Cronywatch: Pete Hodgson appointed to chair Callaghan Innovation

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Labour has made another crony appointment, giving the chairmanship of Callaghan Innovation to Pete Hodgson, who has already scored another crony job with the Dunedin Hospital rebuild.

Touted by Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods as the man to “bring strategic direction to Callaghan Innovation” as its new chairman, Pete Hodgson is staying mum for the time being about just how the organisation will change course under his guidance.

Despite having known about the role “for a wee while” and “given it quite a lot of thought,” Mr Hodgson says he doesn’t want to make any pronouncements about his prescription for the oft-criticised Crown agency for “probably six weeks.”

The main reason he gives for his reticence?

He wants “to catch up” with National’s Steven Joyce, who established Callaghan in 2013 while serving as Minister for Science and Innovation “before I start talking publicly.”

“I’m just like that,” he laughs, before suggesting that such a courtesy is part and parcel of the way in which “New Zealand’s innovation system” has been a non-partisan part of politics “ever since the days of Simon Upton,” who was National’s minister of research, science and technology during the 1990s.

Mr Hodgson was also recently named as the chairman of the Southern Partnership Group (SPG), which is charged with steering the Dunedin Hospital rebuild.

Despite his two new chairmanships being complex roles – “big stuff finds its way toward me,” he says, sounding more pleased than resigned about that – he’s adamant there’s “no difficulty about my capacity to manage those jobs,” thanks to him stepping down after fours years as chief executive of Otago Innovation, a commercialisation arm of the University of Otago in Dunedin.

“I’ll be finishing that job sometime in the autumn … and will be leaving it with quite a lot of sadness,” Mr Hodgson says, adding it’s been “a complicated job – and a shitload of fun.”

Asked about the inevitable comments about cronyism that his appointments have attracted (National’s former health minister Jonathan Coleman, for example, has called his SPG appointment “a serious error” that “turns this immediately from someone that’s best for the southern community to something that’s best for the Labour Party”), Mr Hodgson responds with a verbal shrug.

“Oh, it’s sort of inevitable that ministers will reach for people that they know,” he says.

“The issue around cronyism is whether or not the person appointed is otherwise suited or is unsuited.”

It is cronyism alright, and just like National before them Labour should be called out on it.

Malcolm Harbrow has finally broken his silence and written about this latest crony appointment. He used to post them all the time when National was in government, so it is good to see him calling out this government as well.



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