In the end, Murray McCully chose to go quietly, and decided not to contest next year’s election on the National Party list. I’m not sure if McCully has worked out the final details of his farewell speech to his Cabinet colleagues, but Sydney Carton’s words from the scaffold in A Tale of Two Cities could always do the trick: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” Leaving has been his finest gift to caucus, and to the nation. Would that it had been done sooner, but welcome that it be done at all.
Still what a final year it’s been, right? Talk about going out in the style, accustomed. The McCully reforms at MFAT had (a) created havoc and loss of morale (b) cost a huge amount to implement to no discernible benefit in efficiencies and productivity and (c) took resources out of Europe that we now, post Brexit, sorely need… This year, the MFAT reform process culminated in the Auditor-General’s report into Paula Rebstock’s inquiry into leaks from MFAT, a witch-hunt by Rebstock that (a) cost some $288,000 to carry out and (b) resulted in unspecified payouts in damages to the two diplomats unfairly maligned by Rebstock’s findings and (c) incurred considerable costs in legal fees as well. Not to mention the lingering damage done to trust and accountability within MFAT via the entire process.
Moving right along, 2016 also saw New Zealand conclude its two year stint on the UN Security Council – another vastly expensive exercise to win and to implement, but with little visible achievement to show for it, or tangible benefit to this country. McCully however, won a few headlines back home about New Zealand being on the world stage, and over his grandiose plans to resolve the Palestinian question and the war in Syria.
Closer to home, the Auditor-General finally reported back this year on the $11.5 billion Saudi sheep deal, a pet project devised by McCully to placate a Saudi businessman miffed by our cancellation of live sheep exports. This deal was deemed necessary by McCully (a) to avert supposed legal action by the Saudi businessman that never took tangible shape and (b) to clinch a free trade deal with the Saudi kingdom that hasn’t eventuated. While finding no evidence of actual corruption on McCully’s part, the Auditor General cited a long laundry list of “unacceptable behaviours” in his briefings to Cabinet.
Oh, and then there was the Malaysian diplomat saga, where diplomatic immunity came and went at various stages of the negotiations with Malaysia, and where the terms of the subsequent inquiry into the fiasco precluded examination of the Minister’s role. All of this bull-in-a-china-shop trail of incompetence lead back to the Tourism Board scandal of 1999. Here’s how that one began:
The tempest, dubbed “Saatchigate” or “Dinnergate” by the local media, stems from last Aug. 31 when Jenny Shipley–New Zealand’s first female prime minister–had dinner at [Saatchi boss Kevin] Roberts’ home in Wellington. Saatchi had won the New Zealand Tourism Board’s $16 million ad account the previous month. In October, the Tourism Board increased its budget to a reported $26 million. At the time, most other public services were facing cuts.
Shipley, leader of the right-of-center National Party and a longtime acquaintance of Roberts, is accused by the opposition Labour Party of making a sweetheart deal by increasing the country’s Tourism Board business with Saatchi in exchange for the agency running the National Party’s upcoming election campaign at a discounted rate…
This affair snowballed into payouts to two Tourism Board officials. Some critics saw these payouts as hush money, and the Auditor-General eventually found them to be “unlawful” – although, supposedly, executed with the pure-hearted best interests of New Zealand tourism in mind. In the end, McCully resigned as Tourism Minister and the public lost hundreds of thousands of dollars:
Taxpayers now look less likely than ever to see the return of $340,000 paid to two former Tourism Board directors – despite a Government commitment to recover the money… The pair quit after conflict with the policy direction of Tourism Minister Murray McCully, who also resigned his portfolio over the row.
An early example in other words, of the classic McCully Mode of Management. Step one: overturn established best practice. Step two: ignore advice as being a reflection of vested interest, since you (always) know best. Step three: demand absolute compliance with the new direction, or else. Step four: create fearful acolytes and a hit list of enemies, real or imaginary. And most of all, step five: spend taxpayer money as if there’s no tomorrow, and don’t worry about the results, which are beside the point.
Lastly, while McCully has been a wrecking ball on almost everything he has touched in the public service, it should be noted that he has been a similarly divisive figure within the ranks of his own caucus colleagues.
An inveterate plotter, McCully almost always came out on the side of the losing faction in any caucus power struggle, yet the victors were usually wary of his capacity for retribution, and would choose to placate him. In other words and as in his ministerial career, failure in his machinations proved no barrier to McCully’s personal advancement. Still… even though Sidney Carton does only one good thing, it is impossible not to feel compassion for him in the end. Carton’s other big quote, after all, was: “I care for no man on earth, and no man on earth cares for me.” Alas poor Murray, we knew him only too well.
There’s always the foreign legion
At such a time, this old music hall chestnut from The White Horse Inn seems entirely appropriate.