Avoiding defamation: lessons for Little

Andrew Little began as Leader of the Opposition in Parliament by saying “Cut the crap!”. He has tried to present himself as a decent honest politician who would do things differently.

Instead he copied the dirty attack tactics of Winston Peters, except that he left himself open to being sued for defamation. And when he was threatened with exactly that he took far too long to back down and half apologise.

So he got dragged into court when his late offer of a settlement and half apology was turned down.

This case has been costly, ikt’s just not yet clear who has to pay all the costs, which amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

It is important that opposition MPs and especially the Leader of the Opposition holds the Government to account and questions issues of democratic and public concern.

Members of Parliament have special legal protections because of this – they can claim qualified privilege.

But this also should raise their levels of responsibility.

Little could have handled this much better if he really wants to be a more honourable but effective leader.

Here is the media statement from Little that started this expensive and inconclusive political and legal exercise: Auditor-General must investigate Niue deal for donor

It is loaded with political insinuations that associate Earl Hagaman and his Scenic Circle company.

Here’s a suggestion as to how Little could have done it better:

Auditor-General must investigate Niue deal for donor

The public have a right to know if there is any connection between a donation of   $100,000 to the National Party and the tender process and awarding of a hotel management contract which led to a Government-funded, $7.5million upgrade to a Niue resort, Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little says.

“Today it was revealed that owner of the Scenic Hotel Group, Earl Hagaman made a substantial donation not long before his company was awarded the contract.”

“It is why I have today written to the Auditor-General asking her to investigate whether there was any connection between the two. I have no evidence of impropriety, but it is important that this is checked out.”

“We must have questions answered on how the tender process worked, who if anyone knew about links between donations and the tenderer, and whether Niuean people will ultimately benefit from the resort’s funding. The perception of propriety is key” Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little says.

Little should have responded to any follow up media questions by saying that it was now up to the Auditor General and he would not comment any more until the results of any investigation were known.

This would make it clear that it was holding the government to account and not an attempted political hit job.

It should have avoided any media mayhem or threats of defamation.

Earl Hagaman or Scenic Circle could have released a statement denying anything improper had occurred.

A few people on Twitter and at The Standard would have still ranted about rich pricks getting political favours but that’s normal and would have been of little consequence.

Then when the Auditor General released her finding that there was nothing to indicate any connection between the donation and the awarding of the contract Little could have said something like this:

No problem found with Niue contract

I accept the finding by the Auditor General that there was no link found between a personal donation by Earl Hagaman to the National Party and the awarding of a hotel management contract to his Scenic Circle Company.

As Leader of the Opposition it is important that I hold the Government to account and that I question possible improprieties. I apologise if any impropriety was inferred or perceived in this case.

Little would have done his job effectively, in this case with no wrong doing found,and with no egg on his face.

No direct damage would have been done, nor any unintended collateral damage.

It is very unlikely there would have been any defamation threats or actions, therefore no large costs nor distractions from Little’s job as Leader of the Opposition.

It would have improved his chances of becoming Leader of the Government.

And he would have had more time to look for actual impropriety on the part of John Key and the National Party.

He may even been able to have some success in holding Murray McCully properly to account over the Saudi sheep deal.

Little picked the wrong target – that will happen sometimes – but in attacking too strongly without evidence, either targeting a National donor or being reckless about collateral damage, failing to back off and apologise in a timely fashion, he distracted attention from fights that should have been a priority.

I hope Little has learnt something from this, eventually.

15 Comments

  1. Blazer

     /  April 12, 2017

    yet another thread with the ubiquitous ‘should’.Just accept the situation as it is,not how you want it…to be.

    • Anonymous Coward

       /  April 12, 2017

      Yeah, where’s the “What if the Hagaman’s weren’t such snowflakes” post?

    • Or, you could get your own blog blazer!

      • Blazer

         /  April 12, 2017

        personal observations are the lifeblood of any…blog…Trav.

  2. Patzcuaro

     /  April 12, 2017

    Have you offered your services to Andrew Little as press secretary?🤔

  3. Gezza

     /  April 12, 2017

    I have no evidence of impropriety, but it is important that this is checked out.

    I would have deleted that bit on the grounds it would instantly attract derision from all quarters & quite possibly kill any prospect of an AG investigation.

  4. Brown

     /  April 12, 2017

    The lesson is two words easy.
    Think.
    Speak.

    • Gezza

       /  April 12, 2017

      Quite. Speaking of which, are you able to elaborate on your comment the other day in relation to a possible WW3 that “God has already won”?

      Not herem of course but perhaps on Open Forum? I find this assertion disturbing & would like to explore it further with you if you are up to the challenge.

      • Brown

         /  April 12, 2017

        This feels like casting pearls before swine but Christian theology claims that the resurrected and ascended Christ seated at the right hand of the Father is a complete victory. We can piss about down here pretending we are cool and enlightened while doing bad stuff but that’s just the death twitches of this shambles pending the restoration of all creation without Satan (and the Greens). Goodness knows what it all will look like. I suspect the last day is some way off still because the Christians everywhere will get a good kicking before that day. Get your ticket now – numbers are strictly limited.

        • Gezza

           /  April 12, 2017

          “Christian theology claims that the resurrected and ascended Christ seated at the right hand of the Father is a complete victory.”

          Yes, I know that. But you don’t take this literally do you? I imagine you don’t see God the Father sitting on a throne, somewhere above the clouds, drumming his fingers and looking at the goings on down here, with Jesus watching videos on the step next to him. What do you understand it to actually mean? What is your conception of God?

          “We can piss about down here pretending we are cool and enlightened while doing bad stuff but that’s just the death twitches of this shambles pending the restoration of all creation without Satan ”

          Can you explain to me why God would go to all the bother of creating Satan & all this shambles like plate tectonics & hurricanes, floods, plagues, droughts, famines, wars & confusion about who is the right god and so on to happen for millenia, the plan being to then get rid of the rot & the unbelievers & start over again at some unstated time in the future? This makes no sense without a reasonable explanation. I am truly interested to read any reasonable explanation.

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  April 12, 2017

          I fear you’ve chosen the blue pill, Brown.

          • Brown

             /  April 13, 2017

            Yep, a blue pill for sure. This is not the place to do this in 5 minutes and won’t convince anyone who is not already looking to explore it but you can’t see what you don’t want to see. The more I study the bible the more comfortable I become with the bible’s various styles, cultural context and literary form. Its incredibly rich with many layers to unwrap as you grow but there is hard stuff that we find difficult in a way that the people at the time would not.

            The concepts being expanded upon are beyond even Gezza’s great intellect so we just do the best with what we have and what we have is Christ. That’s more than enough for those that know him.

  5. Gezza

     /  April 13, 2017

    The concepts being expanded upon are beyond even Gezza’s great intellect so we just do the best with what we have and what we have is Christ. That’s more than enough for those that know him.

    Possibly not. I am a simple soul of humble origins with an enquiring mind.

  1. Avoiding defamation: lessons for Little – NZ Conservative Coalition