Only way from peak is down

May 25, 2020

Jacinda Ardern is the most popular Prime Minister in a century, Tova O’Brien told us in announcing the Newshub Reid Research poll last Monday.

The claim was repeated by other media. On Friday, RNZ told us Todd Muller had been given the job of taking on the most popular prime minister in history.

The Newshub claim might have been excused as hyperbole but RNZ’s one came days after the Herald fact-checked and put the poll result in perspective :

A poll last night revealed what most New Zealanders probably already knew: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a popular Prime Minister.

But for Newshub to call her the “most popular Prime Minister in a century” is “hasty and premature”, says a political historian.

In fact, there were no opinion polls before 1974 and the claim compares Ardern’s personal popularity to the last century of election results. . .

Though opinion polls don’t often match the votes and to compare them was “silly”, said Grant Duncan associate professor of politics at Massey University.

Ardern hasn’t had the longevity of the likes of Savage nor comfortably won an election. And the poll was taken in an unpredictable and extraordinary time, he said.

“It’s silly to say at this stage, let’s just wait for six years before we make that claim.

“Let’s hold the horses, please.” . . 

We’ll never know if Ardern is more popular than all the Prime Ministers before 1974, but even if the claim was about polls rather than leaders it’s wrong.

For example, then Prime Minister John Key’s preferred prime minister ranking reached as high as 73.3 per cent on a Herald-Digipoll in 2014.

In fact, Key consistently polled around 60 per cent in Herald-Digipolls during his tenure as prime minister and in September 2011 peaked at 59 per cent in the 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll.

There’s no doubt 59.5% is high polling but it’s not in the 60s or 70s. Why did Tova O’Brien make the claim and why, days after it has been fact-checked did RNZ make a similar one?

Does it matter? Yes because as Steve Elers says news turns fake when facts are replaced with hyperbole:

. . . The definition of a century hasn’t changed. So, what has? The credibility of news media — that’s what. Reuters, Forbes, The Guardian, and many other news media outlets from around the world all ran reports of Ardern as the “most popular prime minister in a century”. That’s fake news, folks. Why? Because it isn’t true.

And if the news media are meant to hold the watchdog role of society by questioning and holding power to account, but instead fly the flag for power and spread fake news, who then holds the news media to account? 

Yes, it is meant to be the New Zealand Media Council. Sure, they’re the toothless self- regulatory body for New Zealand’s media but they have no influence over the global media organisations who have already spread this fiction particular to their audiences.

According to my students, those global news media feeds appear prominently in social media of New Zealanders — well, at least in their age bracket.

I would go so far to say that fake news is a real threat to the democracy of our country. In this case, the question needs to be asked: Why was Ardern promoted as the “most popular prime minister in a century” when she clearly wasn’t?

So not the most popular in a century, nor in history, but where to from here? Duncan noted:

“And what goes up, must come down.”

If Ardern’s popularity stopped short of 60% after weeks of positive media opportunities when the country was focused on dealing with Covid-19, how likely is it that it will be bettered as we adjust to the new normal where we’re still constrained in what we can do and with whom we can do it, and 1,000 people are losing their jobs every day?

It might be wishful thinking on my part, but this could be her peak.

The news is already changing from positive coverage of dealing with the health crisis to rising concern about handling the economic one and Ardern is now up against a new Opposition leader who will, at least for a while, be shining in the media spotlight.

That 59.5% didn’t make Ardern the most popular Prime Minister in a century and if that’s her peak, the only way from there is down. Conversely, National has almost certainly reached its nadir and the only way from there is up.


Fast justice needed

February 19, 2020

The Serious Fraud Office is investigating New Zealand First Foundation:

The SFO had been considering whether to launch an investigation after police handed in a complaint from the Electoral Commission last November.

That followed reports by RNZ about the way the foundation had been handling donations, and questions about disclosure and donors’ identities.

It referred the matter to the police, who promptly sent it to the Serious Fraud Office last week.

The commission said it had formed the view the secretive foundation had received donations that should have been treated as donations to New Zealand First.

“The Commission does not have the investigative powers to form a view about whether this failure to transmit and the non-disclosure means offences have been committed,” the commission said.

The commission passed its findings to police last Monday, and police immediately referred that on to the SFO. . .

Justice can’t be rushed but this is a situation which requires fast action.

This has been under consideration since November. That’s around three months which, even allowing for the Christmas shut down, is a long time.

In less than seven months, people will be casting early votes.

That there is an investigation could have a significant impact on the election and voters need to know the outcome so they can make a fully informed decision before they vote.


Politics of appeasement

February 17, 2020

When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else … you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being. – Eleanor Roosevelt

Wondering what Labour and the Green Party think about New Zealand First and its leader?  Are they staying true to their values and promises, or have they adopted the standards and values of New Zealand First and its leader Winston Peters?

Keep wondering because, as Henry Cooke writes,  their silence is deafening:

. . .  there’s a difference between leeway for jokes and leeway for seriously unbecoming behaviour. And the prime minister has slipped this week from the usual kind of space people give Winston to be Winston into plain supplicancy.

Jacinda Ardern is yet to say anything at all about the fact the Electoral Commission made absolutely clear on Monday that the way NZ First was treating donations to its foundations was wrong. . .

Instead of properly taking this on, Ardern has hidden, as politicians often do, behind the perceived inappropriateness of commenting while some process is still active.

Sometimes this waiting game is both useful and sensible – politicians shouldn’t talk too much about murder trials before they finish.

But in this case it makes no sense. . . .

. . .there are ways of commenting on things without alleging criminal conduct. It is the lifeblood of adversarial politics.

Following the Electoral Commission’s finding, Ardern would have been totally within her rights to say, at the very least, that she thought these donations should have been declared to the commission. She could have said she was disappointed that a coalition partner appeared not to have been as fulsome as it could have been with informing the authorities – all without alleging any kind of crime. . .

Later last week it wasn’t just the donations saga on which she wasn’t commenting.

This silence got even louder on Thursday when it became clear that NZ First had some kind of involvement in two covertly taken photographs of journalists reporting on the Foundation story, which found their way onto a right-wing blog. Peters told Magic Talk on Tuesday that “we took the photographs just to prove that’s the behaviour going on”, but later backtracked to say a supporter just happened to see the journalists and thought he or she should snap a photo.

Because of this shifting story, there is a muddle over exactly how involved NZ First and Peters are, a muddle that would best be sorted out by Ardern demanding a fuller explanation from Peters. Any level of involvement in this kind of tactic – clearly designed to intimidate journalists – is worth condemning, and you can bet that, if Ardern was in Opposition, she would manage it.

Instead she’s not commenting, saying it is a “matter for NZ First”, while her office notes that she speaks about ministerial decisions and comments, not about things said as party leader. 

The thing is, the Cabinet Manual does have a section about ministers upholding and being seen to uphold “the highest ethical standards” at all times, not just when doing ministerial business. Ardern has all the ammo she needs to give Peters a dressing-down over this, but instead she defers. Things don’t have to be illegal to be wrong.

And it’s not just Labour which is staying silent.

Worse, this rot of silence has also infected the Green Party, which, as a confidence and supply partner, has plenty of legitimate room to criticise such tactics. You don’t need to tear the Government up or demand that Peters is fired – you can just say what the journalists’ union said on Friday, that Peters needs to explain himself and apologise.

Instead the Greens just talk about how the law needs to be changed – which most people agree with, but isn’t the point. The topic at hand isn’t underhanded but lawful behaviour, it’s stuff that is potentially illegal – hence the police referral. The party should grow back its spine. . .

John Armstrong has a similar view:

Rarely has the current prime minister looked quite so feeble as was evident during yet another turbulent week for her pockmarked, patchwork Administration.

It was another week which witnessed Winston Peters at his frustrating, selfish, perfidious and domineering worst.

In a perfect world, it would have been a week which ended with him having been relieved of the title of Deputy Prime Minister, if only temporarily.

So damning was the verdict of the Electoral Commission on the propriety of the activities of the highly-secretive New Zealand First Foundation that any other minister finding themselves on the receiving end of such a judgement would have been stood down forthwith.

That verdict on its own is a damning indictment. Once it it became public that the commission’s findings had been passed to the Serious Fraud Office, Peters’ relinquishing of his status of Deputy Prime Minister ought to have been a mere formality, if only a temporary measure while the SFO determined whether everything was above board or whether prosecutions should follow its investigation.

Peters, however, has clearly concluded that he is somehow exempt from the rules covering the disclosure of the source of political donations.

The arrogance is breathtaking — especially from someone who has previously suffered the ignominy of being censured by his parliamentary colleagues. . . 

Given that track record, Peters is beyond being shamed.

He might be beyond being shamed, has that rubbed off on the other parties in government?

Just witness the outrageousness of the New Zealand First Foundation, the leaked records of which have revealed its purpose had been to accept donations in the tens of thousands of dollars from some of the country’s wealthiest individuals without having to disclose their names.

Ardern’s problem is that Peters is Deputy Prime Minister. She cannot wash her hands of him no matter how embarrassing his statements and actions might be for her or the wider Labour Party they might be. Neither can she sit blithely to one side and pretend that Peters’ very obvious agenda to undermine the Electoral Commission is not happening.

Ardern needs to read the Riot Act to Peters — and not just to remind him of his constitutional obligations.

Failure to do so makes her look weak. In dragging her down, he is dragging Labour down too.

She’s letting the party be dragged down lest Peters brings the whole government down, even though Simon Bridges’ announcement National own’t work with NZ First should it be in a position to do so after the next election leaves it, like the Greens, the choice of going with Labour or sitting or sitting on the cross benches.

He hasn’t got a lot of options. It would seem to be an opportune time to remind him of that. He is hardly in a position to pull down the Government.

That makes Ardern’s failure to talk tough appear even more pathetic. . . 

And not for the first time. remember Clare Cullen and Iain Lees-Galloway?

The bizarre chain of events which unfolded on Thursday only reinforced the case for Peters losing the title of Deputy Prime Minister.

The revelation that he was party to the covert photographing and filming of journalists whose investigations of the New Zealand First Foundation have uncovered much to embarrass him and his party is a clear breach of the provisions in the Cabinet Manual covering the conduct expected of ministers of the crown.

To quote that handbook: “At all times, ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards. This includes exercising a professional approach and good judgement in their interactions with the public and officials, and in all their communications, personal and professional”. . .

Andrea Vance has more to say about snooping on  journalists:

No doubt Peters’ supporters are enjoying the irony of publishing paparazzi-style photographs of the reporters digging dirt on their party

For reasons that are unfathomable to me, New Zealand tends to minimise Peters more outrageous behaviour. But he is no lovable rogue – and this is straight-up intimidation.

Protecting the identity of journalists’ sources is an essential part of media freedom.

The threat of surveillance is chilling. It can have an intimidating and traumatising effect. . .

We might be a troublesome and unlovable bunch, but good journalism and a free press is an essential part of a functioning democracy.  

This attack on Shand and Espiner’s privacy is an attack on the public’s right to know about who is secretly funding their Government partner. 

Both Labour and the Greens must acknowledge that and condemn it, if we are to believe their exhortations New Zealand politics should be transparent and fair.

Both Labour and the Greens are forced into silence or at best mealy-mouthed muttering over New Zealand Firsts and Peters because they daren’t face up to him lest he pulls the pin that blows up the government.

Ever since the coalition was formed they’ve pandered to him, exercising politics of appeasement, having to make material concessions, several of which have been contrary to their principles and values.

They’ve swallowed so many dead rats they must suffer from permanent indigestion.

One of MMP’s big weaknesses is that it allows the tail to wag the dog. Peters and his party aren’t just wagging the other two parties they have forced them to roll over and accept not just policies that are contrary to their principles and they’re now, by refusing to condemn it,  accepting behaviour that is too.

Many commentators have questioned the values and standards of NZ First and its leader. Labour and Greens are day by day being more tainted by association and exposing their own values and standards to questions too.


More questions on slush fund

January 21, 2020

The Provincial Growth Fund is in the news for the wrong reason again:

A forestry company with close links to New Zealand First says it gave a presentation to Shanne Jones about a project it was seeking a $15 million government loan for – months before Jones says he first heard of it.

When NZ Future Forest Products (NZFFP) applied for Provincial Growth Fund money on 8 April, 2019, the company was asked whether the project had been “previously discussed” with the government.

The application form shows NZFFP ticked the ‘yes’ box and said it had made a “presentation to the Minister” about its forestry and wood processing plans “including descriptions of the applicant”.

Jones, a New Zealand First MP who is forestry minister and the minister responsible for the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund, has consistently claimed he first heard about the NZFFP bid on 14 October last year. . . 

Jones refused to be interviewed over the latest revelation but in a statement said the presentation never happened. “There was no presentation as described by the applicants,” he said.

The statement said Jones “did not have any Ministerial meetings to discuss the application”.

After being asked if he had any meetings at all with any NZFFP representatives in 2019, he responded in a statement “no”. He went on to say he was “not involved in PGF-related conversations with the Henrys under the guise of NZFFP”.

But in an interview with RNZ, David Henry, who is Brian Henry’s son and the NZFFP director who signed the application form, said the presentation was a 15-minute meeting he and Jones had in Wellington.

“We had a discussion with Shane. I think it was about a 15-minute chat. Whether you want to call it a briefing or a presentation – it was a short discussion generally about the New Zealand wood supply chain and what we personally believed.” . . 

The application was turned down, but National’s Regional Development spokesperson Chris Bishop says that still leaves questions to be answered:

“While no money changed hands, the process is even more important than the substantive outcome because of the close links between those involved and the historical murkiness of Shane Jones’ $3 billion slush fund.”

That is the nub of the problem – the PGF is a slush fund with few if any of the checks and balances in the allocation process which ought to precede any spending of taxpayers’ funds.


Those dots don’t join

July 8, 2019

RNZ’s story on Air New Zealand’s decision to stop stocking newspapers in its lounges included the views of students at a climate change workshop:

. . . “I think one word I would use to describe their sustainability, is ‘pathetic’: their profit is just unbelievable.”

How does she get from a discussion on whether the airline’s move is a positive one for the environment or greenwashing to an unbelievable profit?

Those dots don’t join.

By unbelievable I presume she means the company’s profit is too high.

Would she think it would be more sustainable if it had a lower profit or even a loss?

It’s possible the comment was part of a bigger one which could make sense.

But as it stands, it looks like someone who doesn’t understand that sustainability is not one dimensional; it must balance environmental, social and economic concerns; and that you can’t be green if you’re in the red.

 


To name or not to name?

October 30, 2018

To name or not to name the MP who was Jami-Lee Ross’s lover and is said to have sent a very nasty text to him? This is the question exercising minds on Kiwi Journalists’ Facebook page.

RNZ gave considerable coverage to the text but published only a few words, Whale Oil published it in full.

Apparently most political journalists believe they know who she is and she has been named on social media.

A few years ago this question would not have been asked.

But times, and journalism have changed.

Do the public, which will include people whose votes might be influenced by the knowledge, have the right to know which MP behaved this way?

Whether or not it’s ethical to name her, I have no doubt her name will become public soon.

Whether it’s on a blog or in the mainstream media will be irrelevant. Once it’s published somewhere other outlets will follow.


There’s a Hole in my Budget

May 17, 2018

Hat tip: The Panel at RNZ National


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