We lose in Nick Smith's resignation

22:46, Mar 29 2012

We really are a horrible bunch of so and sos.

I am not sure who has benefited from Nick Smith's resignation.

Someone might be sitting smugly on the sideline with an idea that it serves him right for some reason or other, but honestly, it has the feel of good talent tossed out.

I understand there is some question about the integrity of his action when he was ACC minister and that the highest levels of accountability must be applied to politicians and senior public servants, but did Nick do anything that terrible? He did not take any money or break the law.

It has been stated he broke the rules of the Cabinet handbook but it is still within the realms of the PM's discretion as to where to from here.

The reality is that ministerial casualties have become a feature of modern New Zealand politics. If enough heat can be generated around an individual then the leadership response is to "accept the resignation".


Prime Minister John Key moved from, "I think we can work through this," to farewelling Nick Smith from Cabinet in a matter of 24 hours. The last thing he needs is to lose a good minister.

I don't need to remind you but the list of ministers' names that have fallen by the wayside over the past 10 years is pretty prolific: Lianne Dalziel, Ruth Dyson, Dover Samuels, Richard Worth and Pansy Wong, not to mention other high flying candidate casualties such as Shane Jones and Darren Hughes.

Are we better off for taking these guys out of high level politics? I would argue we are actually much worse off. Opposition politics and the sanctimonious position of the fourth estate which has led to this supposed culture of accountability can certainly churn up a fury but it is not clear that it makes a better, stronger nation.

I have had the privilege or meeting and interacting with several MPs and ministers over the years and I have a genuine respect for most of them. Sometimes they do things that annoy me, that are clearly stupid political moves or are driven from ideological places that I cannot agree with, but that goes with the territory.

I can move past that and respect the person.

Once you are a minister you really are at the hefty end of responsibilities and accountability. It requires smart, hard-working people who are committed to getting the job done if you want to tackle a ministerial portfolio.

I am sure there are exceptions to the rule but it is unlikely an unintelligent, lazy or incompetent minister would survive long in the role. I have no doubt that a statement like this will be met with all manner of incredulous guffaws and that everyone can recite an example of some buffoon masquerading as a minister and the absurd mistakes they may have made, but I genuinely believe the reality is quite different.

This is not a commentary about whether I agree with any ministers or a government's political philosophy. It is about the kind of people who rise to these senior positions and the level of relentless and unforgiving scrutiny they are subjected to - but to what useful purpose?

Like so many others I am guilty of making all sorts of comments about personality, appearance, characteristics and politics that are often quite unfair. In the world of politics and media such things are seen as an easy target and fair game. But I believe there is a point where this is no longer OK. Where the collateral damage impacts detrimentally on the overall community benefit, then surely we should develop different rules of engagement.

What other options do we have that may satisfy our perverse need to make someone pay for a mistake but still mean they are available to us for the good work they can do on our behalf? Unfortunately there is an even more perverse need to make someone important pay with a much more vindictive, embarrassing punishment but can we move past thus? Could we reintroduce the stocks?

It is quite shameful and a bit dirty but, so long as the rules are clear, a few hours of tomato throwing might be good for everyone. Financial penalties are always a good option so maybe dock their pay.

If I was given the choice about who, within the Government, should be overseeing and managing the complex debate raging around climate change and the very serious issue of fresh water, I would want Nick Smith to do it. If it wasn't National in power then I have a preferred candidate in mind from a Left leaning coalition.

But I do not want our government scrambling to identify second best because of a mistake over personal discretion. The only losers in this are you and me.

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