The Herald has asked Gerry Brownlee about his misleading Cabinet to argue for an inflated rate of pay for National Party crony Jenny Shipley and other members of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Review Panel. His excuse?
Mr Brownlee said he did not consider asking if they would do the job for the lower fee.“I didn’t think it was appropriate to go to eminently qualified people and say, ‘Look, will you do this extremely important job on the cheap?’.”
He admitted the wording in the documents could have been better by saying that a higher fee was justified, given the specialised work.
Firstly, I don’t think many ordinary New Zealanders would think that a mere $270 – $415 a day was “on the cheap”. But secondly, that’s a grossly misleading way of putting it. Brownlee wouldn’t have been asking these people for a discount; instead he would have been asking them to work for the standard rate, as set out in the government fee framework. That rate already recognises the importance of the job, the level of public exposure, and the need for specialist knowledge – all the factors Brownlee is appealing to. And as it notes, you need a “compelling case” to justify departing from it. Brownlee didn’t make that case. In fact, he didn’t even try. Instead, he just asserted that his nominees wouldn’t work unless paid extraordinary amounts of money, and relied on his Cabinet colleagues to take him at his word. That would be dubious enough in ordinary circumstances, but where one of the people involved is a party crony, it looks like outright corruption.
The bit that got me was Brownlee’s excuse that “Exceptional times require exceptional measures. This is the largest natural disaster New Zealand has ever faced.”
I mean when the government is crying poverty as its reason not to pay people replacement cost of red-zone houses and won’t give victims’ families legal help at the Royal Commission, surely the ‘exceptional measure’ would be paying them less or not at all, which the chair of the Panel said he would have been happy with.