Opposition damages public morality with Oravida claims
Political journalists continue to give credibility to the Oravida beat-up. I've not heard anyone I know, outside the 'beltway' set, who share their faux indignation. Perhaps aspects yet to be revealed will vindicate the accusers. But on what has been disclosed so far, those alleging corruption disgrace themselves.
We come from an era, widely regarded as our most incorruptible, when all manner of goods were marked with the Royal crest, and the words "By appointment to HM the Queen". Approval as suppliers to the Crown was overtly advertised, for the benefit of the supplier. I recall no concern that it was a corrupt practice.
Nor is there any objective argument that Ms Collins advocacy for any dairy interests in China or elsewhere, has been inimical to the interests of New Zealand. The allegations of corruption are the single element most likely to reduce the barriers to corruption. When it is acceptable to equate such innocuous behaviour with corruption, we lose the capacity to distinguish, and 'everybody does it' becomes a more likely excuse for genuine corruption at other levels
If there was some indication of covert payments then it might run. But most of us know that there is implicit personal endorsement, even if it is unwanted, in most engagements of powerful people.
As a humble opposition back-bencher I knew that when I was asked to open a building, or celebrate the commencement of a business, I was not asked for my rippling physique, or my rhetoric. I was asked because it was endorsement. It added weight to an occasion.
When I was asked to take up a complaint about bureacracy, of course I was putting my weight behind the complainant. That did not mean that I necessarily thought they should prevail. Nor did it mean they got a privilege. I was expected to do it even for companies and causes with which I had little sympathy. I went to their dinners and spoke at their AGMs, because they were entitled to expect me to be interested, and to help them if I could without impropriety.
In my mind, impropriety was simple. If I stipulated for, or accepted, a private benefit (more than a ceremonial bottle of wine, say) or failed to disclose any substantial pecuniary return, I was misusing my office. But othewise I should, and would advance the interests of any constituent or sector, with which I had sympathy, or a policy interest.
We do not want our leaders to be ignorant eunuchs, fed only the information they get pre-digested from officials. We want them to be well connected. We want them to test all they hear with people they know they can trust, from experience. And as I was warned when I entered Parliament by one of its most experienced Ministers, "Stick to the friends you had before you came here, because from now on you will not know who are your friends, and who are not, till you leave. You will not be sure which are the greasers, and those who are genuine".
So be staunch Judith Collins. And remind us all of the utter uselessness of an opposition (and political journalism that sustains it) in banging on about a Minister who is enthusiastic about a company her husband directs, when that opposition ignores huge issues, such as the risk expert report that suggests New Zealand is spending up to $10 billion on earthquake strengthening that is likely to save few lives if any.
Stephen Franks is principal of Wellington commercial and public law firm Franks and Ogilvie.