I’m trying to understand what Andrew Little is trying to achieve with his ‘apology’ to Earl and Lani Hagaman.
A defamation case that the Hagamans are taking against Little is due to proceed in the Wellington High Court on 3 April.
The apology is just a part of a media statement Little issued yesterday. He has done it as a Labour Party statement as Leader of the Opposition so it seems to be a political statement more so than a personal apology.
This was also issued as a press release via Scoop:
Statement re Earl Hagaman
Leader of the Opposition
24 March 2017
So it is a Labour Party press release from Little as Leader of the Opposition. It is a political statement rather than a court statement or a personal statement and apology to the Hagamans, although an apology of sorts is included in it.
In June last year, Mr Earl and Mrs Lani Hagaman issued defamation proceedings over media statements I made about the award in September 2014 of a hotel management contract in Niue to the Scenic Hotel Group (in which they were shareholders and directors) followed by a $7 million upgrade.
It was a matter of public record that Mr Hagaman had donated $101,000 to the National Party in that same month. This generated considerable media interest.
Little tried to generate public interest in it with this statement on 18 April 2016.
The accusations in that generated media interest, and it generated objections from the Hagamans.
As Leader of the Opposition, I considered I had an obligation to respond to media questions on the issues which related to government actions.
He also has an obligation to base any serious accusations against political opponents and against private persons on facts.
I referred the matter to the Auditor-General because I believed the public was entitled to be reassured.
It appeared that Little referred the matter to the Auditor General to try to get the AG to find evidence to support his accusations.
My focus was, and has always been, on holding the Government to account.
It looked more like he was trying to smear the Government, Ministers and the Hagamans with no evidence. Little had said that the timing of the donation “stinks to high heaven”.
Throughout, the Hagamans have vigorously maintained there was no connection between the award of the contract to Scenic and Mr Hagaman’s donation.
By April 21 “Scenic Hotel Group founders Earl and Lani Hagaman are considering legal action over Mr Little’s claims about the timing of a donation from Mr Hagaman to the National Party a month before the hotel group was awarded a contract in Niue.” NZ Herald.
The Auditor-General did not establish any connection.
From a letter from the Auditor General to Little dated 7 September 2016:
Letter: Response to request for inquiry into awarding a management contract for a hotel in Niue
So despite “The information you subsequently provided to my Office on 27 July and 2 September has been considered as part of preparing this response” the Auditor-General found no problems.
In those circumstances, I thought the matter should be resolved. Over the last three months, I have made a serious effort to do that. Today I want to publicly apologise unreservedly to Mr Hagaman for any hurt, embarrassment or adverse reflection on his reputation which may have resulted from my various media statements. I have offered that apology to the Hagamans.
There is no retraction there, and no apology for getting things wrong. Just ‘sorry if you were upset about my various media statements’. If Little’s “serious effort” to resolve things have been anything like this then it’s no wonder it is scheduled for Court.
I have also offered to make a substantial contribution towards the Hagamans’ costs; an amount I am advised, was greater than would likely have been awarded by the Court.
Little is trying to defend his attempts at negotiating an out of court settlement in public.
He has conceded that a “substantial contribution towards costs” is appropriate. The way things are going those costs will be mounting – in a statement yesterday the Hagamans claimed “we’ve spent more than $200,000 in legal fees in preparing for this case”.
My offers of an apology and redress have been rejected and the matter will now have to be resolved in court. That is unfortunate.
Unfortunate for Little. It sounds like he is trying to portray himself as a victim of misfortune.
I strongly believe everybody’s time, not least the Court’s, could be better used.
A remarkable comment given Little’s initial and subsequent actions, including his latest statement. The Auditor-General’s time could have been better used than on a politically motivated smear attempt.
I want to make it clear that the object of the criticism was the actions of the National government and that I intended to reflect no impropriety on the part of Mr Hagaman.
No reference there to Mrs Hagaman, or to their company.
The Hagamans and Scenic Circle were just some collateral damage in a political hit? He may not have intended to reflect on their impropriety or otherwise but you would have to be a fool to not see that naming them would reflect on them.
I accept that no connection has been established between the donation and the award of the management contract and the hotel upgrade.
He is not admitting he got it wrong so his apology is hollow. All he is doing is saying he has established no connection and the Auditor-General found no connection. He is implying that he could have been right but there is no evidence to support his accusations.
I propose to make no further statement until the proceedings are resolved.
That’s about the only sensible thing that Little has said in his statement.
Little is digging a deeper hole here, and he is flying the Labour flag over it.