By Audrey Young

The days of the Office of Tourism and Sport, a power-base of former Tourism Minister Murray McCully, may be numbered.

The Prime Minister has ordered a report from officials on the office, which was approved by cabinet, and on a body Mr McCully privately set up, the Tourism and Sport Ministerial Advisory Board.

The State Services Commission and Internal Affairs are looking at the office after criticisms in the Auditor-General's report on tourism last week.

And if Labour is part of the next government, it will abolish the office.

Labour's sports and state services spokesman, Trevor Mallard, says the Office of Tourism and Sport was set up last year "to push the political interests of McCully."

"It was designed to provide McCully with the advice McCully wanted and a method of sorting out organisations without McCully's hands getting dirty."

The office is a semi-autonomous body under the Department of Internal Affairs. The director, Scott Morrison, tenders advice to the Minister of Tourism and the Minister of Sport, Fitness and Leisure.

The office also oversaw a damning consultants' report on the Tourism Board's performance for Mr McCully, without input from the Tourism Board.

Confusion over roles of the various bodies - the Tourism Board, the Office of Tourism and Sport, and the advisory board - contributed to the breakdown in relationship between the Tourism Board and Mr McCully, the Auditor-General, David Macdonald, said in his report.

Mr Mallard said the way the Office of Tourism and Sport operated was one of the reasons Mr McCully had got into trouble.

And a key reason for that was that it was run by Mr Morrison, an Australian who was seen as Mr McCully's "hard man."

Australian standards of public sector behaviour "are lower than ours," said Mr Mallard.

New Zealanders were much more traditional and had a Westminster-type approach. That meant more things on paper, more concern about process, and being less bombastic.

"My experience with Australian politicians is that rules and ethics are not as important to them as they are to New Zealanders."

Mr Morrison said he did not want to respond to Mr Mallard's personal comments. "I have no interest in New Zealand politics."

The establishment of the Office of Tourism and Sport had been overseen by Internal Affairs.

Mr McCully said he was reckoned by many to be his own "hard man" and did not need to import one from Australia.

He was happy that candidates for the director's job came from Australia.

"Australia actually happens to do a bit better than we do out of both tourism and sport."

Mr Morrison had been general manager of the Australian Tourism Council and was highly regarded. He lifted the energy levels and the competence levels substantially above those previously servicing tourism and sport, said Mr McCully.

The Tourism Board is expected to reply today to the Prime Minister's letter about retrieving $340,000 in unlawful severance payments made to its former chairman, Bryan Mogridge, and his deputy, Michael Wall.