Minister plays the Sergeant Schultz card
ABOUT THE HOUSE - JANE CLIFTON
OPINION: It might seem a little counter-intuitive, but one of the hardest things for a politician to fake is ignorance, as Gerry Brownlee showed yesterday.
Opposition MP Phil Twyford was plainly on to a bounteous leaked document, shoehorned full of alarming facts about the rundown state of KiwiRail.
Answering Mr Twyford's questions on behalf of the State-Owned Enterprises Minister, Mr Brownlee initially shot for insouciance. “I do not know where the member got those statistics from,” he said, hazarding a guess that it was an “internal risk-scoping” document, which Mr Twyford was misrepresenting.
Mr Twyford recited more worrying portents about the service's safety, and still Mr Brownlee affected mystification. “Once again the member is trying to speak as if he has some document . . . without giving any context of it.”
However, as this game progressed, it became apparent that Mr Brownlee was not as ignorant as he was pretending to be cabbage-looking.
He was trying to get Mr Twyford to admit that the document was a leaked report which had just become the subject of a court injunction, to stop the media publishing it.
At that point, Mr Brownlee knew, he could make a case to the Speaker that it was improper for Parliament to discuss it further, as the House resists interfering in matters before the courts.
But by then, buoyed by Mr Brownlee's game attempts at “Knowing nuh-zink!” in the manner of Sergeant Schultz, Mr Twyford had already divulged the guts of the report, a series of big safety risks in the rail service.
And as anything said in Parliament may be quoted with impunity, the court injunction could not now prevent his quotations from the document being reported.
At that point, Mr Brownlee began to change his tune a bit, saying KiwiRail was “a huge dog” anyway. It was the last Labour Government that had foolishly bought “the thing”, and now National was obliged to upgrade it. Mr Twyford was only drawing attention to his own government's foolish investment.
That Mr Brownlee had already detailed hundreds of millions in reinvestment by his own Government in “the huge dog” didn't appear to strike him as at all awkward in the overall context.
As a final non-commentary, Mr Brownlee personally vetoed two bids by Labour to table the report he didn't know about - and to profess the knowledge that a media outlet had been about to publish the document he didn't know about “in a most irresponsible way”. All up, it was a remarkably well-informed sort of ignorance.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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