Hooton on Sabin: tick tick TICK TICK

NBR have chosen to post Matthew Hooton’s latest column outside their paywall – Sabin clock keeps ticking for Key.

The longer it takes to try and keep Sabin’s secret the more damage it could do to John Key’s Government when it comes out.

It appears that National have at best remained deliberately ignorant about an embarrassing story about one of their MPs through a general election, and the story seems to have also survived the Northland by-election.

It’s something like this that could easily bring down a Government. Hooton:

At the time of writing, National had also been spared the full story becoming public about the resignation of former MP Mike Sabin.  Those close to Mr Peters suggested he would return to Wellington before the by-election to reveal all under parliamentary privilege.

Instead, the NZ First leader elected to stay in Northland talking about his proposal to expand the port at Marsden Point, a referendum on cannabis and his forthcoming bill to remove name suppression from alleged paedophiles if victims say they don’t want it and to launch a register for parents to check there are no sex offenders in their neighbourhood.

No doubt there was a sigh of relief at National Party Headquarters.  But that may be short-sighted.

It may well be short sighted.

Fragments are on the public record: that Mr Sabin has been under police investigation since August, that Mr Key was “happy” for him to remain chairman of the law and order select committee overseeing the police budget while that investigation was under way, and that Mr Sabin resigned “due to personal issues … best dealt with outside Parliament.”

Mr Sabin himself is no longer that important: the police and any other relevant arms of government will now deal with him as they see fit.

While there appears there could be a significant story about Sabin politically he’s history (albeit leaving a very embarrassing legacy in the Northland electorate).

But Mr Key’s government stands accused of somehow covering up after Mr Sabin, with Labour leader Andrew Little going so far as to say he believes Mr Key is lying.

That is not entirely implausible.  Although NBR has been unable to substantiate allegations the National Party top brass knew all about Mr Sabin as far back as before the 2011 election, police commissioner Mike Bush has made clear that he and his officers did not “drop the ball” when it came to informing the Beehive about the Sabin investigation in August.

The NBR wrote that the issue could pre-date the 2011 election. If so that makes it potentially TICK TICK TICK.

The Beehive line is that Mr Bush told police minister Anne Tolley about the investigation in August – and her successor Michael Woodhouse after the election – but didn’t name the MP concerned. Nor, we are meant to believe, did Ms Tolley or Mr Woodhouse ask.

The Beehive will not answer questions about whether or not either passed this information to Mr Key or his office. Answering such questions, according to chief of staff Wayne Eagleson, would violate the privacy of natural persons.

If the Beehive’s account of the Sabin matter is true, then Mr Key’s government has become deeply dysfunctional.

At best it looks dysfunctional.

Given the proximity to the election, Ms Tolley in fact had a public duty to ask the commissioner who was involved.  Was it Mr Key or David Cunliffe, the candidates for prime minister?  Was it Bill English, David Parker or Russel Norman, the candidates for finance minister?  Or Murray McCully, David Shearer or Mr Peters, the candidates for foreign minister?  Maybe Judith Collins or Mr Little, the candidates for justice minister?

Even if Ms Tolley neglected her duties to the public, is it plausible her political duty to the prime minister didn’t lead her to inquire?  “Please god, let it be Cunliffe!” she would surely have thought.

Mr Woodhouse’s story is just as odd. When briefed by Mr Bush after the election, we’re told he too ignored his public and political duties to inquire further.

Perhaps even more incredible is Mr Eagleson’s claim that, when he was contacted on November 26 by Labour’s chief of staff Matt McCarten about the Sabin situation – which he says he already knew about from others – he waited until the following week to mention it to the prime minister, who remained, he claims, utterly ignorant until December 1.

It’s beyond belief that politicians wouldn’t make it their business to know whatever they could know about a potentially embarrassing and problematic issue.

The risk for Mr Key is that if the full Sabin story becomes known in a week, a month, six months or a year, it will look as if his government covered it up not just through a general election campaign but then again through the by-election as well.  The clock keeps ticking.

Variations of the Sabin story have been widely known – and none of them look good, for Sabin (if they are true) and for National (regardless of the outcome of any legal or court action).

It already looks bad for National. They look like they could lose an electorate over it.

Whether the full story goes public or not Sabin and the resulting Northland disaster could well result in tick tick TICK general election BOOM.

Dunne’s history on RMA reform

Peter Dunne’s current position on National’s intended Resource Management Act reforms was discussed yesterday with pdm saying “This opportunistic change of position by Dunne on very necessary RMA reforms epitomises all that is wrong with MMP”.

That seems to be a common view but it’s not supported by facts. In January:

In a speech in Nelson, Environment Minister Nick Smith called for a substantial overhaul of the Act, attacking it as outdated, cumbersome and slow.

United Future’s leader Peter Dunne said he was therefore very surprised by the tone of Dr Smith’s speech.

“I thought the tone would’ve been more moderate. The language is incredibly strident. It looks as if it could have come out of the Act Party’s press office in terms of wholesale attack on the RMA.”

He said he had thought the Government was moving down a more pragmatic path, but he was not so sure.

“I just don’t quite know what the intended strategy is here. This speech just leaves you wondering frankly.”

Mr Dunne said the speech was short on detail, so he was still no closer to knowing whether he could support any changes.

United Future and the Maori Party stymied the Government’s efforts to make changes to the RMA last term, by refusing to give their support.


That was before the Northland by-election was announced (and before Mike Sabin resigned):

And in September 2013 “We will vote against RMA changes,” say Peter Dunne and Tariana Turia

The National-led government has lost its parliamentary majority to pass reforms to the Resource Management Act, with the United Future and Maori parties announcing in Wellington this morning that they will not vote for changes that undermine environmental protections.

While both parties support reforms to speed up the resource consenting processes, both believe that proposals to rewrite two fundamental sections dealing with environmental benchmark considerations go too far.

“The changes do far more than rebalance the Act to make consenting procedures more efficient,” said United Future’s sole MP and leader, Peter Dunne, and Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia in a statement.

“We say the changes to remove emphasis on the ‘maintenance and enhancement of the quality of the environment’ fundamentally rewrite the Act and put a spanner in the works of the legal system, which will take years of litigation to fix up,” they said.

That’s entirely consistent with Dunne’s current position as posted yesterday – Dunne’s position on RMA reform.

Dunne’s position on RMA reform

If National lose the Northland by-election then Peter Dunne’s vote becomes more important for National to advance non-confidence and supply legislation. The proposed Resource Management Act reforms are often mentioned in this respect, and it’s often claimed that Dunne opposes RMA reform – but that is only partially correct.

In Losing Northland won’t end National’s RMA plans Hamish Rutherfordcovered the situation to date:

National will push ahead with its attempts to reform the Resource Management Act even if the party is defeated in the Northland by-election.

However the minister sponsoring the changes concedes a loss on Saturday will complicate matters and force further negotiations with the party’s support partners.

Environment Minister Nick Smith…said that he hoped to build support for changes beyond a bare majority in Parliament, back then National needed only the single vote from ACT leader David Seymour to ensure the legislation could pass.

However, if Winston Peters wins the Northland by-election in Saturday, Smith would be forced to convince another MP, most likely from United Future or the Maori Party, to back changes.

“There is no doubt that if National is not successful in the Northland by-election that the job of resource management reform is going to be more difficult,” Smith said.

“Regardless of the result, Resource Management Act reform will still remain an important priority for the Government.”

Smith said that while he was not clear what concessions a loss on Saturday could make, saying that level of discussion had not taken place he indicated that the process to build support was ongoing.

“Discussion with our support parties are underway,” he said.

But some support parties at least don’t seem to be involved yet.

United Future leader Peter Dunne said he has had no talks with Smith or the government for two months.

“I’ve had no discussion with anyone from the Government about where they want to go or what they want to do since a telephone call with Nick Smith shortly before he gave his speech in Nelson in January,” Dunne said.

Dunne’s position on RMA reform was clarified as much as the lack of information could allow.

Dunne said he was “relaxed” about process changes to the Rama but he remained opposed to changes of section six and seven of the legislation, which set out the principles of the legislation.

This is similar to what Dunne has previously intimated – he is opposed to changing the fundamental principles of the RMA legislation but depending on what National end up proposing he could support process changes.

Perhaps Smith and National are waiting to see how strong (or weakened) their negotiating hand will be after this weekend’s by-election result is known before they actually discuss anything with their support parties.


“As I said at the start of the year we would like to get United Future, we’d like to have the Maori Party’s support. Frankly, if Labour is serious about addressing some of the housing affordability issues they too should be supporting changes to the Resource Management Act,” Smith said.

“Even Winston Peters is vaguely supportive of changes to the Resource Management Act. My experience in working with Winston previously is it’s pretty Machiavellian, it’s pretty difficult to work out where he is.”

NZ First is likely to be one of the last cabs off the rank in reform discussions.

If Dunne can negotiate a reasonable balance of removing the obstructionist aspects of the current legislation but retaining fundamental environmental protections then Labour could (and probably should) also support reforms. Then Peters and NZ First will be irrelevant.

And MMP will have worked well.

Sports versus politics

Trying to be inspired by something of interest in politics this morning is a bit of a battle after last night’s cricket excitement and the morning glow of pride and more hope.

What is there? Still a bit of spying stuff, another media beat-up in Northland… the by-election result will be of minor interest compared to the Black Caps final appearance on Sunday.

Sport can be exciting, inspirational.  Politics is a boring turn-off for most people.

Brendon McCullum displays far more open honesty, drive and determination, leadership and humility than any of the politicians and wannabe politicians on display in Northland.

Sports 1, politics 0.

South Korea spied on Tim Groser

South Korea also spied on New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser.

If governments are wanting to promote candidates for major international roles surely they do their homework on the other candidates.

So South Korea will have spied on New Zealand and on Tim Groser. So will the other countries that where promoting candidates for the World Trade Organisation’s top job.

I don’t have any proof of this – but then Nicky Hager seems to make narrow assumptions that aren’t always supported by solid evidence so I can presume stuff too.

I would be astonished if South Korea and many other countries didn’t keep an eye or five on what New Zealand and it’s Government ministers are up to, especially on things related to their own interests.

So I’m sure South Korea would have spied on us to some extent.

Is spying on countries you’re trying to do business with bad?

It depends on to what extent. If it’s done to be better informed about what you might be dealing with then it’s hardly a scandal.

If spying was done to try and discredit or destabilise another country then I’d be more concerned. Even Nicky Hager doesn’t seem to be claiming anything like that.

I’m sure the GCSB will continue to keep monitoring other countries. And I’m sure South Korea do their share of spying too, including on New Zealand and on Tim Groser.

Meanwhile New Zealand play South Africa in the cricket world cup semi-final today. I’m sure they’ve been busy spying on each other, doing their best to analyse strengths and weaknesses in the opposition.

Plunket with Alex Wright on Shane Reti and bullying

Sean Plunket interviewed dusty roads activist Alex Wright on RadioLive yesterday about her claims that Whangarei MP Shane Reti bullied her.


Up to 100 logging trucks a day use a network of unsealed roads in Northland. Pipiwai Titoki Advocacy for Community Health & Safety Group have have been campaigning for years to improve road funding in the region. Sean Plunket asked spokesperson Alex Wright, the woman who claims she was bullied by a National MP, who is doing the bullying?

I haven’t got time to transcribe it all but here are some key points followed by some transcription.

About fifty members in the group that has been campaigning for about four years.

The group has no rules or a membership list, in the process of making it an incorporated society. Very informal at this stage, they have meetings.

Advocate only on dusty roads.

Not a political group, a community group.

Wright has never been in a political party.

Advocating to get rid of dusty roads.

Been on TV 1 twice covering what they have to live with – Choking dust from trucks has Northland residents demanding help

No contact with Shane Reti before. He phoned her early February.

And then phone call made by Dr Reti Wednesday last week about emails sent out by Andrew Blake referring to the campaign. Nothing threatening in emails. Sent to all Parliament last Wednesday  how Northland is neglected in ‘Mike Sabin’s electorate’.

Group’s banners are red.

Then Wright got a phone call from Shane Reti talking about “threatening email, very wish washy.

Email was not signed – anonymous? No name at the bottom. Heading – from AD and CE Blake.

Reti made connection with group and Wright.

Blake is part of the group, Wright didn’t know Blake was sending email.

Dr Reti should have phoned Mr Blake.

Phone call totally unplanned, not forewarned. Out of the blue phone call from MP.

Reti said it was going to be more difficult to advocate if they campaign against National during the campaign.

Political reality.

He doesn’t threaten to do anything.

Plunket “I really can’t see where the huge threat is, it’s just politics isn’t it Alex?”.

Wright “Well, it’s everybody’s interpretation isn’t it.”

Plunket” Have you talked to Andrew Blake about his emails?”

Wright “No but I would be very keen for you to phone him”.

Plunket “Ok but you didn’t tell Shane Reti to phone Andrew Blake which would have been the natural thing to do.”

Wright “That’s right but as i said to you at the beginning the phone call took me quite by surprise, and I basically just listened.

Plunket “The problem is we don’t have the whole conversation do we.”

Wright “No and I only managed to start recording part way…”

Plunket “When was the last time you released, recorded and released to the media,  a phone conversation you had?”

Wright “I’ve never done it before in my life”.

Plunket “Who did you release the phone conversation to? How did you get it out there?”

Wright “How did i get it out there? Well in the modern day of technology you just, it’s so easy to  email recordings”.

Plunket “Who did you email it to?”

Wright “I emailed it to Radio New Zealand.”

Plunket “Because you knew a reporter there?”

Wright “We have quite a bit to do with the media”.

Plunket “Ok so you basically leaked a private conversation to the news media?”

Wright “Yes. Well I don’t know…”

Plunket “Well how do you feel about that, how do you feel about doing that, how do you think other people might look at that? That an MP rings you and gives you a heads up and says look it’s gonna be difficult for me to advocate for you if you keep stirring during the by-election, that’s just the way politics is. You record that conversation, and then you leak it to the news media. You just, and it’s a free country, you can do that .”

Wright “That’s right, it’s great isn’t it. It’s, I have rights, you realise that?”

Plunket: “Yeah I do, I do, I just wonder if you’re exercising in the best interests of your strategic objective to get rid of dusty roads, that’s all.”

Wright “I think we’re a lot closer now than we ever have been.”

Plunket “Really. So what are you going to do? I mean if you felt so bullied presumably you’re gonna quiver in fear and stop protesting your issue.”

Wright “No, not at all.”

Plunket “No I didn’t think so. So what are you planning, I know there was talk of blockading roads, are you going to do that?”

Wright “Um there’s all sorts of things up our sleeves at the moment, and I’m not going to disclose them of course.”

Plunket “Are you also disappointed that say New Zealand First hasn’t done much for your dusty roads in the last wee while either?”

Wright “Well I wouldn’t say New Zealand First hasn’t been um actually in the background. We’ve had Winston Peters at a marae meeting and he’s ah attended a Northland Regional Council meeting with our group, some of our group members. So actually…”

Plunket “Does your group have a preferred outcome for the by-election…”

Wright “Mr Peters is the only MP that has actually been and met with us. We invited Mike Sabin to try and um…”

Plunket “Yeah. Well he’s not standing in the by-election is he?”

Wright “Who? Who’s that?”

Plunket “Mike Sabin’s not standing in the by-election is he.”

Wright “I don’t know.”


Plunket “All right Alex, do you have a preferred outcome for the by-election? How are you voting?”

Wright “How am I voting. Well I’ll just say I’m not voting for National. And I’m a straight up person sean.”

Plunket “Yep”.

Wright “I’m down to earth, I’m straight up, and I have nothing to hide. I don’t work in secrecy. I try to email everything that I can because there’s a paper trail. A lot of our politicians choose not to do that.”

Plunket “Ok. Could you email me the emails from Andrew Blake so we can all take a look at them and decide for ourselves whether or not we thought they were threatening?”

Wright “Now, um, I, I better just check with ah Mr Blake that he…”

Plunket “Why? You’re happy to release Mr Reti’s, the recording, the phone conversation with Mr Reti without asking…”

Wright “Oh yeah no problem at all. So so what…”

[email address exchange]

Pluinket “You don’t seem someone who’s too traumatised by being bullied”.

Wright “Not at all. You should ask some of my long time friends. They would know what I used to get up to.”

Seymour highlights tax bracket creep

ACT MP David Seymour has highlighted the problem for taxpayers caused by bracket creep. If PAYE brackets aren’t adjusted then inflation means taxpayers gradually pay more tax relative to their income.

Michael Cullen failing to address bracket creep for nearly all of the three terms under Helen Clark was a significant factor in voters getting fed up with Labour.

Stuff reports in Politics briefs: March 20, 2015

ACT revives ‘bracket creep’ campaign

They were last seen in Michael Cullen’s “chewing gum tax cut” Budget – and later dumped – but ACT has revived calls for tax thresholds to be indexed to inflation. Leader David Seymour says average households are more than $1000 worse off in tax payments since 2010 because of “bracket creep”. Had thresholds been linked to inflation, the top 33 cent rate would now cut in at $73,571, not $70,000.

If Bill English ignores bracket creep voters may get fed up with his tax grabbing too.

Seymour’s press release: Time to end stealth tax increases

ACT Leader David Seymour has today called for an end to the stealth increase of tax rates through bracket creep.

“Each year, inflation pushes a larger proportion of New Zealanders’ incomes into higher tax brackets, regardless of whether they’ve had an increase in real earnings,” said Mr Seymour.

“Tax brackets should be adjusted for inflation.

“Even with low inflation this stealth tax of ‘bracket creep’ means that the average household is $1036 worse off since the tax changes of October 2010. An individual taxpayer on the average income is $648 worse off.

Mr Seymour’s focus on bracket creep comes after the Minister of Finance stated low inflation ‘makes it more challenging for the Government because higher inflation pushes up the tax base and enables us to collect more tax in a growing economy’.

“If the government wants to increase taxes, it should do so openly. This is a basic principle of transparency, and honesty in taxation.

“I propose tying tax brackets to the Consumer Price Index, meaning tax brackets would rise with inflation, stopping stealth tax increases and ensuring government revenue collection is open and transparent.

“The best time to act is now – current low inflation means a switch to inflation adjusted tax brackets would have relatively little effect on government forecasts.”

Shane Reti ‘bullying’ sets worrying precedent

Whangarei MP Shane Reti has been accused of bullying by a small activist group.But the manner on which this has been reported sets a worrying precedent, where an MP’s conversation is recorded and that is then used to stir up a storm with very debatable evidence obtained and used sneakily.

RNZ reports  Dusty road group claim bullying.

Whangarei dairy farmer Alex Wright said Whangarei National MP Shane Reti rang her last week and told her the Pipiwai advocacy group should keep quiet for the next two and a half weeks – or risk getting nothing.

In the call, which she recorded, Dr Reti said he had been working behind the scenes to help the group, but warned her that could be jeopardised if the group continued to agitate and send what he called threatening emails to MPs.

Ms Wright said she was taken aback by Dr Reti’s call, and felt bullied.

And there has been quite a reaction from mainstream and social media.

Stephanie Rogers at The Standard: Who said it? Shane Reti vs. Aaron Gilmore

Now, Shane Reti, elected in 2014 in the safe seat of Whangarei, has been accused of threatening a local lobby group to stay quiet while the Northland by-election hangs by a thread.

It’s appalling behaviour, but is it surprising? After all, can you pick which of the quotes below were said by Shane Reti, and which by Aaron Gilmore?

Who’s behaviour is appalling? RNZ also reported:

But Dr Reti said he was trying to help the group – not bully them.

Most of the responses at The Standard are predictably aghast at Reti’s behaviour. But Matthew Hooton commented:

Having listened to the recording in full, I don’t see anything wrong with what he said. It sounds totally polite and straightforward. I think the worse behaviour is taping a routine call from a local MP trying to help and releasing it.

And Alan Wilkinson said here yesterday:

And here is the Herald’s transcript report of what Reti said:


The activist claims it was “subtle bullying”. To anyone else it was simple common sense telling an idiot that threatening MPs is a counter-productive way to get them to help you and support your cause. Then the idiot ran off squealing to the media.

This is what the Herald reported:

In the recording forwarded to the Herald, Dr Reti said he had got the issue to the Cabinet and had originally thought the announcement, which turned out to be about widening 10 bridges, might have been to announce their success, but it turned out not to be.

He then expressed concern about an email that all MPs had recently received about their case and said the threatening tone in the email would be guaranteed to put an end to his approach.

“If this next two and a half weeks is so critically important to have that tone, then go ahead and do it, no problem, and we will see what the consequence is.

“If another two and a half weeks doesn’t matter to you, then for goodness’ sake don’t do any more … weigh it up and see what you think.”

Dr Reti said he would approach ministers again to see if the issue was still on the table, whether it was still moving forward or had slipped off.

“Whatever strategy you think the best, you should and must do,” he told Alex Wright, “but I just want to give you a brief heads up for my piece of work in this.”

For this to become an accusation of bullying astounds me. And it sets a worrying precedent.

Political activists try all sorts of things to try and score hits against opponents. Dirt happens frequently.

But when the media buy into something like this and promote it then we should be very worried.

Dusty roads looks like deceitful dirty politics, aided and abetted by journalists who should know better – and should do much better.

If they willingly run stories like this then they can’t expect politicians to clean up their act, and our democracy suffers.

ODT: Transparency vital in a democracy

The Otago Daily Times editorial today is on the National Government and Transparency vital in a democracy.

Watching the Government’s desperate lolly scramble as it tries to shore up votes in the Northland by-election has made uncomfortable viewing.

The big guns are being brought out to bolster support for National candidate Mark Osborne, with visits by Prime Minister John Key and a raft of other ministers.

Critics view the Government’s sudden interest in the province with scepticism.

With good cause, what National are piling into Northland hints of abuse of power and misuse of taxpayers’ money.

Voters are left wondering what can be taken at face value, and some critics suggest obfuscation has gone beyond pattern to habit.

Yes, that seems to have become the expected norm. Not a good look for a Government in it’s third term.

The editorial details a number of examples of questionable actions and inaction over reasonable disclosure, then concludes:

There are times when information is genuinely required to be withheld to keep New Zealanders safe, some sensitive negotiations are required to be done away from the public, and some comments may be inappropriate to make in a police or legal case.

But regularly providing obscure, incomplete, or partly true answers to questions inevitably results in ”boy that cried wolf” scenarios.

Trust is fundamental to any individual or government, transparency essential for any democracy, and robust oversight mechanisms and a free and active press equally crucial (particularly when there are claims the former two are lacking).

Mr Key and his Government would do well to remember that as they ask Northland voters to trust them and make more promises for the future.

Trust can be difficult to maintain during an extended term in Government. It tends to get whittled away.

Once lost trust is much more difficult to get back. John Key is struggling with this.

He has to be seen to significantly change direction meaningfully towards far better openness and transparency or he will keep gradually sliding out of favour with voters.

Transparency is vital in a decent democracy.

What does Labour have to do from here?

Since their election failure Labour under Andrew Little’s leadership have recovered in the polls a bit but have a long way to go to be able to compete head to head with National without being seen as a Labour+Green or Labour+NZ First package

Last year they were seen as needing to be a Labour+Green+NZ First+Internet Mana package which wasn’t popular with voters.

Rolling over to Winston Peters as soon as he stepped up in Northland and (unless the voters revolt) coming a distant third in the by-election won’t help their recovery.

Colin James in his weekly column yesterday:

Labour’s course over the past 50 years has been down off a big vote based on unions and the working class to a party with no solid voting base and an unconvincing policy pitch. A distant third in the Northland by-election on Saturday week won’t help.

Commonsense suggests a searching, brutal rethink.

That in effect will be former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen’s message to a Christchurch Labour meeting on Thursday. Otherwise, he will warn, Labour might wither into minor-party status — not a place in which to celebrate the party’s centenary in 2018.

That is the context for Andrew Little’s drive to reconnect with middle New Zealand and wage workers in the suburbs and provinces and Robertson’s reapplication of century-old principles (as the “party of work and of the workers”) to modern realities in which work and workers aren’t what they used to be.

Little, from some accounts, is prompting some “selfies”. His down-to-earth manner connects much better than did his two predecessors’ personalities. That doesn’t put him in Key’s league but it holds some promise of repair.

And there is a wisp of poll evidence: from a 24 per cent average in November to 30 per cent in February.

That is a minimum of 8 points short of where Labour needs to be to form a credible, stable government in 2017 (Helen Clark got 38 per cent in her first win in 1999). But the trend (so far) has been up.

What does Labour have to do from here?

Good question. What should Labour do from here to become a major party player again? Or is that status history?


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