Gerry Brownlee should have known better

Gerry Brownlee has cancelled a Christchurch party over insinuations of favouritism.
Cameron Burnell

Gerry Brownlee has cancelled a Christchurch party over insinuations of favouritism.

OPINION: A lot of Christchurch movers and shakers will be disappointed Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has cancelled his party before next Friday's All Blacks test.

READ MORE: It's my party and I'll cancel if I want to

In the depths of winter, it's a nice Friday night treat to be able to enjoy the company of Brownlee and friends in the warmth of a Christchurch bar serving free food and drink. Brownlee, I'm told, can be quite charming at these events, where some of the old tensions dissipate in an atmosphere of bonhomie and backslapping.

Disclosure: This writer has never been invited although plenty of media usually are.

The party, not the first of Brownlee's shindigs since the earthquakes, would have been paid for by Fletcher Construction, one of the main players in the Christchurch rebuild.

Brownlee has cancelled the party citing insinuations from some quarters that the relationship between the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera), Fletcher and "by implication me [Brownlee]" is just a little too cosy.

It seems strange the issue should arise now. Fletcher has just been awarded the contract for the east-north frame residential development but the deal is hardly the first major work Fletcher has successfully netted in Christchurch.

READ MORE: Fletcher wins $800 million housing project

The potential conflicts or perceptions of conflicts presented by Fletcher sponsoring Brownlee's parties have been around for several years without a murmur from anyone, including the media.

This is not to suggest anything untoward in the relationship between Cera, Fletcher and Brownlee.

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It would be naive to think the wheels of commerce go ungreased by the odd party, dinner, or social event paid for by some concern likely to benefit from decisions made by invitees to the forum.

We cannot pretend much business is not about who you know, who you trust and who can do the job. Networks still rule the world.

Fletcher is in many ways the obvious partner for Cera in the rebuild. It has the capacities, skills and track record to get things done.

Other businesses that miss out on contracts will feel aggrieved but a government cannot take risks with unknown quantities, even if their pencils are sharper.

But that is is not really the point. 

We cannot have a Royal Commission of Inquiry to examine every tender round.

What we can expect, however, is that a government minister will be smart enough to see how a relationship will look from the outside.

Fletcher may have thought it was just spreading some good cheer around the hard-working movers and shakers of Christchurch by sponsoring Brownlee's parties.

But Brownlee should have known better. Perception is reality, as his boss, John Key, says.

It is simply not a good look to have the party garnering the major slice of rebuild business funding entertainment for the minister that has the most influence over the very decisions that deliver the business in the first place.

Brownlee should hardly be surprised at the turn of events and should not act hurt and indignant just because he has been called out.

He should not be the only person who should feel ashamed but he is a good start.

 - Stuff

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