Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another National Party conflict of interest

What is it with the National party and conflicts of interest? First we have John Key abusing his Parliamentary position to ask questions about Tranzrail while holding a substantial parcel of shares in it (and then trying to lie about it afterwards). Now we find out that he's not the only one. The Standard has the scoop: National's energy spokesperson Gerry Brownlee similarly abused his Parliamentary position between 2002 and 2005 to ask questions specifically about Contact Energy while owning shares in it. One of those questions was specifically about the share price:

Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister aware that similar comments from the Prime Minister last week wiped millions of dollars off the capital value of Contact Energy; can he tell us whether he has discussed those threats with the Minister for State Owned Enterprises; and can he also tell us how bringing generators to their knees helps the current crisis?
Translation: "why have you cost me money?

This isn't just ethically dubious; it is also a clear violation of Standing Orders. SO 166 requires members to declare their financial interests in an item of business such as a Parliamentary Question before participating in any discussion. By failing to do so, Brownlee repeatedly committed contempt of Parliament (though one which cannot be punished, as there is a very strict time limit).

But the story doesn't end there; in 2006, Brownlee's shares in Contact disappeared into a trust, presumably to hide them from the register of pecuniary interests. Meanwhile, he used his Parliamentary position to advocate for positions on e.g. climate change and energy policy which would be beneficial to dirty thermal generators like Contact. If the trust isn't blind - if for example its like a normal family trust - then he was still conflicted when advocating those positions, as Standing Orders include in their definition of a "financial interest" benefits to trusts in which the member has an interest. And he'll still be conflicted if he ends up as Minister of Energy in a National-led government, enacting their policy to free up thermal generation and fast-track resource consents for gas-fired power stations (policies which would be - coincidentally, I'm sure - financially beneficial to Contact, and hence himself).

The public deserves better than this. We deserve MPs who are honest, and who can be seen to be so. Gerry Brownlee doesn't meet that test, and so shouldn't be sitting in the House.

Meanwhile, it does make you wonder. Two senior National MPs so far have been discovered to have these sorts of undeclared conflicts of interest. How many others are there? Someone should really seriously look into this.