Judith Collins’ utter contempt for Parliament and willingness to use its resources to her own and her family’s advantage cannot reasonably be denied. The most brazen example comes from her actions on behalf of Oravida and the extended duck’n’weave aftermath played out in Parliament. The irony in that situation is that Judith Collins, the New Zealand Minister of Justice, was ostensibly visiting China to lecture the locals about corruption. Oh, how she and her BFF Cameron Slater must have giggled about that. Overt, major one-off capers like the Oravida Affair are rare. More common are the mundane, day-to-day actions that Judith Collins carries out in her role. The Minister of Justice is responsible for appointing all sorts of people to all sorts of roles and, on April 26, 2013, Judith Collins appointed Aaron Bhatnagar to the the Real Estate Agents Authority (REAA).
Last night, TV3, breathlessly claiming an “exclusive”, covered the appointment, detailed the connection between Cameron Slater and Aaron Bhatnagar, and managed to snag an interview with Collins as she passed through an airport terminal. Collins wasn’t pleased – talk about the face of a bulldog chewing a wasp – and when Bhatnager’s name was mentioned, her response was “I barely know the guy”.
Last night’s TV3 story was hardly an exclusive. News of the appointment of Bhatnagar, although typically released on a Friday, was relatively well covered at the time, including this rather “raised eyebrows” report from Radio New Zealand’s Felix Marwick. Also noticing the appointment was Labour’s Trevor Mallard. He fired off ten “Questions For Written Answer” to Judith Collins. The questions concerned matters such as: whether or not the position on the REAA had been advertised, whether a short list had been drawn up, what specific qualities such as professional integrity, independence, actual knowledge and experience, technology and innovation skills, political awareness, analytical ability, communication and decision-making skills. Collins’ contempt for the process was apparent in that of the ten questions she answered eight of them with the single line statement:
I believe Mr Bhatnagar is ideally suited to this role on all levels.
Her answers to the other two questions stated that she had not discussed the appointment of Bhatnager with any of her colleagues and that Bhatnager had not completed an “expression of interest” for a role with the Authority.
So, having said yesterday that she “barely knows the guy”, Collins, last year was able to categorically state in answer to Parliamentary Questions that Aaron Bhatnagar has the necessary skills, integrity, political awareness and all the rest of the qualifications needed.
Hmmm . . .
Aaron Bhatnagar is one of the crew of Auckland city’s National Party wannabe back-room players. In “Dirty Politics”, Nicky Hager revealed that Bhatnagar was the one sniffing sockets at the Labour Party website and discovered the insecure data later downloaded by Slater, Eade and the, so far, unnamed National Party IT whizz. Bhatnagar was no stanger to the workings of Slater’s Whaleoil Blog. He was a long-term member of the commentariat and posted as the site’s “Business Correspondent Winslow Taggart”.
One post he wrote lauded Ryman’s Healthcare, of which he was a shareholder. Bhatnager served one term on the Auckland City Council under Mayor Dick Hubbard and he was known for attending meetings but spending the whole time tapping away on his laptop playing in the internet. He unsuccessfully stood for selection for National in the Epsom electorate and again for Botany. His failure in Botany, among other less important reasons, is that he came up against Jamie Lee Ross who had employed Simon Lusk to game the process. Even though he was as thick as thieves with the Slater crowd, he appears not to have been a part of the inner circle. In conversations celebrating the success of Lusk’s puppet Jamie Lee Ross, Cactus kate said of Bhatnager . . .
. . . Bharry needs to grow the fuck up and realise that fat indians with a BA in Russian are no good in politics . . .
. . . while Cameron Slater wrote of his apparently trusted confidante . . .
. . . what a loser, he couldn’t even win WITH daddy’s money […] rich people don’t lose elections unless they are fucking hopeless or stupid. He lost to a maori which is even funnier . . .
. . . no need for even the slightest sympathy, though. Aaron Bhatnagar is himself very familiar with nasty politics. He was involved with Brian Nicolle’s attack on Dick Hubbard and was publicly caught out defacing Dick Hubbard’s Wikipedia page. Bhatnager also contacted Slater requesting assistance in finding a “paparizzi” in order to “spook a lawyer”.
This, then, is the man Judith Collins, the Minister of Justice, believes to be “ideally suited . . . on all levels” for the $20,000 per annum REAA sinecure.
It is possible that Judith Collins didn’t make the appointment at Cameron Slater’s request. Aaron Bhatnagar has done some hard yards for National. Both Jackie Blue and Simon Collins acknowledged Aaron Bhatnagar in Parliament for his work as part of their electorate teams. Also,
the nomination for the REAA appointment came from convicted criminal John Banks. Banks, of course, would have been grateful to all of the National Party Epsom electorate team for ensuring the survival of ACT for one last term.
Then again, there is an odd endnote here. Once the proverbial had hit the fan after Cameron Slater began drip feeding material looted from the Labour Party website, Aaron Bhatnagar was looking for acknowledgement. In one, almost sad, comment to Slater , Bhatnagar said of his discovery ” . . . wouldn’t mind a wee wink and nod one day in appreciation . . . “. Slater replied “will do”.
(I am grateful to Nicky Hager for his book “Dirty Politics” from which I have taken much of the material concerning Aaron Bhatnagar for this post.)