The saint, the slick and the smarmy?

Poor decent Allan Hubbard.  But what drives John Key, Adam Feeley ?

Probably no rational person in New Zealand doubted that South Canterbury Finance owner Allan Hubbard was one of New Zealand’s truly decent people – the kind we’d like to have seen accept a knighthood  – sadly now part of an honours system thoroughly brought into disrepute, lavished on so many individuals for what many New Zealanders quite rightly regard as entirely the wrong reasons.

But that’s politics, isn’t it – an apparently ultimately corrupted business where yes, in the age-old way of the world, money, power and influence does the talking – on both the far Right and the far Left side of the political spectrum.

Allan Hubbard had helped so very many people that the palpable anger against the government bureaucracy felt by those who knew him very well down south was a tribute to a battler from a poor and honourable working-class background. He came from the days in which so many  (before the hands-out mentality of doubtful “entitlements”)  determined to work their way out of poverty and took pride in doing so to provide for their families. As did my own father, a brilliant man, fine teacher and eventual Headmaster who achieved his degree in History and Political Science at Canterbury University – (fortunate enough to attend the lectures of the world-renowned philosopher, Karl Popper) –  an exceptional athlete and commentator who gifted a great deal of his own time to community affairs. He would have been honoured to regard Hubbard as a friend.

I mention this because the comparison came to my mind when looking at a photo of Allan Hubbard. They were the same kind of people, honourable and honest men who commanded the respect men once did before turning into today’s  50 and 60-year-olds, still gyrating to infantilised pop music and becoming so brainwashed, so intimidated by the creeping State with its links to the growth of antagonistic feminism and gay “rights”. Both the latter fundamentally seek to undermine and demoralise parents who once would have stood up  throughout the country, at community level – to fight for the values that held our communities together.

 Few would doubt that Allan Hubbard exhibited these values in the way he lived his life. Nor would they have doubted my father, who not for a moment hesitated to take on extra work during the school holidays, not only to be of service to his fellow teachers, but at whatever menial holiday jobs he could find, whether working on the wharf, the TAB, or at various food-processing factories in Christchurch – while at the same time providing the reading for Christchurch artist Ernest Leeming’s memorable walk-through depiction of Dante’s Inferno at the 1950 Christchurch Centennial Celebrations.(Incidentally, I’m reminded here by my older brother, Dermot, that this wonderful pageant of art was even more of a superb achievement,  as it was pulled together at the last minute. What had originally been planned was a depiction of the history of Kaiapoi and Te Rauparaha’s invasion of the South  – until Ngai Tahu applied last-minute political pressure. How very familiar…)

John Bernard Mora was also one the three-only New Zealanders who  represented this country at what must have been the centennial featuring of the Commonwealth radio quiz contest. (I was thrilled to find this same brother recalls one of the tricky questions he answered correctly…What was “the tangle o’ the Isles’? ) !  Politically aware, he stood for the Labour Party to fight against the Communist takeover of the Lyttelton waterfront. In later years, he no longer supported the party that once stood for genuine reform for workers and families, regarding with dismay its takeover by the far Left and academic Socialists with their Marxist agenda. But above all he was of his time, a family man with a family and nine children to provide for.

It is a fine face, the one that reminded me of my father looking back at the world in a last year’s blog by commentator Bernard Hickey. The caption beside it is pitiable. Mr Hubbard is quoted as saying: “I think if Mr Key,  who knows me, was in New Zealand, he wouldn’t have done that.” It was the statement of a thoroughly honest and bewildered man, trusting to the best of individuals – which unfortunately, can’t always be done. The “that” to which Allan Hubbard was referring was the extraordinary way in which charges were laid against him when his affairs were so precipitately put into Statutory Management to be investigated by the Serious Fraud Office on Minister Simon Power’s authority.

The vigorous defence mounted by Allan Hubbard’s supporters from the beginning makes fascinating reading, some of its key points compelling – as laid out in the discussion forum of Shareinvestor.co.nz.

“On the afternoon of Sunday, 20th June 2010, the Cabinet of the New Zealand Government sat in on an extraordinary meeting and approved the placing of Aorangi Securities Ltd and Allan and Jean Hubbard into Statutory Management and the appointment of the Serious Fraud Office to investigate each entity for fraud. As the report was only available Friday, there was therefore little time for the Government to consider before Sunday’s meeting…http://www.shareinvestorforum.com/index.php

“Whether an arrest or detention is arbitrary turns on the nature and extent of any departure from the substantive and procedural standards involved. An arrest or detention is arbitrary if it is capricious, unreasoned, without reasonable cause; if it is made without reference to an adequate determining principle or without following proper procedures.”The statutory management decision has effectively made Mr and Mrs Hubbard prisoners of government appointed officials. Since the date of statutory management all their personal mail is opened by the statutory managers and access to their private bank accounts has been forbidden. They have lived under these conditions for the past eight months. They are an elderly couple aged in their 80s.”
”These conditions were set upon them without an opportunity to first reply to concerns that the Securities Commission had raised in their investigation report…”

 “While we respect the integrity of Adam Feeley and the SFO, we have completely lost any faith in the integrity of Justice Minister Simon Power, and we have lost faith in the integrity of the justice system due to the growing number of conflict(s) of interest present in this situation, which Minister Power has completely ignored, and appears to be in denial about.”

These are strong words, and many New Zealanders would agree with them.  One would not have to be elderly to be confused, as Allan Hubbard was when he was descended upon…“‘I was going to Dunedin for Queen’s Birthday weekend to speak at the 105th anniversary of Knox Church and I was rung on the way down about 4 p.m. by a lawyer in Christchurch telling me they’d be coming at 9 p.m. on the Tuesday morning… they wouldn’t be put off.  I was tied up all weekend. I just came back in time to go to the office and then they demanded all these things. If I’d had time to prepare for them I could have located them all and made sure it was Kosher’ he said. …“ They’ve assumed (there were no documents… But they didn’t tell me which ones they wanted….”

Few New Zealanders believe that Hubbard was really given the chance that he deserved to fairly answer the accusations directed at him, with dishonesty obviously implied, by the extraordinary way in which the investigation into South Canterbury Finance was launched against him. Many have been unhappy at the links to the Botherway brothers. And the Allan Hubbard supporters group has raised issues troubling many;

“We are concerned with why Graeme McGlinn, a director of Grant Thornton Statutory Managers co-authored a report for the Securities Commission, recommending statutory management for Aorangi Securities Ltd prior to the 20th June, when he has since been appointed as one of the statutory managers, and is now in the process of liquidating Allan’s various business entities without consulting with Allan or any of the investors.

“This is a clear and obvious conflict of interest, given that Grant Thornton had the potential to gain financially by recommending statutory management in the first place, and has been allowed to commence liquidation without any consultation whatsoever with the investors.

”We hold Simon Power completely responsible for allowing this conflict to occur, and demand to know who made the decision to appoint Grant Thornton under these circumstances, and why.”

Reasonable questions? Back to that photo of a shocked and decent man, saying, “I think if Mr Key, who knows me, was in New Zealand, he wouldn’t have done that,” a man not calling for a favour from his mates  – which has been one of the characteristics we have seen so gravely undermining peoples’ belief in the integrity of the supposedly free market system, but a man who was publicly humiliated without there being  a decent chance to defend himself. The words of the Hubbard supporters are simply undeniable… “That this unnecessary and inhuman tribulation has been inflicted upon someone who has clearly devoted his life to the betterment of New Zealand, a person who lives a modest life, has given over $200 million to New Zealand charities, has assisted 250 young farmers on to dairy farms with interest free loans, established a charitable trust for single income families in South Canterbury so their children can attend University or other Tertiary education is indefensible.”

They add that Prime Minister John Key was completely wrong in suggesting that Allan Hubbard was “completely responsible for ‘bankrupting” South Canterbury Finance” and such a comment was, frankly, defamatory.

Prime Minister Key’s reaction to Alan Hubbard’s faith in him? According to an NBR report, Key told a pre-Cabinet news conference that he knew of and supported the decision by Power to appoint statutory managers. “I was aware of the decision they made and I support the decision being made,” he added.

The facts? We may now never know all, with so much obfuscation including, if  not indeed particularly at government level,  claim and counter-claim being levelled. But some at least are undeniable.

 Allan Hubbard was a thoroughly decent, elderly and very ill man. Those who knew him best considered him utterly incapable of deceit or dishonesty.

None of this was apparently taken into account in the onslaught mounted against him –  in considerable contrast to the way in which various highflying corporate crooks have been investigated. Due recognition was never given to the fact that, heading towards his 90s, he was on dialysis, and although he was obviously extraordinarily capable, both physically and mentally, renal dialysis is a keep-alive system which cannot duplicate the function of the kidneys. Toxins still build up in the body, causing fatigue and possibly, even, particularly if linked to necessary medication, some degree of mental confusion peaking before the next dialysis session.

This would suggest that in view of Mr Hubbard’s reputation for integrity and generosity it would have been far better for him to have been treated considerably more respectfully, patiently, and in turn, generously. The way he was treated by Simon Power, his officials, and the Serious Fraud Office was exactly the opposite. This has not passed the notice of New Zealanders.

Fast forward to recent days – and the hands-off treatment given to the very head of the Serious Fraud Office, boss Adam Feeley, who has been extraordinarily generously treated for, according to The Herald, using copies of the Hubbard biography as booby prizes last December. Mr Feeley now disputes this, claiming his actions were “a genuine prizegiving to reward good performance.” He isn’t going to get many takers for his version of a grossly insensitive action. Moreover, many New Zealanders with arguably a far more rigorous understanding of honest and honourable behaviour,  will have been more than surprised at how leniently Mr Feeley has been treated, following his boastful promise to appropriate from Bridgecorp ownership an expensive wine that was not his – to celebrate. In his own cocky words:

“ “In light of the Bridgecorp charges being laid, there is a bottle of Gosset champagne [which] needs to leave the confines of my fridge at home and be drunk by those involved with the case,” Mr Feeley said in the email, dated May 19 last year.

” ‘ The relevance of which is that it previously resided in Rod Petricevic’s office – and I’ll decline to explain how it end [sic] up with me. Hopefully you can all make it to celebrate.'”

Are we really so very surprised that Mr Feeley has been treated so leniently? As reported by Herald columnist Fran O’Sullivan: “…we now know, courtesy of State Services Commission (SSC) boss Iain Rennie, that toasting the Bridgecorp fraud prosecution with a bottle of the directors’ Gosset champagne is not a sacking offence as far as he is concerned. Neither was the decision to hand out a biography of the late Allan Hubbard at the SFO’s Christmas party, even though the failed Timaru financier was still under investigation at that time.

“Feeley’s actions were merely ‘ill-advised’ and showed a ‘lack of judgment’. But, said Rennie, the SFO’s performance had improved under Feeley’s leadership.The SSC boss would talk to him about the standards he expected of government chief executives.”

Fundamentally, Rennie has failed to address the real issue, and there will be many who regard his response as totally wet. As O’Sullivan points out, “The police and criminal bar have raised valid concerns that Feeley’s antics have contaminated the SFO’s integrity – particularly its reputation for unbiased judgment.”

Indeed. To get back to questions of basic honesty, the wine that Feeley helped himself to wasn’t his. So in the minds of many,  not to put too fine a point on it,  he essentially stole it – it belonged to the Bridgecorp directors. And still in law, the presumption of innocence is supposed to exist until disproven. If we were implementing the successful American policy of zero tolerance attitude to crime, the director of the Serious Fraud Office, Adam Feeley, might well have been charged with theft. Some might contrast the leniency with which has actions have been treated to that of the young man who, a little while ago and late one evening, helped himself on the way home to some pies he came across which had been tossed out into a skip in Nelson – reject pies. He was promptly charged by the police with theft…Sanity prevailed when a judge suggested that the police might like to rethink having charged him. But the very fact of the laying of the charge did not locally increase the respect in which our police are held – just as the withholding of laying charges or leniency of treatment granted to high-profile individuals in other circumstances has exactly the same outcome.

Given that many have become dismayed at the thought that there is now  a far too casual attitude towards “nicking things” in our community, it can be argued that what Adam Feeley did was a disgrace, that there was a principle at stake, and that the neglect of this principle, especially in this case, could be regarded as making him unfit for office. It would be interesting to have seen readers polled on what they thought about the CEO of the Serious Fraud Office helping himself to someone else’s wine, and boasting about it.

Autre temp, autre moeurs  – but are we the better for it?

New Zealand Law Society president Jonathan Temm reportedly said: “It’s a $70 bottle of champagne. It’s not a legal issue. It’s not a story.”  However, many New Zealanders, aware of what principles are, might be tempted to regard such a reaction as an indictment on the Law Society. Temm is quite wrong – it is indeed a story.

And from our very slick Prime Minister who “did not believe drinking Bridgecorp champagne was a ‘major issue’.

‘It’s probably a little bit unfortunate. But as Bill English said, they’ve been working through a lot and it’s probably a boss trying to reward his staff.’ ” Full marks to the PM  for glibness – and for adroitly dumping Bill English into the equation. Did the media check with English to see if he had indeed produced such a shallow rationale for an unacceptable action?

“Key said he did not know all the details but it sounded as if the wine had been left behind.

” ‘I don’t think anyone’s claiming he stole it … If they had stolen it that would have been a different issue.'”

Really? Perhaps just an only too typical Key response, neatly evasive. But is it a different issue? What name have we traditionally given to the act of taking someone else’s property, without permission?

One single expensive bottle of champagne – (although its price is irrelevant, the principle isn’t) –  transferred into the fridge of the CEO Of the Serious Fraud Office – and boasted about?

Those from an other, arguably more principled age,  might well have called it just that – theft. They would have argued that a principle is a principle, regardless of rank or social status. The Romans would have had no doubt at all about the public perception of such an issue. Caesar, in repudiating his wife Pompeia, made the point that it was not because of a transgression – she was innocent – but because in the eyes of the public “Caesar’s wife must be above reproach.”

So should the Serious Fraud Office – though it, too, has also not always been so in the past.

And it would have been very interesting to see readers polled on what they thought about the Head of the Serious Fraud Office helping himself to someone else’s wine. In the verdict of one commentator it was, above all, in poor taste.

 I don’t believe that Allan Hubbard would ever have done this…The irony will not escape readers.

© Amy Brooke