The gentle art of avoiding candour

You just had to admire the slippery David Bennett’s handling of Labour’s Trevor Mallard at question time today.

Bennett is a nifty Nat, the member for Hamilton East and chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee.

It’s his committee that handled the review of the ACC’s 2007/08 financial review.

That was the meeting at which the gloriously multi-talented Nick Smith, ACC Minister, turned up to do the talking for the ACC chairman and chief executive. He would have spoken for the bloody cleaners, too, if anyone had asked him to.

But did Bennett invite Smith to the meeting, or did Smith just turn up to give his bravura performance?

Here’s the record of Mallard’s question and Bennett’s response:

Did he invite the Minister for ACC to attend the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee on the 2007/08 ACC financial review; if so, when?

DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee): I agreed that the Minister should attend the committee meeting, and Labour members would have got much value out of his attendance.

Mallard raised a point of order about the key part of the question- the “when” bit of it – not being addressed.

Which it wasn’t.

But nor did Bennett actually say if he had invited Smith to attend the meeting. He said only that he agreed Smith could attend, which is not the same thing.

There were several points of order before Mallard got another crack at it:

Hon Trevor Mallard: How does the chair reconcile his answer with the comments of Dr Smith, reported in the New Zealand Herald and the Press, and on Radio New Zealand, that he, Mr Bennett, invited Dr Smith to the meeting?

DAVID BENNETT: It was agreed that the Minister should attend the meeting, and I think that the Labour members got a lot of value out of his attendance at that meeting, especially with the accident compensation scheme being such a political issue at the time.

Wonderful. Bennett ducked it again.

He’s proving to be a splendid politician, fast developing the craft of steering clear of straight answers.

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