Sunday, 14 February 2010

More on the tale of two offices

Gosh a week's a long time in politics. But I haven't forgotten that last week I pointed out that there was a big problem with National List MP Jackie Blue's explanation to the Herald about Joan Nathan's job drying up. You may recall that Blue had told the Herald that Nathan's job ended because of an office merger with new National MP Sam Lotu-Iiga, when actually they both still have separate offices, in different suburbs.

I was going to do an OIA request to Parliamentary Services to ascertain if there was a shift in staffing, given that the different physical locations does make it seem unlikely that the offices have merged. Maybe, being charitable, Blue had meant to say that the admin work had merged, not that the actual offices had merged. However, thanks to some help from Idiot/Savant, it seems that Parliamentary Services is not covered by the OIA, so there goes that idea.

I've had a bit more of a think. And it seems to me pertinent to point out that from the original Herald story Nathan's job appeared to disappear immediately after the November 2008 election. Yet Sam Lotu-Iiga's office didn't even open until May 2009. So there's at least a five month period there when the offices/admin work couldn't possibly have been merged, yet Nathan's job had already ended.

The questions that occur to me, and which I wish a journo would ask, are these:
  • Was Nathan's 10 hour a week admin job at Jackie Blue's office actually a PR stunt?
  • What did the job involve?
  • If it wasn't a PR stunt and the work was genuinely required, how come it suddenly wasn't required after the 2008 election?
  • If it was required before the election but wasn't required afterwards does that mean it was in fact campaign work, in which case was she paid as a Parliamentary Services staff member, or as a National Party worker?
  • Who is doing that work now? (Don't need a name, just some kind of evidence that the work Nathan was doing has shifted to someone else)
  • Who did the work for the five month period between Nathan's job ending and Lotu-Iiga's office opening?
  • Given that the staff for Lotu-Iiga's office would likely have been new, why would you take work off an existing member of staff in one office and give it to a new member of staff in another office? Particularly if it meant no more work at all for the existing member of staff.
  • What was the process around the staffing restructure at Blue's office?
  • Did Nathan receive any redundancy for her job ending?
  • Was Nathan given the option of doing the same work at Lotu-Iiga's office, if that is really where the work went?
This might seem like a petty issue to continue thinking and writing about. But I'm concerned that Nathan was given the job as an inappropriate form of political patronage - as a PR stunt, or to encourage her to say nice things about National, or to ensure that if she didn't say nice things about National in the future she could be written off with that damning epithet "just a disgruntled former employee." Electorate office jobs should be given out on the basis of who can do the work best, not who the PM needs to ensure gets a job because of a story he's spinning this week.

And we should expect our MPs to be honest. The holes in Blue's story about Nathan's employment are significant and worth investigation, because it seems to me that an MP may have lied to the media. Which is a Big Deal, even if it is about something that seems inconsequential.

It wasn't inconsequential for Joan Nathan, and actually the integrity of our MPs should be of consequence to all of us.


Joe Hendren said...

First of all well done for your great research on this story, and congrats on making the leader of the opposition's speech during the address and reply debate!

Most parliamentary service contracts are events based, with one of the events that can lead to a job ending is the end of a parliamentary term. So while Nathan may have not had a legal means to challenge losing her job, it does not mean there is no moral obligation not to look after an employee in this situation. It goes without saying the MP in question should not spin rubbish to the media about the merger of offices. Is that what a fair and reasonable employer would do?

Parliamentary Service do make a real effort after the election to find former parliamentary employees jobs with other MPs (PS even asked me if I was interested in staying on after the alliance left the building). So it appears that not only did Blue not want her, no National MP saw any obligation to look after Nathan.

While the OIA might be a no go, written parliamentary questions might uncover some more information. I believe the responsible minister for parliamentary service is the speaker. If Goff likes your work, then perhaps he might not mind lodging some parliamentary questions on your behalf.

Julie said...

Thanks Joe, I have been thinking about a Parliamentary Question, might give you an email about how I should go about it, never sought one before!