Ardern comes across well in climate forum at Davos

Jacinda Ardern seems to be right in her comfort zone speaking with ease and aplomb at international events with world leaders. She has been strongly praised for her performance at a climate forum – and she does come across very well.

All she needs to do is match her talk with substantial action and she could be a real star – but she has a lot to do to live up to her promise and promises.

10 Step Guide to Detecting Conspiracy Theories & Bullshit

Guest post by Pink Panther (also posted here).


When the Internet made its appearance there was a lot of talk about the information super highway in which people would be able to click on a few buttons and get whatever information they were looking for.

Cue forward to 2019 and the information super highway is looking a lot more like the information rubbish tip. While its undeniable there is some good solid stuff out there, it’s also true that not only is some of the information irrelevant to what we’re looking for (as anyone who has used Google Search can attest to) but it is also unreliable. One of the reasons is the number of charlatans such as conspiracy theorists who have made the Internet their home.

Despite what you might think, lots of different kinds of people can be sucked in by conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, it is becoming all too common for people who should know better, to fall victim to this nonsense. This matters because we can only fight back against the very real material and political problems of the world as it is, by understanding reality. Once we know what is really going on, we will have a sound basis for organising resistance to it. So how can we detect if what we are reading is nonsense or a conspiracy theory? The ten step guide below is what I use to sift fact from fiction or half-truths. When that fails I turn to sites like www.skeptoid.com and www.snopes.com which are both non-partisan debunkers of bullshit, no matter what side of the political spectrum it comes from.

I. Use of Vague Statistics.

Any claim that uses a statistic like “One in three people are…” should always be treated with great scepticism because they’re meaningless. Without knowing anything like the number of people who were studied or surveyed, the terms of reference for the study or research undertaken or the people or organisation who conducted the research, we cannot determine if the statistic is real or made up. More often than not studies which use such vague references are made up or conducted by highly partisan groups trying to convince people that “research” backs what they say.

II. Awe with Percentages.

How many times have you read a poll that claims that “40% of Americans support Trump” or something similar? Most polls conducted by a polling company tend to interview between 1000 and 1500 people over a given time period and are chosen from electoral or other voting rolls. It’s not hard to realise that it is impossible to determine what millions of people think about anything on the basis of what 1000 or so people say. You also have to consider that such a sample excludes people who aren’t on electoral rolls for various reasons. Despite the claims that such polls are scientific no one has been able to explain just what part of the polling process actually involves science. Percentages without context are another problem. Informing us that the average house price has increased by 35% in a particular area doesn’t tell us anything. Telling us that the average house price in that area was $250,000 back in 2012 then telling us that house prices in that area have increased by 35% gives us information that is useful.

III. Emotive Manipulation.

In some news networks there is a lot of pressure to try and get as many people to support a certain viewpoint or to galvanise support for a particular cause. One way this is done is to get a hysterical parent wailing about how her child is a victim of a certain social or other evil in order to rally support for that cause. The problem with such news stories is little, or no, attempt is made to find out if anything the said parent has claimed is true, false or an combination of both. Also, no attempt is made to put things in context.

The problem with anecdotal, human interest and other stories of this nature is they exaggerate the extent of a social evil in the minds of the public.
An example of this is when a child is snatched off the streets and murdered. Parents stop letting their children walk to school out of fear the same thing will happen to their own children. This is despite the fact that crime statistics from the United States and other countries repeatedly show that the chances of anyone, let alone a child, being snatched from the streets and killed by strangers is very rare. For example, according to the New York Times (August 17th, 2016), the FBI reported that only 1,381 of the 11,961 homicides reported within the United States in 2014 involved people who were unknown to the victims.
Emotionally manipulative news items can also have serious consequences. U.S President Donald Trump’s crack down on undocumented immigrants and his so-called “Muslim ban” was largely the result of emotive hysteria whipped up by Fox News about crimes committed by undocumented migrants and terrorist acts by Islamic State in Europe.

IV. The Defying of Reality.

Let’s be blunt. Most conspiracy theories and incorrect news stories are exposed as such because they fail to pass the most basic test of “Is it practical or realistic that such a thing could happen?” The 9/11 Truthers often come unstuck on this one. They would have us believe that multiple American government agencies conspired to murder thousands of their fellow Americans so that George W Bush could justify invading Afghanistan for its oil and gas reserves.
There’s at least four major problems with that:
1. A plot to kill thousands of people would’ve required a degree of co-operation between various government agencies that did not exist at the time – and still doesn’t. U.S government agencies are notorious for jealously guarding their jurisdictions and tend to avoid co-operating unless circumstances or the law requires them to do so. It was the lack of co-operation between government and intelligence agencies that enabled the 9/11 hijackers to enter the United States despite the terrorists involved in the hijackings being on known or suspected terrorist watch lists. It was to ensure better information gathering and sharing between these agencies that the Department of Homeland Security was created. Yet, despite this, co-operation between various government agencies is the exception rather than the rule.
2. American civil servants are required to take an oath to uphold the U.S Constitution. As the U.S Constitution forbids extra-judicial killings (of which plotting to kill thousands of Americans would be an obvious breach of said Constitution) public servants would’ve had the legal requirement to come out and denounce such behaviour.
3. Afghanistan was not invaded for either gas or oil because Afghanistan has neither. It was invaded because George W Bush believed that the Taliban were harbouring the man they believed was responsible for orchestrating the 9/11 attacks.
4. Genuine whistle-blowers go to credible news organisations like CNN, ABC or NBC or newspapers like the L.A Times, Washington Post or New York Times. They don’t go to websites like InfoWars or tabloids like National Inquirer.

V. Ignorance of basic facts.

Conspiracy theorists often lack a basic understanding of the relevant fields they are lecturing about. None of the 9/11 Truthers or so-called “Scholars for 9/11 Truth” have relevant qualifications or expertise in the fields that would be most relevant in any investigation into the 9/11 terrorist attacks such as building demolition, structural engineering, air crash investigation, architecture, disaster management, building and construction or even chemistry. Instead, the 9/11 Truthers are made up of people like celebrities, religious scholars, former intelligence officers, ex-military officers and sports stars. In other words, people who simply don’t have the expertise or knowledge to answer if a building can collapse pancake-style from causes other than an explosion or if molten steel would contain thermite independent of any explosives. That’s why air crash investigators, arson investigators and police detectives don’t just look for one or two things when they suspect damage might’ve been caused by a bomb. They look for many things because sometimes explosive residue can be found at the site of a disaster that has been caused by something else.

For example, explosive residue was found on Partnair Flight 394 which crashed off the coast of Denmark on September 8th, 1989. Many people, particularly in Norway, initially believed it was a bomb because of reports of a loud explosion and because the Prime Minister of Norway had recently flown on the same aircraft. The reason why explosive residue was found on the wreckage was the result of contamination resulting from military ordinance littering the sea floor from various naval battles fought in the area. The cause of the crash was the failure of counterfeit aircraft parts used during aircraft maintenance.

VI. Confusing Authority with Expertise.

Yes, there is a difference between authority and expertise. Authority is gained from one’s position or title within a group or organisation. Expertise is gained from learning, working in and mastering a particular skill, trade or area of knowledge.

Among conspiracy theorists there is a tendency to ignore the experts in their chosen fields in favour of authority figures. The more common authority figures they listen to are celebrities, ex-wrestlers like the former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, former military officers and former police officers.
Few conspiracy theorists see the absurdity of debunking authority figures who have the expertise to back up what they are saying by claiming they’re all in cahoots with the evil, omnipresent government or Big Something-or-other but not the authority figures who go along with their conspiracies.

VII. Playing on prejudices.

They play on people’s prejudices to advance their nonsense. Despite what the moral relativists may claim it’s not necessary to be a white heterosexual male to indulge in stereotyping. Stereotyping is attributing to all persons within a certain group attributes – both negative and positive – that may or may not be held by many people within that group. Some of the more obvious stereotypes are the hard working and well educated Asians who are all work and no fun, the Muslim terrorists who want to impose Sharia law upon us, the lazy drug addicted welfare queen… I’m sure there’s many other stereotypes that one can think of. Stereotyping often comes about as the direct result of selective reporting about certain groups within both traditional and social media that is picked up and used to vilify anyone who belong to those groups. All arguments presented by anyone from those groups will be greeted with comments like “Oh you would say that because you are one of them!” and people who defend those being stereotyped will be attacked with comments like “That’s what we expect from an apologist for these people.”

VIII. Treating the masses with contempt.

For people who claim to speak for the ordinary person in the street or who desire to “educate” them the conspiracy theorists regularly abuse and vilify the masses by labelling them “sheeple”, “muppets”, “ignorant” or “liars”. Rarely, if ever, do they assume the masses might have enough intelligence to work out the facts for themselves. A search on YouTube for anything to do with debunking anti-vaccination campaigns, 9/11 Truthers or Pizzagate will provide ample examples of this contempt in the Comments section.

IX. The Obsession with the word “Big”.

An obsession is prefixing any sector of society they dislike with the word “Big” as in “Big Pharma”, “Big Agriculture”, “Big Business” and “Big Government”. Everything they say and write ends up being about how something prefixed with the word “Big” is behind everything they dislike. Accusing people of belonging to Big Something-or-other is a sure-fire way to try and discredit anyone who challenges the claims made by a conspiracy theorist.

That leads us to the single biggest indicator that something is wrong or a conspiracy theory.

X. Using supposedly “Anti-Establishment” sources because they provide “alternative sources of news”.

A British conservative may be happier reading The Times while a liberal counterpart may be more contented with reading The Guardian but both newspapers contain the same basic content. What separates the two newspapers is their bias. The former is biased towards its conservative readership and the latter is biased towards its liberal readership. Bias doesn’t make a news story fake or the news organisation a fake news peddler or a bunch of conspiracy theorists.
While both The Guardian and The Times are Establishment publications they employ editors, sub-editors, fact checkers, reporters and journalists who actually go out and find out if what is being told to them is true. They usually come back with different interpretations of what has happened but they don’t differ when it comes to the basic facts. They also distinguish between opinion pieces where a writer peddles their viewpoint and the news. Most supposedly “Anti-Establishment” or alternative news sources have none of these things. They don’t distinguish between facts and opinions. They don’t bother to find out if what is being written or broadcast is true or false. They only care that what they produce fits in with their world view. That usually means they cite from sources of like-minded groups and individuals.

‘All’ that most multi-billion dollar media companies want us to do (which is bad enough in itself!) is read stories while they harass us with endless advertising and marketing campaigns that keep the money rolling in for these companies. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is the multi-billion media empire it is because it encompasses newspapers, magazines and websites that have at least some diversity of opinions. That correspondingly brings in at least some diversity of readers and viewers whom Murdoch’s advertisers can harrange with advertising. They have a vested interest to tell us the truth most of the time, even if it’s usually biased in favour of Capitalists and Capitalism.

Don’t be fooled by the news charlatans and conspiracy theorists. They aren’t providing you with ‘alternative facts’ from alternative news sources. They make up what they say and they’re playing you for suckers as they laugh all the way to the bank with the money they got from hacking your personal data when you clicked on their site. You might find it temporarily comforting to believe you’ve been handed the mysteries of the universe via a website run by somebody living in his Mum’s garage. Spending hours listening to podcasts about chem-trails, our alien lizard overlords, the flat earth or the moon-landing ‘hoax’ etc. will perhaps provide psychological distraction from wondering how you’re going to pay this week’s rent. What it won’t do is give you the tools necessary to overcome and struggle effectively against the hard, cold and sometimes ‘boring’ realities of the world we really live in

Bridges and Bennett say they want ‘drug reform’ debate but would vote no anyway

National leader Simon Bridges has announced that Paula Bennett will take on a new role as National’s spokesperson on ‘drug reform’. This could end up being a positive move, but Bridges has tainted the announcement with political niggles that don’t set things off on a positive non-partisan footing.

Simon Bridges: National announces spokesperson for Drug Reform

National Leader Simon Bridges has appointed Paula Bennett to the new position of Spokesperson for Drug Reform as the Government pushes ahead with its agenda of drug decriminalisation, to signal National’s commitment to holding them to account.

This is disappointingly negative from Bridges. Re-evaluating New Zealand’s failed drug laws is long overdue, and there is a lot of public support for some sort of reform, but Bridges has chosen partisan niggling.

“New Zealanders expect their Government to be firm but fair. When it comes to drugs we need a well-thought through and evidence-based approach to drug reform that balances public safety with the need to help vulnerable people.

“This Government’s confused and dangerous commitment to decriminalisation and its soft approach to crime shows it’s not up to that task.

More petty swipes.

“Our work creating a comprehensive medicinal cannabis regime shows we are and that’s why I’ve created this new portfolio which will coordinate the work being done across our policy teams in health, education and law and order.

“It will build on our significant work in Government around the Meth Action Plan, cracking down on drug dealers and stopping trafficking at our borders, while ensuring those who need rehabilitation get access to the best services.

“There is no better person than former Police Minister Paula Bennett who has a thorough understanding of the issues to coordinate this work.

Paula Bennett also took a negative approach:  Coordinated approach to drug reform needed

A coordinated approach across health, education, law and order and border control is needed to counter the complex issues around drugs in New Zealand, National’s new spokesperson for Drug Reform Paula Bennett says.

“The Government’s confused, contradictory and ad hoc policy on drug reform is likely to cause more harm and shows that a measured, sensible and coordinated approach is needed.

“As we see changes coming in by stealth, along with the upcoming referendum there are many unanswered questions and no evidence that the Government is thinking them through.

If it is decided by public referendum, probably in about 20-22 months, with a lot of discussion and debate already, then it can hardly be ‘by stealth’.

In an interview yesterday Bennett conceded that the Police already took a very light handed approach to enforcing current drug laws regarding cannabis use – this was happening under the previous National government.

“When it comes to legalising marijuana, there are serious questions around drug driving, the effects of younger people accessing and using, youth mental health, and how this fits with our ambitions to be smoke free.

These things are already being widely discussed.

“What would a regulated industry look like? Will gangs be able to grow and sell marijuana? Will THC levels be regulated? Will drug testing be done on the roadside? What will the legal age be?

“There is evidence from other jurisdictions that have legalised marijuana that road deaths have increased, younger people have increased consumption and there are negative neuro-psychological issues for teenagers that use marijuana while their brains are still developing.

“National has shown that it understands the issues around drugs through our Members Bill around medicinal marijuana which was widely recognised as superior to the Government’s legislation.

This is partisan crap.

“We welcome a debate on legalising marijuana however I am concerned that the Government has gone into this half-heartedly and as a distraction. The debate needs to be informed and at this stage all we have seen is an announcement by the Prime Minister about a referendum without her even knowing what the question will be.

“I will be holding her and the Labour-led Government to account.”

Bennett and Bridges seem more intent on trying to score petty political points here than working together for the good of the country.

Bennett raises some valid issues, but her language is laden with negatives.

And it gets worse.

Stuff:  Paula Bennett appointed National’s drug reform spokesperson

Bridges, meanwhile, told reporters he’d never tried the drug.

The Opposition leader said the new portfolio was intended to hold the Government to account ahead of a binding referendum on personal cannabis use at the 2020 general election.

“Let’s learn from Brexit. Let’s not have a simple ‘Yes, no,’ thing, and then after that go through and answer all the complex, hard questions. Let’s have that debate beforehand.”

Bridges said he was likely to vote against legalisation, and that without major debate, the referendum risked being a “cute distraction” from more serious issues.

Bridges is insisting we “have that debate beforehand” (which is already happening), but seems to have already made up his mind to “likely to vote against legalisation”.

Bennett, too, said she was tempted to vote “no”.

“When it comes to legalising marijuana, there are serious questions around drug driving, the effects of younger people accessing and using, youth mental health, and how this fits with our ambitions to be smoke free,” she said.

“I’m one of the more liberal, and if the vote was tomorrow, based on all of these questions that we’ve got that haven’t even been answered, I would be voting against it.”

She says she would vote against something that is not defined yet. That’s a very poor position to take.

Bennett was worse in an interview where she scaremongered, suggesting the possibility of drug laced lollies. Newshub:  Paula Bennett gets new drugs portfolio in National Party shake-up

She issued a series of warnings over the legalisation of cannabis on Tuesday morning, saying cannabis-infused ice creams and lollies have been sold overseas.

This is a very disappointing start in her new role, and Bridges is just as bad.

This is a very poor start to the political year for National – not just on their drug reform stance (more like anti-reform), but also on their partisan approach. They look to be out of touch with wide public support for reforming our current failing drug laws.

‘Record investment’ in low emission vehicles, but still paltry

The Government has announced more funding in support of the use of ‘low emission’ (mostly electric) vehicles, but it is still paltry amounts. It may be a bit more than lip service but it is hardly going to launch us into a transport revolution.

Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods:  Record investment in low emissions vehicles announced

Low emission transport will receive a record boost totalling more than $11 million, Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods announced today.

“Today I’m announcing the largest round of new funding from the Government’s Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund yet.

“Thirty one exciting new low emissions transport projects will share over $11 million of funding to help more Kiwis make use of new transport technology.

“This funding is made up of $4.3 million of government co-funding and $7.3 million of funds from the private sector. That’s a smart investment that means the maximum benefit for the taxpayers spend.

That’s $4.3 million of Government funding. It suggests that not a big priority is going alternative energy transport.

“This round of funding focuses on innovative projects that expand the use and possibilities of electric vehicles and other low emissions technology in the transport space. It’s about making new technology available to help Kiwis get around, lower our carbon emissions and contribute to our economy.

“From 100% electric campervans for tourists to hydrogen fuel cell powered buses at the Ports of Auckland to solar panel charged electric vehicles and trial of smart chargers in people’s homes, we’re backing new technologies that will make a difference.

“We’re also funding a further 34 new public charging spaces for electric vehicles right around New Zealand, including several at South Island tourism hot-spots. This is about creating a truly national infrastructure of EV charging so that all major trips around our country are available to EV users.

34 charging stations around the country is not a big boost – and it doesn’t solve all the problems of using EVs. A small increase in the number of charging stations will help a bit, but they are still few and scattered, and the range of EVs and the time required to charge them are still significant negatives.

“This is by far the biggest round of new projects delivered by the Fund. Each previous round has given the green light to between 14 and 18 projects. In total, the fund has committed $17.2 million in government funding to 93 projects. This is matched by over $45 million applicant funding.

Trying to talk up an underwhelming investment.

“Transport is responsible for about 18% of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions, so one of the most effective ways for us to help tackle climate change is to transition our fossil-fuelled transport fleet to run on clean, renewable energy sources. By helping to roll out that technology to more people than ever, today’s announcement helps more Kiwis cut their transport emissions.

It will help a small number of Kiwis charge their vehicles.

The 31 projects are listed, ranging from tens of thousands to a few hundred thousand dollars. It is hardly going to encourage people to invest more in electric vehicles.

But I guess it’s something.

For more information about the fund, visit www.eeca.govt.nz/funding-and-support/low-emission-vehicles-contestable-fund/

For general information about EVs, see www.electricvehicles.govt.nz

 

May’s trade assurances to Ardern cannot be taken seriously

Jacinda Ardern has just visited Theresa May in London, and statements and assurances were made, but according to Hamish Rutherford these cannot be taken seriously.

Given that May cannot give her own country assurances over the outcome of Brexit and what that will mean for their trade agreements I think he is right.

Stuff:  Ardern seeks assurances on Brexit as Britain prepares for chaos

When Jacinda Ardern’s visit to Europe was officially announced last week, the prime minister’s office surely knew it was setting impossible expectations.

Although it appears the main purpose of the trip is to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, the visit also included an awkwardly timed visit to London.

Very awkwardly timed – the UK is facing a crisis over being unable to agree on how they will leave the European Union.

Ardern’s meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May was a chance to “reconfirm the understanding that New Zealand will be left no worse off, including in respect of its trade interests” following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

If only it were that simple.

Surely, if the British prime minister does not know the terms under which her country will leave the world’s largest trading bloc, then her assurances of how things will look for Britain’s other trading partners cannot be taken seriously.

Being prepared for dealing with post-Brexit Britain is worth doing, but all we really got yesterday were photo ops and pointless platitudes after a one hour meeting between Ardern and May.

Safety concerns over Pike River mine re-entry

It’s not surprising to hear that there are safety concerns over the planned re-entry of the Pike River mine. Police will not be in the initial re-entry, limiting the chances of finding forensic evidence about the cause of the explosions and the fate of the 29 miners who were killed there in November 2010.

Stuff – Pike River re-entry: Police won’t be among first inside mine after risk assessment raised safety concerns

Police will not send staff in with the first Pike River mine re-entry team following a risk assessment.

The Government gave re-entry plans the all-clear in November. Minister Andrew Little said at the time a number of dangers still remained, but extensive advice had shown re-entry to the drift using the existing access tunnel of the mine would be “by far the safest option”.

Police said in September they would enter the tunnel only if the mine re-entry plan was approved by both the Police Commissioner and an independent review.

The police spokesman they were continuing to discuss the re-entry plan with the Pike River Recovery Agency, mine experts and Worksafe. The most recent discussion with experts took place on Friday, and discussions were “ongoing”.

“Police will go into the mine when we know it is safe and we know that there is no risk to our staff, or any others who are in the mine with us.

There will always be some risks going back into the mine. The police will presumably have to assess whether the potential benefits of investigating inside the mine justify the risks.

“This is a complex, technical process and we are absolutely committed to supporting the work to re-enter the mine, just as we are to ensuring safety of our staff. We are currently developing training to be given to staff, and have established a dedicated team to support the police role in the re-entry operation. This work will continue in the coming weeks.”

Christchurch Detective Senior Sergeant Grant Collins has been seconded to represent police in the Pike River Recover Agency. He could not be contacted for comment on Tuesday.

He said in September if re-entry was achieved, police would complete a scene examination, recover any bodies, and complete any other processes required on behalf of the coroner.

Police decided in 2013 to leave the criminal investigation open until the scene could be examined.

Any new evidence they found would be used to determine whether charges could be laid.

I really doubt whether evidence can be found that would support charges being laid. I don’t know what they expect to find in there.

JLR: “…didn’t get everything right. I am sorry. I will do better.”

Closely following being given a platform on Newshub Jami-Lee Ross has posted a lengthy statement, including an apology of sorts, on Facebook.

In  particular he seems to be working on getting some support from the Botany electorate of which he is now an independent MP who is unlikely to be re-elected.


Leaving bitterness and hatred behind

The last time I actively took part in public debate, over three months ago, I found myself at the apex of a mental health crisis that became a life and death situation. My absence from Parliament and the media since then has understandably raised questions. I hope to now answer some of them.

I’ve been to hell and back. I almost lost everything, including my own life. I just can’t be driven by hatred anymore, or the pursuit of getting even with Simon Bridges, Paula Bennett or anyone else in the National Party. Life is too short for that. My time and energy needs to be focussed on doing everything I can for my family, my constituents and my country.

If I could go back in time, my biggest wish is that I could have spared Lucy from this painful experience. She never deserved any of this, and politics is always harder on those loved ones in the background, than on the MPs themselves.

I can’t spare Lucy that pain or take back any hurt I have caused. But what I can do is dedicate myself for however long I have left in public life to making those around me proud of the good work that I can, and will, do.

My plea to the 70,000 people living in my electorate is that I hope they are willing to judge me on the decade and a half I have spent serving Botany and the wider Howick area, and not that one challenging and confusing month where things fell apart for a while.

I am still the same person that has always worked hard for them, that has never been afraid to speak up for them, or knock on their door and front up to them face to face. The only difference is that my life has been laid bare for all to see now, and I happen to be a flawed human being.

Last year showed me that I need to be a better husband, I need to be a better boss, and I needed to be honest with myself about my own mental health struggles a lot earlier. I have been working really hard on these things in the past few months.

Had I known at the start of last year what I know now, all this could have been different. I was recognising in myself early in the year that things weren’t right. I wasn’t feeling myself. I was privately becoming emotional over things I wouldn’t normally have. And I was hiding how I was really feeling from everyone around me.

I should have been honest with myself and asked for help earlier. It wasn’t until another National MP sent me that now infamous text message telling me to kill myself that I finally cracked and I sought help from an old friend and counsellor that worked with me when I was a teenager. He quickly realised that I was in need of actual medical assistance, and so I was being treated by a psychiatrist for the later part of last year.

The normal rules of politics say I should do everything I can to hide my own health. But it’s no secret I eventually end up being sectioned to Middlemore Hospital’s acute mental health facility in October. We don’t always see positive stories of the country’s mental health services, but I can’t speak more highly of the people working there.

I am so thankful for the amazing individuals that save lives through our mental health system. I am also grateful for the dedicated men and women that work in our emergency services. They displayed to me the kindness of human nature at a very difficult time when I was so emotionally distressed that I had tried to harm myself.

I hope to add my voice to those trying to educate New Zealanders, particularly young people, that it isn’t weak to speak up about how you are feeling. I’ve learnt the hard way that it is okay to not feel well, it’s okay to ask for help, and that there is usually a huge amount of kindness and compassion out there in the community.

I don’t have hatred or animosity towards Simon or Paula anymore for the way they treated me. At the time they were doing all they knew how to do with the skill set they have.

But I still take responsibility, because it wasn’t fair on them. It wasn’t fair on Simon and Paula for them to be put in a position where they had to choose between helping someone with a health issue, or to put that person under more pressure because it was the better political move to make.

I do want to say thank you to the people that tried to help. I have subsequently learnt that at least two of the four women in the October 18 Newsroom story first spoke to the National Party leadership because they were concerned about my health and wellbeing. They identified that I was struggling and they were doing what they thought was the right thing. I want to thank them for caring.

Should the National Party’s response have been to send them out to talk to the media? Probably not, but people don’t always do very rational things in the heat of a political crisis when they are under pressure.

I have received a personal apology from one of the women that was sent to the media by Paula. I am grateful for her apology, but I more feel sorry for her that she was put through that traumatic experience. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for her to have her boss request she hand over all her personal text messages. Then to also be asked to talk about her personal life so National could “combat” me during that week – it can’t have been easy.

I also know the National MP that sent me that text message has been suffering a lot of personal pain and family heartache in the last year. She was once my best friend in the caucus – there must have been a lot of personal stress in her life for her to end up sending me a late night text message inciting me to commit suicide.

We shouldn’t have hurt and betrayed innocent parties in the way we did. I obviously wish she hadn’t given an anonymous interview to the media, but I know how hard it can be when the leadership is pressuring you in to doing something.

One of the things that I have been coming to terms with is the comments in the second Newsroom story from some of my ex staff members and how they were so unhappy working for me. That was so terrible to hear. Clearly I was not a good boss, but worse than that I didn’t even realise. I never knew they felt that way. I didn’t realise that my actions were creating such an unpleasant workplace. How terrible is that?

I thought I was a good boss and that I had mostly good relationships with my staff. That clearly wasn’t the case and reading about how I made some of them feel was gutting. I am so ashamed about this and I have been working with my psychiatrist to make sure that never happens again.

I wondered why Parliamentary Services never brought this to my attention at the time, so I asked – turns out it’s because they had never received any formal complaints about me and never had need to investigate me like they have other MPs. But even so, people that worked for me have obviously felt hurt by the working environment I created, and for that I am sorry.

I do want to say though – while I have been a bad boss and I must do a lot better in that area – I was led to believe by the leadership that there were allegations of sexual harassment. I have never sexually harassed anyone, and never had any complaints made about me of that nature.

I know people are naturally wondering how Simon and I went from close friends to political adversaries. It’s true, less than a year ago I was doing everything I could to help him achieve all his own personal goals. And I was proud to be doing so. Somewhere along the way our friendship sadly deteriorated.

Simon has had nearly a year as leader and he’s tried his best. You can’t blame him for trying. But I was in his leadership team and I was one of about half a dozen that saw the full polling we were doing each week – the detailed polling report that the rest of the Caucus isn’t allowed to see. It didn’t matter how much we tried to do, each week Simon’s personal favourability kept going backwards further and further.

This was frustrating. And I was feeling frustrated because when I was questioning Simon’s personal polling and what we could do about it, more and more I felt squeezed out of the inner circle. Some leaders welcome those that challenge them, others close up and listen to the voices they like the sound of. I wasn’t one of those voices.

My mistake was I took my feelings and started sharing them with other MPs. And this was viewed, probably rightly, as me being disloyal. And Simon treated my dissenting voice as something he felt he needed to jump on. And he jumped pretty hard.

So when you saw me go on medical leave in early October that was actually me being pushed out for the rest of the year for disloyalty. And this is where my mental health struggles and my disagreements with Simon started to converge pretty heavily.

A colleague that’s still in the caucus and leadership team rightly observed that if you back a wounded animal into a corner they’ll either curl up and wet themselves, or they will bite back as hard as they can.

I clearly wasn’t thinking straight at the time. I clearly wasn’t coping. And I was in a sort of hate fuelled daze. And so when I was put under immense pressure, with my whole personal and professional life threatened, I decided to bite back as hard as I could. These weren’t the actions of someone in a good state of mind. But it’s where we got to, and the whole country was watching.

I’m happy to put my hand up and say I should have reached out for help a lot earlier. Maybe we could have avoided that whole saga had I done that. We probably could have avoided the collateral damage too.

I feel so sorry for people like Maureen Pugh, who is nothing but a lovely person, who had to hear what Simon thought of her in a taped conversation. That wasn’t nice. And those incredible public servants like Chris Finlayson and David Carter – they shouldn’t have had to hear me and Simon discussing their careers so flagrantly. They all deserved better.

I’m also sorry for the hurt I caused the good, hard working, National MPs, most of whom were my friends. What normal person goes and hurts the people they are closest to? These people weren’t just colleagues – they were my political family. My friends. There are some great people in that caucus and they deserve to have the chance to be back in government one day.

I’m deeply sorry for my actions that have hurt people. And I have a lot of repairing to do. But I also know I was put under enormous pressure too. When that PWC report was released to the media, I had only been told of it about an hour earlier. I hadn’t had a chance to read it, to understand it, or to seek advice on it. To this day the full report with the QC’s opinion hasn’t been released to me.

I didn’t know at the time that Simon and Paula talked to the media (because I hadn’t read the report) that it never actually identified wrong doing on my part. It never identified me as having done anything. What it did was draw together communications, which were unrelated, and formed a view that should never have been able to be formed, as well as saying that the evidence was not conclusive.

After everything that’s happened I struggle to feel any animosity towards him anymore, but I do wish Simon would have given me the opportunity, like I pleaded for, to at least read the report and talk to the Caucus before it was released publicly. I reckon we could have avoided this whole situation had he not refused my request for natural justice. But that’s all history.

My focus now is on the future, and being positive. My health is considerably better and I am working on greater resilience. I am still the MP for Botany and I owe it to many people to do good for them. I also think it is important not to run away from this difficult time. As the highest profile New Zealander in recent years to have attempted suicide and survive I want to use the platform I have as an MP to do what I can to help other New Zealanders like me who have had a temporary breakdown but remain good people.

I also want to go back to being the type of representative I was earlier in my career, free from political party posturing, to just speak up for the people that voted for me.

I wish as a National MP we had done more to cut red tape and regulation to fix the housing crisis that means young people can’t afford to buy a home. We should have put more in to the country’s underfunded health services and public transport systems. And we should have realised that we let the Auckland Council get out of control and that’s costing Aucklanders more and more each year.

These are the type of issues I want to get back to speaking up for on behalf of my constituents. We spend too much time in Wellington fighting with each other over petty things when we should be focussed on what will improves lives and what helps a family’s back pocket.

But as well as returning to being the best MP I can be for my community, I also need to be a better husband and father. In those dark moments when I felt there was no hope and no way forward – when my world had crashed down around me so much that I found myself standing on train tracks thinking I had no option but to end everyone’s pain – it was the vivid picture in my head of three year old Charlotte’s little happy face that stopped me from actually going through with doing something dumb.

No amount of political point scoring is worth hurting other people, or crushing the happy face of my little girl. We all got in to politics to try to make the world a better place for the boys and girls of the future. In October we forgot that. And we let many people down.

I am reminded at this time of a famous Mandela quote from his time leaving prison on Robben Island: “as I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

I am still the same person that has been proud to work hard for Howick and Botany for a decade and a half. But I can admit, last year, I didn’t get everything right. I am sorry. I will do better.


“that now infamous text message telling me to kill myself” – that’s his interpretation, but I think open to debate. The text said the MP wished he was dead. That, arguably, is not telling him what to do, it’s expressing a feeling.

There are a number of things he says that suggest mixed motives or intent, with some backhanded swipes.

Media watch – Wednesday

23 January 2019

MediaWatch

Media Watch is a focus on New Zealand media, blogs and social media. You can post any items of interested related to media.

A primary aim here is to hold media to account in the political arena. A credible and questioning media is an essential part of a healthy democracy.

A general guideline – post opinion on or excerpts from and links to blog posts or comments of interest, whether they are praise, criticism, pointing out issues or sharing useful information.

Social chat

“Is there any way we could have a thread for the more lightweight stuff like music and general chat?”

Do it here. Social only, no politics, issues or debate.

Please no personal attacks or bickering. Anything abusive, provocative or inflammatory may be deleted.

Open Forum – Wednesday

23 January 2019

This post is open to anyone to comment on any topic that isn’t spam, illegal or offensive. All Your NZ posts are open but this one is for you to raise topics that interest you, or you think may interest others.. 

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Your NZ is a mostly political and social issues blog but not limited to that, and views from anywhere on the political spectrum are welcome. Some ground rules:

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Sometimes comments will go into moderation or spam automatically due to mistyped ID, too many links (>4), or trigger text or other at risk criteria. If they pass muster they will be released as soon as possible (it can sometimes take hours).