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'Political' state servant under fire

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 13/03/2014

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State servants are facing increasing political scrutiny as some push for a seat in Parliament while hanging on to their day jobs.

The Families Commission faced accusations of "politicisation" from Opposition MPs yesterday after one of its commissioners was spotted supposedly campaigning with Prime Minister John Key.

During a parliamentary select committee hearing yesterday, Labour MP Rajen Prasad, himself a former chief families commissioner, said current commissioner Parmjeet Parmar was pushing for a spot on the National Party list and was already campaigning.

He said he had seen her with Key wearing a blue party rosette at the Pasifika Festival in Auckland during the weekend.

"The chief commissioner has known about this, the minister has known about this, the prime minister has known about this, and up until today there has been no action taken."

But chief commissioner Belinda Milnes said she was unaware of Dr Parmar's political ambitions.

"There are a lot of rumours flying around, and there has been all sorts of things on the blog sites, not all of which is true," she said.

"But until there is a formal situation, where they have actually applied to be selected . . . I can't do anything."

In a separate statement yesterday afternoon, Milnes said she had since spoken to Parmar and received an assurance that she was not yet seeking to become an MP.

"I have made it clear that, in the event Dr Parmar was selected to become a candidate, I would expect her to stand aside from her board role until after the election."

Parmar said she had not yet made any decision to enter politics.

She associated with "many groups" at the Pasifika Festival, but refused to comment on her affiliations with the National Party.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett also backed Dr Parmar and said it was Labour that was "politicising" the commission.

"I have known Dr Parmar for several years and I am well aware of her political views - she brings extensive knowledge and professionalism to her role in the Families Commission," she said.

The accusations come after the head of TVNZ's Maori and Pacific Unit, Shane Taurima, was caught last month using the state-funded broadcaster's resources and staff time to support political activities for the Labour Party. Mr Taurima resigned soon after.

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