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Solid Energy paid $50k for advice on dealing with politicians

Published: 6:57PM Wednesday June 19, 2013 Source: ONE News

Failing energy company Solid Energy spent almost $50,000 getting advice on how to deal with politicians, ONE News can reveal.

Figures obtained by ONE News Deputy Political Editor Jessica Mutch show the state-owned enterprise paid a high powered lobbyist to smooth over the message that it was going to the wall.

The company was $400 million in debt when it appeared before a Parliamentary select committee, but in a bid to prepare themselves for the onslaught of questions Solid Energy forked out $48,000 of taxpayers' money to lobby group Saunders Unsworth.

Emails obtained under the Official Information Act reveal Mark Unsworth and Solid Energy carried out a role play session to practice answering tough questions.

Unsworth told Solid Energy to keep answers as short as possible, saying: "The longer you talk the more likely it will be that you trigger a range of questions, and that will not be pleasant."

Labour today said the SOE needs to be more transparent.

"Why do they need to spend $48,000 of taxpayers' money to dodge and weave?" questioned Labour's SOE spokesman, Clayton Cosgrove.

State Owned Enterprises Minister, Tony Ryall, put the heat back onto Solid Energy, saying: "It's a lot of money to spend on advice for appearing at a select committee to answer the same old questions from Labour. I wouldn't expect to see that happen again."

Solid Energy has refused to comment to ONE News.

However, Unsworth - who did not want to appear on camera - told Mutch that the situation with the power company was complex. He said Solid Energy's own communications team was over-stretched and that was the reason why he was called in to help.

ONE News can also reveal that Unsworth provided personal profiling for the company, stating that MP David Clark is "likeable" and "will be quiet and probably leave fellow MP Clayton Cosgrove to do all the heavy lifting" during the select committee hearing.

He also told Solid Energy he would look at strategies to handle the two most problematic MPs - David Cunliffe and Mr Cosgrove.

Asked what he thought of the profile, Mr Cosgrove said: "I wear it as a badge of honour."

The Government is set to decide whether it will contribute to the bail-out of Solid Energy in the coming weeks.