Joe Hendren

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Benson Pope should resign

David Benson-Pope should resign. NoRightTurn has outlined the reasons.

The question is, is Benson-Pope capable of putting the interests of the Government ahead of his personal ambitions? The lack of political nous he has demonstrated over the whole Madeleine Setchell affair suggests that this is beyond his ability.

I am not at all impressed by the attempts of Helen Clark and David Benson-Pope to blame Ministerial staffer Steve Hurring for the events that led to Madeleine Setchell losing her new job at the Ministry for the Environment. Steve Hurring placed a call to Ministry of the Environment CEO Hugh Logan to inquire as to whether it was true that Setchell was the partner of Kevin Taylor, Chief Press Secretary to National leader John Key. Clark and Benson-Pope are commenting with the benefit of retrospect. Hurring's crime, if there was one, was to uncover a stuff up in the hiring practices of the Department.

At the end of the day, the issue is this - two workers - Setchell and Hurring, are getting a raw deal from their bosses.

Ministerial and Parliamentary staff sign away their rights to speak freely and accept constraints on their activities in their lives away from work. In return staff are not held publicly responsible for actions taken while they are working for their political masters. At least they shouldn't be. As Colin James notes "A person in a minister's office speaks for the minister. The minister is responsible for what that person says or does as a member of the minister's office whether or not it is as at the minister's specific bidding or with the minister's knowledge."

David Benson Pope should have offered his immediate resignation to Clark as soon as the Setchell scandal broke. Clark may not have accepted it. I don't think I am entirely commenting with the benefit of retrospect here - this is how I would have expected Clark to deal with the situation in her first term. In fact this is exactly what another Minister, David Parker did in March 2006, and he got his job back. Ironically it was commented on at the time that Parker was essentially acting as a 'fall guy' for earlier mistakes of Benson-Pope.

Ministerial standards do appear to be falling, and such appearances, even if they are only that, are still damaging. Clark needs to leapfrog some wrinkled egos and find some new faces fast.

The left should not weep at the downfall of David Benson-Pope. Despite claims in some quarters that he is on the left of the Labour party, his actions in his Social Development and Employment portfolio suggest the opposite. The Social Security Amendment Act changed the whole purpose of the 1938 Social Security Act that established the welfare state. The new Act "wipes away any notion our social security system is about ensuring everyone can participate as citizens, instead it makes getting a job, any job the fundamental duty of citizenship". As Louise Humpage and Susan St John say - the Government is undermining the original notion of 'well-fare' in a way that would have Michael Joseph Savage turning in his grave. The new Act also will make it very easy for a future government to reintroduce work for the dole. If Benson-Pope is on the left, the Labour party is now even more of a centre-right party than I imagined.

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