Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Parker's downfall

David Parker has resigned all cabinet posts and is now a backbench MP. This stage was unexpected as his original resignation as Attorney-General. Although some commentators are suggesting he will rise again after a suitable period of penance (a la Lianne Dalziel), I don't see it happening myself. The Companies Office is going to have to prosecute a plain breach of the companies act in order to deter others from being so stupid committing similar breaches in the future. If that happens and a conviction results (a discharge without conviction is highly unlikely considering the repeated nature of the offence), Parker will be out of Parliament. The last person to earn cabinet rank after being forced out in disgrace was Colin Moyle some twenty odd years ago and he only made it as Minister of Agriculture.

Some of Parker's caucus colleagues are angry considering they defended David Benson-Pope for so long whereas they could have cut him loose and saved Parker's skin instead (the depth of their anger is made apparent by Marian Hobbs making a bizarre Nazi innuendo). While Parker was is a more worthy person to try to save than Benson-Pope, I strongly doubt that Labour could have held off his resignation even for a week. There was clear and documented evidence of wrong-doing that couldn't by fudged even by Steve Maharey.

One thing I don't get is that if the company was worthless as many have indicated, why did David Parker keep it running for so long? Why not simply wind the whole thing up and avoid having to deal with Russell Hyslop? The only thing that springs to my mind is that the Parkers may have wanted the company's debt to be treated as a tax loss to lighten their tax burdens elsewhere. If so, then Parker's reluctance to have anything to do with Hyslop becomes more understandable as he may not have wanted Hyslop to recieve audited information about his tax affairs.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Thoughts on Parker's resignation

David Parker's explanation of his actions was that in the first year (1997), he got the signature of the Official Assignee (because Russell Hyslop was bankrupt) and simply didn't bother in the subsequent years. In July 2000, Russell Hyslop was discharged from his bankruptcy (according to the Insolvency and Trustee Service database) and the control over his shares in Queens Park Mews Limited reverted back to him from the Official Assignee. So when Investigate magazine alleged "between five and nine false statements were filed", it seems they were aware of the possibility that the Official Assignee might have signed the audit waiver for the years 1997-1999 but could not find out whether he had.

However if Parker signed the declarations in the October of each year, then that makes a total of eight declarations for the years 1999-2005 of which he admits seven were signed falsely. So what was the ninth allegedly false document?

I'm increasingly skeptical that Parker can avoid being convicted and ousted from Parliament (as is the case for any conviction that has a maximum sentence of at least two years). According to him, the cost of the audit was $500 so he has evaded $3500 in compliance costs. By way of example, a theft of this magnitude is punishable by up to seven years under the Crimes Act whereas if the sum taken was less than $1000, the maximum penalty is only a year and if less than $500, the penalty only three months maximum.

So Parker may have had a chance of avoiding conviction if he only did it once or twice but for seven years, I very much doubt it. Also worth noting is that when the Hyslop's bankruptcy ended, Parker would have been informed by the Official Assignee that Hyslop was regaining control over his shares. Yet he still continued as before even knowing that Hyslop was unlikely to agree if asked?

David Parker's resignation

When I first read about Investigate's allegations about David Parker, my reaction was that they had documented some wrong-doing but I had no idea whether this was a serious breach or a mere technicality. Thus I expected to see four months of governmental denial that an offense had taken place followed by a declaration that there was a prima facie case to answer but no prosecution.

My initial reaction seemed confirmed by Helen Clark's denial that there was a need for investigation on the grounds that the accusation came from Investigate magazine. So I am shocked to hear that Parker has admitted error and resigned as Attorney-General. After brazening out David Benson-Pope even after he lied to Parliament and his colleagues, I was expecting the government to put up a tougher fight like have Steve Maharey insist that because Russell Hislop wasn't present at the shareholder meetings, there was no animosity and so the shareholders' decision was unanimous.

Both Parker and Clark are portraying this as an error that harmed nobody. Ordinarily I would accept their assertions pending the delayed audit of the company but past experience with this government (namely David Benson-Pope) leaves me with the gut feeling that there is something bigger. If there is, Parker can forget about escaping with a discharge without conviction (which seems to be his reason for staying on) and be expelled from Parliament.

The Attorney-General portfolio has reverted to an overworked Michael Cullen but he now has an additional burden. When he was last Attorney-General he had Russell Fairbrother as PPS to assist him for Cullen has no legal qualifications. But Fairbrother was sent back to the backbenches after the last election for losing the seat of Napier and there are hardly any other lawyers on the government benches, with the exception of Winston Peters and Margaret Wilson.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Judith Tizard's excuse

In a news item about a bill to cut back the number of legislators to 100, TVNZ decided to ask some "hardworking" (their words) MPs what they thought about the bill. One of the people they chose (out of malice, I suppose) was Judith Tizard who is many things but not hardworking. She seemed rather flustered and evaded the issue by saying that she was late for a select committee.

Curious at the possibility that Judith actually does something a select committee would be interested in, I decided to look up which select committees were actually sitting today. According to the Clerk's Website for select committees (click meetings schedule for the PDF but it will change next week), only one committee was actually sitting today - the Regulations Review Committee hearing complaints about the Animal Welfare (Layer Hens) Code of Welfare 2005 and the Student Allowance Amendment Regulations 2002. Neither of which Judith Tizard, Minister for Archives, Auckland Issues, Consumer Affairs and the National Library as well as Associate Minister for Arts, Culture, Heritage, Commerce and Transport, has any responsibility for.

So it seems Judith was lying to the media. Normally that would be a sacking offense (cf Lianne Dalziel) but the recent relaxation of standards (cf David Benson-Pope) means that Judith has nothing to fear. Hence I can only suggest that she work harder in constructing plausible lies to avoid answering difficult questions.

UPDATE: Judith Tizard's office has responded in the comments that she was attending the Education and Science Select Committee and subbing for Dr Ashraf Choudhary. So the key piece of information that I relied upon was either outdated or in error and hence I retract the imputation that Judith lied to the media.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Bayfield High Abuser treated with kid gloves?

The Sunday-Star Times has an article about Bayfield High School, which only tangentially concerns David Benson-Pope. There was a teacher there who had been convicted for sexually abusing students at Bayfield High but Bruce Leadbetter, the principal at the time, took no action in deregistration for up to two years which gives some indication of the seriousness with which complaints against teachers there were handled. The interesting thing is this:
[The abuser's] name was suppressed to protect his brother, who held a high profile position connected with children.
I'm appalled. Merely because his brother is famous is no reason to give him name suppression. For example the brother of David Carter MP was convicted of receiving objectionable material but he didn't have his name suppressed. As a result, I am seriously getting the impression of favourable treatment.

Fortunately the NZ register of Cancelled Teachers is on-line (click the cancelled teachers button). Since Cullen's letter confirming the deregistration was dated 1990, the suspects name will have his registration number and not a zero number. There's about ten pages of names there but there are no Popes, no Cullens, no Hodgsons or Leadbetters (or even Lockes for that matter). There are a couple of Clarks but since Helen never taught children, it's unlikely to be them.

Friday, March 03, 2006

More Benson-Pope

The Government has mounted a major attempt to save David Benson-Pope. First according to a Press article by Colin Espiner that isn't on-line:
The change of heart followed Benson-Pope's press secretary Peter Coleman taking leave after he was disciplined for leaking selective parts of a police report on Benson-Pope to a newspaper and then denying it.

Prime Minister Helen Clark's chief press secretary, David Lewis, yesterday assumed Coleman's responsibilities, cancelled Benson-Pope's afternoon appointments and co-ordinated interviews with the media.
The real question is why this wasn't done months ago when the tennis ball allegations came out. Michael Cullen was even dropping heavy hints about how Benson-Pope "has a story to tell" but from his office, there was only silence. The only bit in the excerpt that I find questionable is about Peter Coleman taking leave. He was disciplined a month ago so it seems to me that the excuse for his garden leave is Ninth Floor spin to indicate that he's leaving in disgrace. Which is a bit harsh considering that he was only doing what Benson-Pope wanted him to do.

Alas fronting up to the media hasn't helped Benson-Pope as much as it would have had he done it earlier. His credibility has been holed beneath the water line and no matter how hard the governmental bilge pumps are working, the sharks are still circling. It has gotten to the stage where Bill English said in the house yesterday that Benson-Pope had lied but he was not called upon to withdraw his statement.

And the hits keep coming. The NZ Herald reported this morning that a teacher whom Benson-Pope had mentioned in his defence against a slapping allegation is saying that she was not in a position to see what happened. In other words, the only person that is willing to testify that Benson-Pope did not slap Geana Earl is Benson-Pope himself. I daresay a Jury would regard the allegation as proven.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

An Error of Judgement

Helen Clark finally delivered up this assessment of David Benson-Pope's actions in the house today (Question #2):
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I accept that to most people, including to me, a letter from a parent raising such issues would be seen as a complaint. It is clear that because the issues raised did not breach school policy, and were not dealt with as a disciplinary issue, Mr Benson-Pope did not see that as a complaint when he made his statement to the House on 12 May. In my view, that was an error of judgment, but I do not consider it sufficient reason to dismiss a Minister. That is my judgment.
I disagree as to whether the error of judgment is sufficient to require Benson-Pope's ouster. By my reckoning, he has now made three serious errors of judgment throughout this affair - the first was to deny that the tennis ball incident occured, the second was to stupidly leak the selective excerpts from the police report to the media then deny that he had done so and now he's been caught out in yet another deception. How can anybody have any confidence that he will exhibit sound judgment while performing his ministerial duties?

An interesting sidelight in this issue is apparent lack of co-ordination between Benson-Pope's office and the Ninth Floor. Benson-Pope's intended personal statement which he composed either on monday night or tuesday morning is replete with hair-splitting evasions and does not even begin to address why his original statement to Parliament was false. Furthermore the NZ Herald failed to get a copy of the statement from Benson-Pope's office and ended up obtaining it from the Prime Minister's Office instead. If Benson-Pope was working closely with Clark on the issue, then I would have expected to see some admission of error in the statement. Since there is none, it seems to me that he had been keeping Clark and her office in the dark. Why she didn't use this as an excuse to haul him off to the guillotine is an interesting question.

On a trivial note, Winston Peters needs to do some historical reading. During Question 4, he asked (emphasis mine):
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Prime Minister who, in her experience or opinion, would be the more qualified to determine whether an action warranted dismissal: the headmaster who dealt with the matter at the time, or someone who wants a Titus Oates Star Chamber procedure to be the way we do justice in this country?
Star Chmaber was abolished in 1641. The Popish Plot controversy of Titus Oates occured in 1678-9 and was (mis)handled through the regular justice system.