Hager’s Hollow Horror

John Roghan  says Nicky Hager is carving out a new career in disingenuous political naivete.

Not content with a book based on Don Brash’s emails, since brought to the stage and soon to be a movie too, Hager is running a sequel on the discovery that some of the same “hollow men” are consultants to John Key.

The fact that someone in the National Party must be passing this material to Hager is far more interesting than the use he is making of it, and I have no objection to his using it.

I agree that where the material comes from is the more interesting, and for National, more serious point.

…email, I think, is fair game. A fair reporter, though, could reveal what he learns without feigned horror at the fact that people running for public office hire consultants who try to conceal some of their intentions during an election campaign.

Parties of all stripes are coy on some subjects before an election for good reasons.

The public interest can be greater than the sum of personal interests, sometimes even in conflict with direct personal gains. It is easy to sell benefits to a section of the electorate, harder to explain how the benefits hurt a country in the long run.

Some are minority interests that should be advanced in the national interest. Hager should ponder how much progress Maori would have made in recent decades if every step in their recognition had been an election issue.


Public debate usually favours the status quo. Not much could ever be done if every decision was put to the electorate for a prior mandate.

Take the present Government’s biggest economic moves, KiwiSaver and, this week, KiwiRail, which I don’t remember being canvassed, with all their costly implications, at elections beforehand.

Had Labour given an inkling at the last election of the premium they have had to pay to re-nationalise the railway, and the fortune it is going to cost to cover its likely losses, National’s last campaign would have feasted on the information.

If only.

But now that the deed is done, the politics have changed. The purchase is the status quo and National will not dare put re-privatisation before the electorate this year, though that may be what it ultimately does with the trains if not the tracks.

Yep – once something is underway it is difficult to change it, even if it’s because sometimes bad policy is good politics.

Likewise KiwiSaver, a year old this week. At the last election the savings scheme was an essentially voluntary proposal. The following year it was to become compulsory for employers and acquire some costly enticements of dubious economic value.

Not long ago my employers wound up my company super fund. I couldn’t blame them; from April they had to contribute to KiwiSaver if staff favoured it. And who of us were going to turn down Cullen’s $1000 handout and tax credits?

The scheme celebrated its first birthday on Tuesday with 718,000 members – more than double the number predicted in the first year. The only people complaining about it are those annoying economists who see the difference between individual gains and the national welfare.

They fear the scheme will not add to total personal savings, merely displace previous savings schemes.

In the Herald last weekend Maria Slade reported an estimate that as little as 9 per cent of the money in KiwiSaver accounts so far is new saving, a percentage the researcher reckoned would not cover the administration and compliance costs of the scheme.

Is anyone surprised by this?

Westpac economist Dominick Stephens said KiwiSaver had cost the taxpayers $497 million in its first 11 months, an amount that could have added to national savings if it had been left in the Budget’s fund for future public pensions.

Even that fund is questioned by some savings professionals who point out that a superannuation scheme is only as good as the future economy that will have to pay out. From that point of view, the best retirement insurance is the investment made in the economy today.

And not just retirement – health, education and every other service will be more secure in the future if we strengthen the economy now.

Anyone who believes that the best investments are made by those who stand to lose if they get it wrong would argue the economy would be stronger in the long run if the KiwiSaver incentives were turned into personal tax cuts.

And yes again.

Nevertheless, National will have to keep the scheme now that it is replacing private savings on such a scale. The best the party can do is continue to avoid saying whether it will keep the incentives.

It will not be easy, and should not be easy; it is the job of political opponents and the press to pin all policies down. But adroit tacticians can keep the options open and enable a government to come to power with room to move in the national interest. Voters, I think, understand this. They don’t need horrified disclosures that it happens. It is the horror that sounds hollow.

Exactly. National has learnt from the damage done by stupid promises made by Jim Bolger before the 1990 election; and Helen Clark has too which is why she keeps trying to under promise and over deliver.

Parties should be upfront about their philosophy, principles, general  policy, and – sometime before an election – some detailed policy. But they can’t be specific about everything because, once a party is in Government it must have room to adapt to events and circumstances.

7 Responses to Hager’s Hollow Horror

  1. […] Homepaddock posts on John Roughan’s piece in today’s Herald on Hager the Horrible. Both are worth a look,especially as Roughan has a go, albeit mild at Hager – which makes a change for journalists who seem, many of them, to think NH walks on water. Roughan especially is not impressed by Hager’s feigned outrage over National employing consultants. […]


  2. hp: Roughan lost me right here: “Public debate usually favours the status quo. Not much could ever be done if every decision was put to the electorate for a prior mandate.” In saying this, Roughan is standing next to every politician who lied to voters “for their own good”. This is an attitude hostile to democracy itself and the touchstone for every dictator who sent in the troops for the “the country’s own good”.

    I remember Richard Prebble saying the same thing in a TV interview after the 1990 election when he lost his seat. He stood revealed as a scumbag happily deceiving voters and subverting democracy.

    If this is why National is keepign their policies secret then any and every Kiwi who values democracy owes to themselves to NOT vote for National.

    National’s antipathy to democracy in encompassed in this single statement and I find it repulsive.

    It goes without saying that people who share the view that voters MUST be deceived will not understand why Nick Hager is outraged.

    A commitment to democracy isn’t “naive”. It’s what we all should have, and National clearly lacks…..if they agree with John Roughan.


  3. Around and About « The Inquiring Mind: You have missed the real issue entirely. Hiring consultants isn’t the issue. It’s the tactics they recommend – and that National has followed – that are the issue here.

    National can be and must be criticised for effectively subverting the democratic process by avoiding substantive debate on policy and instead hiding their policies behind a campaign based on race, fear and smears.

    That is why journalists and many others have a lot of time for Nicky Hager’s revelation of National’s lack of commitment to the democratic process. To make matters worse, many national supporters pretend to not have any idea that elections SHOULD be about telling voters what your policies are and debating their merits….and then voters decide – right or wrong – what they want to support.

    The idea that you need to lie to voters is the enemy of democracy. If national supporters go there, they will join that sad parade in history who willingly backed tyrants over their people “for their own good”.


  4. Inventory2 says:

    Steve – admit it – Roughan lost you as soon as he started critcising Hager. You place him on such a pedestal that you can’t bear to hear a bad word against him. It’s about time that someone in the MSM called him. Too often, his work has been accepted as gospel without critical analysis. I am still suspicious of anyone who knowingly uses information dishonestly obtained for personal and political gain.

    I was at high school with Hager; from memory, a couple of years ahead. He`was an earnest young fellow then, and as boring as batsh*t (pardon the expression HP!!). I read the Hollow Men, and nothing has changed!


  5. homepaddock says:

    TS you said: Not much could ever be done if every decision was put to the electorate for a prior mandate.” In saying this, Roughan is standing next to every politician who lied to voters “for their own good”.

    Roughan’s not saying that no decisions should be put to the electorate, nor that big policies should be deliberately hidden. He’s just saying that it’s neither possible, nor sensible to put everything to the electorate.

    Could you commit yourself absolutely to a programme for three years in any area of your life? Of course not, circumstances change which require plans to change.

    Roughan isn’t saying lie to the electorate either.

    If National didn’t announce more policy before the election you’d be justified in complaining. It might be frustrating for other parties and journalists, but it’s sensible for National to release policy to its own timetable – which will still allow voters to scrutinise them and make decisions based on them on election day.

    There is a huge difference between not going public yet and not going public at all.


  6. bobux says:


    Perhaps you could draw my attention to the Labour manifesto where they promised to introduce civil unions, repeal Section 59, bail out Air New Zealand, buy back the Railways, radically amend the student loan scheme, sign an FTA with China, or intoduce Kiwisaver with compulsory employer contributions. Or even, for that matter, introduce a tax cut package.

    Nope, I didn’t think so. Does this make Labour being underhand and undemocratic? According to you, it does.

    There were a lot of words about the economy being ‘transformed’, and us all surfing a Knowledge Wave into a bright prosperous future. After nine years, I’m not sure what happened to the particular vision.

    All parties play down aspects of their policies that may be controversial. Some of the stuff they promise will turn out to unachievable once they get into office. And governments have to respond to unforseen events that occur between elections. You genuinely are naive if you think this only applies to parties of the Right.


  7. bobux says:

    Sorry, should have read “..THAT particular vision…”


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