This is what happens when you have a culture of corporate governance in a democratic institution.
Joyce and Key are both corporate governance masters. And they set a great deal of the culture of the Cabinet, and thus of the behaviour of the senior civil servants who support the Cabinet in their day to day work. And they don't recognise the difference, the very important difference, between corporate governance and actual democratic governance.
In a corporate environment the Right Thing To Do is often what you can get away with for maximum gain. It's about not getting caught, rather than acting with integrity in the first place. If you do get caught then the focus is not that you did something wrong, or even that you got caught, it's how you manage being caught out; shifting blame, constructing plausible deniability, brain fade*, whatever. Not everyone plays it this way, but the collapse of many finance institutions in the last few years has surely taught us that a great many do, in particular those in the areas of currency speculation, hedge fund managers, etc, who are seeking to make marginal gains very quickly by shifting around huge amounts of money for no other reason. It's ok for Key to manueoruve a high level post for an old friend, it's ok for Ministers not to front to major news institutions for months on end on topic issues, it's ok for us to never know why a Minister was sacked. Because in corporate governance those are all within the rules and acceptable. Move on, nothing to see here.
I'm not saying the corporate governance model is better or acceptable or even slightly ok. Again, the events of recent years have shown us exactly why it isn't; because it gives incentives for the wrong types of behaviour and appears to reward those who act in ethically dodgy ways when they don't even wear most of the risk themselves. That Kiwisaver campaign that suggests you join Kiwisaver or you work until you die - there are plenty of people who thought they had saved responsibly for their retirement who have had to go back out to work, at a time of high unemployment and a lot of discrimination on the basis of age because people who got bailed out to the tunes of billions of dollars were reckless with money that wasn't theirs to play with.
In democratic governance the standards are different. For a start there are a whole lot of rules. And those rules are there for Good Reasons. They recognise the extreme level of power that politicians, especially senior politicians, possess, which they may use to advantage themselves and their friends when what they are supposed to be doing is serving the broader electorate.
Appointments are a particularly crucial area. In recent times we have had Judith Collins appoint a close friend of her husband to an important role, Tony Ryall's neighbour end up Race Relations Commissioner, lots of ex National MPs (or wannabes) on the Human Rights Commission, and now an old school friend of John Key's is the only person interviewed for a role where it seems he had limited previous relevant experience.
Government are obliged by law to be an equal opportunity employer. While usually this is taken to mean jobs are won on the basis of skill and best fit rather than gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or other irrelevant attributes, it also means that anyone with the relevant skills etc should have the same chance of getting the job as anyone else. Even when anyone else happens to know someone who is a very senior politician.
Why is this so important? Partly because the civil service is supposed to be politically neutral, and it's hard to maintain that if some staff are there due to the patronage of particular politicians. But also because it is actually good appointment practice. How many times in your paid work experience can you think of someone who got a role because of who they knew rather than what they could do? And how did that work out?
What bothers me the most about all of this is that the politicians involved do seem to genuinely think that they haven't done anything wrong; that their corporate approach is fine and dandy. It's not.
* And as someone who has suffered from a medical condition that at times caused actual brain fade in the past, it was so debilitating that I couldn't hold down a job at the time, or study. So if we could stop blaming brain fade as if it isn't something that happens to real people that'd be nice.