Grubby scandals threaten NZ's reputation

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 05:00 29/07/2012

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OPINION: New Zealand, your halo is slipping.

Frequently topping global transparency indexes, the world believes Kiwis operate the world's cleanest government. Its politicians are rated incorruptible: fraud, bribes and sleaze-free.

And yet, of late, domestic politics has been dominated by a series of grubby scandals. Take Taito Philip Field's conviction in 2009 as the watershed. Since then MPs have been exposed for rorting their expenses to pay for blue movies and gluttony, golf clubs, flowers and massages, family holidays and bucketloads of booze.

After a shedload of naughtiness, minister Richard Worth was eventually sacked for something so egregious that Prime Minister John Key wasn't prepared to reveal it.

Key's intervention in the SkyCity convention centre tendering process is now subject to an inquiry, after cash-for-pokies accusations.

Barely rehabilitated after charging hotel porn to the taxpayer, Shane Jones was plunged into fresh controversy over the granting of a passport to Chinese fugitive Bill Liu.

He hopes a pending auditor-general report will clear his name. A bit player in that scandal, Pansy Wong quit over misuse of her travel perk.

Act's law and order hardliner David Garrett ended his career with the jaw-dropping confession that he was inspired by Day of the Jackal to steal the identity of a dead infant. (He'd also failed to declare he had an assault conviction). His boss Rodney Hide demolished his reputation as a perkbuster by taking his girlfriend on holiday on the public purse.

Even Parliament's Robin Hood Hone Harawira was caught bunking off on a taxpayer-funded work trip to visit Paris with his wife.

A gay sex scandal cut short Darren Hughes' promising career.

Back in March, Nick Smith lost his portfolios over his connections to ACC whistleblower and friend Bronwyn Pullar - another scandal being scrutinised by public service watchdogs. Last week we've seen him embroiled in "money for mates" accusations, with Environment Ministry officials questioning the hefty fees paid to another friend, consultant Guy Salmon.

Just as reporters and opposition MPs were getting bored with that, along came the police decision on John Banks' election donations. Its ambiguity allowed David Shearer to declare the Act leader "got off" on a technicality.

None of this is in the same league as the bonking Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, British PM Tony Blair's dodgy dossier, or Chinese political corruption. But it's troubling.

A small population means small elites: secret deals, jobs for the boys and decisions made without transparency. Last week the public has learned one of Parliament's worst-kept secrets - that powerbrokers with corporate interests roam the corridors of power brandishing lobbyists' access cards.

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New Zealand still holds its reputation as corruption free - but remember, it was also once defined as 100% Pure.

WICKED WHISPER: Which backbench MP was so exuberantly celebrating a small parliamentary achievement he could barely stand up this past week?

- Sunday Star Times

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