Surprise, surprise – they didn’t know who he was when Phil wined and dined in Marlborough

The forgettable face of a former Cabinet Minister.

Dunno if Phil Heatley will be too fussed about it – he has other things on his mind. But it seems he is able to slip through Marlborough unnoticed.

Alf reckons Phil could slip through much of the country unnoticed, come to think of it. Let’s face it, he doesn’t have the same high profile as the likes of John Key, Rodney Hide, Pita Sharples, or Winston Peters.

Or rather, he didn’t until last week, although even now he probably could pass through Marlborough unrecognised. He has one of those instantly forgettable faces.

But most cabinet ministers would go unnoticed by most of the taxpayers who sustain them and their lifestyles – wouldn’t they?

Anyone know what the Minister of Broadcasting looks like?

The Marlborough Express, however, thinks all cabinet ministers should be instantly recognisable, like rock stars.

It has been astonished to find restaurateurs and providers were unaware of Phil’s visit to their neck of the woods and would struggle to recognise him.

The now former housing and fisheries minister wove a brief trip from Picton to Kaikoura around his attendance at the Marlborough Sounds Fishery Forum in Waikawa on March 28 last year.

Statements obtained by The Dominion Post show that while on the trip with his wife and children, Mr Heatley slapped bills from Picton’s Le Cafe, the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre; The Store, Kekerengu; and Kaikoura’s Green Dolphin Restaurant and Bar on his ministerial credit card.

A night’s stay at Blenheim four-star plus motel, 171 on High, was also charged to his parliamentary office.

An office spokesman said this charge was within guidelines. However, Mr Heatley chose to pay it back to ministerial services earlier this week.

Having learned where Phil has been, during his travels around the country, the Marlborough Express became curiously curious to find out who actually had noticed him.

It published the results of its investigative journalism under the headline Minister’s card freely used in region

There’s the hint of an implication that someone should have stopped his spending.

Le Cafe owner Peter Schoni did not know the former minister had dined at his restaurant.

He also confessed to not being able to identify the politician or his name.

“I wouldn’t recognise him if I saw him. I’m not big into politics, I can barely handle the local stuff.

“But that’s good he did that [spent money at Le Cafe] before he got busted. I’m happy to have his ministerial money,” he joked. “I’ll regard it as a direct repayment for the tax I’ve paid.”

Schoni was not alone.

Matt Marshall, at the Green Dolphin Restaurant & Bar, said he had “no idea” the minister had dined at his restaurant and “not much of an idea” about who he was.

“That’s nice of him to have chosen to eat here though,” he said.

The restaurant owner/operator said he was now wondering if he could gain any promotional leverage from Mr Heatley’s visit.

Dunno about that. “Phil dined here” doesn’t have the same pulling power as “Elvis dined here”.

Clive Macfarlane, manager of The Store, Kekerengu, said the politician’s stop was news to him.

“I didn’t know about it and wouldn’t have a clue [what Mr Heatley looks like].”

As many of the store’s staff were from overseas they would “never” recognise the man, he said.

A much more proper response to the newspaper’s questioning came from motelier Chris Johnston, of 171 on High, who stuck to her policy of not discussing guests.

She is reported to have remained tight-lipped about the Heatley family’s stay.

Good on her.

Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre chief executive Jane Orphan said she did not know Mr Heatley had visited and declined to comment further.

So what do Marlborough newspaper readers learn from the local rag’s initiative?

Not much.

And what was the point?

That business people should recognise our Cabinet Ministers? And demand to know about the propriety of their tendering ministerial credit cards for payment?

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