John MacDonald: Don’t make Mahuta the spending spree scapegoat

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta. Photo / Mark Mitchell:


Nanaia Mahuta won’t say it – so I’m going to say it for her.

All this noise about her husband getting government contracts wouldn’t be happening if she wasn’t Māori.

She won’t say that, because, as well as being accused of letting her family milk the public purse, she’d also be accused of trying to defend the undefendable.

But I bet – as she probably would privately too – that we wouldn’t have the same amount of huffing and puffing if it involved a family member of an MP who wasn’t seen by some as the public face of the so-called Māori takeover.

I’m not a fan of Mahuta. I’ve said before that I think she’s the worst Foreign Minister we’ve ever had. I also think the way she’s handled the Three Waters reforms has been appalling. On that one, she’s come across as being arrogant and out of touch – not interested in what councils and ratepayers up and down the country have been saying.

She is a fully signed-up member of the “we know best” club – which I think most people in the current Government are members of.

But my criticisms of her have been based on her performance as a politician and a Cabinet minister. She’s been asleep at the wheel on Foreign Affairs – especially in the Pacific – and, as Local Government Minister, she has alienated herself so much from local government that her Associate Minister has had to take over trying to sell the con job on water reforms.

But listening to National’s Simeon Brown on Newstalk ZB this morning, I couldn’t help thinking that there is a much bigger issue that needs looking into.

What Brown should be getting hot and bothered about is the reason government departments think they need to hire all these consultants and contractors in the first place.

And this is something I know quite a bit about, because I’ve done work for some of them in the past and I’ll tell you this for nothing – when you walk into these outfits, after five minutes you start to wonder how many of the people there actually know what the organisation is there to do.

They’re full of project teams working on stuff like IT overhauls, culture change, building refurbs. And these project teams get bigger-and-bigger-bigger, and more consultants and contractors have to be brought in because the actual staff aren’t doing their real jobs anymore because they’re seconded here and seconded there.

And, of course, they’ve all got Koru Club memberships and they’re all flying around the country for meetings – trotting through the airport with their trolley bags and keep cups.

People flying from Wellington to Christchurch for the day for a meeting, all of them crowding out the Koru lounges.

This is what really needs to be looked into. But instead, the National Party is getting all excited about Nanaia Mahuta. And we know why that is, don’t we?

And it’s not as if National is completely innocent either. Think back to the truckloads of money that was paid to consultants and contractors after the Canterbury earthquakes.

And remember when Gerry Brownlee was EQC minister and how people there were hiring family members left, right and centre.

I remember the story about one of the big bosses there hiring her daughter. Ironically, Ruth Dyson – who was a Labour MP at the time – said EQC was asking for trouble when it employed family members.

I’ve seen what it’s like on the inside and I know full-well that there are truckloads of people doing a whole lot of stuff that is way outside the core functions of these government departments.

This is why they feel they have no option but to pay the big bucks for these consultants and contractors to come in and do basic stuff like running meetings.

A shameful waste of money.

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