Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Honours for sale?

In the 2010 Queen's Birthday honours list, businessman Graeme Douglas was given one of National's revived knighthoods "for services to philanthropy and athletics". Later, in November last year, he made a donation of $25,000 to the National Party.

It may be coincidence. But it looks like a payoff. And the mere fact it was made brings Mr Douglas, the National Party, and our honours system into disrepute. Parties should not accept donations from people they have recently granted honours to. Otherwise, people may draw the natural conclusion: that those honours are effectively for sale, and used as a fundraising tool by the government of the day.

(Also of questionable wisdom: National's acceptance of $200,000 from Susan Chou, who is affiliated with Natural Dairy. Offering a large donation to the governing party while they are deciding whether to accept your overseas investment application looks like offering a bribe. Accepting that donation looks like you are prepared to accept one. In this case, Natural Dairy didn't get what it wanted - but it didn't look like that at the time the donation was made, and the transaction makes both parties look bad. If parties want to avoid the perception that they are selling policy (or honours), they need to be very, very careful about who they accept money from).