“Government’s Niue dealings look dodgy”

I don’t know who Ross Henderson is but he has expressed his opinion on the Niue resort issue that was raised by Andrew Little this week.

Stuff: Government’s Niue dealings look dodgy

Here is a fact for you. An influential New Zealand businessman made a donation of $101,000 to the National Party in 2014, and one month later his company got a lucrative contract to manage a resort in Niue. A year later, the resort received $7.5million in aid funding.

That’s three facts.

How should we deal with this fact? This week we’ve seen a range of approaches. But I think there’s an obvious place to start – you must be naturally suspicious.

I was naturally suspicious – mostly about why this issue was raised now by Little, and why Little was so presumptuous saying it “stinks to high heaven” but providing no evidence of impropriety, instead promoting a ‘perception’.

The government have tried to say this week that there is no link between the donation and the tender. But the link is clear: Earl Hagaman, the founder of the company Scenic Hotel Group that won the contract, made the biggest donation National received from a living individual in 2014. There is your link.

It’s not a link. There is no evidence of a link. It could be a coincidence.

When we discover something like this we need to check it out thoroughly. If there was any favouritism, that would be corruption. It’s not just our right, it’s our responsibility in a healthy democracy to look closely at this sort of thing.

Nothing much has been discovered, but it does need to be investigated now to see if there is any substance to Little’s insinuations or not.

I’ve done a bit of investigating of my own. This Earl Hagaman fellow is a hotel tycoon that moved here from the United States –  We know the role big money plays in that country’s politics.

That’s an implicated smear with the flimsiest of connections.

With the Panama Papers still fresh, I found it a bit provoking the same NBR article reports that “[The Hagaman’s] wealth is tied up in trusts, with Mr Hagaman believing if you own it personally, somebody will try to take it away.” I wonder, how much of the fortune that Hagaman has made in New Zealand has been taxed?

More implicated smears with zero evidence. I wonder how much tax Henderson has avoided? Evaded? This is dirty stuff from Henderson.

On the government side, we have Murray McCully. Well, that name is enough to cause suspicion on its own.

Sure. But McCully has been involved in many things and it’s not practical to investigate all of them. Where there’s evidence of impropriety, yes, but when political opponents and journalists simply speculate there’s much less cause for concern, except about the smearing.

Even plenty of right wingers think he’s no good, with hard right commentator Matthew Hooton saying this week that “if McCully organised a sausage sizzle for local hospice, he’d find a way to do it corruptly.”

Hooton is not “plenty of right wingers”. I’m not a right winger and have never been much of a fan of McCully but I think deserves fair political justice like any other politician.

It’s not as simple as Hagaman slipping McCully a cheque and McCully rubber stamping an application in return. There are plenty of other people involved, and Both Hagaman and McCully are downplaying any personal involvement in the deal.

So Henderson is implying the “plenty of other people” are involved in dirty dealings.

But it doesn’t have to be a black and white, explicit transaction. The way the powerful influence politics can be a bit more subtle than that.

There’s nothing subtle about Henderson’s ‘opinion’.

Andrew Little has asked the Auditor-General to investigate. It’s one of the only things we can do from outside government when something looks as shady as this.

“We can do from outside government” is an interesting comment. Which ‘we’ is Henderson associated with?

Little’s call created a nice little sideshow distraction, as well. As Labour MP Jacinda Ardern’s father was one of the trustees appointed by McCully to oversee the deal, some have suggested Little’s comments are a smear on Mr Ardern.

Yes. Kind of like “there are plenty of other people involved”.

Little has not smeared Mr Ardern. He has not suggested that the trustees are all in on some elaborate plot.

Henderson first implicates ‘plenty of people’ and now tries to selectively exclude one person who appears to be quite closely involved in the resort contract.

He has seen big money get mixed up with politics and asked for an explanation. It’s as simple as that. As the Leader of the Opposition, that’s his job!

It’s far from as simple as that.

And it’s unusual for a major party leader to be doing the job of promoting smears without evidence. Dirty politics is usually done less directly, Winston excepted.

The Auditor-General may not find any solid evidence of corruption, but it’s still early days in this story. When we hear about this government’s crony capitalism, it can take weeks and months for the full story to come out.

I suspect that Henderson won’t wait for the outcome of an investigation, should it be done, to make up his mind about this.

But whatever happens from this point, this has been another reminder that when big money and politics mix, it stinks of unfairness.

Is it unfair to provide aid to Niue? To support a resort to encourage tourism, jobs?

There’s no one donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the National Party to advance the interests of poor people.

I don’t think there are many people living on Niue who are from the 1%. Not that there’s any known link between political donations and providing aid to Niue.

Whether there was a conflict of interest in this case or not, there is certainly a perception of one.

That sounds similar to Little’s claim that “the perception of propriety is key.” No actual facts, just implications to create a perception of impropriety.

This is dirty politics 101.

When we keep letting McCully, John Key, and the rest of them bluff their way through this kind of thing, their cronyism will get worse and worse, and we’ll only have ourselves to blame. A government should not be able to laugh off a perception of a conflict of interest. We must not let them. Not again.

The problem for Little is that one of the biggest perceptions that has arisen out of this is how hapless and out of his depth he is. There’s a perception of incompetence.

Attacking, smearing and gotcha politics looks like a desperate last throw of the dice for Little.

Going dirty might finally nail John Key. Or it might be a nail in Little’s leadership coffin that can’t be easily extracted.

Who is Ross Henderson?

Leave a comment

27 Comments

  1. Fritz

     /  23rd April 2016

    Ross Henderson is a Labour Party fanboi. Past articles in Stuff have been:

    “Andrew Little’s masterstroke on Phil Goff”:
    “Andrew Little leading a Labour Party on the rise”
    “Labour not shying away from big ideas”

    This joker is clearly deluded.

    Reply
  2. Ross Henderson is a unionist, work’s for E Tu, formerly EPMU, lives in Manawatu/Taranaki.
    At the very least, because he writes opinion pieces, critical of government, Stuff should add that info to the bottom of his articles.

    Reply
  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  23rd April 2016

    Gutter journalism. Could probably be cured by a defamation suit but the hard part would be to show damage as no-one sensible will give it any credibility.

    Reply
  4. Blazer

     /  23rd April 2016

    attack the message,not the messenger.Sly and co have been getting away with their ‘nothing to see here line’ for too long.

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  23rd April 2016

      I did. The message is dirt wrapped in crap. Doesn’t say much for the messenger who didn’t just carry it but authored it.

      Reply
    • Fritz

       /  23rd April 2016

      Very funny, don’t attack the messenger then “Sly and co”…

      Reply
    • David

       /  23rd April 2016

      He’s not the messenger, he wrote the bloody message.

      Reply
    • Iceberg

       /  23rd April 2016

      I’ll try for ya Blazer.

      Ross Henderson is a duplicitous, deluded, partisan, middle class communist who smears people for political reasons.

      Nope, sorry.

      Reply
  5. jamie

     /  23rd April 2016

    A question for those who have been saying that a massive donation followed by the awarding of a tender + a pile of grant money is not enough to arouse any suspicion:

    What is?

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  23rd April 2016

      Some evidence that it was not entirely different people involved in all of these actions?

      Reply
      • jamie

         /  24th April 2016

        Yes obviously.

        I was wondering what that might actually look like, in peoples’ opinions.

        What would be an example of the threshold that would cause you to wonder whether a donation was connected to favourable treatment?

        My threshold of suspicion is the fact of the donation and the fact of the favourable treatment. If both exist, I want to know for certain whether they are connected or not.

        You may think that threshold is misplaced, as you are welcome to. I’m interested to know where other people’s thresholds lie.

        Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  24th April 2016

          The threshold for an allegation is truth. As the courts are likely to determine.

          Reply
          • jamie

             /  24th April 2016

            I was asking what would be the threshold for you to become suspicious. I don’t believe that your threshold for suspicion is not met until a court has proven something.

            Reply
  6. Perhaps Jamie, it’s too soon to make an objective judgement, and we will have to wait for the paper trail to catch up. Leaping to early conclusions is not a good way to go. Allegations are just that, neither fact nor evidence. Aha, where there’s smoke there’s always fire! Er nope observe use of smoke generators by the tanks to conceal movement. Better to say I see some, I wonder if there’s a tank in the area?

    Reply
    • jamie

       /  24th April 2016

      Yes I agree about leaping to conclusions. It seems to me that quite a few commenters have immediately leapt to the conclusion that everything must be 100% above board.

      Unless they are directly involved then I suspect they have no idea.

      And yes smoke doesn’t always mean fire, but it would be just as foolish to automatically assume a smoke machine. (Actually more foolish given the risk matrix.)

      Reply
  7. Iceberg

     /  23rd April 2016

    The only thing that “stinks to high heaven” about this is that the government awards management contracts for hotels.

    Basically Little is arguing that he would be better at crony socialism than National.

    Reply
    • jamie

       /  24th April 2016

      I was thinking that too, Iceberg. Why is our government in the tropical resort business?

      Does anyone know the history or reason for this?

      Reply
  8. Clemgeopin

     /  23rd April 2016

    When you see what looks like dirty smelly slimy shit, no matter in what amounts and no matter in what form on the floor of the squeaky clean Beehive, shouldn’t the authorities in charge of cleanliness who receive complaints try to investigate which filthy bugger or buggers were responsible for this outrage and try to clean it up after ascertaining the facts to find out if indeed it is some dirty putrid shitty stuff or just some absolutely clean and pure Pavlova honey drops or something equally sweet and innocent like that.

    Reply
  9. Gezza

     /  23rd April 2016

    “The problem for Little is that one of the biggest perceptions that has arisen out of this is how hapless and out of his depth he is. There’s a perception of incompetence.

    Attacking, smearing and gotcha politics looks like a desperate last throw of the dice for Little.”

    I don’t know who I’m going to be voting for next but it’s not going to be Labour. National won’t need my vote, but my level of despair with Labour’s leaders and team is making New Zealand First look a better proposition. I hope the Auditor-General does investigate this affair but I don’t expect it to produce any “gotcha”.

    Reply
    • Clemgeopin

       /  23rd April 2016

      So what has Winston said about this issue?

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  23rd April 2016

        Can’t find anything. Even if he did support the call for an enquiry into this issue, and he’s usually the first to be calling for enquiries (his favourite is Royal Commissions that he knows are never going to happen), it’s not just this issue. Labour & their leaders have become virtually incoherent to me, and their Parliamentary team full of lightweights & intriguers who are dragging themselves & their party down into oblivion. I fear they are beyond resuscitation.

        Reply
      • 4077th

         /  23rd April 2016

        Winston cant afford to get off side with anyone…

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  23rd April 2016

          I don’t think he minds getting off side with everyone else in politics. He knows how to work MMP.

          Reply
          • jamie

             /  24th April 2016

            I think from Winston’s perspective being offside with everyone is tactically identical to being onside with everyone.

            Reply
  10. duperez

     /  23rd April 2016

    I’m trying to understand the problem with but “providing no evidence of impropriety, instead promoting a ‘perception’.”

    Is there suddenly something wrong with that? I’m much more accepting of the ‘anything goes’ style of today. (After spending years look for reds under the bed and shooing away the dancing cossacks.)

    Reply

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