We've often been told that time is a great healer. And it seems that three-and-a-half years in opposition has soften Clayton Cosgrove's attitude towards political donations.
Have a read of this extract from Hansard, from the General Debate on 30 July 2008. It was nearing the time of the 2008 General Election, and the polls were bringing regular doses of bad news for the Labour Party and its MP's. So this debate was more robust than most.
Clayton Cosgrove was Labour's second speaker in this debate, and he was a man on a mission. He was talking about political donations, and whether influence was bought or even implied. Given the events of the past few days, that's more than ironic; check this out (with our emphasis added):
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Minister of Immigration) : I reflect with interest on Mr English’s speech, where he posed the proposition that there were a number of challenges for the New Zealand economy. He challenged the Government on what it has been doing for the last couple of days. I put this challenge to him, and also to “Old Jelly Back”, who is not with us today: what is his answer to the challenges—
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not know whom the member was referring to—it might even have been his New Zealand First coalition partners—but he is not allowed to refer to any member of Parliament in that way.The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): I am sorry; I have to say I was distracted at the time by the Clerk.Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Speaking to the point of order, I was referring to John Key doing flip-flops. I withdraw and apologise.The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Thank you.Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The procedure is very clear. The member must withdraw and apologise and say nothing else.The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): The member is absolutely right. The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise.Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I withdraw and apologise. I think I did so before I was asked, actually. I pose a couple of questions to Mr English. Mr English is very good at asking everybody in this House for explanations. So will he stand in this House and account for every donation in the Waitemata Trust and in all the other trusts? Oh, no. The gelatine creeps down the spine. Will he answer that question? Will Mr Brownlee, who has risen from his slumber in his seat, tell the media now about every donation that was received and whether—to quote Mr English’s words, because he does make a good point that we need to know what happened to those donations—those donations influenced any political decisions? We know, as “Burger King” walks out of the Chamber—The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): No, no, no. The members knows that he cannot refer to the member in that way.CLAYTON COSGROVE: I withdraw.Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that was extremely unkind. It was hurtful. I much prefer to be known as a single-man rent-a-crowd.The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Thank you for the humour, Mr Brownlee, but you know that was not a point of order.Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I quote Mr English’s words when he said that we need to find out what political influence, if any, was gained from those donations. We know how Mr English’s accident compensation policy was formed at the last election, and who influenced that. Will Mr English actually get up in the Chamber now—I challenge him to do that—to tell us about all the anonymous donations from the Waitemata Trust, and from various sectors of the economy, so that we can then make assumptions or presumptions, or remove any perception that his policy at the last election may have been influenced? Oh, no! He is mute; there is silence.
Perhaps Mr Cosgrove might like to reflect on this speech, given as it was in the lead-up to an election which his party knew was not going to go well for them. But it seems that the standard he was asking Bill English to comply with are different from the one he may or may not be applying to himself now.
Even if Mr Cosgrove has done everything by the book with regard to the Independent Fisheries donation, he has left himself open to allegations of having a conflict of interest, of having made a serious error in judgment, and of having double standards between his own conduct and that of others. And it has to be said that this current situation is entirely of his own making.
It's a bit rich for Clayton Cosgrove to be complaining about the National Party shopping smears around when he is not above ad hominem arguments himself as the speech above so clearly shows. Whether it is a good thing or not, the reality is that Parliament is now place for the faint-of-heart, especially on a party's front bench. If you dish it out, you can expect fire to be returned from time to time.