Rachael Smalley interviewed David Cunliffe on Newstalk ZB this morning – audio here.
Smalley: Labour leader David Cunliffe is under the gun at the moment for his use of so-called secret trusts. First, were the revelations about a trust set up to receive anonymous political donations when he contested Labour’s leadership last year.
And then overnight the party moved to clarify a report about a second secret trust. It turns out it was a personal savings trust which was declared five months after it should have been when Mr Cunliffe received new advice.
So, it’s in no way connected to the election trust issue but commentators are now asking whether David Cunliffe is right to maintain that he stands for transparency, for fairness, and for openness.
The Labour leader is with me now, good morning Mr Cunliffe. What do you stand for?
Cunliffe: Yes, I stand for all of those things, which is why I have asked donors to my campaign to waive their right to confidentiality and be as open as possible. And I have gone as far as I can legally do to provide as much information to the public as I can about those who contributed in the primary campaign.
Smalley: Why the need for secrecy? Why the need for secret trusts?
Cunliffe: Oh look there’s been, during my primary campaign, a number of individuals who made donations higher than five hundred, not a large number, just a handful. Those donations were made on the basis that they remained confidential in compliance with the law and to put appropriate distance between me and donors.
Smalley: You’ve named three of them though, two remain a secret, that’s my understanding. Why is that?
Cunliffe: Firstly because I don’t know who they are. Secondly because I cannot compel disclosure. The trustee has asked them to disclose, two of them have declined and for that reason we have rescinded their donations.
Smalley: Do you accept though that it looks shonkey.
Cunliffe: I accept that there is a full scale assault against me and the Labour Party, and I would respectfully suggest that has something to do with what we stand for, which is a program of change that will bring a fairer better New Zealand.
Smalley: Where’s that assault coming from?
Cunliffe: I think that assault is coming from obviously from the National Party and no doubt from some people that support the National Party.
Smalley: But there are, you know, by all accounts Mr Cunliffe, you’re a politically smart man. How did you permit a mistake like this to be made?
Cunliffe: Well I have said that, um, ah this is the first time that a primary campaign has been run. It has been clear all the way through that my campaign was fully compliant the rules both of the Labour Party, and with Parliament’s pecuniary interests register. Um I have said that in hindsight, weighing up the public’s ah desire for information I do consider it was a lapse of judgement on my part to have allowed the trust to be set up in the first place. But I have done whatever I can now to ensure as full a disclosure as possible.
Smalley: Is one of the donors Kim Dotcom?
Cunliffe: Ah look I don’t know, but I’d be extremely surprised.
Smalley: You can’t confirm either way?
Cunliffe: No, I mean I think anyone who wants to ask that question should ask it of Mr Dotcom because I do not know the answer to that question.
Today Dotcom tweeted:”I have never donated to the leadership race of
@DavidCunliffeMP or to Labor, or the Greens, or NZ First. I support the #InternetParty!”
Smalley: How can you win the trust of the country because, and there was another allegation that’s been made as well of another trust that wasn’t declared. How can you win the trust of the country and therefore the election?
Cunliffe: I get up every morning Rachel to try to make this country better, I get up to work as hard as I can for my party and the country and for all of our kids, not just my own kids. And like all politicians of all parties, I put myself in harms way to try to make our country better.
Smalley: But there’s no doubt Mr Cunliffe, trust and honesty, so, so important.
Cunliffe: And I would challenge anybody to name any way in which I have been dishonest, I would refute that allegation…
Smalley: Do you have the full support of your party do you think? And I’m talking about Phil Goff, Annette King, Trevor Mallard, all of them?
Cunliffe: Absolutely, absolutely, each and every one of them,
Smalley: There are stronger calls…there are strong calls now for you from some quarters to resign. Under what circumstances would you relinquish the leadership?
Cunliffe: Um I think that is a very very silly suggestion and I have had absolutely no conversations to that effect within the caucus I can assure you. This is a sustained assault on a political party by their political opponents, and I’m sure people can see it for what it is.
Smalley: Do you accept though that people will think that you are protecting someone, that you’re keeping this secret?
Cunliffe: No I doubt that, I think people will see that I have done more than I was legally required to do to be as transparent as possible.
Transparency most not be a priority if there seems to be more interest in complying with the letter of the law.