Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Against political patronage

So, having first claimed that he was offered a cabinet position, Labour donor Owen Glenn is now claiming to be in line to become New Zealand's honorary consul to Monaco - a claim confirmed by the Prime Minister when questioned about it, according to Colin Espiner:

I’ve just got back from a brief stand-up with the PM at which she confirmed discussions are under way with Foreign Minister Winston Peters about his possible appointment.

She says Glenn expressed interest in the post, for purely altruistic reasons, and Peters is currently considering the idea. Currently we don’t have a consul or any other representation in Monaco, a tiny principality populated by the very rich on the Mediterranean coast.

Clark ran a mile from any suggestion that this was her idea, or even that she had ever discussed it with Glenn.

This stinks, even worse than Glenn being awarded a gong in the New Year's honours list. "Honorary consul" isn't much - I'm not sure if it even comes with a salary - but by even contemplating awarding such a position to their biggest donor, the government has created the impression that government office is for sale in this country. And in doing so, they've instantly dragged us back to the institutionalised corruption and patronage of the eighteenth century. FFS, that's what the Americans do, and we ought to at least think we're better than them.

Again, some might argue that it would be unfair to "penalise" Glenn for his links to a political party by passing him over for an honorary position. But again, the integrity of our political system is more important than people's sense of entitlement. We cannot allow corruption and political patronage to gain a foothold in our democracy - because once it starts, it never stops.

(As for Glenn's recent loan to the Labour Party, it shows a significant hole in past and present electoral finance law: while both require loans at better than commercial rates to be declared if the effective donation is above the declaration threshold ($10,000 and $1,000 respectively), there has never been any demand on parties to tell us to whom they are beholden and for how much. Which if the aim is to prevent wealthy and corporate interests exerting undue influence and exacting favourable policy from our elected representatives, seems to be a bit of a hole).