Claudette Hauiti

“Thou hast put out their name for ever and ever” – the sequel

So a week ago, the rumours were circulating that Andrew Williams was to be demoted from number 3 on the NZ First list to number 13, to which I wrote a post entitled “Winston Peters & the NZ First list : “Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked, thou hast put out their name for ever and ever“. Essentially, I was wondering what on earth Mr Williams had done to raise such ire from his party leader, the Great Demagogue, that he would be abruptly dumped from second in command to an unwinnable spot. The last part of the Biblical quote (“thou hast put out their name for ever and ever”) may have been a little exaggerated; after all, Mr Williams was still on the party list.

It was, therefore, a little of a surprise to yesterday find that Mr Williams was now no longer on the list at all. Was he pushed or did he jump? The answer seemed to come from Winston Peters:

“The consequences of not understanding the needs of the party and caucus are huge and they cannot be avoided. When you enter an arrangement to keep it confidential so that it has got some integrity about it, you’re expected to stick to it.”

So there you have it. Andrew Williams – by telling media that his low ranking was due to deputy leader Tracey Martin being out to get him – broke ranks, breached party confidentiality, and was expunged from the list. It may have taken an additional week since my initial post, but his name has now been put out for ever and ever. Winston has spoken.

Of course, Mr Williams wasn’t the only one breaking ranks, although Asenati Lole-Taylor left it till after the list had been published to go public with her concerns. She featured on 3News last night, questioning whether her demotion was due to her Pacific Island accent. Methinks it had rather more to do with her endless succession of bad headlines – asking Government ministers about blow jobs during question time, her incessant Twitter feuds which involved her blocking three quarters of the media, her claim that the Reserve Bank was run by overseas bankers etc. But it could have been worse for her. The leaks from NZ First initially had her at number 17 on the list; with Mr Williams’ disappearance, she moves up one place to number 16!

The news wasn’t excellent either for Denis O’Rourke. At number seven on the list, he’s been leap-frogged by two newcomers – Fletcher Tabuteau (head of Waiariki Institute of Technology’s business school) and Clayton Mitchell (a Tauranga city councillor). It’s perhaps an indication to Mr O’Rourke that his negative headlines this year have outweighed his positive headlines, with allegations that he’d hired his partner (resulting in the bizarre statement that he and his tenant were “deliberately not partners”) and claims that he’d fabricated online business testimonials. If NZ First only just scrapes in with 5%, O’Rourke will be out.

It’s good to see a minor party achieving some rejuvenation through its party list, but when Clayton Mitchell immediately makes headlines for declaring that, if elected, he would continue to be paid as a city councillor in addition to his MPs salary, you do have to wonder whether NZ First is on the cusp of electing another Claudette Hauiti.

Lifestyles of the rich & famous – hangin’ with Groser, McCully & Hauiti

The quarterly release of the ministerial and MP expense returns paints an interesting picture of some of our MPs. Most of our ministers, it must be said, seem to have heeded the harsh lesson of Shane Jones. The bright, shining light of transparency means that they now enthusiastically ask the question, “Would I like this expense revealed in the morning paper or the evening news?”

There are though, always a few interesting items every quarter which raise eyebrows throughout the land. This quarter’s prime target seems to be Trade Minister Tim Groser, for indulging in a dish of Chilean sea bass – a slightly impolitic choice, given that the Chilean sea bass (aka the Patagonian or Antarctic toothfish) is endangered, and that New Zealand has been working unsuccessfully for years to establish an Antarctic marine reserve to protect species including the sea bass / toothfish. One can just imagine Mr Groser snapping his fingers and requesting that he brought the most endangered item on the menu…

Foreign Minister Murray McCully though seems the most enjoyable minister to travel with. Wherever he goes, the fine wine flows, in truly prodigious quantities. Just check out his almost 200 pages of receipts here. As Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn notes:

Right there at the beginning (on page 6) we have him billing us to drink Absolut Vodka in his lonely hotel room. And it all goes downhill from there…

Ministers have developed several tricks over the last few years to hide dubious expenditure. Last time, they simply “lost” detailed receipts for expensive dinners, perhaps because they knew what we’d think of what they showed. McCully has a new strategy: charging it all to his room. His hotel bills are full of large charges for Hotel restraunts, far more than normal. And we know he’s not eating in them, because he frequently presents receipts for boozy delegation dinners on exactly the same day. He’s also not dining with his staff, because they’re billing their own meals separately.

In one case (p. 24), he racks up more than US$1,000 of “bar/restaurant” charges in a single night, with no explanation to the taxpayer of what its going on.

In another case (in Trinidad), he spends twice as much on booze as he does on his room, but calls it “accommodation expenses”.

He’s also started dumping his drinking bills on MFAT, as this receipt shows.

The meals that we do see show a large amount of expenditure on alcohol. In Singapore, he has some crab-burgers and $200 of booze, and calls it a delegation “dinner”. At Millbrook Resort in Queenstown he catches a quick “lunch” with his PPS: $71 of food, and $172 of wine.

And remember, we’re paying for this.

Then of course there’s Claudette Hauiti. She’s not a minister, so her Parliamentary credit card records are buried by Parliamentary Services, and Ms Hauiti is steadfastly refusing to waive privilege. Nonetheless, we get to see things like her domestic travel bill – $30,824 between April and June. One can only wonder how a new backbench MP, with no portfolio obligations, could possibly have racked up such a dramatic travel bill. A nation-wide tour visiting those on the Maori roll, perhaps?

The thing is, we as taxpayers are the ones who fund all of this. Groser’s endangered toothfish, the seemingly endless stream of wine and vodka poured down MCully’s throat, Hauiti’s attempt to see the whole of New Zealand from a plane – there go our taxes…

Key and Hauiti – don’t ask, don’t tell

How much money did National’s soon-to-be-former List MP Claudette Hauiti misspend on parliamentary credit card? We don’t know. As a mere backbencher, her credit card information can’t be OIAd, meaning that they only way we’ll ever find out is if she waives privilege.

The two examples of misspending that have been made public have been Ms Hauiti’s Christmas holiday flights to Australia and the purchase of refreshments at a hui. The flights apparently cost about $200, and she can’t recall what the refreshments would have cost. She says she doesn’t know, despite the fact that she has apparently repaid all funds erroneously spent. Surely she simply needs to look at her own repayment records, and she’ll have the answer ready and waiting?

Many people have pondered how return flights to Australia over Christmas could possibly have been purchased for just $200. They would therefore like answers from Hauiti regarding what the flights actually cost. Again, Hauiti can’t remember, preferring to fudge around the issue rather than go fact-checking.

The simple fact is that Ms Hauiti has misused taxpayer funds, and the taxpayer is entitled to know the details. Hauiti has a moral obligation to waive privilege, or at the very least to confirm to taxpayers the total amount she repaid.

Does John Key know? Apparently not. He says he hasn’t asked her how much money is involved:

“That’s actually not a matter for me.That’s a matter for Parliamentary Services and her. She made it quite to me that she was standing down from Parliament and that was on the back of the advice she’d had from the party, which took a pretty dim view to her making a mistake.”

It’s the same tactic Mr Key used in relation to the John Banks electoral fraud prosecution. In that particular situation, Key refused to read Banks’ police file. If he didn’t read the file, he couldn’t possibly discover anything that would suggest Banks had lied to him.

In Ms Hauiti’s case, if Key doesn’t ask her any questions, she can’t give him any answers. And if Key doesn’t have any answers, there’s can bat away all of the media’s questions with a blithe, “I don’t know”. How elegant. And how morally wrong.

UPDATE (24/7/14 @ 1.45pm):

I’ve just noticed this NZ Herald article, in which Ms Hauiti admits using her charge card to buy petrol for her personal car. She also explains that she doesn’t know how she repaid, as the repayments were small amounts made repeatedly over the year.

My point remains unchanged. Is Ms Hauiti’s record keeping so poor that she cannot trace her repayments to Parliamentary Services? And if it is, why can’t she simply approach Parliamentary Services and ask for the total figure? I’m sure they’d be happy to oblige…

The article also clarifies that the $200 relating to flights to Australia was in fact a fee to change a flight, “not for tickets her mother-in-law had paid for to attend a family trip”. So, her mother-in-law buys the tickets, then Ms Hauiti charges the taxpayer when the flights need changing, on the basis that she’ll be meeting or had met “with Maori in Australia who were registered on the Maori roll“.

Claudette Hauiti doesn’t wait for a third strike

National Party list MP Claudette Hauiti has this morning announced her retirement from politics. It’s safe to say that since she came in to Parliament as Aaron Gilmore’s replacement, back in May last year, her career as a backbench MP has been somewhat less than stellar. Her sole headlines have been negative – employing her wife in contravention of Parliament’s rules, and misusing her Parliamentary charge card.

Her recent appearance on Backbenchers was laughably bad, especially in comparison to her fellow guests, the seasoned Phil Goff and the ever-ebulient Gareth Hughes. On the subject of the Greens’ Clean Rivers policy, all she could offer was a repeated mantra that the Greens’ would not be consulting and liaising enough with Maori on the policy; it was a line that ignored the question of whether National believes our river quality is adequate, that ignored the question of why National’s policy would produce better results than the Greens’, that ignored the issues altogether. She was out of her depth, and it showed.

I thought at the time of her Backbenchers appearance that Ms Hauiti was symptomatic of National’s electoral success. It’s hard finding sufficiently high-calibre candidates to fill a list of 40, let alone the 75 that National went with in 2011. When a party gets damn near to 60 MPs, with the addition of a selection of mid-term retirements, people start arriving in Parliament that the party might well wish were not. That certainly seems true of Claudette Hauiti, who went into the 2011 election as number 63 on National’s list.

So why is she bowing out now, less than two months before election day? Presumably, she’s been given advance warning that her list ranking position was going to be dreadful (National is just days away from releasing their list). One can only assume that not only was she was going to be dead last among National’s sitting MPs, but that a fair few new candidates would be leap-frogging her. It’s the party’s way of saying “You’re not wanted”, and she’s evidently bitten the bullet.

It remains to be seen whether National quickly reopen nominations for the new seat of Kelston, where Hauiti has been selected to stand, or whether she continues to run a campaign there, safe in the knowledge that she will lose to Carmel Sepuloni.

UPDATE 22/07/14 @ 1.50pm:

National Party President Peter Goodfellow has confirmed that the party will re-open nominations for Kelston tomorrow, with nominations closing on 30 July.

And Stuff.co.nz further reports that:

It is understood Hauiti reached her decision after Prime Minister John Key phoned her last night.

It is believed he would have reiterated what others had been telling her, that there was no future for her in National and that she had come to be seen as a liability.

Strike two for Claudette Hauiti

It has just been revealed that National List MP Claudette Hauiti surrendered her parliamentary charge card back in March, after unauthorised spending, including a personal trip to Australia. Apparently a backbencher’s salary isn’t enough to allow Ms Hauiti to afford to travel to Australia on her own credit card…

Andrea Vance reports on Ms Hauiti’s description of the trip:

“I went to Australia. It was travel only and way outside Parliamentary Service guidelines.”

Asked if it was a personal trip, she replied: “Totally.” She then added: “Well, no, I went to meet with Maori in Australia who were registered on the Maori roll.” She has repaid the cost.

Now, this trip occurred over Christmas. Holiday time. And her first reaction, when asked if it was a personal trip, was “Totally”. Her subsequent “work” justification is presumably the excuse she used at the time to justify putting the flights on the taxpayer’s tab. If that’s the line that Ms Hauiti wants to run, perhaps she’d like to shed a little more light on it for us. For instance, who were these Maori in Australia who were registered on the Maori roll? Why did she meet them and who organised these “meetings”? Or does Ms Hauiti merely have friends and family in Australia who just happen to be on the Maori roll?

There are, of course, the usual litany of excuses are offered. She didn’t know the rules:

“Of course it’s absolutely no excuse for not knowing the Speaker’s rulings. It is my responsibility and I didn’t do it.”

It was the fault of her staff:

“There were issues with my purchasing that neither of my EAs [executive assistants] were able to give me a steer on.”

The rules are too complicated:

“[I]t got a little bit too difficult for me to get my head around and I volunteered it back. They did not confiscate it.”

When I say “Strike two for Claudette Hauiti” in the title of this post, it was, chronologically speaking, the first strike for abusing taxpayer funds. Her card was surrendered in March, and it was just a few months later, in May, that Ms Hauiti was busted for employing her wife in her electorate office. At the time, I wrote:

[E]ven if she didn’t know (or had had the advice go in one ear and out the other), what does this say about her judgment and ethics? Surely, when you’re considering whether to give a taxpayer funded job to your wife, you would think, “Is this ethical?” or “Maybe I should check the rules on this…” or “How would this look if the newspapers got hold of it?” Unfortunately, it would appear that none of these thoughts went through Ms Hauiti’s head. Instead, getting her wife on the payroll seems to have trumped all ethical concerns.

And politicians wonder why Joe and Jane Public shake their heads and mutter, “Bunch of troughers…”

One can apply the same test for charging taxpayers for holiday flights to Australia. Surely you ask, “Is this ethical?” or “Maybe I should check the rules on this…” or “Would this look good in a newspaper article?” Unless your sense of entitlement makes an entrance, kicking questions of ethics to the kerb…

 

Another National MP “forgets” the rules

The Dominion Post reports today that National List MP Claudette Hauiti employed her wife as an issues assistant in her electorate office. This is of course a clear breach of Parliament’s rules, which ban MPs from employing spouses or partners, either inside or outside of Parliament.

Ms Hauiti said she didn’t know about the rule, as she’d only been in Parliament for a year:

“I’m really disappointed that I didn’t know the rules, I’ve only been here a year and I should have kept up to speed with that and I didn’t. I made a really big mistake.”

There’s a couple of issues here for me. Firstly, did Ms Hauiti really make it through a whole year of being an MP without anyone telling her about those sorts of issues? If Parliamentary Services didn’t tell her, that’s fairly terrible; and if Parliamentary Services failed to do so, the National Party whips should definitely have briefed her on the rules. Here’s a comment from David Garrett on Kiwiblog, basically calling bollocks on her “I didn’t know” defence:

As a new MP you get a comprehensive briefing from the good folks at Parliamentary Services on just what you can and cannot do… and that’s before the Whips take you aside and give you a grilling about what you own, and what your personal relationships are. (The guy I boarded with in Welly is a long time friend for example; we didnt share a bed). Rules about who you can employ in your electorate office (Yes, List MP’s have them too) is one of the most basic things you get told.

Secondly, even if she didn’t know (or had had the advice go in one ear and out the other), what does this say about her judgment and ethics? Surely, when you’re considering whether to give a taxpayer funded job to your wife, you would think, “Is this ethical?” or “Maybe I should check the rules on this…” or “How would this look if the newspapers got hold of it?” Unfortunately, it would appear that none of these thoughts went through Ms Hauiti’s head. Instead, getting her wife on the payroll seems to have trumped all ethical concerns.

And politicians wonder why Joe and Jane Public shake their heads and mutter, “Bunch of troughers…”