Monday, July 18, 2011

Exclusive: Jenny Shipley's crony appointment

Back in April, the government passed the Canterbury Enabling Act v2, granting Gerry Brownlee dictatorial power over Canterbury for the next five years. In response to criticism of this sort of arrangement from the previous version of the law, the government promised an "independent" (but toothless) statutory board to "oversee" Brownlee's arbitrary lawmaking power. Then, to show how seriously they took this independent oversight, they appointed former National Party Prime Minister Jenny Shipley to it.

I was curious about how this appointment was made, so I asked about it, requesting all advice and communications about the appointment process using the Official Information Act. The resulting documents - a paper to the Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee [PDF] and several letters - are quite revealing. They show that

  • Brownlee had decided who he would appoint before the law had even been introduced to Parliament;
  • The appointment process does not seem to have followed SSC guidelines [PDF]. It does not seem to have been advertised, even in the broad sense used by SSC; no long or short-list of candidates was drawn up [PDF]; no interviews appear to have been conducted to confirm the suitability of the candidates. It appears as if Brownlee pulled these names out of his arse, and then imposed them on us. The people of Canterbury, of course, were not consulted.
  • To add insult to injury, having appointed these people with no proper process, Brownlee then decided to pay them at triple the normal rate [PDF], on the basis that "it will not be possible to secure their services under the current fees range". No effort appears to have been made to find candidates who would do the work within the government's budget. This was agreed to by State Services Minister Tony Ryall [PDF].

This is an appalling process, made worse by the fact that one of the appointees was a former National Party Prime Minister. From these documents, it looks like Gerry Brownlee invented a job, shoulder-tapped Shipley to fill it, then decided to pay her $1,000 a day as a reward. It's a perfect example of National's "jobs for the boys" approach, of their cronyism in action.