Brendan Horan may well be one of the luckiest New Zealanders ever born.
With no qualifications, he landed a job as a TV weather presenter: instant fame, decent money and spin-off employment opportunities galore. Okay, that didn’t work out … but then, his mum won a big lottery prize, so that was pretty sweet. And even better, he befriended Winston Peters and landed a high slot on the New Zealand First party list, and was elected an MP. This truly is the land of opportunity.
And despite immediate impressions, Horan’s luck has not run out even now.
Because there appears to be nine-tenths of damn – all anyone can do to stop him from continuing to be a member of parliament, even though he has been expelled from his caucus, and will probably be biffed from his party as well.
He can continue to collect not too far shy of $200,000 a year for the next couple of years, being in his new caucus of one, assigning himself to do nothing in particular if he can’t think of anything to do that he fancies.
Provided he turns up to Parliament for most sitting days, there is nothing to stop him collecting his full pay and, as David Lange used to say of MPs’ other entitlements, flying to Timaru every week to change his library books if he feels like it.
Funnily enough, I haven’t heard a single soul predicting that that righteous Maori concept, whakama, might kick in; that Horan might do the noble thing and resign from the House, rather than face the ignominy of being paid for doing nothing, Not Wanted On Voyage, and subject to the inevitable torrents of public disapprobation.
In resisting the brow-smiting exit, he need look no further for precedent than the former Alliance MP Alamein Kopu, who, turfed from her caucus for chronic absenteeism, continued to come to Parliament as a fully fledged MP basically to drink cups of tea with the then Prime Minister Jenny Shipley.
Kopu made no contribution to public life before, during or after her time in sacked exile – unless you count the one extra vote the National Government was only too happy to have. But did she feel shame? Not on your Nelly. She had been selected by her party peers, and her legal position was bullet-proof.
Politically, Peters has almost certainly made the right call. Once again, we consult the trusty Helen Clark Swirl-o-Meter. When allegations are swirling around an MP, there comes a point where they can’t do a proper day’s work. Horan could have spent months in a state of high Swirl, given the time forensic accounting inquiries and any consequent legal moves could take.
It seems likely Horan won’t be idle, though, as he has quite a promising workload ahead fighting his expulsion from NZ First.
There may be scope for legal play here, as Horan was given no chance to give account of himself to the caucus before its expulsion vote, and, in the scheme of things, very little time to assemble evidence in his defence.
Peters has known for months of the family feud and the allegations that Horan helped himself to his ailing mother’s bank account, but only when the information spilled out into the newspapers did he give his ultimatum: make this go away, or I will make you go away.
Asked if Horan had been accorded natural justice, Peters today readily agreed that he had made himself the judge of the situation. It was his decision to make.
But not even Peters can trump electoral law. Since the anti-waka-jumping legislation expired, there’s nothing to stop a ditched MP simply becoming his or her own new mini-waka.
And here’s yet another lucky thing about Horan: you get yourself pushed out of a waka, at least you know, being qualified as a surf life-saver if nothing else, that you’ll be able to keep your head above water.