Anyone who has a governance role knows about conflicts of interest. We are reminded regularly enough.

We are encouraged to attend workshops and training to ensure we keep abreast of relevant developments in this area.

Perception should not be underestimated. Being "seen to be doing the right thing" is just as important as doing the right thing.

I like the simple explanation for conflict of interest – a situation in which someone cannot make a fair decision because they will be affected by the result. That's really it in a nutshell but it can get all heavy and technical if you let it. That's when advice and clarification are sought.


I currently have four governance roles that I was elected to. On two occasions in recent years I was challenged about conflicts of interest. I felt fairly certain I wasn't conflicted but sought legal advice anyway. I was right.

I have since spent some time looking at a number of case studies and examples of conflicts of interest. What strikes me is the person, people or organisation raising and protesting a conflict of interest appear to be those who would benefit most if the "conflicted person" wasn't involved in any discussion or ultimate decision making on the matter under debate.

In my case I often hold different views, usually based on firsthand knowledge, work experience, cultural awareness and an understanding of diverse community needs. Better if I was "out of the way", not involved when vested interests, or the status quo is being challenged.

That's when you'll often hear "conflict of interest" being raised. When this happens I look to see who benefits most from the "conflicted" person being absent from the debate. Is there another purpose being served? Very often there is, well cloaked and disguised.

This week Opposition leader Simon Bridges questioned the selection process undertaken to appoint Wally Haumaha to the position of Deputy Police Commissioner. He wants to know if the Deputy Police Commissioner's support and friendship of his three former police colleagues who stood trial in 2006 for the rape of Louise Nicholas were known to the panel who recommended his appointment to the Minister of Police.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush was on the interview panel so I would have expected he, at least, would have been known the full background of all candidates being considered for the job of Deputy Commissioner. And this information would have been shared with panel members.

Now the Acting Prime Minister, Leader of New Zealand First Winston Peters has requested the appointment process be investigated. The inquiry will be undertaken by the Department of Internal Affairs, and overseen by Minister Tracey Martin, who is also a NZ First MP.

That worries the Opposition.


Haumaha was once in line to contest an election for New Zealand First. Given that, how impartial will the inquiry be? Is there a conflict of interest with the minister being a New Zealand First MP?

Haumaha served alongside the three police officers in Rotorua accused of raping Louise Nicholas. He made some foolish and tactless comments back then, I believe symptomatic of a culture of disrespect, bordering on contempt and indifference to women victims of sexual assault.

A culture that reinforced "stick with your fellow officers" at all costs.

I don't kid myself into believing things have changed that much within the New Zealand Police.

There is no doubt they are trying hard but when "power and control" are exercised as part of their jobs that can bring out the worst in people.

Haumaha has since apologised for the comments in his statement at the time. So he should have.

It is reported he has recently apologised again personally to Louise Nicholas. Good for him. He need not do so again to her or anyone else.

I am pleased in the intervening 14 years Haumaha has stayed with policing, worked hard and refused to keep looking in the rear vision mirror.

We can all do and say dumb things from time to time.

While head of Women's Refuge, I went to the opening of a strip club in Wellington. If I hadn't been out drinking first and met up with friends later that night I would never have gone along.

It was one of the dumbest things I have ever done. Did I regret it? You bet I did. Did it have repercussions for my job and personal reputation? Of course.

But you give yourself a good hard kick in the backside, my family saw to that, and get back on the job.

You learn a hard lesson but you don't let that moment define you and your future.

The rear vision mirror may remind us of what we have come through but the future remains firmly fixed in looking forward. It's not as if there's a shortage of work to be getting on with.