Keep that door shut

May 26, 2020

One of the questions National leader Todd Muller has been asked is will he open the door to New Zealand First?

His answer is that the decision was made by caucus and it hasn’t changed.

Nor should it.

The door was closed for very good reasons, not least of which is NZ First’s leader Winston Peters can’t be trusted.

Before the last election he gave the usual spiel about waiting until after people had voted then began negotiations with both National and Labour, even though he was serving legal papers on two of National’s most senior MPS – Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley.

That was showing bad faith to both voters and National.

Since then he’s had his day in court, dropped the case against the MPs, lost the case against the Ministry of Social Development but has announced he’s appealing that decision.

Since then the Serious Fraud Office has begun investigating donations to the New Zealand First Foundation and its relationship with the party.

Since then he’s continued to act the way he always does, which is to put his own interests, and that of his party, first regardless of what’s best for the government of which he’s a part, or the country.

He simply can’t be trusted.

Shutting the door to NZ First gave people who want a National-led government a very clear message – if that’s what they want they’d be wasting their votes if they give them to NZ First.

Opening the door will suggest to them they could get a National-led government by voting for NZ First.

Much has been made of National’s rating in last weeks two polls, there’s been only passing reference to NZ First’s support which was well below the 5% required to stay in parliament without an electorate.

With a new leader and refreshed caucus, National’s support will climb again.

With the same old leader and same tiresome antics, there’s a very good chance that NZ First’s won’t.

National got a poll-bounce when it shut the door on NZ First earlier this year. Opening it would send the wrong signal to voters, and help NZ First at National’s expense.

The door was firmly shut months ago and it must stay shut.


Begging questions

May 1, 2020

Winston Peters gave what he thought was a big reveal:

The Health Ministry initially recommended New Zealand shut its borders completely – including to citizens and permanent residents – but this was rejected by Cabinet, the Foreign Minister has revealed today.

In a media conference early this afternoon, Winston Peters said health officials had strongly pushed for shutting the borders, even to New Zealanders, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Peters said while this was “understandable and appropriate advice” from a health perspective, Cabinet ministers rejected that as it was “inconceivable that we [would] ever turn our backs on our own”. . . 

It was understandable and appropriate advice from a health perspective and that’s what people in the Ministry of Health are paid to provide.

Cabinet rejecting the advice is appropriate too. Ministers are supposed to weigh up all the advice they get and decide on a course of action which would very, very rarely, follow all the advice they are given.

He said it was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) that convinced health officials to keep the border open to some in both directions, and the reason he brought this to the public’s attention was because they deserved to be thanked. . .

The Ministry convinced health officials to keep the border open?

Really? Why did anyone need convincing when this was the only legal course because New Zealand signed a United Nations convention which means we can’t refuse entry to our own citizens.

So what was all Peters’ grandstanding about? Mike Hosking reckons the government was playing us like a fiddle:

Did you notice we were played like a fiddle yesterday? Well we were, if you weren’t alert to it.

From nowhere comes Winston Peters, with his startling revelation that Cabinet was given advice by the Ministry of Health to lock all overseas New Zealanders out of the country.

What Cabinet deals with is under the Cabinet Collective. It’s secret. We don’t know what they’ve been advised, and by who.

When was the last time you saw a press conference in which we are told what the Cabinet had been advised on any given day? You haven’t, because it doesn’t happen.

But yesterday it did. Why? I reckon it’s because they’re panicking. They are panicking about the reaction to the health side of their response and the growing reality that the economic fallout is going to be their nightmare. . . 

It will be a nightmare with high health and other social costs too.

But back to yesterday’s charade.

All this shows us is ministries offer free and frank advice devoid of circumstances outside their mandate – ie health doesn’t know, nor care, about UN conventions, they were merely worried about people coming back and infecting us.

And as irony would have it, they were quite rightly worried given we didn’t quarantine. We favoured self-isolation, and we all know where that got us.

And I reckon the Government is now freaking out about the economic fallout, so they need a narrative that shows they care. More teddy bears, more hugs, more of what the Prime Minister does well, like empathy. But not cold, hard economic reality.

In essence, Peters’ revelation is a non-story. Because despite their “oh my god look how kind are we” playbook, they never, given the UN convention and Helen Clark’s tweet, had any real choice to make other than the one they did.

So why did they turn it into yesterday’s pantomime, soaked up yet again by a compliant media? Because when it comes to playing us for suckers they know they have, tragically, an easy audience.

An audience so easy, that no-one has thought to ask the questions that are begging: when did the Ministry of Health give this advice and given the strength of it why weren’t the borders closed to non-citizens earlier and why weren’t people who came in quarantined far earlier?

New Zealand has had a relatively low number of cases of Covid-19. It would have been even lower had the borders been closed sooner and if everyone who came in was put into quarantine far sooner.

Delaying both those decisions has cost lives from the disease.

The extended lockdown as a result of the delay is costing livelihoods and the economic devastation will take more lives too.

Instead of crowing about the non-decision to stand by the UN convention, the government should be apologising for not taking health advice more seriously, sooner.

 


Beware derangement syndrome

April 27, 2020

When Winston Peters put Labour in power I was determined that I wasn’t going to get Ardern Derangement Syndrome.

I’d seen far too much stupidity from people who suffered from Key Derangement Syndrome and was determined not to follow their silly example of making politics personal in this way.

It hasn’t always been easy, but so far I have been able to resist developing ADS.

I accept the PM is a warm and intelligent woman and I’d probably enjoy her company.

However, retaining resistance to ADS doesn’t extend to echoing the adulation that has been heaped on her from many quarters.

That is, as Andrea Vance points out, unhealthy:

Politicians should not have fans. By placing our leaders on a pedestal, it creates an unhealthy and polarising dynamic. 

There is evidence of it already in our online political discourse. Any criticism of the Government’s policies and measures is met with a wave of venom.

Even gentle questioning – by opponents, interest groups or the media – is seen as a personal attack on Ardern. 

It’s also often seen as sexism which is tiresome.

That’s because when people blindly align themselves to one party and their leader, they tend to overlook the negative effects of their decisions.

Those who seek to hold Ardern to account over flu vaccines, personal protective equipment in the health system, or confusion about restrictions, are villainised or strafed with ‘whataboutism.’ . . 

When Ardern is fronting the government that has imposed unprecedented and draconian restrictions on what we can do, at a huge personal, social and economic cost, she must be questioned and questioned hard.

That doesn’t mean personal criticism of her but nor does it  mean uncritically repeating her lines such as going early, going hard.

The initial response to Covid-19 was neither.

Then there are legitimate questions over the arbitrary decisions over what businesses and which goods and services have been considered essential under level four lockdown and the economic and social costs of all that.

Candidates will always be judged on their likeability. But infusing politics with an over-the-top “stan culture” turns elections to a sports game, where we are invested in only who wins, not policy or ideology.

And it upends what the political system should be. Prime Ministers are our civil servants, beholden and accountable to us. It should not be a one-sided relationship.

Hero worship eventually reduces our complex, and occasionally flawed, political figures to one-dimensional icons.

Just because Ardern is remarkable, does not mean she is always right.

Over at Croaking Cassandra, Ian Harrison explains six times she has been factually wrong.

He’s found factual errors in what she’s said on transmission rates, the number of cases per 10,000, the number of deaths, containing the pandemic, mortality rates and testing rate.

Steve Elers also says the PM must be held to account over her claims:

During the Covid-19 daily briefings I’ve found myself yelling at the TV screen and sometimes even throwing things at it. Why? Because our journalists seem far too chummy with the prime minister instead of fulfilling their role as the watchdog for society.

A healthy democracy requires the news media to hold power to account, regardless of who is in power, and to question government decisions, just like when the prime minister says: “Elimination doesn’t mean zero cases, it means zero tolerance for cases.” . . 

For the health and wellbeing of my TV, I hope the news media will start holding power to account. If journalists can’t find the motivation within themselves to ask critical questions of the prime minister, perhaps they should imagine she is Simon Bridges.

Or perhaps not.

At least some seem to have Bridges Derangement Syndrome where it’s not what he says but that it’s he who says it or the way he says it that becomes the focus of criticism.

Just as putting a politician on a pedestal is wrong, so too is unfairly pulling one back and the media does us a disservice if it lets derangement syndrome get in the way of reasoned reporting and analysis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Which do we believe?

March 19, 2020

The PM dismisses a nation-wide lockdown.

Her deputy says:

An urgent Cabinet committee meeting is taking place at 4pm where deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says a full lockdown of the country and the closure of its borders will be discussed.

Which story do we believe?


Fishy

March 9, 2020

Matt Shand has trawled New Zealand First’s past and come up with something that smells fishy:

Winston Peters had dozed off during the meeting in 2001. He was woken by his advisor who handed him a $5000 cheque from fishing magnate Neil Penwarden and a report alleging corruption in the scampi quota system.

 After taking both, he left. 

This set the stage for the so-called “Scampi Inquiry”, which started after Peters alleged corruption in the industry during a speech inside the house, as outlined in Penwarden’s report, then failed to deliver any evidence after it began. 

“It was suggested it was common these sorts of meetings usually generated a donation,” Penwarden says. “We gave the party $5,000. I don’t know if it made it to the party.”  

Handing over money to an MP at these sorts of meetings should not be common practice, it’s con man practice.

If the money made it to the party it should have been recorded and the donor issued with a receipt.

Peters was asked direct questions by Stuff about this incident. His response was to call it “farcical”, belittling the sources contacted individually. Penwarden was able to recall the details. So too was his advisor Ross Meurant who helped broker such meetings. 

Meurant, a former National MP and detective was living in two worlds being employed both by Peters’ as an adviser and by Vela Fishing Group Companies at the same time. 

Meurant says Peters becomes angry whenever someone challenges his own versions of events or stands up to him

“I’m of the view that Winston believes his own version of events,”  Meurant said. 

He may well believe his own version that but it doesn’t mean it’s right.

Meurant is lifting the lid on a long-standing tradition of political influence from the fishing industry and NZ First dating back as far as 2001. . . 

New Zealand First is under investigation by the SFO.

These allegations must be included in that investigation.

What Shand uncovered smells fishy and concludes:

Penwarden never gave any more money to NZ First or to Peters. He says he had learned his lesson. Likewise, other donors to the NZ First Foundation shared this sentiment. Some even asked for the money back. 

“The point is: we learned a lot of Winston Peters and over time standing back and observing his behaviour we were not persuaded in any way about his credibility, honesty and decency and suitability to be involved in politics,” Penwarden says. 

The SFO investigation will take time, almost certainly more time than is left before the election.

In the meantime we have a deputy Prime Minister facing serious allegations about his behaviour and character.

Will Jacinda Ardern continue to stand by him when these allegations aren’t just being made against the party and foundation but against the man himself?

She probably doesn’t even believe the fiction she keeps repeating that because it’s about another party she can’t, as PM, do anything about it and she can’t expect voters to buy it either.

It didn’t wash when it was the party, it will be even less credible now it is her deputy about whom these allegations are being made.


Coincidence or deliberate

March 2, 2020

Winston Peters is Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

It was wearing the latter hat that he went to India last week co-leading a business delegation to increase people and economic engagement with the world’s fifth-largest economy.

He is also leader of New Zealand First and on Saturday one of his MPs, and a fellow minister, delivered a racist rant against Indians on The Nation:

NZ First MP Shane Jones is drawing criticism after saying too many people “from New Delhi” are being allowed to settle in New Zealand.

“If you want another million, 2 million, 3 million people, we should debate it and there should be a mandate, rather than opening up the options, unfettered, and everyone comes here from New Delhi,” Jones told Newshub Nation on Saturday, arguing that New Zealand needs some kind of maximum population policy.

“I think the number of students that have come from India have ruined many of those institutions,” he continued. . .

Debating immigration and the number of immigrants is acceptable. Targeting people from a specific country or location within a country is not.

That he did this as his leader was returning from a Ministerial visit to the city Jones cited could have been a coincidence.

It was far more likely to have been deliberate, but why?

Was he just playing to the gallery of anti-immigration supporters, or was this a thinly-veiled attack on his leader and if so what is his motive?

Whatever the answer to those questions is, a more important one is what is Jacinda Ardern going to do about it?

She can’t, as she is attempting to do with Peters and NZ First’s referral to the SFO, say it is the party’s business not hers.

Jones was on The Nation as a Minister, not as a NZ First MP.

She told him he needed to swat up on the Cabinet Manual after what sounded like an attempt to  bribe attendees at a forestry conference with assistance in return for votes.

She has already, justifiably, been labeled weak for the way she is at best slow, and often unwilling, to stand up to MPs and Ministers who cross the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

Has she got what it takes to tackle Jones, or will she again lack the backbone to deal with what has become habitual boorish unbecoming of an MP, let alone a Minister?

And apropos of behaviour unbecoming, there’s been a deafening silence from the Green Party that is supposed to stand against this sort of degrading ranting.

 


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.


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