Bursting the bauble

Written By: - Date published: 9:50 am, February 20th, 2008 - 39 comments
Categories: news - Tags:

While the David Farrars and Fran O’Sullivans of this world have been trying to create a storm over Owen Glenn’s recent comments, real journalists have seen it for the non-story it is. Owen Glenn gave some money to Labour, he did so openly, unlike National’s secret backers who gave them $2 million in 2005 alone. Since then Glenn, who has a reputation for a cheeky sense of fun and big-noting, has made some comments he thought were innocent, unaware that others were waiting to seize on any angle to attack the government.

There is nothing to suggest he got any kind of reward from Labour for his generosity. His Order of New Zealand gong, that he received at New Year, was for services to business thanks to his gift of $7.5 million to a new business school, believed to be the largest charitable donation in New Zealand history. His friend Howard Morrison nominated him for the honour 3 times before the Honours Office decided to forward it for cabinet approval.

As for the prospect of Glenn becoming New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Monaco, I thought I should ask a diplomat contact of mine what an honorary consul does. When I emailed her that TV1 has called the role a ‘top job’, she lol’d.

‘Honorary consul to anywhere is hardly a top job, let alone Monaco.Look, New Zealand has about 500 diplomats and just over 40 diplomatic posts, we can’t be everywhere at once. So, we have honorary consuls in countries that are interesting but not important enough to warrant a mission. These guys wave the flag at a few events, do some low level organising of official visits, and, very occasionally, supply us with some useful info we couldn’t get from the media or other sources but the bulk of what they do is aid ‘New Zealanders in distress’: people who have been arrested, had their passports stolen or lost them, fallen ill, had an accident, or died.
They’re not real diplomats; they are basically ignored by the host country and the in-country diplomatic community, and we only call on them when we need them. The money’s shit, a small honorarium and reimbursement of costs, and the kudos isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A billionaire like Glenn doesn’t need the money, and being a transport magnate would open more doors in Monaco than being a non-diplomat form some country that everyone thinks is part of Australia anyway.’

How does one become an honorary consul, I asked?

‘Usually, when the current HC retires (usually dies of old age, actually) or we decide to take more interest in a region, such as we have in Eastern Europe over the last decade, an a prominent ex-pat puts up their hand. That’ll usually happen during an official visit by an Mfat official or VIP to the country. They’re not usually someone of Glenn’s stature, more likely a moderately successful business person for whom the title of Honorary Consul would actually be a step up the social pecking order.
So, Mfat, if it hasn’t done so already, looks into the case for having an honorary consul: are there trade interests or enough New Zealanders getting into trouble to justify the moderate expense and hassle of retaining an HC’s services. Then, the candidate is vetted: are they capable? Do they know the country and have contacts? Do they have a dodgy past? Do they present the right image for NZ? Are they committed and trustworthy? Are they in-country often enough that they’ll be there if we ever really need them? I hear that last one might count against Glenn, he’s a bit of a jet-setter by all accounts.
Frankly, I don’t see why he wants the job: a little thankless work, invites to parties he would already get to go to, kudos only in the eyes of those who don’t really know what an HC is, and some token cash. Still, you never know, he might get the Prince hooked on New Zealand lamb, that might make it worthwhile.’

39 comments on “Bursting the bauble”

  1. Policy Parrot 1

    Both DPF and Fran are simply outraged that someone that a wealthy expatriate would donate to Labour rather than National. They both claim using Cullen’s quote “rich prick” that currently New Zealand is hostile to such entrepreneurism.

    Yet Owen Glenn has exposed them for the as speakers for the charlitans that they are, no wonder why they are so angry.

  2. Ray 2

    Well I just feel it is a bad, bad look for New Zealand and the Labour party
    And if we have 500 diplomats and just over 40 diplomatic posts what the ***** do they do apart from re-arrange thir stamp collections

  3. Steve Pierson 3

    Ray. they manage our trade and interitonal relationships.

    For instance, it’s them hammering out the free trade deal with China, that’s about a dozen people right there. The UN alone takes another couple of dozen diplomats. Then you’ve relationships with Australia, China, Japan, the UK, the EU. These all need staff both in Wellington and in the other capitals to manage the relationships.

    Without these people we would not get trade deals, would not not have a voice in intenrational relations, and we would quickly be forgotten.

    captcha: “divorced Smith”, hard luck Smith, probably for the best.

  4. Bea Tupp 4

    It is OUTRAGEOUS that a National MP is in the pay of a FOREIGN POWER (our breathless correspondent writes). Today we can EXCLUSIVELY reveal that Richard Worth holds this PLUM JOB representing the SUN-KISSED home of the RICH and FAMOUS (insert sexy Monaco footage here), while helping himself to TAXPAYERS’ MONEY as an MP. Mr Worth must FRONT UP to the people of New Zealand and …

    (note to sub-editor: you do the rest, I’m off to watch the cricket. Cheers)

  5. milo 5

    I agree with you that the Honour and the Honorary Consul, although they are embarassing for Labour, are probably okay.

    The $100,000 loan is a different matter though, especially as the Labour party president appears to have misled the public about it. Having pushed through the EFA in the manner they did, Labour are very exposed to anything that is a bit whiffy in this direction. And the loan is very whiffy.

  6. mike 6

    Steve, this is not a good look for Labour no matter how you dress it up. The old saying ‘if you have to explain you have lost’ is very apt with this story.
    Its the 60 second sound bite that joe public have time to digest and National have done beautiful job getting media time with this.
    Another negative distraction at the wrong time for this tired looking Govt.

  7. outofbed 7

    sorry to troll but’
    So when is Mr Key going to tell how much he contributed to buy the leadership of the National party?
    http://kiwiblogblog.wordpress.com/2008/02/19/mr-keydisclose/

  8. Steve Pierson 8

    mike. I’m more interested in substance than politicking. That’s what this site is for, to provide substantive analysis.

    You may be right that the damage is done in simple media terms but that doens’t alter the fundemental rights and wrongs of the issue.

    Milo. the interst on the loan was a few hundred dolalras as far as I’m aware, and it will be in Labour’s doantions report for 2006. Do you think National will reveal who put all thsoe million sin those secret trusts in their report?

  9. What? Key bought the leadership of teh National party??? I demand an inquiry!

  10. AncientGeek 10

    The $100,000 loan is a different matter though, especially as the Labour party president appears to have misled the public about it.

    milo: get a sense of perspective. Mike Williams was asked about donations. He wasn’t asked about loans.

    Graeme finally convinced me that the interest on the loan was a donation under the Electoral Act 1993. But I’d take a bet that Mike didn’t think of it as a technical donation. Thats really a issue for the accountants when they do the return.

    There is no standard rate that I’m aware of for that interest to be calculated. But probably the equivalent of something like a low interest loan to overdraft. We don’t know the length of time – but say 8% for 10 months. How much technical donation are we talking about. Peanuts.

    Frankly the right are making themselves look like idiots. Certainly Key sounded like one on morning report.

  11. r0b 11

    And the loan is very whiffy.

    If this loan is “whiffy” then the millions “anonymously” laundered through National’s trusts stinks like a skunk fight.

    National have done beautiful job getting media time with this.

    Yes, National are good at creating the impression of scandal where none exists. What an excellent basis for aspiring to the job of governing this country.

    tired looking Govt

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/4405821a1861.html

  12. the sprout 12

    “So when is Mr Key going to tell how much he contributed to buy the leadership of the National party?”

    http://kiwiblogblog.wordpress.com/2008/02/19/mr-keydisclose/

  13. AncientGeek 13

    If this loan is “whiffy’ then the millions “anonymously’ laundered through National’s trusts stinks like a skunk fight.

    More like a garbage dump. There were some numbers yesterday. Apples and oranges, but I’d like to know more on a year by year basis. By gobsmacked and TDS.

    For example, here are some donations listed in 1999:

    NZ National Party Anonymous n/a 25,000.00
    NZ National Party Anonymous n/a 120,000.00
    NZ National Party Anonymous n/a 25,000.00
    NZ National Party Anonymous n/a 200,000.00

    And so on. Many more, through the years.

    …donations to Labour in 2005

    New Zealand Labour Party Anonymous $25,000.00
    New Zealand Labour Party Anonymous $50,000.00
    New Zealand Labour Party Anonymous $40,000.00
    New Zealand Labour Party Anonymous $40,000.00
    New Zealand Labour Party Anonymous $20,000.00
    New Zealand Labour Party Anonymous $50,000.00
    New Zealand Labour Party Anonymous $20,000.00

    Has anyone got a link covering all of the years for all parties.

  14. Matthew Pilott 14

    Hey AG – can’t source it but I read that the interest was calculated at $7,000 (hence not being decleared because it was under teh ten kay threshold for anonymous donations.

    Also, AG, when you’re looking at donations, don’t forget that the millions from the Waitemata Trust and Ruahine Trust, as well as all the Bell Gully-type payments from solicitors (also trust accounts) are effectively anonymous as well.

    Try http://www.elections.org.nz/parties/donations_summary.html
    for the goods 🙂

    regarding Glenn: At the end of the day, Glenn is a successful businessman, and considers himself a New Zealander, or at least feels he has strong links with this country.

    All National and the media have done is convince him that the country is a small, petty and mean nation – I think it’s a fucking embarrassment and nothing more.

    Christ, you make a joke about being offered a ministership and the desperate whores at The Herald leech onto it like the only guy wearing a Rolex at a brothel.

    He must think we’re a joke.

  15. insider 15

    For Williams to say the interest free loan was not a donation is not credible in the context of the debate and discussion around the 05 election expense rules and the EFA. All of which Williams would have been intimately involved in and given that, as president, he was responsible for fundraising issues.

    This is about his honesty, and perceptions of two facedness from Labour on the issue of transparency of donations at a critical time when those issues were clearly under the spotlight.

    Glenn has done nothing wrong and deserves no criticism.

  16. the sprout 16

    interesting insider, but might i suggest the following edit to increase your readability….

    Insider: “blah loan blah not a donation blah blah EFA. blah Williams blah intimately involved blah responsible blah.

    blah honesty, blah perceptions blah two facedness Labour blah transparency blah donations blah critical blah spotlight.”

  17. insider 17

    And perhaps sprout you can stick to “John Key evil” then we’ll both be happy and save a lot of bandwidth. Good that you want to engage so constructively.

  18. Matthew Pilott 18

    Insider:

    Mr Williams said Mr Glenn’s loan was made under the provisions of the 1993 Electoral Act and that the forgone interest did not count as interest and did not have to be declared to the Electoral Commission – though it would be.

    So you’re saying it’s a huge scandal because Williams might have misunderstood the status of $7,000 or thereabouts, when it’s not that clear to anyone whether the interest-free part of a loan counts as a donation, or did based on the old EFA.

    As you said it, it’s about “perceptions…” I happen to agree with that – the guts of the story is rubbish, it’s just become a pointless beat-up and an embarrassment that politicians such as Bill English will stoop to such a level.

  19. Matthew Pilott 19

    Sorry – above quote was from The Herald (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10493449), not from Insider as it may have appeared.

  20. insider 20

    Rob

    I don’t think there is an argument as to whether it should be declared. The question was whether he told the truth when asked the direct question and whether his rationale about that answer was believeable. I think it is no to both.

  21. insider 21

    that should have been to Matthew not ROb.

  22. Mikey 22

    Graham Greene’s “The Honourary Consul” is all you need to read to figure out exactly what sort of a plum job the position isn’t. The Honourary Consul in that book is a complete political nobody who gets absolutely no status from his job. The joke of the book is that he gets kidnapped by terrorists (who were actually going for the US Ambassador) and who think he must be someone important simply because of his job title. Sadly, because his role essentially has no status, no-one in authority really cares enough to rescue the poor guy.

  23. Matthew Pilott 24

    Insider, I think that when you consider the interest component of a short term interest free loan, in comparison to $500k in the bank, it’s not enough to justify cries of “This is about his honesty, and perceptions of two facedness from Labour on the issue of transparency of donations at a critical time when those issues were clearly under the spotlight.

    They’re even declaring it, just in case, but God knows how you figure it out – do you look on the international market for the lowest possible interest rate, or use the RBNZ cash rate, or perhaps Williams could walk down to his friendly local Kiwibank and ask him what he would be charged on such a loan.

    And as always it somes down to what you want to believe – you’re saying that with the spotlight on electoral funding and anonymous financing, you actually believe that the Labour Party President would consciously choose to lie about a loan that was, in effect, a $7,000 donation.

    You actually think that?

  24. Adolf Fiinkensein 25

    Man the lifeboats, chaps. Your ship just got torpedoed by Audrey Young. The water is icy cold and there’s a force nine gale blowing. Good luck

  25. insider 26

    Matthew

    I think the law is clear that you use a commercial rate. Could be mortgage rate, could be the finance rate for business loans (whihc is usually higher and given the status of labour;s finances….) Not hard to work out, partiuclarly if Labour has got commercial loans before.

    Given Mike Williams’ behaviour in the past, I don;t think it is too hard a stretch to think he might have lied.

  26. Steve Pierson 27

    Adolf. How much do you wnat your wage cut to be under National?

  27. James Kearney 28

    Audrey Young’s blog post was a joke. If she’d inserted one single fact in there maybe she’d have some journalistic credibility but her piece read like a facsimile of a National party smear sheet. What passses for journalism these days aye?

  28. Matthew Pilott 29

    Audrey Young was enough of a tosser to demand answers from Glenn. With all due respect, who the fuck is she to demand that Glenn give her answers? (this was actally about NZF, not Labour btw) If Glenn wants to make a private donation then he’s entitled to.

    Insider – I don’t believe the 1993 EFA was as clear as the 2007 iteration – nice that the new law is making things more clear. Seems the right just loves it, right about now 🙂

    So you think it’s likely that Williams deliberately lied, as opposed to not considering that it wasn’t a donation under 1993 electoral law? I guess that’s what you’re saying, but it seems…unlikely, to say the least. Still, a bet-up’s a beat-up, as you do…

  29. insider 30

    Matthew

    the 1993 law was in my view clear as Graeme Edgeler has demonstrated, and backed up by recent case law – Peters v Clarkson.

    I would have thought that if anyone should have been clear what the rules are it is the person primarily responsible for the party’s finances (if he was doing his job properly). I have a similar view of the NAts ‘forgetting’ to pay GST.

    I think Mike Williams has a history of saying what is convenient at the time and worrying about the clean up later.

  30. gobsmacked 31

    From Audrey Young’s blog:

    “It is hard to get through to Glenn to ask him directly … his personal assistant has been engaged every time I have rung.”

    And yet John Key is right there in the building with you.

    “It is important to get fuller disclosure on this, not least to ensure that mud does not stick where it is not warranted.”

    It is important to get full disclosure on John Key’s donations to the National Party, not least to ensure that mud does not stick where it is not warranted.

    “If Glenn is not the NZ First donor it should be simple enough to say so.”

    If Key has made no anonymous donations to National it should be simple enough to say so.

  31. Matthew Pilott 32

    Gobsmacked – this is the line that raised my ire:

    It raises more questions at present than it answers and it is time Glenn gave answers.

    I’ll calm down when she demands that Bell Gully, McVeigh and everyone else “gave answers” as to who all the Nats backers were. She’s a disgrace.

    Insider – if you’re right then Williams has put his foot in it a wee bit. If not, then it’s equally inconsequential. Either way, given that Labour is declearing it, there’s very little substance, and seems to show how desperate National is to divert the house from discussing policy.

  32. insider 33

    MAtthew

    I never said this was of any great consequence. 🙂

  33. Matthew Pilott 34

    Duly noted!

  34. Dan 35

    Just watched Owen Glenn with Campbell Live. What a great fellow. Charismatic, hardworking, built himself up from nothing, articulate but low-key, a multi-millionaire businessman, … you would think a best mate of Key. No wonder the Nats are so keen to put him down… a doer who very succinctly and without drama says that Labour is doing a great job, and how much he dislikes the school-ground pettiness of much of NZ politics. Could someone please load the interview for anyone who missed it.

  35. outofbed 36

    Yes I would love to see it

  36. gobsmacked 37

    It should be on the TV3 website soon.

    Dan is quite right. Glenn was totally at ease, no PR parroting, just saying what he thought. He was happy to relay that KORRUPT conversation he had with KLARK about being in KABINET, which turns out to be … absolutely nothing.

    Meanwhile, at least one journalist has worked out there are questions National is hiding from: here’s Colin Espiner’s blog:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/blogs/politics/2008/02/22/time-to-tell-us-about-your-donors-national

    Next week: Nats’ big donors front up to be interviewed on Campbell Live. Or … not.

  37. outofbed 38

    Seems a strange strategy for National
    Have ago at a billionaire Labour supporter in an election year
    seems a bit short sighted.
    You can bet Owen and Helen didn’t talk about the weather

    And now the focus can legitimately go on Nationals dodgy dealings

    Personaly I wish the media would focus on the difference between all the parties policies or lack of them
    Isn’t that what they are there for?

  38. Gone By 2009 39

    Dodgy dealings? [deleted].

    [lprent: goodbye dave]

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