“A Gloomy, grey cloud has replaced the big gay rainbow that Maurice Williamson rode to stardom during the marriage equality debate,” writes Vernon Small in today’s Dominion Post Opinion [lead story – “Fallout will colour public perceptions” ref. 1]. His “big gay rainbow speech” in favour of marriage equality laws was hailed worldwide, and he was courted by The Ellen DeGeneres Show…” writes reporter Stacy Kirk. [SPCS commented sardonically at the time on Williamson’s “most enormous big rainbow” speech that catapulted him “overnight” to “gay icon” status, comparing it to the “Emperor’s New Clothes”. See ref. 2 below]
National Party critics are now effectively accusing the party of corruption. Williamson’s parliamentary career lies in tatters… “now the moment for his time in politics should be over” (editorial opinion).
The Dominion Post reports today: The 63 year old Pakuranga MP, Maurice Williamson, who has served as MP for 27 years, “had no choice but to resign his ministerial warrants yesterday once police confirmed he had called them to inquire about the domestic violence case against wealthy constituent and generous National Party donor – Donghuza Liu. His pre-sacking resignation was handled cleanly and swiftly by Prime Minister John Key … The Cabinet Manual [Rule 4.14] states: ‘[Following a long established principle], Ministers do not involve themselves in deciding whether a decision should be prosecuted or on what charge.”
“The written police version of Williamson’s call – though not verbatim – has him ringing to make sure someone review the matter ‘to ensure we were on solid ground as Mr Liu is investing a lot of money in New Zealand‘.” [Emphasis added]
The Dominion Post editorial (opoinion) entitled “Favours for friends with deep pockets” asks: “Of what possible relevance to a domestic violence charge was Liu’s investment?” Good question! [Some might even be prompted to ask: Was Williamson paid money by Liu to ring the police? If so how much?]
SPCS believes that it is THE PERCEPTION OF CORRUPTION that will be the most damaging “Fallout” from Williamson’s clear breach of Cabinet Manual rules.
[Note: SPCS is a bronze level member of Transparency International (NZ) Inc., the local chapter of Transparency International, the world leading anti-corruption agency].
If Ministers are perceived as showing favour to people based on their wealth (“deep pockets”), this reeks of “corruption” in the minds of many including its critics.
Green Party co-leader Dr Russel Norman has reacted to Williamson’s “error of judgement by telling media:
“Once again we see a National Party minister intervening in relation to someone who has given the National Party money” [a party often accused of favouring the “wealthy”].
Whatever the truth be as to this veiled accusation of ‘corruption’, the “fallout” over Williamson’s “extraordinarily poor judgment” may well tarnish the perception our overseas trading partners have of our society being relatively free of the sort of corruption found among government officials in some other countries.
While some may disagree The Dominion Post editorial states:
“We are rightly proud of its clean justice system. Corruption is rarer here than in almost any other place in the world”.
Transparency International (NZ) states on its website:
“New Zealand’s high trust society is both a national treasure and an economic asset.” [see: www.transparency.org.nz]
Surely we do not want to see it tarnished by any whiff of corruption, whether generated by the gaffes made by gaffe-prone Ministers or by officials seeking pecuniary gain for themselves and/or their parliamentary colleagues.
An email released by police shows Williamson’s call [on behalf of Liu to “high-level police officers”] prompted a review of Liu’s case, but had not pressured police into dropping the charges. [Following his dumping as Minister] Williamson has admitted that calling police about an ongoing prosecution was an “error of judgment”. [However, because it did prompt a review, then surely the PERCEPTION will be that police chiefs were indeed PRESSURED or MAY HAVE BEEN PRESSURED to undertake the review, despite Williamson’s adamant denials that he applied any pressure].
Liu was granted citizenship in 2011, by National’s Immigration Minister Nathan Guy, who overrode officials’ advice after lobbying from Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson and from John Banks when he was mayor of Auckland. Both active lobbyists knew that Liu, who currently owns properties in his own name and that of his companies, with a total registered valuation of about $30 million, had HUGE big deep pockets. A year later Liu donated $22,000 to the National Party through one of his companies.
SPCS maintains that a recording of Williamson’s call to police should be released by the police and the transcript made public by the Prime Minister. The Police had a statutory duty to refer this interference (intended or not) in a prosecution by a Minister, directly to the Prime Minister, BEFORE embarking on any review of their decision. Is it not potentially a criminal offence for a Minister to seek to intervene in a police prosecution? It is certainly a clear breach of the Cabinet Manual Rules. If community standards are to be maintained, a full independent inquiry should be carried out into this matter. The public have a right to know the full details of this case as it involves a high profile public figure who now says he will contest the upcoming election.
Note: One of the Objectives of SPCS from its constitution is:
(d) To focus attention on the harmful nature and consequences of … fraud, dishonesty in business, … and other forms of moral corruption.
2. SPCS commented sardonically on Williamson’s “most enormous big rainbow” hollow speech that catapulted him “overnight” to “gay icon” status, comparing it to the “Emperor’s New Clothes”