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May 18, 2014 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Clubbing with Judith Collins

Last week it was revealed that the National Party raises funds by allowing its members to pay to get face-time with Cabinet Ministers. Despite the Labour Party running a similar racket during their most recent conference, the opposition have said that the clubs stink of corruption. Victoria Student Finn Stitchbury has been to a Cabinet Club event with Judith Collins, and he says it was boring as hell:

The uncovering of the National party’s exclusive ‘Cabinet Club’ fundraising events by TV3’s Tova O’Brien in early May has dredged up allegations from journalists and opposition MPs of corrupt ‘cash-for-access’ rackets. It is mainly alleged that rich donors are granted legislative favours by ministers who attend Cabinet Club dinners in return for exorbitantly large donations to the Nats. Perhaps more devastatingly, the uncovering of the Cabinet Club has led every member of the press gallery to make the same shithouse Fight Club joke. Cabinet Clubs are said to be based all around New Zealand in some if not most of the National party’s 42 electorates and administrated by the local MP, who invites cabinet ministers to attend and speak at dinners with local National party members. The donation paid by party members who wish to attend gets them invited to 3 or 4 Cabinet Club events.

Many National MPs and right-wing commentators have attributed the faux or in some cases, unnecessarily vrai-outrage displayed by many Labour/Green MPs and supporters at the idea of entirely effective and within-the-rules party fundraising to jealousy, stemming from the fact that Labour and the Greens themselves are as bad at making money as they are at making policy. The Labour party perhaps feeling the pinch as selling 5 ‘Southland cheese rolls’ for $6 at the Aro Valley Fair isn’t covering the costs in the run up to a general election.

I attended a Cabinet Club dinner as a 17-year old in my hometown, the lively, south Auckland metropolis of Pukekohe. I am now, obviously exceedingly more mature and analytical after almost a year and a half of BCom papers and able to recount my experience to give a glimpse into the dark, cloak-and-dagger operation that is Cabinet Club.

The dinner I attended was held in the upstairs restaurant room at Pukekohe’s Edinburgh Street bar. For those of you wanting to know all the incriminating facts, the tables were arranged in a rectangle shape, obviously designed to mimic the cabinet room itself sans the rounded corners. The night started with the attendees mingling and chatting as local MP Paul Hutchison worked the room. Drinks (which I could only assume to be the tears of beneficiaries) were bought at the bar and sipped while ‘Hutch’ made sure he had introduced himself to all the attendees. At this point everyone took their seats and the ‘cabinet’ part of ‘cabinet club’ arrived, a Mrs Judith Collins. She made her way around the table introducing herself as everyone chose from the menu. Unsure of whether to stay sitting and come across as disinterested or stand up and come across as over-eager when she reached out to shake my hand, I chose a third option, half-stand up while still in a seated position, which I guess made me come across as cool and confident. She queried why I, a 17-year old, would want to attend something dull like this, then turning to my father and saying “good one dad”, I shrugged my shoulders as I looked around and noticed my 50-year old father was probably the second youngest person there. We made small talk and she asked what my plans were for the following year, I told her I was going to Vic to do Marketing and Public Policy, “that’s an interesting mix” she said, I agreed not really knowing what Marketing or Public Policy was.

After dinner, Hutch stood up and thanked the minister for coming and explained that Judith would now talk about the “current state of the government and what’s going on in her portfolios” and would then do a short Q&A. She spoke of government debt and employment statistics for a while and then with great delight told us that there hadn’t been a death from domestic-violence in Counties-Manukau in a long time “crossed-fingers it stays that way,” she said. When it came time for the Q&A, I was expecting Judith to be met with a few cushy questions from the enamoured Nats around the table. What actually happened was very different. The first question came from a man at the back who borderline yelled at the minister while explaining the difficulty he has had in subdividing his land, “ya know, usually I’m very happy with what you guys do” he spat “but the Resource Management Act is something you lot have really bloody screwed up! What I want to know is are you guys going to do anything about it?!” “I do understand where you’re coming from” the minister replied and recalled her own similar story of trying to subdivide a section. The man retained his angry expression as Collins joked about being in the same boat when she “was just a poor lawyer living in Remuera”, nobody seemed to get that it was a self-deprecating joke until an old man opposite me called out “there’s no such thing.” The next question came from someone who wanted to know why Auckland’s passenger train line did not extend to Tuakau, which is a town of around 4000 people, 10km south of Pukekohe but somehow 30 years in the past. The minister explained that not only was she not the MP responsible for Tuakau but was also not the minister responsible for trains so she was probably not the right person to ask. The man reluctantly accepted her point and went on to his next question. At this time the nation was embroiled in the ‘who owns water’ debate and the man expressed his worry that soon Maori would be able to claim bodies of water, Collins sighed and replied “no-one owns water”.  Soon after, the minister thanked everyone for coming and left.

The make-up of the Cabinet Club I attended was not as scandalous as many on the left would hope. There were a couple of lawyers, a dentist and his wife, the bored and the elderly, local business owners and a few who were purely interested in politics. While the Cabinet Club saga has allowed David Cunliffe some downtime to perfect that caricature of himself and focus on what lane trucks can and can’t drive in and given Russell “gimme my flag back” Norman a chance to get his horse even higher, it hasn’t actually exposed anything worth acting like you’re offended by and has reportedly increased interest in membership. If New Zealand’s answer to political corruption is paying to have your misguided questions shot down by Judith Collins for an hour then it’s safe to say that political corruption is probably not as prevalent as many want you to believe.


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