Tough as it may be to blame the PM for what looks like an extravagent car upgrade, it's the sort of mud that sticks and recalls another car-related mess and another PM's pleas of ignorance

This National government is often criticised for its political management, be it the lack of a strategic plan, how beholden it is to polls or its over-use of urgency. In recent days it has been damned for nearly setting an inconvenient precedent allowing foreign leaders to speak on the floor of the House whilst it's sitting and for rushing through the Marine and Coastal Area Bill. But it has actually been careful not to antagonise ordinary punters or give them something to moan about over the BBQ, which in terms of their winning a second term is the most important political management of all.

That's why the purchase of 34 brand spanking new BMW limos matters. Internal Affairs has bought the top of the line models to replace the reportedly three year-old cars currently being used to ferry around ministers and VIPs.

Did the PM or cabinet make the decision? No. John Key says he didn't even know about the purchase. Is it a bad deal? That's debatable, especially as precisely how much the new cars cost and how much the older ones are being sold for has been deemed "commercially sensitive". We don't really want a PM who spend his or her time micro-managing to the point of overseeing the purchase of crown cars, do we? Sir Robert Muldoon may be an inspiration to Key, but really...

The problem is that it's utterly at odds with the government's core message this election year - that the country is up to it's eyeballs in debt and needs some tough belt-tightening to recover. It plays into a potential political weakness of Key's that he has so far adroitly avoided - that he's an out of touch 'rich prick'. And ultimately, although Internal Affairs minister Nathan Guy will be looking intently at his shoes for the next week or so, the buck stops with the PM.

It's not fair, but it's the price of life in government. And it will annoy the heck out of many, many people.

And two years in, the tactic of blaming the previous government is running out of steam. While National's first response was to insist it was only honouring a deal signed off by Labour, TVNZ has confimed that Internal Affairs had the option to pull out of this fleet renewal and retain the status quo.

While not identical of course, it has similarities to Helen Clark's motorcade being caught speeding on the Canterbury plains in 2004.

Just like John Key, Clark claimed to know nothing of the offence (ie she was reading and didn't know the car was speeding), yet the criticism was that she should have known and was ultimately responsible. Whatever the claims, the mud stuck to the government.

Sure, it was in Labour's second term, so the lustre was already coming off. Key is still enjoying the glow of his first term, so the damage is unlikely to be as bad. And the story won't drag on, with a court case to come.

But these are the kinds of things that chip away at governments; at their credibility. Clark's speeding and her refusal to take responsibility played into the perception that she was her ruthless or detached. This plays into the perception that National governments are run for the wealthy and by the wealthy, with a born-to-rule attitude.

It's not nearly as important as, say, the plans around welfare reform, or even the government's continued stubborn refusal to fund the Superannuation Fund. It's small beer, but big politics; a rare dink in National's armour, leaving the impression that there's one rule for the people, and another for the leaders.

John Key, I imagine, will be sending out the message to his ministers very clearly and precisely - check with your officials, in your files and under your departmental beds, and make sure we don't get another 'eat them let cake' moment like this; certainly not at a time when political capital is being spent on its plan to partiall privatise the government's power companies.

Because one piece of sloppy hypocrisy can fade into memory, but two starts to look like a pattern.

Comments (12)

by Chris Webster on February 17, 2011
Chris Webster

Tim: Agree - in concert with your thoughts --

What is even more curiouser /  curious / baffling / unexplained is who ordered the massage bits -- you know for the back and the neck and the other places ...

And who was it that ordered the speaker surrounds and all the other toys that the current BMW fleet does not enjoy -oh sorry the politicians do not enjoy?

Was it the DIA? or

Was it the drivers who are engaged to chauffer our important persons to and fro -- were their ideas taken into account -- and a big one at that?!

I had to suspend my disbelief when DIA huffily responded claiming it does not have to tell anyone - about their proposed spend and what a spend!

So who is the minister for internal affairs ? perhaps it was she/he who wanted bits of their body to be massaged as they  were delivered around our / sorry their capital.

Well they (government MPs) are getting a fair massaging of their hearing organs this afternoon.

Trev the rev - Mllard has been tasked with asking the important question of the minister for ministerial services in the House today - was he or any other minister aware before the end of the last calender yearthat the ministerial BMW fleet was to be replaced?

Do you want to write the response now?

by Christopher Nimmo on February 17, 2011
Christopher Nimmo

What particularly galled me about this when One News pulled it out was the appearance of the story alongside another, of Paula Bennett announcing a crack-down on interest-free loans to beneficiaries wanting to get back impounded cars. Loans that totalled $200,000 over four years. And actually costing far less than that, since they were, um, loans.

So the government buys itself a fleet of cars, to service a bunch of people who already own cars, while preventing beneficiaries from having access to the vehicles they may very well need to get to interviews, training or work, and fuelling the fires of predatory lenders. Not a pretty sight.

by stuart munro on February 17, 2011
stuart munro

These cars don't so much need vibrating bits as a good mirror in them.

by Tim Watkin on February 17, 2011
Tim Watkin

Jessica at TVNZ was reporting tonight that four ministers discussed the purchase of the cars as early as July last year. See here. And it seems Key learnt about the new cars last week... when he was driving in one of them! Heh.

It's interesting that Labour and the Greens are double-teaming on this, digging up new angles for media to follow and trying to jolly it along for as long as possible. They seem to think they can cause a wound with this.

Add in the comment about beneficiaries, and it's not been a great week for the PM, despite Gillard's successful visit.

by Neil Morrison on February 18, 2011
Neil Morrison

In June last year the Government Administration Committe met and went through the 2010/11 Estimates for Vote Ministerial where they noted:

"VIP transport

The service is planning to obtain replacement vehicles..."

Committee chaired by the Hon David Parker plus Chris Hipkins and Grant Robertson are on it.

by Tim Watkin on February 18, 2011
Tim Watkin

Thanks for the link Neil. I'm guessing your point is that Labour's got a nerve raising it now when they could have raised it then?

The other members are National's Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, Jacqui Dean, John Hayes and Nikki Kaye.


It's interesting to note this other item on the agenda:

Financial pressures

In an environment of financial pressure, the chief executive of the Department of Internal Affairs must allocate resources so as to maximise the department’s productivity and efficiency. A productivity improvement programme has commenced, and is currently focusing on high-volume activities that charge the public for services, such as passports, citizenship, and births, deaths, and marriages registration. Focusing on optimising processes and maximising resources should ease financial pressure within the department.

No new money was allocated in the appropriation for salaries, so the service must make savings elsewhere to fund annual salary increases. The service said that it may seek to move money within the Department of Internal Affairs from another vote, with the agreement of vote Ministers. However, the pressure may be eased by holding some vacancies open, or in certain cases not filling them at all.

 ...So despite not having enough money for staff, they had enough for new cars!

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by danniel on October 25, 2012

The temptation of spending public money for their own luxurious tastes is no surprise for us anymore. I just hope that each of these cars had a leaky radiator, just to stop them from enjoying so much comfort...

by Albert Freeman on August 19, 2014
Albert Freeman

BMW is one of the luxurious cars so just think about the maintenance level. Very nice article and relevant to the topic. Replacing three year old car was a good decision or not? I think this is due to their technology used or due to High Maintenance. I read your blogs and and impressed by your information.

by Soloman Mandy on April 07, 2015
Soloman Mandy

Well, this article reminds me about car up-gradation and I think its necessary actually. This is no more the classic days and people wants more and more advance technologies in their cars. You see several car brands coming with updated techniques in their newly lunched models and these are of course the important facts of gaining popularity in the market and also getting appreciated by the users. Car brands like: Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Porsche etc now coming with lots of changes in terms of safety and security. Car infotainment certainly in huge demand these days among the car operators. Having a BMW car is something very special and also driving a BMW is just more than a dream for anyone. But, equally necessary is to keep your eye on everything necessary for your safety. I also have experience of driving BMW and being a costly brand it can costs you more as expenses and you shouldn't ignore this. You have to be sincere while taking care of your BMW car to avoid extra unnecessary servicing costs. Before going anywhere it is important to check the car properly. You must keep in your mind some basic maintenance tips which will help you always and can save your money too. Some minor parts playing major roles like: brakes, headlights, spark-plugs, tires etc need to be checked properly before a long drive to avoid midway car issues and also for the safety purpose. We have to be aware of things that indicates our car need to serviced. Particularly, we must learn the basics and should know "How To Know Brake Need To Be Serviced?" for our own safety. This is all one should do having a BMW or any other car, it doesn't matter.

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