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.’