Lost in translation?

25/06/2014

The Herald updates the Labour donations story:

Donghua Liu has issued a new statement to the Herald confirming “close to” $100,000 in total payments to Labour and its MPs – including anonymous donations – but clarifying that the money was not for one bottle of wine.

Liu, to whom Labour gave permanent residency against official advice, says his earlier signed statement on the wine auction was “capable of two meanings” and after repeated inquiries from the Herald he says he wants to clarify what he spent the $100,000 on.

The signed statement obtained by the Herald on Sunday said that at a 2007 Labour Party fundraiser, he “successfully bid on bottles of wine including one bottle signed by the then Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon Helen Clark, with a contribution of close to $100,000”.

The previous sentence in the signed statement said dinner and a boat trip on the Yangtze River in 2007 with a group including Rick Barker, the Minister for Internal Affairs at the time, which Liu estimated to cost between $50,000 to $60,000.

Today, Liu said: “I did say I made a contribution of close to $100,000 and that is my closing comment in my statement…that is how much I believe I have donated in total to Labour and some of their MPs during their last term in Government.”

He said the figure was the total payments to Labour and its politicians which included the wine auctions, a $2000 donation to the Hawkes Bay Rowing Club, the Yangtze River trip and anonymous donations to MPs. . .

It is possible that the difference between giving to the Labour Party, shouting one of its MPs a trip and donating to the rowing club the MP’s daughter belonged to was lost in translation.

Those might have been differences without distinction in China but that isn’t the case here.

However, if he gave nearly $100,000 there is still around $40,000 unaccounted for.

It might have been given to different electorates, MPs or candidates in smaller amounts.

Although under current rules that wouldn’t make any difference to the declaration the total given to the party whether as a whole or in different amounts at different times to different people or groups within the party must be added up and declared.


Show us the money

22/06/2014

Last week wasn’t one of Labour’s finest and it would be hard to get a worse start to this week than the news that Donghua Liu spent more than $150,000 on the previous Labour government, including $100,000 on a bottle of wine signed by former prime minister Helen Clark at a party fundraiser.

The embarrassing revelations are contained in a signed statement from Liu, which the Herald on Sunday has obtained.

They come at the end of a horror week for Labour, already under pressure after the New Zealand Herald revealed that Liu paid $15,000 for a book at the same fundraiser in 2007. Labour has said it had no record of any donations from Liu. And leader David Cunliffe had to fight to keep his job after revelations he wrote a letter for Liu’s residency, despite previous denials. . .

he latest developments have sparked calls for a police inquiry.

“This is scandalous from the public’s perspective. There has to be some sort of official investigation, whether it’s a police one or a parliamentary one,” said political commentator Bryce Edwards. “There must be some sort of official investigation, whether it’s a police or parliamentary.”

Asked about a potential investigation under electoral finance laws, Liu’s lawyer Todd Simmonds indicated that Liu was comfortable with his financial support and would cooperate with any inquiry.

Cunliffe last night dodged questions, saying it was a “matter for Labour Party’s head office”. Labour Party general secretary Tim Barnett said the party had no record of the donation.

Liu’s signed statement was dated May 3, two days after Williamson’s resignation. It said:

• Liu paid “close to $100,000” for wine at a 2007 Labour Party fundraiser;

• That he spent $50-60,000 hosting then-labour minister Rick Barker on a cruise on the Yangtze River in China in 2007; and

• That Liu visited Barker in Hawke’s Bay in 2006, having dinner with him at an exclusive lodge and then meeting for breakfast the next morning. Liu said he made a donation to Hawke’s Bay Rowing, which Barker was associated with.

Barker previously told the Herald that he could barely remember having dinner.

Last night Barker, now a regional councillor, said the revelations came “as a surprise and a complete reversal” of Liu’s previous comments.

Edwards said while it was not clear if Labour had broken any laws, public confidence in the party had been dented. . .

Edwards added that although the blame did not lie with Cunliffe personally, he had to deal with egg on his face. “It does create a charge of hypocrisy because he’s campaigned strongly against the Government relationship with Donghua Liu and it appears Labour’s relationship is just as deep.”

Liu yesterday told the Herald that his donations had been in good faith without any expectation. “It is over to the politicians to make any appropriate declarations. . .

MPs  don’t always, perhaps even usually, know the details of who gives how much money to their parties.

That is to separate them from any accusations of money for favours.

But if the NZ Herald could get a photo of Liu’s wife accepting a bottle of wine from an MP, surely someone in the party could have too before they started slinging mud at National?

Surely someone who was there could remember the event and if not the exact sum, that it was a biggie?

Surely someone in Labour – whether currently involved or not –  who had the party’s interests at heart would have remembered someone paying close to $100,000 for a bottle of wine at a fund-raiser and reminded Cunliffe of that before he led the charge and devoted weeks trying to dirty National instead of concentrating on what really matters.

In his last few interviews he’s finally got his lines straight on that – the sideshows he’s tried to orchestrate to dirty national aren’t what matters but his problem is hypocrisy and poor political management do concern voters and he and his party are continuing to show both.

Before this latest revelation, Duncan Garner called Labour under David Cunliffe a train wreck.

. . . When Cunliffe utters a word or two these days the collective intake of breath among his MPs is simply frightening.

He’s had a host of gaffes this year – and the best he’s looked was when he shut up and stood in the background while his wife, Karen Price, talked about the birds (chickens) and the bees in an interview at their home.

Cunliffe was parachuted into the job of leader, not because his MPs really wanted him – most dislike him – but because Labour Party members and union affiliates were desperate for someone to articulate their values.

To say he’s been a disappointment is an understatement. After this week’s horrors he looks unelectable as the next prime minister. He’s genuinely gone from bad to worse. . .

John Armstrong said Cunliffe has steered Labour on to the rocks:

When it comes to casting aspersions, few insults are as venomous, vicious or more driven by utter contempt than accusing someone of being a “scab”.

That is particularly the case on the left of the political spectrum where the battles of old between capital and labour provided the source of the term to describe those who broke rank from the union and who were then ostracised forever.

A workforce which is now largely non-unionised has made such name-calling far more infrequent, and at times sound rather dated.

But there was nothing quaint about the leader of the Labour Party this week insinuating colleagues who did not give him their full support were scabs.

It was astonishing. It implied treachery in the extreme. What the outburst really revealed was someone looking for scapegoats for his own self-inflicted woes. . .

It wasn’t the letter written 11 years ago and forgotten about that did the damage.

It was that he’s fronted months of attacks on National for links to donors without the political nous to ensure that he and his party were squeaky clean first.

Where the leader’s chief of staff and supposed political strategist Matt McCarten was in this mess is not obvious. But whether or not he was let down by others,  Cunliffe led the attack without having first secured his own position.

Mud clings to the hand that throws it and this week Cunliffe managed to splatter himself, and his party with it.

But having steered the ship on to the rocks, he’s not about to hand over the captaincy, and it’s doubtful anyone could be found willing to accept responsibility for the leaky boat.

Today’s revelations have endangered the boat even more.

Liu said he donated a large sum of money to Labour. The party says it has no record of it.

That’s a very big breach of electoral law and raises a very big question – if the party has no record of the donation where did it go?

And to add to accusations against the party which tries to show itself as welcoming of diversity, let’s not forget the Labour used someone who was granted residency by a Labour Immigration minister to score political points and there’s a nasty undertone, deliberate or not of xenophobia in their attacks:

“However, because I’ve built relationships with politicians, made donations, because it’s election year and, dare I say, because I’m Chinese, I suppose I’ve been an easy target for some to gain some political mileage and score some points.”

In the last election campaign, Phil Goff was let down by his then finance spokesman, Cunliffe, when he was asked to show us the money for his policies.

Less than three months from the next election, the party is going to have to show us the missing money or confirm that a party which can’t account for money it’s been given for its own use can’t be trusted to handle money it takes from taxpayers for public use.

 


Stones from glass house

16/06/2014

The Labour Party has been caught throwing stones from a glass house – again:

A wealthy Auckland businessman, whose links to the National Party led to a minister’s resignation, also made a secret $15,000 donation to the Labour Party – and hosted a Cabinet minister at a lavish dinner in China.

The Labour Party has previously accused the Government of “cash for access” deals with Donghua Liu, who received citizenship after lobbying from National minister Maurice Williamson and whose hotel was later opened by Prime Minister John Key.

But the Herald can reveal Liu, 53, also paid $15,000 at a Labour Party auction in 2007 for a book signed by Helen Clark, the Prime Minister at the time, according to a party source.

The source said Liu also hosted Rick Barker, the then Internal Affairs Minister, at a dinner in his hometown of Chongqing.

Mr Barker, who is now a regional councillor in Hawkes Bay, confirmed he was a guest at the dinner and also visited Liu’s cement company while on holiday in China

But he said he was not aware Liu was a Labour donor and he was not in China on official business as a minister. . .

Political donations made at fundraising auctions or dinners are not recorded individually, but the total amount raised is declared. . . .

Kiwiblog corrects that last statement:

. . . If a donation at an auction or dinner is larger than the disclosure threshold it must be declared with the identity of the individual who made it.

The disclosure limit in 2007 was $10,000. Liu donated $15,000 to Labour. The party should have declared him as a donor. . .

This is yet another Labour failure to abide by the disclosure rules.

There is another interesting aspect to this story – it comes from a party source.

That points to instability and unhappiness in the party’s ranks and raises some questions:

Who knew about the donation then who is in caucus now or still active in the party?

Why didn’t s/he/they warn the MPs attacking National over Liu that they were throwing stones from a glass house?

What has prompted the source of the story to talk now and what else does s/he know that the public ought to know too?


Compulsory voluntarism ?

05/05/2011

Labour wants to talk to Act MP Heather Roy about her  bill which will make membership of student unions voluntary.

Chief Whip Rick Barker told Morning Report that Labour is willing to debate the bill, but it has some concerns about its context.

He said the problem is that it makes voluntarism – compulsory.

Compulsory voluntarism?

The logic of this defeats me. If you can explain what sounds like an oxymoron to me, please do.


3 out of 3’s not good

02/11/2009

An opposition party desperate for publicity would normally be pleased that three of the country’s biggest papers devoted their editorials to it.

But Labour wouldn’t be celebrating the editorial round ups they were given last week.

The ODT editorial was headlined Earning Trust:

It damns Phil Goff with faint praise, says the team he leads is shy on talent then gets to the nub of the matter:

 One reason delaying its return is the question of trust.

There were sufficient numbers of dodgy practices by Labour when in government to help speed the party’s exit from power; any attempted repetition of that behaviour so early in its term of Opposition should be a dominating concern of Mr Goff and his colleagues.

The Dominion Post’s editorial was headed No shortcuts for labour’s sinners.

The party’s MPs have lost touch with the voters who elected three straight Labour-led governments.

If they were doing their jobs, the MPs would know, from their daily contact with constituents and interest groups, what the pressing issues are.

Labour’s MPs resemble grumpy, disinherited members of the landed gentry who have been turfed out of their comfy gentlemen’s club for not paying their subscriptions and are trying to fast talk their way back in past the doorman.

But there are no shortcuts. If Labour’s MPs want to regain the good opinion of the public, they will have to earn it.

Voters are drawn to politicians who seek to serve their (voters’) interests. They are repelled by politicians who seek to serve their own interests.

The Herald on Sunday editorial was headlined Labour lose moral compass:

Barker has acted dishonestly.

Hughes has sacrificed principle for patsy-ism.

Goff has just cowered and, when confronted by political reporters outside the Labour Caucus room with nowhere to hide, obfuscated.

Labour’s leader must now stand up and take responsibility for the deception that was conducted with funds entrusted to him by Parliament.

Barker should be sacked from all his Caucus responsibilities. Hughes, too, must be left in no doubt about how repugnant his rationalisations are.

These, then, are the simple truths that are demanded of Labour’s tarnished leadership.

And these are the truths Labour has forgotten.

Using public money for party polling was wrong, but it’s Labour’s response to it which has kept the issue live and raised issues about integrity which won’t be countered easily.

Parties have to earn public trust before they win votes and Labour spent last week showing once again why it can’t be trusted.

As Meat Loaf might have sung: We don’t like them, we don’t trust them, we don’t want them and three out of three’s not good.


False names & fake company polls with public money

25/10/2009

Polling is a common practice for political parties and MPs are able to poll using public money.

But why hide behind false names and a fake company?

The Labour leadership is embroiled in a murky polling operation run by a senior MP who has instructed volunteers to deliberately deceive people about their identities and the reason for their calls.

The polls were being run from Parliamentary offices by former Cabinet minister Rick Barker, who has admitted instructing staff to use false names and claim they were calling from a company that no longer exists.

I don’t know if this could be considered false pretences but it’s definitely not a good look.

In case you’re wondering why the party was using public funds for what is obviously political ends, Labour is deeply in debt so doesn’t have party funds to use for polling.


Immigration fraud investigation

17/10/2008

Internal Affairs Minsiter Rick Barker says an investigation is underway into immigration fraud.

He made the statement after media inquiries following a teaser post on The Briefing Room about a story in TGIF.


New passport – why not smaller?

02/09/2008

A new design for New Zealand passports features a silver fern on a black background.

It also has a map of New Zealand and the coat of arms although the latter is smaller than the one in the current passport.

Internal Affairs Minister Rick Barker said the current design was very similar to other countries’ passports, but the new design was instantly recognisable as being from New Zealand.

“I’m pleased to see we have a passport that’s strikingly New Zealand, is unmistakable and if ever left in a pool of all the other passports in the world, you would pick it instantly.”

The new passport will also have 50 separate security features, making it one of the most technologically advanced in the world.

I don’t have a problem with the new design, but wonder if it’s possible to make passports smaller.

When we travel I keep my passport in a money belt around my waist which is fine when I’m standing but when I sit down it gets in the way and buckles. That wouldn’t happen if it was smaller.

It would be better still if all the information needed in a passport could be contained in something the size of a credit card.


Peters’ fiasco shows MMP flaws

01/08/2008

Public law specialist Andy Nicholls says the Peters’ debacle shows a review of MMP is needed.

Winston Peters’ value to both Labour and National has become abundantly clear. Both parties are pulling their punches over the donations allegations for fear of alienating him as an ally or future ally.

MMP creates hostage situations. Remember Alamein Kopu and her pull over Jenny Shipley?

In this most recent row Sir Robert Jones has unexpectedly been firing most of the bullets at Peters. He probably summed up the view of many when he said, “I belong to a different era. I don’t like it now under MMP.”

John Key has said National will, if elected, hold a referendum into MMP. Key’s referendum will first ask voters: are you satisfied with MMP? If the majority says no, then a second referendum will be held pitting MMP against some other unspecified alternative.

But is this what we need? MMP was itself born out of a referendum, and voter frustration at the unbridled power of first-past-the-post governments. First Sir Robert Muldoon, then Sir Roger Douglas proved if you could control the Cabinet you could control the country.

But one wage freeze and an unadvertised rapid economic transformation later, voters realised they wanted their leaders on a tighter leash. They wanted them to have to work harder, and more consensually, to get their own way. Which is what MMP delivers with its minority or coalition governments, its requirements to consult and its generally slower pace of change.

Referendums are very blunt instruments and support for MMP in the 1993 one came at least in part from people voting against politicians rather than for a change in the voting system.

Plus, of course, for anyone younger than 32, two-tick voting is voting. So why would we ditch it? Because MMP has flaws which undermine the legitimacy of our parliamentary system.

Nicolls gives examples such as the ability for MPs like Gordon Copeland to abandon their parties, switch allegience and still be an MP; or those like Rick Barker who lose a seat but still get back into parliament – and even cabinet – on a party list. Although this also allows MPs to enter parliament when standing in an unwinnable seat, as Katherine Rich has in Dunedin North.

If that is justified by the sanctity of the party list, then what about Mike Ward and Catherine Delahunty? Both Greens and both higher placed on the list than Russel Norman, yet both pushed inelegantly aside when Nandor Tanczos’s early retirement offered the co-leader the chance to get to Parliament in time for some pre-campaign publicity.

All these inconsistencies create unfairness, though not so much as the threshold rule itself.

Under MMP a party must win 5 per cent of the party vote or an electorate seat. A win in an electorate, where the party scores lower than 5 per cent, still gets a proportionate top-up. So Rodney Hide’s win in Epsom gave Act two MPs even though the party won only 1.5 per cent of the party vote.

By comparison, in 1996, the Christian Coalition won 4.33 per cent of the party vote, a hair’s breadth from the magic threshold. But it failed to win in any electorate – so bad luck, no MPs.

There are two issues. Firstly, is the 5 per cent threshold too high? The commission that recommended MMP preferred 4 per cent, but the two major parties argued for a higher threshold. Those fears have proved unfounded. In fact, as much as MMP has delivered a more diverse Parliament, only one new party (Act) has broken in since the switch to MMP. The others have all been created around a sitting member.

But is the electorate threshold too low? In Germany, a party must win three electorates before qualifying for list seats. Adopting a three-electorates or 5 per cent criterion at the 2005 election would have seen five parties able to get in list MPs.

United Future and Act would have been restricted to Peter Dunne and Rodney Hide. As Jim Anderton couldn’t bring in a list MP under current arrangements, the Progressives would have been unaffected. Since none of those three parties attracted more than 2.6 per cent of the party vote, is that an unfair result?

And then there is the Maori vote. Last election, the Maori Party won 2.12 per cent of the party vote and four electorates, hence it has four MPs. This coming election it may win more electorates even though polling indicates its party vote will be no higher.

Since the number of Maori seats grows in accordance with the number on the Maori roll, it is entirely possible that over time this disparity between the number of MPs elected and the party’s proportion of the party vote will grow. That will mean a larger and larger over-hang and the leading party will need to garner not 61 votes to govern, but 63, 64, 65. Is this what we want?

These are all valid issues in need of debate. But they do not fit the yes-no format of a referendum. Nor do they provide evidence that MMP itself is beyond repair.

What they point to is the need for a considered review of the electoral system. Learning the lessons of the Electoral Finance Act, this should be conducted in a non-partisan way with a clearly stated purpose of seeking greater fairness.

In the spirit of fairness, perhaps such a review should also look at the Prime Minister’s prerogative to set the election date. Or the length of the political term; four years might be more productive.

The problem is that these changes require MPs to vote against their own interest. History tells us MPs don’t do that. Which is why a simplistic question in a referendum is so appealing. It looks as if something substantive is being done, even if it isn’t.

But concerns about MMP’s peculiarities are genuine and a more considered review would be more constructive.

I agree a considered review if not instead of, at least before, a referendum would serve us better than the blunt instrument of for or against vote in isolation.


Where was the Labour candidate?

22/07/2008

The NZ Lottery Grants Board has doanted up to $3.7 million towards the $9.7m refurbishment of Oamaru’s 100 year old Opera  House.

The grant from the board’s new significant projects fund is a welcome boost to local fundraising efforts and was announced by Internal Affairs Minister Rick Barker today.

The board falls under Internal Affairs so it is appropriate the Minsiter was there, but where was the Labour candidate for Waitaki?

The house was sitting today and he’s a Minister with other responsibilities – but couldn’t he have made sure the announcement was made on a day when he was able to be there and bask in the attendant publicity? Or is he not really trying to win the seat?

Given it’s nearly 35,000 square kilometres I don’t blame him if he’d rather just be a List MP, but this may well be the first time in history a candidate has failed to make the most of an opportunity for good publicity 🙂


$3m or more for Opera House?

22/07/2008

Minister of Internal Affairs, Rick Barker, is in Oamaru this morning for what the Oamaru Mail calls “a presentation” at the Opera House.

It is expected he will be announcing a grant towards the refurbishment of the historic building.

The Mail reports a rumour that it could be up to $3m but yesterday the grapevine was tipping as much as $3.5m.

The refurbishment began in March last year and is expected to be completed towards the end of this year.

Raising the $9.7m needed for the project is a huge task for the District but a combination of community fundraising efforts and grants has rasied nearly $6.5m so far.


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