Judith Collins and Me: A familiar story

Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics has provided the disinfectant of sunlight but the kinds of behaviours are long-standing. Take this example from 2005. Does it look familiar?

It dates back to 2005, another election year. And as one of those responsible for seminars for the School of Government and the Institute of Policy Studies at Victoria University of Wellington I assisted with the organisation of two pre-election forums focusing on substantive policy issues of interest at the time.

The first involved then Minister of Social Development and Employment Minister Steve Maharey, and the National Party Welfare spokesperson, Judith Collins and took place on 19 July. Given my past involvement with Maharey as his erstwhile Senior Advisor and speech writer I elected not to chair the forum, and arranged for an alternative. But I did meet and welcome Judith Collins. I explained that, by virtue of my past association with Steve, I would not be chairing the session and escorted her to the venue. My recollection is that the meeting was a pleasant one.

On 29 July the National Business Review published an editorial – “It’s ok when Labour does it”, in which it admonished the fourth estate for a perceived double standard (media politics). An accusation by Labour’s Trevor Mallard that US interest groups of a conservative kind were actively influencing National Party policy was – in the eyes of the NBR leader writer – being taken seriously, when Labour’s adoption of British Labour campaign tactics was not.

I wrote a letter to the editor in reply, suggesting that the real issue was the lack of transparency around party financing, and the National Party’s use of Trusts to provide anonymity for donors.

I signed the letter, “Chris Eichbaum, Wellington”.

Party financing has a long history as a serious item of scholarly – and wider political – debate. But this letter was sent in a personal capacity (as much as one can separate the personal from the professional). My recollection is that Google was alive and well in 2005. While not by any means a major player on the political stage, a search at the time would have quickly identified details of my employment history and past political engagement.

Some days later I received a phone call – at home – from an individual who directed a battery of questions at me regarding my name, employment history, role at Victoria University, and – more specifically – whether I was the same Chris Eichbaum who had stepped aside from chairing a forum earlier in the month so as to avoid any perceived conflict of interest. The person eventually revealed himself to be one Jock Anderson from the NBR, and – after some time – responded in the affirmative when I asked him whether he was recording the conversation.

I attempted to answer all his questions, but did suggest that he might himself be more forthcoming as to who had prompted him to seek me out.

The NBR of 12 August included the section “Private Bin” and an item (actually two paragraphs), on headed up “The same chap by chance?” and the other, “Labour through and through”.  Both are available through The Knowledge Basket search facility.

The first paragraph noted that, “[s]everal people have asked if this is the same Chris Eichbaum who … disqualified himself recently as chairman (sic) of a debate … because he was seen as too close to Mr Maharey to be neutral?” The second paragraph closes with the sentence:

“As Ms Collins put it. ‘More than just a bit of the pot calling the kettle black’.

From what we now know my sense is that this was an early manifestation of the ‘double-up’.


On 18 July 2008 the then-Minister of Finance, Michael Cullen, announced my appointment to the Board of the Reserve Bank.

His statement – also posted on the Reserve Bank web site commented, in part:

Dr Eichbaum is currently Senior Lecturer in Public Policy in the School of Government at Victoria University of Wellington and his previous positions include appointments in the New Zealand and Australian public service. The author of a range of academic papers and research reports, Dr Eichbaum has degrees from Canterbury and Massey Universities, and from the Australian National University. His doctoral dissertation, completed in 1999, examined central banking reforms in New Zealand and Australia in the 1980s and 1990s.

There was some comment at the time, most confined to the KiwiBlog web site. It included this post from David Farrar:

“I mentioned yesterday how the Government’s appointment of Chris Eichbaum to the Board of the Reserve Bank forgot to mention his role in at least three Labour ministerial offices.

Now I have no position on the merits of Dr Ecihbaum’s (sic) appointment as I simply have not read enough of his background and CV to judge the contribution he can make to monetary policy.

But a reader has sent me this extract from NBR in 2002:

In a letter published last week in response to the previous week’s NBR editorial, “Chris Eichbaum of Wellington” accused the National Party of hiding the identities of funding donors through trusts. Mr Eichbaum claimed this did not allow citizens to judge the extent to which particular interests, whether domestic or foreign, were influencing policy formulation. Several people have asked if this is the same Chris Eichbaum who is a senior lecturer in public policy at Victoria University’s school of government? Yes And if he is the same Chris Eichbaum who disqualified himself recently as chairman of a debate between Social Development minister Steve Maharey and National’s welfare spokeswoman Judith Collins because he was seen as too close to Mr Maharey to be neutral? Yes And if he is the same Chris Eichbaum who once worked in Helen Clark’s office? Yes As he is the same man, ought not he have disclosed his background before calling on all donors to the National Party to do likewise? No, he says.

There is no indication of the identity of the helpful reader who furnished Mr Farrar with the information. There were a number of comments resulting from the original post. Some were constructive, but some were fuelled by invective and a tone that ‘dirty politics’ doesn’t even come close to capturing.