Dunedin mayor defends MP deal - Sunday Star Times 23/02/2014
Dunedin Dave Cull is defending a "gentleman's" agreement which saw a former MP paid $3400 for lobbying following a handshake deal.
Documents released under the Official Information Act reveal that former Dunedin North MP Pete Hodgson was paid by the council to lobby the Government not to strip core functions of Ag Research Limited from Invermay, near Dunedin.
The council said the main point of contact for the deal with Hodgson was Cull, but could not locate a single email, contract or any other document relating to the agreement. Hodgson had provided "lobbying and advocating" on behalf of council, and that he had "contributed" to a letter to Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce and a submission written to the board of Ag Research.
"Mr Hodgson did not provide any reports relating to his services," governance support officer Grace Ockwell said.
Cull, a former TV personality, denied personally hiring Hodgson, but defended the deal. "I could describe it as a gentleman's way of doing business in the south," Cull said. He would be uncomfortable if the council always negotiated contracts verbally, but in this instance he was not concerned.
Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams questioned whether the spending was appropriate.
"Though it's a small amount, it suggests that Dunedin Council isn't applying the most basic internal controls," Williams said. What other government agency spends $3400 without any documentation?"
He added that without further explanation the union questioned whether the Auditor General should get involved.
"No wonder this council has a history of financial troubles, they're running it like a cake stall."
Hodgson, who represented Dunedin North as an MP for 21 years up until 2011, said he wrote the council's 10-page submission to Ag Research, charging the council less than he would usually, and had continued to work for it free of charge.
As a former Minister of Research, Science and Technology he believed he was better placed than anyone to lobby on behalf of the council.
"I'm sorry if it sounds like me blowing my own trumpet but there is no one else in the country who knows as much about this issue as me," Hodgson said.
"The fact that it wasn't written up in any contract would probably reflect their trust in me."