By Andrew Laxon



political reporter


Another top Government official has received a taxpayer-funded golden handshake, as well as almost $50,000 of overseas trips in two years.

The former head of the Qualifications Authority, Australian Dr Douglas Blackmur, received a confidential but allegedly six-figure payout when he left his $200,000-a-year job last month to take up a new post in Melbourne.

Dr Blackmur also took 15 overseas trips costing more than $46,000, including several visits to Brisbane, where he now lives, and spent $970 on a farewell dinner for 11 staff at one of Wellington's poshest restaurants.

The Government tried to head off the potential scandal yesterday by announcing three investigations into Dr Blackmur's severance payment and travel spending.

Prime Minister Jenny Shipley promised a sweeping review of Government bodies such as the authority within the next six weeks.

And the Minister for Tertiary Education, Max Bradford, accepted the resignation of the authority's board chairman, Sir Neil Waters, a fortnight before his term was due to end.

The Government has been embarrassed this year by payout revelations of $340,000 for former Tourism Board members Bryan Mogridge and Michael Wall, $68,000 for former Fire Service Commission chairman Roger Estall and $30,000 to $40,000 for former chief executive Jean Martin.

Yesterday's announcements appeared to be prompted by questions from Labour education spokesman Trevor Mallard.

Mr Bradford said he had become aware of concerns last week and initial investigations suggested there were "some things we need to get to the bottom of."

The State Services Commission would review Dr Blackmur's employment contract, including terms of severance, and the Crown Law Office would advise on whether the contract termination and severance payment were lawful.

The Auditor-General had been asked to review the authorisation and accountability for travel, accommodation and entertainment expenses. It is understood that the board may have approved Dr Blackmur's travel spending retrospectively, raising questions about whether any of his other spending was not reported to the board.

Mr Mallard said the golden handshake was a disgrace since Dr Blackmur had resigned to go to another job. He also questioned his travel expenses. "Most people, when they go from Wellington to Sydney, do not go via Brisbane. Dr Blackmur did it twice last year."

Dr Blackmur could not be reached yesterday. He is believed to have quit in frustration after the Government backtracked on plans for a new national qualifications system. He takes over as chief executive of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in August.

Sir Neil defended the severance payment, saying Dr Blackmur was entitled to it because the Government's restructuring had caused big changes to his job.