I’ll try just sticking to the observable facts of the Heatley affair, rather than relying on any of the Nats’ word on events that took place out of the public eye in the lead up to his resignation.
Phil Heatley is adament he didn’t resign for misusing his ministerial credit card. He says the problem is that he signed off on a claim for beverage and food (a claim that incidentally was against the rules, but that’s by the by) but he didn’t, in fact, buy any food. He claims that he sees that as a resigning offence. Come on, pull the other one. ‘Food and beverages’ is a category that covers booze. The expense falls in that category. No minister is going to resign for describing a trivial expense in a perfectly legitimate, or at worst trivially inaccurate, way.
And Heatley and John Key have conflicting stories about how this ‘issue’ was discovered – Heatley says he found it, Key says a reporter brought it to his office.
There’s clearly something else at play. But I don’t think this was planned by the National hierarchy. Key would not have flown to Christchurch only to suddenly turn around and fly back if he had expected Heatley to resign.
That very strongly suggests that as of last night and early in the morning Key didn’t think Heatley was resigning.
I think we need to look at Heatley’s performance. His press conference was clearly being managed by the hierarchy. Heatley isn’t a good liar and throughout the four minute press conference, until Chris Tremain and Simon Power held him by the shoulder and bundled him out the door, I got the overwhelming impression that Heatley was lying and he knew it. Heatley looked like a condemned man at a show trial, reading the false confession his executioners had prepared for him.
But if Heatley was going to be forced to resign because of some other reason why didn’t he either admit that reason or, given the Nats’ love of secrecy, simply claim he was resigning over his misuse of the ministerial credit card?
I think this is where we get to the heart of the issue. If Heatley has resigned because of what is essentially his theft of taxpayer money for private use with his ministerial credit card, then Brownlee would be on the chopping block for the same behaviour, and Brownlee is like English – too important to lose.
So here’s my theory. Heatley, tender soul that he is, agonised over the ministerial card issue and decided to do what would be expected in similar circumstances in a business and what would have been automatic not so long ago for a minister – he decided to resign.
The problem from National’s perspective with that was that Brownlee would be under serious pressure to resign too. Initially, on Wednesday night, Key tried to talk Heatley out of it and had a three hour crisis meeting with Bill English. Thinking it was under control, Key went to Christchurch.
But then Heatley decided he wanted to resign after all. What National needed was a reason for Heatley to resign that wasn’t the misuse of the credit cards, something that wouldn’t implicate Brownlee. And so we got the farce we saw yesterday. I think the whole thing over the receipt and maybe even getting the Auditor-General to investigate his other expenses is a distraction.
That’s my theory, anyway. Any other ideas?
Labour will have to pursue this to dig out the truth. Because, as with Richard Worth, it’s clear that National has no intention of being open with the public.
On that note, the Right is desperately spinning this as some example of high standards. What a laugh. It’s not a high standard to resign for not doing anything wrong, it’s a farce. If this is the bar then most of the Cabinet should be gone for actual sackable offences:
Of course, the only ones who have gone are Richard Worth for reasons Key won’t tell us and Heatley under an obviously false pretext.
No, we didn’t see a new and bizarre age of ministerial standards yesterday. We saw a cover-up.