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Conflicted decisions

Written By: - Date published: 5:28 pm, February 2nd, 2013 - 48 comments
Categories: accountability, national - Tags:

Another day, another example of some unseemly looking stuff from the Nats. This time it’s Judith Collins choosing Robert Kee – a friend of her husband – for a $200,000 a year taxpayer funded job.

According to Fisher’s article in the Herald:

Mrs Collins appointed Mr Kee mid-2012 after personally nominating him for the post. She then chose Mr Kee for the job out of two final candidates against the advice of officials


When the Weekend Herald asked her office again about her husband’s friendship with Mr Kee, a spokeswoman refused to answer. She said: “I don’t think that’s relevant.”

She said no conflict of interest declaration was filed by the minister because it was believed there was no conflict.

Now I’m no big city laywer (although considering how well they’re paid perhaps I made a mistake not becoming one!), but it seems to me that there should have been some kind of flag raised around this and, at the very least, Collins should have removed herself from the decision. I may be naive but I also find it surprising that there’s a process whereby a Minister can both nominate someone for a position and then be the one that makes the decision on the appointment.

One would have thought that Collins might have had a bit more nous than this – especially as she saw firsthand the trouble Nick Smith got himself over his conflict of interest in ACC.

I also can’t help but wonder if the release of this story isn’t somehow connected to the Collins/Joyce cold war that has been raging for the last two years.


48 comments on “Conflicted decisions”

  1. Ad 1

    No, this is connected to an epic contest between a legal profession that engages with the values of the world (for example Chief Justice Sean Elias), and those who see it as a mere route to reward and sustain law as the tool to enforce privilege of the ruling classes both old and new.

    To make it plain, the evaluating panel knew that the Human Rights Commission needs a Rights Proceedings prosecutor who defends the Good, because it is the right thing to do.

    Collins needed to shore up her base, and chose a Human Rights defender accordingly.

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    That’s a clear conflict of interest. She knows him, she’s a friend of his (yes, generally speaking I don’t go for the line about him being a friend of her husband) and she both nominated him and then appointed him. It’s obvious that the nomination itself was just pro-forma procedure.

    • Foreign Waka 2.1

      100% right. But it seems that the standards have now truly fallen below those of developed nations. How can such appointment be sanctioned by the PM office is unclear.

  3. fatty 3

    The problem with cronyism today is that it is gradually being seen as something natural, and also no longer unethical.
    This is due to individualism. We are all supposed to be responsible for ourselves, so that means we depend on our friends and family, rather than society. As a result, knowing someone is not only better than knowing something…knowing someone is also now perceived as being evidence of success.
    I’d be surprised if the public even care about this.

    • karol 3.1

      The problem with cronyism today is that it is gradually being seen as something natural, and also no longer unethical.

      Actually, I think cronyism was seen as pretty normal for a long while – it was rife in the 19th century and early 20th century. It wasn’t until the 60s or early 70s that it was considered more important to have transparent recruiting processes. However, many still continued to try to manipulate processes to get a favoured person into a position.

      • fatty 3.1.1

        True, it has been with us for a long time, but prior to the 60s I think the main driver (and subtle justification) behind cronyism was the sexism and racism. Old boys club…
        I consider the rise of individualism as being the reason why inequality is accepted, probably the same with cronyism.

  4. sukieDamson 4

    Funny name. Mr Kee!
    Could cause some confusion to those who are only half listening.

  5. Bill 5

    Nah. Sorry, not seeing it. Conflict of interest how? He wanted the job. She wanted him to have the job. He got the job. Everybody’s happy, right? And even better, she and hubby were able to ‘pop round’ to help celebrate the new found success. Which should be held up as blazing beacon example to be followed for the sake of developing a healthy environment of co-operation and partnership between employers and employees, no?

    I think the whole thing is wonderful and conducive to building a fluffy and fuzzy future we should all want to be a part of.

  6. Nick K 6

    Would someone please explain what the conflict is.

    • chris73 6.1

      The conflict is Labours polls are flat lining and they’re making no headway on National so they’re trying anything to discredit National in hopes it will raise Labours popularity

      • The Al1en 6.1.1

        Despite the obvious diversion attempt, some here would argue that not enough discrediting is going on, hence Labour flat lining and national scummers getting away with all sorts of dodgy shit like this.

        Diversionary fail.

        • Nick K

          What’s dodgy about this? Every government minister has appointed a friend to a position. And yes, that includes Labour ministers. I presume all of those were dodgy also.

          • handle

            What is dodgy is the Minister evading the question when asked. That might be all, but it’s not the sort of behaviour that encourages trust.

          • mickysavage

            But Nick this is no normal Board position appointment.

            The position, Director of Human Rights Proceedings, has a vital constitutional role and the position holder has to be brave enough to take action that will be challenging of the Government.

            Appointing your husband’s mate over the advice of the public service has a real stench about it. The decision is as dodgy as hell.

            • just saying

              Theoretically, one of the jobs of the Human Rights Commision is to challenge governments when they contravene, or are about to contravene, the human rights of citizens.

              With our current legislation and commission though, it probably wouldn’t make a lot of difference if they replaced it all with a panel made up of Paula Bennett, Pol Pot, John Ansell, Cameron Slater, and the director of the FBI….

    • Ad 6.2

      The question to answer is whether the extent of the prior relationship, as outlined in the NZHerald this morning, should have been included on the Minister’s disclosure form before making the appointment decision. There you go.

      • Nick K 6.2.1

        How is that a conflict? The post is alluding to a “conflicted decision”? How is Minister Collins conflicted here.

        • Ad

          That will be determined by the subsequent inquiry. Which will come, either in parliament or in the media.

    • handle 6.3

      There may be a perceived conflict of interest in appointing someone to a public position without disclosing a relationship with them. Standard corporate ethics and state sector guidelines address that.

      • Nick K 6.3.1

        That’s not a conflict. Do any of you understand what a conflict is?

        • The Al1en

          Do you understand what dodgy shit is?

        • handle

          Seems I’m not the one struggling to grasp conflicts of interest and ethics. Perhaps do some study Nick.

          • Nick K

            I did. I studied very hard. And I know what a conflict is. Perhaps you’d like to explain what the conflict of interest is here, because I’ve re-read this a few times and I can’t see one.

            • handle

              I suppose we should not be surprised an Act party functionary is light on this topic. Try the Auditor General’s guidelines: http://www.oag.govt.nz/2007/conflicts-public-entities

              • Nick K

                Who’s the Act functionary? Ain’t me.

                And those rules of the AG arise when there *are* conflicts of interest. What was Minister Collins interest in the Human Rights Office that meant she was conflicted regarding the appointment of Mr Kee?

                Why is it so hard for all you bright sparks here to explain that?

                • handle

                  It is a fundamental that a _potential_ conflict is enough. From the first paragraph on the page I suggested: “The existence of a conflict of interest does not necessarily mean that someone has done something wrong, and it need not cause problems. It just needs to be identified and managed carefully.”

                  Hard to do that where someone denies one exists. There is probably no actual conflict in this case, but that is what the standard process is designed to establish and manage. From that same brief page:

                  “When making decisions about conflicts of interest, public entities need to be guided by the concepts of integrity, honesty, transparency, openness, independence, good faith, and service to the public. They also need to consider the risk of how an outside observer may reasonably perceive the situation.”

                  Go and read the material before you make a bigger fool of yourself.

                • Tiresias

                  From the New Zealand Cabinet Manual 2008:

                  “Interests of family, whānau, and close associates

                  2.62 A conflict may arise if people close to a Minister, such as a Minister’s family, whānau, or close associates, might derive, or be perceived as deriving, some personal, financial, or other benefit from a decision or action by the Minister or the government. Ministers must therefore be careful not to use information they access in the course of their official activities in a way that might provide some special benefit to family members, whānau, or close associates. Passing on commercially sensitive information, or encouraging others to trade on the basis of that information, may also breach the insider trading regime. (See paragraphs 8.10 – 8.12.) Such a breach may result in a significant fine or term of imprisonment.

                  2.63 Similarly, it may not be appropriate for Ministers to participate in decision making on matters affecting family members, whānau, or close associates; for example, by:

                  attempting to intercede on their behalf on some official matter;
                  proposing family members for appointments;
                  participating in decisions that will affect the financial position of a family member.

                  2.64 Public perception is a very important factor. If a conflict arises in relation to the interests of family, whānau, or close associates, Ministers should take appropriate action. (See paragraph 2.70.)”


                  Of course the question begged is what constitutes ‘close associate’, but it seems to me that section 2.64 might be relevant here. It ain’t what the words say that matters but what it looks like to ordinary folk.

                • McFlock

                  And those rules of the AG arise when there *are* conflicts of interest. What was Minister Collins interest in the Human Rights Office that meant she was conflicted regarding the appointment of Mr Kee?

                  So your defense of Collins is not that there was no relationship with Kee, but that she has no interest in human rights? Tend to agree, there.

                  But of course the interest in HRO was that her role as minister required her to choose the best person to fill the position, to best serve HRO. She overruled advice on whom the best person is in order to give the job to a personal associate.

                  That, at the very least, is an apparent conflict of interest.

    • NickS 6.4


      Clueless thou art, especially given the rather obvious conflict of interest that exists and has been explained to you, and worse yet brought to light by the Herald, a paper hardly renowned as pro-Labour.

  7. Nick K 7

    Oh. Labour’s internal conflicts. Of course. Thanx.

  8. fenderviper 8

    Even if Dr. Martin Luther King was the other candidate for the job Collins would have still chosen her friend because this is the National Party norm, complete with the usual “against official advice”.

  9. irascible 9

    Key appointed his electorate secretary, Stephen McElrea, to NZOA board, didn’t he without a “conflict of interest”.
    The new Families Commissioner apparently used to work for Paula Bennet and then for Hekia Parrota and is the sister of Amy Adams also appointed without a “conflict of interest”.
    Yeap. Key and his cronies can certainly read the Cabinet Manual with complete integrity.

  10. North 10

    Ah ha !

    Mr Kee is no longer affected by the disastrous changes made to legal aid by Collins’ predecessor Simon Power – changes supported, maintained, and advanced by Collins as incumbent Minister of “Justice”.

    Disastrous changes ? Ask any District Court judge north of Auckland.

    Not compelling enough ? Not authoritative enough ?

    Google “Justice Tipping Retirement” for the Stuff account of Justice Tipping’s valedictory speech in the Supreme Court in August 2012.

    The Stuff article: “The country’s longest-serving senior judge has hit out at changes to legal aid, saying they have delivered a system that seriously risks compromising justice.

    Retiring after 26 years as a judge, Justice Andrew Tipping told a packed Supreme Court – including Attorney General Chris Finlayson – that the solution for genuine problems in the legal aid system had ‘resembled the use of a sledgehammer to crack a nut’.

    ‘The scope of legal aid and the rates of remuneration are now, according to information I have received, at a level that seriously risks compromising the delivery of justice, at least in some fields’ “.

    In the same Stuff article is quoted then Law Society president Jonathan Temm as saying that an extensive audit of 3100 legal aid lawyers resulted in disciplinary proceedings against 20. “You have torn the whole system to pieces for this”.

    Hang on – legal aid’s all about the burdensome poor isn’t it ? – oh well…….never mind then.

  11. barry 11

    Ad @5.57pm – where did you get this crazy idea?….”No, this is connected to an epic contest between a legal profession that engages with the values of the world (for example Chief Justice Sean Elias)”

    Sean Elias is an activist judge who thinks its her duty to convert the country to her way of thinking. Shes swallowed the activist view of the treaty – ie: its living and has to encompass something new all the time – and Ill bet when the verdict re the water claim comes out – she will be ruling for the Maori view of things. In other words she thinks maori own the water – yes even the water that falls on your back yard – so get your wallet out and get ready to start paying……

    • Colonial Viper 11.1

      We’re already paying mate. And when disloyal, disinterested foreigners who have never been to NZ buy up our heritage, we’ll be paying out to them.

      Answer me this smartass: why do you think those foreign investors should PROFIT from OUR WATER?

    • bad12 11.2

      That’s a f**king idiots point of view and it also slanders the Cjhief Justice of the Supreme Court and by insinuation the Maori currently at that Court seeking a ruling that they have prior rights to the waters that flow through the Waikato river,

      Please provide us a shred of evidence that (a)that Justice Elias considers that the case She is presiding over has anything to do with the water that falls from the Sky onto peoples backyards, or that the Maori at the center of the current case befor the Supreme Court are claiming any such thing,

      You don’t even know what the substantive hearing is claiming, Maori are simply claiming that they have prior claim to the waters of the Waikato river, something the National Government does not dispute,

      Maori are claiming that until the issue of the customary claim over having existing rights to the use of the Waikato river have been fully defined and agreed upon the Government selling the Mighty River Power Company will seriously disadvantage those Maori in any future negotiation over exactly what those existing rights that the National Government agrees they have entail…

    • Fortran 11.3


  12. barry 12

    Colonial Viper – brain in gear before opening mouth please.

    I totally disagree with selling any of the family silver – but thats a different issue to the question of ethnic ownership of anything that falls from the sky.

    The profits that went – and still goes – overseas from the sale of Telecom could have paid for all the student loans – but no , stupid politicians decided to sell the outfit. Nothing to do with ethnic ownership involved in Telecom. They are different issues.

    • Colonial Viper 12.1

      So you are against the selling off of key infrastructure assets to foreign investors?

      Good to hear.

      Now I don’t give a fuck if Chief Justice Elias finds her rationale in the Magna Carta to stop energy asset sales, as long as that is what happens.

      but thats a different issue to the question of ethnic ownership of anything that falls from the sky.

      That water is a treasure of this country, belonging to this country. The Treaty recognises that. You should too.

      • framu 12.1.1

        also maori arent trying to claim the water that falls form the sky – they are claiming a customary right of the use of the water that flows through tribal areas.

        a small difference maybe to barry – but a huge difference in legal terms. And one that people (barry) really need to wrap their heads around

        also barry – it helps if you use the reply button – see? like i just did

  13. Huginn 13

    This labelling of Chief Justice Sean Elias as ‘an activist judge’, mixing up ”judicial activism’ with ‘Maori activism’; it’s ugly, but revealing.

    This government really struggled with an independent judiciary last year. Now they want to shop around to get a judge who will tell them what they want to hear.

    And if they have to undermine public confidence in the judiciary by smearing the Chief Justice to get what they want . . .

    Now that’s a real conflict of interest.

  14. One Tāne Huna 14

    I think the main problem here is for Kee. How corrupt do you have to be to have Judith Collins as a personal friend?

  15. Murray Olsen 15

    We’re becoming like a cheap third world kumara republic, when judges who find against the government are slandered as “activist judges”, a term imported from the American right. We’re becoming even more like one when politicians put their friends into powerful oversight positions, especially when this is done against official advice. It’s the sort of thing I saw in Brazil, but with one major and worrying difference. No Brazilians tried to seriously defend any of it as ethical.

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