Just say no

January 27, 2020

If National had ruled out a deal with New Zealand First three years ago, would the latter have got less than five per cent of the vote and the former still be leading the government?

We’ll never know.

But we do know that around half the people who voted for NZ First hoped the party would go with National and that a lot of them are still very unhappy Winston Peters chose Labour and the Green Party instead.

We also know that while Peters was supposedly negotiating in good faith he was also working on legal action against National’s deputy Paula Bennett and then-minister Ann Tolley.

That tells us, once again, that Peters can’t be trusted.

Simon Bridges has said he will announce well before the election whether or not National will rule out New Zealand First.

I hope he does say no to them which will make it quite clear to voters that a vote for that party is a vote for a Labour-led government.

There are risks.

In spite of their many criticisms of National not trying to win Epsom so that Act will get into parliament, Labour and New Zealand First could come to a similar arrangement in another seat in an attempt to secure an electorate for a New Zealand First candidate. If that worked, NZ First would not need to secure five percent of the vote to stay in parliament.

New Zealand First could get back, with or without an electorate,  and National could have too few seats to form a government without it and so be back in opposition.

But there are bigger risks in not ruling out New Zealand First.

It would send the message to voters that New Zealand First might go with National, even though the chances of that are very, very remote.

It would enable Peters to pretend he’ll listen to voters even though last time more opted for National than Labour.

It would give Peters the power he’s had too many times before to play the bigger parties off against each other and extract too high a price for putting them into government.

The worst day in government is supposed to be better than the best in opposition. But if the choice is government with Peters, I’d opt for opposition.

Tracy Martin says this year feels like the beginning of the end for Peters:

. . .So is it time to write Peters off?  Peters has cleverly played up his part as Labour’s handbrake, just as he once pitched himself as a bulwark against National’s extremes.  It’s how he has survived so long in politics – even after the “baubles of office'” fiasco, or Owen Glenn donations scandal.

But you can only play one side against the other for so long and it feels like Peters has played one too many hands.

So is the extraordinary Peters era coming to an end? He is our most familiar face on television; as recognisable as the theme tune to Coronation Street, as well worn as a pair of old slippers.

 But even soap operas eventually have their day.

National ruling out NZ First would make the end of the Peters soap opera much more likely.

Please, National,  just say no.


What a waste

November 14, 2019

WInston Peters has accepted that then-Ministers Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley did not leak the overpayment of his superannuation to the media.

However, his lawyer is still laying blame for the leak on the Ministry of Social Development.

Crown lawyer Victoria Casey QC gave her closing arguments this morning and argued that Winston Peters’ claim his privacy was breached “falls away entirely” when held up against the law. . .

Casey told Justice Venning the only question he needs to consider is whether her clients’ decision to brief their ministers under the “no surprises” convention breached a “reasonable expectation of privacy” and whether it was “highly offensive”.

“The questions is not does the court agree with these decisions to brief, or even whether the court has any reservations about the decisions to brief,” she said. . .

None of them establish whether there was a reasonable expectation in private facts. None of them establish that the communication from the chief executives to the ministers constitute highly offensive publication.

“Winston Peters could not have had a reasonable expectation public agencies with such information would not tell their ministers who have accountability to the House,” she said.

Casey also spoke of the high stakes for her clients, because these allegations go to the heart of their integrity.

She warned that if Peters’ complaints are upheld it would be “catastrophic” and career-ending for them.

“I ask the court to pay due attention to the chilling effect on the public sector and the reputational impact of even a passing comment by the High Court of the judgments exercised by these two senior public servants.

“I submit that it is appropriate that the court should exercise real caution before engaging in a review of matters that are beyond the scope of the pleaded claim,” she said. . .

What a waste of time, and public money this has been.

Peters has breached his own privacy and that of his partner by exposing them to a couple of weeks’ publicity that has done neither of them any credit.

And sadly while might have put some wavering voters off him and his party, it could also have confirmed the views of the deluded who support him that, in spite of the evidence to the contrary that this is a mess of his own making, he is somehow a victim.

The media has given very good coverage of the trail but it’s hard to beat Cactus Kate for pithiness in these posts:

Winston Peters and his reputation for detail

Winston Peters and his reputation for detail II

Tim Murphy v Barry Soper just got ugly

Who knew in advance about WInston Peters’ super stuffup?

The media have been the story for years Barry

Courtroom 13 – the week in review

Respecting WInston Peters

Silence…

Winston Peters and subjudice

And…….Denny Crane


A question of competence

September 12, 2019

The resignation of Labour Party president Nigel Haworth could have put the lid on the controversy over serious allegations against a staff member in the Prime Minister’s office.

But it won’t when so many questions remain over the handling of the complaints which started the saga and the ongoing claims that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern didn’t know that the allegations were of sexual assault.

The Spinoff gives a timeline of the inquiry and Paula Bennett used yesterday’s general debate to  speak on it: (You can watch and listen to the speech here.)

The Prime Minister says she did not know there were sexual assault allegations against one of her staff members until Monday. I could go through the various media reports since 5 August and my own representation since being contacted by victims to show the inconsistencies in this, but they have already been well traversed in the last 24 hours.

If the allegations were serious enough to hire a QC, were they not serious enough for the PM to need, and want, to be fully informed?

Even if the allegations weren’t about sexual assault, surely they were serious enough for the PM to be fully informed about them?

Even if she wasn’t going to speak to the complainants, as she should have, surely allegations serious enough to warrant an investigation warranted someone senior talking to them and reporting back to her?

Back in 2016, Jacinda Ardern wrote an op-ed about the scandal surrounding the Chiefs rugby team. She said that a resignation is not enough: “It’s the PR quick fix—usher the source of the controversy away. But that solves nothing. After all, apologies followed by silence changes nothing, and change is what we need.”

The resignation today of Nigel Haworth cannot be, in the Prime Minister’s words, “the PR quick fix—usher the source of the controversy away.” Yes, Mr Haworth needed to go, and it should have happened weeks ago, but what is also known is that the Prime Minister’s own senior staff and a senior Minister have known the seriousness of the allegations but have not acted.

The complainants were members of the Labour Party. They genuinely believed that the party would listen to their complaints and deal with the alleged offender appropriately, but nothing happened. It clearly has taken an incredible sense of frustration, disappointment, and disillusion for these people to come to me, a National Party MP, to try and see their complaints addressed.

These are serious allegations. The Prime Minister cannot keep her head in the sand and pretend like it is happening somewhere far, far away. It is happening in her own office, in her own organisation. She is the leader of the Labour Party. The alleged perpetrator works in her leader’s office—he works for her.

Less than a year ago, the Prime Minister was in New York at the UN, trumpeting “Me too should be we too.” Well, who knew that that meant her own office was following the path well trod by all those companies who drew a curtain over sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour.

I have been told by the complainants that Jacinda Ardern’s former chief of staff Mike Munro knew about the allegations, her chief press secretary, Andrew Campbell, knew about the allegations, and the director of her leader’s office, Rob Salmond, knew about the allegations. I have been told by two victims who work in Parliament that they went to Rob Salmond around Christmas time and made a complaint about the alleged perpetrator.

That’s a lot of people who would normally report to the PM who purportedly didn’t on this very serious matter.

The Prime Minister has constantly said her office did not receive complaints and, in fact, encouraged the victims to speak to their line managers. They did. They have told me they went to Rob Salmond and nothing was done, and we are expected to believe that none of these men in her own office told the Prime Minister about the allegations—all of this in the aftermath of the Labour summer camp scandal, when the Prime Minister made it very clear she expected to have been told. And are we really expected to believe that she didn’t know that her chief press secretary, Andrew Campbell, embarked on a witch-hunt to try and find out who in the Beehive was talking to the media about the allegations? The complainants certainly felt hunted and scared that he was trying to shut them up and stop them from talking to the media—classic bullying of victims, and hardly a victim-led response.

A victim has told me that the alleged perpetrator has deep alliances to Grant Robertson, that he was involved in his campaign for the Labour Party leadership, and that Grant Robertson has known the seriousness of these allegations. It is unbelievable that he hasn’t discussed this with his close friend and his leader.

This all smacks of a cover-up. This goes straight to the top: to the Prime Minister, to senior Cabinet Ministers, and—

SPEAKER: Order! The member’s time has expired. . . 

Haworth’s time has expired, will anyone else follow?

This debacle does go to the top and at the top we have a woman whose brand is that of compassion, empathy and caring; one who we are expected to believe is a capable leader, who is, like Prime Ministers ought to be, is fully in control.

All of that is at very grave risk as a result of the mishandling of this situation and all the questions that remain over it.

One of those questions is that of competence: if the Prime Minister, her senior colleagues and staff can’t be trusted to run her office properly and safely, how can they be trusted to run the country?


The Genter pay gap

June 27, 2019

Labour and the Greens like to think they’re champions of women but there’s a Genter gender gap at the Women’s Ministry:

Women’s Minister Julie-Anne Genter has confirmed that women are paid less than men at the very Ministry that is focussed on eliminating the gender pay gap, National’s Women’s spokesperson Paula Bennett says.

“Julie-Anne Genter told a Select Committee that the men at her Ministry are paid six per cent more than the women. The pay gap at the Ministry has changed in favour of men since this Government came into power.

“If Julie-Anne Genter wants to have any credibility criticising private businesses or other Government departments, she needs to sort out her own Ministry first.

It’s so much easier to talk about the theory than to have it work in practice.

“This is another example of hypocrisy by Green Party Ministers who have swallowed more dead rats than a hungry stray cat. They supported the Waka-Jumping legislation, they didn’t get their Capital Gains Tax and there’s been no progress on the Kermadecs.

“Under a National Government the Gender Pay Gap decreased from 12 per cent to 9 per cent. It hasn’t changed under this Government.

“There are only 30 per cent women in this Government’s Cabinet, fewer than under the National Government. The Prime Minister has the opportunity to address this tomorrow in her reshuffle.

“The Greens were incredibly vocal in Opposition but they’re finding the reality of Government much harder. It’s time for them start walking the walk, because until now they’ve been all talk.”

One of the reasons the two women who were demoted from Cabinet haven’t been replaced is because the most likely candidates are men.

That poses a problem for a PM and a party that worries more about gender than ability and performance.


Govt knew there was no hack

June 7, 2019

The government knew there was no hack  before Gabriel Makhlouf made his public statements last week:

. . . The Government’s spy agency made urgent calls to the Beehive before Makhlouf’s public statement – we reveal today what they told at least one senior Government Minister. The new details come as Makhlouf faces a State Services Commission investigation over the way he handled claims the website had been hacked. It later transpired that Budget details could be uncovered using the Treasury’s search engine.

The Government Communications Security Bureau phoned the Beehive last week in a desperate 11th-hour bid to stop Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf from saying publicly that his department had been hacked, the Herald understands.

But it was too late.

The GCSB had already told the Treasury that it did not believe its computer system had been compromised.

The GCSB was sent a copy of Makhlouf’s statement just before it was due to be released on Tuesday night last week. . . 

This just gets messier and messier and needs a wider inquiry than just the States Services Commissioner’s one which won’t ask questions of Ministers.


Budget inquiry must be widened

June 4, 2019

The National Party is calling for the Budget inquiry to be widened:

The Prime Minister must be open and transparent about what questions she has asked her Finance Minister since spurious allegations were made that National acquired Budget documents through criminal activity, Deputy Leader of the Opposition Paula Bennett says.

National has written to State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes requesting the SSC widen its Budget investigation into Treasury and its Secretary to address a number of serious questions about the behaviour of both the department and the Finance Minister.

“The GCSB’s National Cyber Security Centre has said publically that it told Treasury its computer system was not compromised, yet both Gabriel Makhlouf and Grant Robertson chose to issue statements implying National carried out a ‘systematic hack’,” Ms Bennett says.

“Among the many questions that still need answering is what information Treasury and the Finance Minister had at their disposal before they issued those statements.

“The SSC inquiry should also include a complete review of all communications between the Finance Minister’s office and the Prime Minister’s office under the ‘no surprises’ approach.

“It took 36 hours for Treasury to come clean that it was sitting on a lie, and the Prime Minister needs to explain why she allowed her Government to mislead the public for so long.

“Did she and Grant Robertson ask the right questions of Gabriel Makhlouf, or did they take a ‘see no evil, speak no evil’ approach to all of this?

“It is concerning that even after Treasury admitted the Budget information was obtained without any hacking, its statement failed to offer an apology or take responsibility, and continued to disparage the Opposition in an entirely inappropriate way. . . 

John Armstrong isn’t waiting for an investigation he’s calling for resignations:

The chief executive of the Treasury, Gabriel Makhlouf, must resign.

It might have been Budget Day, thereby making his departure hugely inopportune for the Labour-led Government. That’s just tough. Makhlouf has to go. And forthwith. His exit on the most important date in the Treasury’s calendar may have piled humiliation on embarrassment.

It left Grant Robertson’s shiny new wellbeing budget feeling somewhat sick on its first public appearance. That’s just too bad. Makhlouf has to go. He has no choice in the matter. . .

He has to go — and for two simple reasons. Budget secrecy is sacrosanct; Budget secrecy is paramount. That is the bottom-line. It is non-negotiable. Any breach is sufficient grounds alone for heads to roll.

In Makhlouf’s case, there is another factor which should have sealed his fate — competence.

The ease with which National extracted Budget-connected information from the very heart of the (usually) most infallible branch of the Wellington bureaucracy demonstrated the shocking inadequacy of the Treasury’s cyber security.

It seems it is no exaggeration to say that the protections currently in place to guard that information have been at best lax and at worst non-existent. . . .

On top of that, the department’s handling of the aftermath of the breach of security raised further questions of competence.

The rapidity with which Makhlouf referred matters to the police following the hacking which soon enough turned out not to be hacking conveyed the impression that he believed National was responsible.

Although he endeavoured to avoid making that insinuation, in process, he veered dangerously close to soiling the Treasury’s neutrality.
While he might well be as neutral as he ever was, he is no longer seen as neutral. That is unacceptable. . . .

But this isn’t the only resignation Armstrong thinks should happen:

Should Robertson also be tending his resignation as a Cabinet minister or be sacked by the Prime Minister? The answer is an emphatic “yes”.

A breach of Budget secrecy — especially one of this week’s magnitude — is something so serious that resignation is mandatory.The applicability of ministerial responsibility demands nothing less. But it ain’t going to happen.

Robertson is exempt from having to fall on his sword. That exemption is by Labour Party decree. He is just too darned valuable.

Both he and the Prime Minister have made it very clear that they will move mountains to ensure Robertson emerges from this episode as untarnished as possible by placing responsibility for the breach fairly and squarely in the Treasury’s lap. . .

It’s been fascinating following commentary from the left which is trying to paint Simon Bridges as the wrong-doer in the botched Budget saga.

While we are mentioning Bridges, let’s deal with the bogus claims of his critics that his accessing of Budget documents was unethical, even if it was not unlawful. That is nonsense. Since the dawn of time, it has been incumbent on Opposition parties that they expose faults and failings in the policies and procedures adopted by the government of the day.

In revealing that the Treasury’s notion of what passes for Budget secrecy is screamingly flawed, Bridges has acted in the public interest.

Can his critics in Labour’s ranks put their hands on their hearts and affirm they would do things differently if they faced the same circumstances in Opposition? Of course not.

Bridges has simply been doing his job. On this week’s form, it is conceivable that he is going to be doing it a lot longer than both friend and foe have been predicting.

The machinations may be of little interest to any but political tragics but the botched Budget provided the Leader of the Opposition with an opportunity to shine in a week when the spotlight ought to have been on the Finance Minister and his leader, and shine he did.


Who leaked and why?

May 6, 2019

Will we have enough information to vote intelligently in  the referendum on cannabis?:

A Cabinet Paper leaked to National which will be considered by the Government tomorrow shows New Zealand will head into the recreational marijuana referendum with many unanswered questions, National’s Drug Reform spokesperson Paula Bennett says.

“Cabinet will tomorrow consider four different options for the referendum but no matter which option it choses, there are huge holes.

“The Cabinet Paper is clear that smoking marijuana when you’re under the age of 25 is detrimental for development of the brain, and yet it recommends that the legal age should be 20. The legal age seems to have been plucked out of thin air.

“The paper acknowledges that regular marijuana use increases the risk of developing depression, psychosis and schizophrenia and is especially harmful to those under 25-years-old. It also acknowledges that there is a one in six chance of young people becoming dependent. This would result in further demand for mental health services.

“There is no mention about what level of tax will be imposed on marijuana, will it be the same as tobacco and alcohol? Will it really get rid of the illicit market if it’s taxed at 40 or 50 per cent? Will a much higher tax rate be needed if they will test 10 per cent of the product to ensure THC levels are low?

“The Government hasn’t identified any budget for ensuring the public knows about the pros and cons of legalisation in the lead up to the referendum. Given how much this would impact our communities, New Zealanders need to know what they are voting for.

“Only one of the options being considered will give New Zealanders some certainty about what they’re voting for – the other options will mean a huge lack of information.

“Every option takes us straight to legalisation instead of decriminalisation. Many other countries consider decriminalisation first before leaping straight to legalisation.

“National understands that as usual with this Government, the coalition has been unable to reach a consensus and the decision around which option they will choose has been holding up the process.

“The problem with that is there isn’t time for yet more coalition disagreements on an issue this important.”

The options being considered are:

• A general question consistent with the undertaking in the Confidence and Supply agreement: “Do you support legalising the personal use of recreational cannabis?” This would not be accompanied by any legal framework or other policy decisions and it would be left to a subsequent Parliament to determine what to do in the event of a ‘yes’ vote.

• A questions referring to a specific policy framework document setting out the basic principles of what legalisation for personal use of recreational cannabis in New Zealand would entail: “Do you support legalising recreational cannabis in accordance with [published policy document]?” A ‘yes’ vote would result in the duly elected government and Parliament having some moral imperative, but no obligation, to enact law changes consistent with that policy document;

• A question referring to draft legislation that outlines the regulatory model for cannabis: ‘Do you support legalising the personal use of recreational cannabis in accordance with [published draft legislation]?” Similar to option 2, a ‘yes’ vote would result in the duly elected government and Parliament having some moral imperative, but no obligation, to enact the legislation.

• A question referring to legislation already enacted but conditional on an affirmative vote on the referendum: “Do you support legalising recreational cannabis in accordance with the [Drug Reform] Act 20XX?” A ‘yes’ vote would trigger the legislation coming into effect.

Brexit shows the dangers of a referendum when people neither know exactly what they’re voting for nor understand the consequences.

This leaked paper raises serious questions about the questions and whether or not we’ll know enough to make a fully informed vote.

There’s also the question of who leaked the paper and why?

Is it someone who is unhappy about this particular issue or is it someone who is unhappy about the direction – or more accurately lack of direction – of the government and it’s continuing non-delivery of anything of substance nearly half way through what is supposed to be the year of delivery?


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