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.

Another ominous Northland poll for National

A day after a 3 News poll had Winston Peters nearly 20% ahead of National candidate Mark Osborne One News has published a poll with a similar result.

In a telephone poll of 501 eligible Northland voters:

  • Winston Peters (NZ First) 53%
  • Mark Osborne (National) 36%
  • Willow-Jean Prime (Labour) 9%
  • Don’t know/refused 7%

That’s a huge lead that will be difficult for National’s get-out-the-vote campaign to overcome.

The maximum sampling error for the poll is about plus or minus 4.4 percetage points at a 95% confidence level.

‘National Party voters’ support :

  • Peters 15%
  • Osborne 80%
  • Prime 3%

– that’s on a subset of the respondents, presumably about half, so the sampling error (often called margin of error) will be higher

…nearly 70% of Labour voters polled in the region now saying they will vote for Mr Peters.

That’s two thirds who say they will switch their vote to Peters.

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.

http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/264209/smith’s-rma-speech-strident,-says-dunne

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.

National continue Northland slide on iPredict

iPredict continues to show deteriorating support for National’s candidate Mark Osborne in the Northland by-election.

Support has stepped down from mod 90s a month ago to now be bouncing around under 20%, with the current prediction 14% for National candidate to win Northland by-election in 2015.

NorthlandiPredict26March2015

iPredict didn’t do very well as a predictor in last year’s by-election but the degree of drop here for National looks ominous.

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.

Smith:

“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.

National’s by-election campaigning costs

National have offered voters of Northland many millions of taxpayer funded pork to try and rescue the electorate from a Peters and media onslaught.

They have also piled probably unprecedented resources into the campaign itself, with a swarm of Ministers including the Prime Minister using a significant state funded travel advantage.

Rob Salmond at Polity claims:

National has poured massive, massive resources into Northland, most of which won’t show up in the financial returns. Polling, focus-grouping, canvassing, MP visits, Ministerial cars, taxpayer bribes, flying squads to drive people to the polls. All of it is off the by-election books. I have heard rumours that National’s total outlay is close to $250,000, not to mention the bill the taxpayer will carry.

They have a huge financial and organisational advantage. Comments add to this. George D:

If National’s outlay is in the order of $250,000 then there are surely things that should come to the attention of the Electoral Commission?

Deborah Russell:

Lots of things aren’t caught by the rules. Venue hire, MPs’ time, ministers’ time, petrol, polling, focus groups, paying organisers’ wages, wood for billboards, wages for people to put them up. I can see how the costs could mount up very quickly. I might find it a little hard to get to $250,000, but even so, I can see how lots and lots and lots of money could be spent.

So what are the spending rules:

ELECTION EXPENSES

6.2 Expenditure limit

The regulated period for the 2014 General Election will start on Friday 20 June 2014, and will end with the close of the day before election day (Friday 19 September 2014).

An electorate candidate’s election expenses during the regulated period must not exceed $25,700 (including GST).  It is a serious offence to spend more than this.

If you are representing a registered party, you should stay in touch with your party secretary on advertising.  This is because there can be boundary problems between advertising by candidates and advertising by the party, with consequential effects on the expenditure limits and expenditure returns of the candidate and the party.

The election expense regime does not apply to people who are list candidates only.  Any spending by those candidates promoting the party is an election expense of the party and must be authorised by the party secretary.

ELECTION EXPENSES

6.2 Expenditure limit

An electorate candidate’s election expenses during the regulated period must not exceed $25,700 (including GST).  It is a serious offence to spend more than this.

This is for a general election but I presume it applies to a by-election as well.

6.3 Election expenses

A candidate’s election expenses are the costs of advertising in any medium that:

  • may reasonably be regarded as either encouraging voters to vote for the candidate, or discouraging voters from voting for another candidate, or both (whether or not the name of the candidate(s) are mentioned),
  • is published, or continues to be published, during the regulated period (from 20 June to 19 September 2014), and
  • is promoted by the candidate or any person (including a registered promoter) authorised by the candidate.

[See section 205 of the Electoral Act].

Candidate election expenses include:

  • the cost incurred in the preparation, design, composition, printing, postage and publication of the advertisement,
  • the reasonable market value of any materials used for the advertisement, including materials provided to the candidate for free or below reasonable market value,
  • the apportioned costs for advertisements that promote two or more candidates, or a party and a candidate  (see paragraph 6.5 below for further information on apportionment).

[See section 3E of the Electoral Act].

A candidate’s deposit or the costs of food, hall hire, surveys or opinion polls, free labour, or replacing materials destroyed through no fault of the candidate are not election expenses.  The cost of any framework that supports a hoarding (other than a commercial framework) is no longer an advertising expense.

So National have a huge financial advantage in general.

But it’s not all going their way. Winston Peters has had a huge and free amount of support from the media, getting effectively promotional that money can’t buy but can be priceless in a campaign.

Such is the corruption of our electoral system. Money and media rules.

Polity picks Osborne in Northland

Rob Salmond, a Labour pollster, has picked Mark Osborne to win the Northland by-election based on National having a well organised machine in action versus Winston Peters with little established electorate organisation and Labour giving up trying.

Note that this was posted before yesterdays 3 News poll:

  • Winston Peters (NZ First) 54%
  • Mark Osborne (National) 34%
  • Willow-Jean Prime (Labour) 10%
  • Other 2%

But Salmond’s point still stands. There’s a difference between sticking one up National when someone rings and asks for your off-the cuff opinion and getting out and voting.

In Northland, the National supporters are organised by the National Party nationwide machine. Winston Peters’ supporters, by contrast, aren’t that well organised. That’s why they’ll likely lose.

And he details the reasons.

But this this by-election the turnout is enormously higher than in the most recent general election. It is *up* around 70%, compared to the general election just six months ago. Normally, it would be down 50%.

… where is it coming from?

  • Labour’s machine? Categorically nope.
  • New Zealand First’s machine? Nope. They don’t have much of a turnout machine.
  • Sudden discovery of advance voting by Northlanders over the past six months? A stretch.
  • Northlanders care much more about the by-election issues (bridges, arts centre accounting, ferry ride discounts) than the general election issues? Another stretch.
  • National’s machine? Yes. That is the cause.

So, my prediction remains a solid National win, not borne of popularity, but borne of organisation.

This is supported by a comment by a Labour campaigner:

Speaking to Willow Jean earlier today she says the Nat’s have a huge on the ground team, where as Peters has very few.

I don’t know if Rob’s prediction still stands but the result could be much closer than the poll suggests due to it being much less effort answering a question on the phone than going out and voting.

Polity: Northland: Countdown-to-letdown

Northland Poll: Peters 54%, Osborne 34%

3 News have just announced a new poll for the Northland by-election (although some of the numbers don’t add up).

  • Winston Peters (NZ First) 54%
  • Mark Osborne (National) 34%
  • Willow-Jean Prime (Labour) 10%
  • Other 2%

That’s a significant lead. But some of the numbers are a bit weird.

Can you trust Winston Peters?

  • Yes 43%
  • No 48%
  • Don’t know 9%

So 11% more say they will vote for Peters than trust him. It’s possible that voters on the left don’t trust him but put more priority on scoring a hit on National.

But more curious is the number who say which party they have switched from to support Peters:

  • 75% of Labour voters
  • 25% of National voters

In last year’s election:

  • National got 49% – 25% of that is about 12%.
  • Labour got about 17% – 75% of that is 13%.
  • NZ First got 13%.

That adds up to 38%, well short of 54%. Greens got about 11% and Conservatives got 6% which if all voted for Winston gets up to his poll support.

And if you take 25% off National’s 49% you get about 37%, a bit above 34%. This suggests that the poll isn’t particularly accurate.

500 Northland voters were polled.

The margin of error on a poll that size:

  • 40%-60% ±4.5
  • 25% or 75% ±3.9
  • 10% or 90% ±2.7

That allows for quite a bit of variation.

Regardless, Peters is well out in front. National will have much more organisation and help to get their supporters out the vote than NZ First who haven’t stood a candidate in Northland for about a decade, but it still looks ominous for National.

There has already been a much higher than normal number of people who have early voted.

Other poll results:

Are the bridge upgrades a bribe?

  • Yes 74 – percent
  • No 22 – percent
  • Don’t know – 4 percent

Do you agree with the bridge upgrades?

  • Yes – 58 percent
  • No – 39 percent
  • Don’t know – 3 percent

Read more: http://www.3news.co.nz/nznews/northland-by-election-peters-way-out-in-front-2015032518#ixzz3VNMuoXs7

Peters huffs pot then blows cold

Winston Peters is being reported as huffing hot on pot reform them blowing cold a short time later while campaigning in Northland.

Claire Trevett in Winston Peters backtracks on marijuana referendum:

NZ First leader Winston Peters promised to hold a referendum on legalising marijuana while campaigning for the Northland byelection, but rapidly backtracked on it straight afterwards.

Mr Peters was holding a street meeting in Kaikohe when a man asked whether he would legalise marijuana.

Mr Peters replied: “you want to legalise marijuana? I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll give you a referendum and if the answer is yes, the answer is yes. I’ll give you a vote on the referendum and if the answer is no, it’s no. Yes if you’ve got the majority, no if you haven’t. That fair enough? Wonderful.”

Peters was shown on 3 News saying that.

But…

Asked about it later he denied he was supporting any such proposal or putting up a referendum himself, saying his comments were simply the shorthand required on a campaign trail. “I didn’t say ‘I’m going to give you the referendum. I said our policy is a referendum and if you want one, you’ve got to go and get one.”

He didn’t say either, but was closer to the first – ” I’ll give you a vote on the referendum “.

That’s a Clayton’s election promise – he’s not offering anything, especially after his backtrack.

He did not personally support it and had never smoked cannabis himself.

He was setting out NZ First’s longstanding policy that citizens’ initiated referendums should be enforceable.

That’s not how it came across at all. Peters is promoted as being very experienced at campaigning. He was initially misleading and then made things up to try and cover up his mistake.

NZ First appear to have no policy on cannabis. There is no reference to it in their policies, and their only policy mentioning drugs is under Law and Order:

  • Reintroduce the chargeable offence of being intoxicated and disorderly in public, to include intoxication from the use of drugs whether legal or illicit.

Mark Osborne seems to have a similar position to National, unsurprisingly.

For the record I don’t support legalisation of marijuana and won’t be putting up a bill for it; or promising it and then unpromising it 5 minutes later.

National appear to want to leave the current legislation as it is – which means leave the same mess in place. But they don’t refer to cannabis in their Law and Order policy.

Mike Sabin a prominent elephant in the Northland room

The Northland by-election is due to Mike Sabin’s mystery resignation.

Press Release: New Zealand National Party

Northland MP, Mike Sabin, today announced he has resigned from Parliament, effective immediately.

Mr Sabin said he had decided to resign due to personal issues that were best dealt with outside Parliament.

That’s all the public have been told. Except that it remains a prominent topic in the campaign, albeit spoken about in code public, but just about every New Zealander seems to think there is some sort of dirty secret. The rumours must be common knowledge in Northland.

SabinElephantThere seems to be general acknowledgement that a concurrent story is related.

National candidate Mark Osborne has struggled with awkward questions about the ex-MP he wants to replace.

Plunket: Oh there were rumours. And you had heard the rumours?

Osborne: Oh yes.

Plunket: Yes. Did you ask Mr Sabin or did anyone ask Mr Sabin to clarify those rumours when he was re-selected as the candidate?

Osborne: Well I can’t speak for anybody else, but ah I asked if he was ok.

Plunket: Well what do you mean, did you ask if there was anything that might damage his candidacy or the National party?

Osborne: No no I didn’t, no I just…

National, Sabin, Osborne, train wreck

Winston Peters uses Sabin as a key part of his campaign strategy:

Winston Peters: Nats covering up Sabin issue

The New Zealand First leader used his personal “paradise” to launch a political attack at the town hall, accusing National of covering up why MP Mike Sabin left Parliament.

“They are still trying to shut it down as we speak,” he says.

Mr Peters says the National Party knew before the election of a police investigation into Mr Sabin.

“That’s why $1 million is being spent on this by-election, to cover up that mess.”

National are spending big and keep rolling out their big guns to try and rescue a by-election disaster. Trying to sweep the Sabin elephant under a rug is part of their strategy, but is there any Northland voter who hasn’t heard the rumours?

He also accused his opponent Mark Osborne, who was the local party treasurer and a friend of Mr Sabin’s, of knowing about Mr Sabin’s issues.

But Mr Osborne denies the allegation.

“The reality of it is I knew nothing until the end of last year, and they are only rumours, and that is what they are still,” he says. “I still know nothing about the details.”

Osborne is playing right into Winston’s hand with his denials. I doubt anyone believes he didn’t know something. And it’s preposterous to still be claiming he doesn’t know about the details.

A candidate in his situation would surely make it their business to know what the details are, unless it is deliberate ignorance – but even that isn’t credible.

Sabin remains an elephant in the Northland room and if Osborne chooses to pretend it isn’t there he courts trouble and risks getting stomped on. And National will have to wear own the resulting mess.

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