism, presides over it. He is therefore responsible, if not to blame.

Mrs Shipley is looking for a circuit-breaker, and short of sacking the entire board, Mr McCully's resignation could provide it. She needs a circuit-breaker as much for her own sake as her Government's.

The Saatchi-tourism saga has left Mrs Shipley's judgment looking decidedly dubious. She chose to endorse the Saatchi campaign by giving a Saatchi-commissioned, Saatchi-sounding speech in London as a teaser to its global promotion launch for the board.

Saatchi chief Kevin Roberts was there giving encouragement.

Later, she volunteered that Mr Roberts was a close friend. She said they talked at a private dinner about keeping National in Government.


Clearly inspired by Mr Roberts, she invited him to inspire her caucus, too. By all accounts, they felt like walking on water after a slogan-pumping session where he paced the room, drinking Pepsi and extolling the virtues of Mrs Shipley.

Now Mr Roberts' company and her relationship with him is a political embarrassment. And Mr McCully is stuck in a political quagmire.

Mrs Shipley cannot afford to fire Mr McCully. He would be a dangerous enemy in election year.

Any early departure would need his compliance. And it may be in his interests to give it - it could keep him in cabinet.

Mr McCully has already set an unusually low threshold, by New Zealand standards, for his resignation. It is contingent on any criticism of his ministerial conduct by the Auditor-General. But that report into severance payments for board officials and Mr McCully's promotions in South America and South Africa is not due for three weeks.

There are two advantages to the Government if Mr McCully resigns from tourism before then and stays as ACC minister. It would provide the clean break Mrs Shipley is looking for; and if the Auditor-General's report is critical, and Mr McCully has already resigned, it may be more acceptable for him to stay as ACC minister.

ACC is undergoing major restructuring and the Prime Minister may be willing to risk a short-term loss to keep Mr McCully longer-term.

Mrs Shipley could decide that the public don't give a damn about the tourism fiasco - as evidenced by National's rising ratings in the latest New Zealand Herald-DigiPoll - and that if there is a plague on her house, it is not fatal.

Pictured: Jenny Shipley.