Hard News by Russell Brown

203

A thing that rarely ends well

Ideally, in TV news bulletins, adjectives should be used sparingly, to bring certain things alive for the viewer, to describe what cannot be shown. But last night One News had Owen Glenn celebrating his birthday at a "swanky" Auckland restaurant (actually, Soul bar) and being considered for a "glamorous" job in Monaco.

We'll get to the glamour of the post in a moment, but in a week when news media organisations have been rushing to "reveal" and "confirm" Glenn's interest in an honorary post in the principality, it does seem relevant to note that Glenn himself reported it fully six weeks ago in an interview with the Herald, and no one turned a hair. We're used to some news outlets not being able to remember back a year: but last month?

Okay. Here's the job description for a New Zealand honorary consul:

The functions of NZ Honorary Consuls include helping facilitate contacts and friendly relations between NZ and its countries of accreditation; assisting the Embassy in its tasks with official visitors, representing NZ in their area - including offering advice for those in "distress situations" as well as acting as a liaison point for NZ posts; providing information on general enquiries and visas ( NOTE: they do not accept applications for, or issue, visas, passports, or emergency travel documents) and assisting with fostering NZ's trade overseas

It's basically a local on the ground, should one be needed. We have them in places like Malta and Cyprus, associated (as Glenn would be) with the New Zealand Embassy in Rome.

It's voluntary and the system is not comprehensive: if Glenn doesn't take up the honorary post, we simply won't have one (which would be a little bit rude, given that the dynamic National MP Richard Worth has been Monaco's man on the ground here for the past few years).

Is it a vanity post? Possibly: Glenn has been frank about enjoying seeing his name on the new Auckland University Business School. Ironically, it's possible that although he spends part of his year in the principality, he may not meet Foreign Affairs' residency requirements for the gig.

As very successful businessmen can be, Glenn is clearly a bit random: the present clamour was sparked last week when he said things in an interview that were either demonstrably untrue (the timing of his donations to Labour, which were declared, accounted and reported in the Herald months before the Brethren's role became evident) or spectacularly unlikely (that Helen Clark had offered him the post of Minister of Transport).

The nub of the story is the interest free loan of $100,000 he revealed he had made to Labour after the last election. Actually, not even the loan: but the fact that Labour Party president Mike Williams did not mention it when questioned by reporters last month.

The fact that the part of the loan that could be considered a donation -- the $7000 or so interest foregone -- fell below the declaration threshold under the old electoral laws does not matter. Williams misled journalists, and that very rarely ends well.

David Farrar has compared the current flap to the furore around Jenny Shipley's dinner-or-not with Saatchis' Kevin Roberts, and that's correct in the sense that it's largely about someone not being able to get their story straight. (Although the Shipley business did have the advantage of dispatching Saatchi's stupid million-dollar idea for a Tourism website.)

Williams could have said in the first place: "We have not had a donation from Owen since the election, but he did loan us $100,000 to set up a better fund-raising organisation. That's in the accounts, and like all Owen's contributions, no secret. Perhaps you could ask National who's been giving it money since the election."

Given the hasty flushing of National's anonymous trusts in December, before the Electoral Finance Act came into force, there would have been some moral high ground there.

Now, Bill English is demanding an inquiry into internal loans noted by Williams -- where the more solvent party branches lend the party money at times. English knows there's very little in that: I'd be surprised if National hasn't done the same thing. But at the moment, it's time to sling mud on the off-chance that some of it sticks. Mike Williams should rue his role in that state of affairs.

PS: Philip Matthews has an interesting story on the state of political blogging, quoting David Farrar, Jordan Carter and myself.

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