A responsible(?) minister

Colin James, Random thought, 23 July 2007

A person in a minister’s office speaks for the minister. The minister is responsible for what that person says or does as a member of the minister’s office whether or not it is as at the minister’s specific bidding or with the minister’s knowledge.

So, in effect, David Benson-Pope queried the employment of Madeleine Setchell, partner of Kevin Taylor, chief press secretary of Opposition leader John Key.

The precedent is Roger Douglas’s tendered his resignation in August 1986 after a member of his office mistakenly pre-issued 46 copies of one of his Budgets to the Federation of Labour and Labour party council. Douglas’s resignation was rejected on the ground that he was not personally responsible and the wider national interest of his conduct of the portfolio outweighed the “serious and indefensible” act by his underling.

Benson-Pope, through his officer, has done damage — to the constitutionally important principle of public service neutrality and separation of politics from public service administration. A strictly constitutionally correct Clark would logically ask for and accept his resignation — or at least not exonerate him n the ground that his officer is said to have acted without his explicit knowledge.

This adds to the need for a proper regularisation of the sprawling, politicised ministerial offices which have evolved over the past 20 years. They fit poorly in the public service model and should be separated out.