Doublespeak document dump while schooling Ministers on avoiding accountability

Government Ministers have been instructed by the Prime Minister’s office to avoid interviews and questions over a large release of documents dumped on Friday afternoon. This manipulation and avoidance of openness was the only think proactive about what was headlined Proactive release

The Government did a release yesterday afternoon, with journalists complaining of a ‘Friday dump’ – a long used practice of dumping a lot of documents late in the week as Ministers head home for the weekend( and journalists would like to head home) to avoid scrutiny. The hope and intention is that media attention will have largely moved on by the following Monday.

The dump had a doublespeak headline – – journalists and opposition MPs have been asking for details of what had informed decisions made in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic for weeks.

Proactive (creating or controlling a situation rather than just responding to it after it has happened) is the opposite of how this has been handled by the Government – except for their management of their Ministers

RNZ:  Ministers told to ‘dismiss’ interviews on Covid-19 documents – leaked memo

The prime minister’s office has directed all ministers not to give interviews on a Covid-19 document dump, saying there is “no real need to defend” themselves.

A leaked email, sent to Beehive staff today, directed them to issue only “brief written statements” in response to media queries about the documents.

“Do not put Minister up for any interviews on this,” it stated.

The directive stated that the government had no need to respond because of the overwhelming public support, and should instead “lead the changing conversation”.

“There’s no real need to defend. Because the public have confidence in what has been achieved and what the Govt is doing”.

“Instead we can dismiss.”

This is not surprising but very disappointing. The Government simply seems to think they can get away with stonewalling because they have the confidence of the public.

If the public feels stuffed around with the may dismiss support for the Government.

But doing this risks losing confidence fast, especially as the public increasingly looks forward to moving on from strict restrictions of lockdown, which will last another five days at least.

The directive also demonstrates a standard political PR tactic – provide glib talking points to use in lieu of decent answers.

The memo also included “key messages” for Ministers and staff to stick to in their written statements, including:

“No one had the luxury of time”

“Tough calls had to be made”

“Evidence shows our decisions were the right ones”

“The results speak for themselves”.

What they seem to be trying to get across here is that no matter how they managed the severe restrictions – whether they sought or followed the best advice, and whether they ignored warnings of possible illegality – can be swept under the carpet if the end result is acceptable to the general population.

One Court has already found that the Ministry of Health failed to allow for their own legal directive that allowed for compassionate grounds and exception circumstances in allowing people to visit dying relatives.

Two other courts have said that serious questions should be asked of the legality or otherwise of the lockdown restrictions, and a judicial review of the Ministry of Health directives is currently before the High Court.

But the Government seems intent on fobbing off questions and moving on because the public are happy enough.

If the Prime Minister and her Government continue to follow this carefully managed avoidance of openness, transparency and public accountability then the wheels could quickly fall off their popularity.

Jacinda Ardern is an accomplished communicator, doing particularly well when dealing with crises with unprepared speeches. But she is increasingly at risk of being seen as a glib, preachy politician who is little better than the rest of politicians who have earned a very low credibility rating.

I’m prepared to excuse some mistakes along the way in dealing with rapidly evolving health, economic and social crises, but I have a very low tolerance for being fed glib platitudes after the fact to try to avoid accountability.

Ardern may be better than the alternative at the moment, but she should understand that an aura of kindness can be smothered by a barrage of managed bullshit quite quickly, and she is heading in that direction.

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56 Comments

  1. David

     /  9th May 2020

    You would think the media would see how they are being manipulated by a smart strategy and kinda exercise some critical thinking.
    There is probably a deal of Stockholm syndrome settling in and they quite like the priviliged position they are in and like her dont really want it all to end.

    Reply
    • I think that the penny has dropped and is doing so more and more, going by what I read and see on the news (I have started watching this again) The hideous stories of the heartless treatment of people who are frantic to see dying relations, the businesses going bust and those whose owners just want to get back to work and the anger of doctors et al who have been dropped right in the doodah (not to mention people who have had essential surgery delayed because the hospitals are swamped with 15 covid patients) are all being given publicity.

      This story will not (I hope) go down well.

      Reply
  2. James Shaw is in The National and was asked bout the directive to Ministers (he avoided answering whether his office had received the email from the Prime Minister’s office saying only he hadn’t personally received the email).

    He said that at a time of crisis (he used that term a number of times, just now twice in one sentence) it was important that the Government ‘speak with one voice’ via the Prime Minister.

    That’s nonsense. It’s dangerous and very poor in a democracy to hide Ministers from basic accountability.

    Reply
    • These people are our representatives, not our rulers. Yes, the PM, whoever they are, will be the one to speak on behalf of the government, but these are our lives they are controlling here and people’s livelihoods they are sacrificing for a virus that has infected so few people that it can’t even be called an epidemic in NZ on the grounds that it might become one,when it was incredibly unlikely that it would. They must be held accountable.

      The panicmongering did its job, as did the (deliberate ?) quoting of 1400+ cases without, in many cases, mentioning the fact that these were the number who had had it not the active cases. But the heartless keeping of people from dying relations and dictatorial extension of levels (as well as things like the gagging of Ministers) look like dictatorship. Let’s hope that they are reported as a counter to the fawning, fulsome writings about our wonderful PM.

      Reply
      • …reported overseas as a…

        Reply
      • Blazer

         /  9th May 2020

        ‘”In this House and in New Zealand we agree, there’s no National or Labour, or Green or ACT or New Zealand First, just New Zealanders. And we should be going to level four lockdown this evening. And we are putting in all the economic resources and investments required to defeat this common enemy. …’

        Simon Bridges leader of the National Party….co-defendant in the case being brought by the NZ Morris Dancers Popular Front.

        Reply
    • Blazer

       /  10th May 2020

      Its not nonsense at all.It is very common,from Churchill in the U.K to American presidents addressing the nation…its what leadership is all about.
      Surprised you advocate for the ‘committee’ approach.

      Reply
      • I didn’t advocate for a ‘committee’ approach but fundamental democratic process.

        Major changes shouldn’t be done unless in an emergency – as per the Covid crisis and there is general support for the temporary emergency actions taken anyway.

        But an accepted principle of our democracy is that Governments requite a mandate to make major changes, and would take major proposals (and even moderate proposals) to a general election, and then to the next Parliament.

        Reply
        • Blazer

           /  10th May 2020

          So in a crisis do you agree that it is important that the Government ‘speak with one voice via the country’s leader?

          Reply
          • No. Leadership is important, but not just from the Prime Minister, all Ministers should be leading their portfolios and must be prepared to be questioned and held to account. Actually it’s more important in a crisis when major decisions are being made and major restrictions are imposed on the population.

            The Minister of Health, the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Police have unprecedented roles and should be fronting up, not hidden behind the one person in Cabinet that happens to be good for their polls.

            Reply
            • Blazer

               /  10th May 2020

              Would that carry over to another situation ..say a testmatch…a decision whether to kick for touch or for a goal..a group decision?

              [I’ve told you I’m not going to keep arguing and the last consequences waring can’t have sunk in enough. PG]

  3. Corky

     /  9th May 2020

    “There’s no real need to defend. Because the public have confidence in what has been achieved and what the Govt is doing”.

    “Instead we can dismiss.

    That’s blatant lies (or delusions) as talkback callers and experts interviewed will attest. Once again we have a toxic SOCIALIST government who believes they know best. Who treat the population like sheeple, and are prepared to pay them to remain that way. The arrogance is astounding, and shows the ‘inclusiveness’ facade of this government is paper thin.

    Given that bs, any voter with a modicum of self worth would hold their nose and vote for dithering Simon. But unfortunately I think this gummint has already bought the next election.

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  9th May 2020

      No, Corky. The election won’t be held tomorrow and the bad news stories are going to stream from now on. The Cabinet is full of incompetents who will be exposed by them. Winston will abandon Labour to save his own skin. Simon may be forced to win after all by circumstances beyond his control.

      Reply
    • duperez

       /  9th May 2020

      Is socialism (whatever you mean by that) in itself toxic or is socialism toxic because of ways governments operate under what you see as socialism?

      Reply
      • Corky

         /  9th May 2020

        You can’t have one without the other. An ideal must be applied in the material world.

        Socialism:

        ”A political and economic theory of social organisation which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”

        All NZ governments are socialist to some degree. What demarcates them is the degree of freedom they grant individuals…and the degree they regulate society ( RMA for example).

        A better understanding of toxic socialism is to look at top level hierarchies in socialist and communist states. They have a different lifestyle to the drones they suppress.

        Reply
        • Yes, they tend to be very rich and have a lot of material possessions like expensive cars and ‘designer’ clothes…like the people you admire and assume to be Righties because of this.

          Reply
          • Corky

             /  9th May 2020

            Finally, the fog clears. Let’s build on your observations. If the socialist/communist way is so fulfilling regarding human needs, why do the leaders who should fountainheads of socialist piety, live like RIGHTIES? Something is amiss…what is it? Apart from the hypocrisy, that is.

            Reply
            • I have known for some years that Lenin, Stalin et al lived luxurious lifestyles. I think it was Lenin who had a fleet of Rolls-Royces.

            • Blazer

               /  9th May 2020

              close that was John Lennon.

            • Duker

               /  9th May 2020

              Expropriated from the bourgeoisie

            • Corky

               /  9th May 2020

              The commies made da wellfy pay for daring to make something of der life…eh, Duker.

            • Corky

               /  9th May 2020

              You sly socialist… I thought that vechicle looked familar.

            • Fight4nz

               /  9th May 2020

              “Something amiss. What is it?”

              I don’t know? Maybe…. not actually Socialist? I mean just by the definition you provided.

          • Corky

             /  9th May 2020

            It’s a little too late for you, Kitty. But here’s the mindset you should have had…it’s also the mindset those commie elites have. All they have to do is steal from their piggy banks…I mean citizens.

            https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/300006984/how-i-made-my-first-million-the-first-1m-is-toughest-don-ha-says

            Reply
            • Duker

               /  9th May 2020

              http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/money/7009228/Don-Ha-bankruptcy-likely-liquidators
              Thats how he really operated not the happy talk in the story which never mentioned his bankruptcy \
              Was the story ‘native advertising’ to support an advertiser ?

            • Blazer

               /  9th May 2020

              Dukers post throws more light on his ‘journey ‘..stiffed plenty on his way.

            • Corky

               /  9th May 2020

              Your story. A story you seem not to have read. Dated:

              15:54, May 29 2012 by Matt Nippert. An unloved reporter.

              My story. Dated:

              05:00, May 09 2020

              Quote:

              ”What was worst financial decision you made?

              My worst financial decision was when I took out a loan. In that instance, the bank gave me millions in advance and I couldn’t understand why. My lawyer at the time did not explain to me about the general security agreement, or GSA. This means if anything goes wrong with your financial position the bank can put your company in receivership and take full control, which happened in my case. (Interestingly, the current Business Finance Guarantee Scheme has changed the policy to remove this option for banks.) My advice is to seek independent legal advice when you are unsure.”

              Duker, you are a bs waste of space. You’d be better served at The Standard. There’s not many success stories there.

            • Please don’t take it on yourself to tell me what sort of mindset I ought to have, Corky. You are the last person whose advice I would take on this.

              I know enough rich people to know how they made their money. I don’t need you to tell me that.

              And Don Ha is hardly an example of how to do it and keep it.

            • Duker

               /  9th May 2020

              And all the other people who werent paid ?
              he knew what a GSA was -all those properties , he had mega real estate agency by then. His life was around borrowing money and buying property and GSA protects the banks interest otherwise they are forever chasing a fox through hedges
              Public Trust $1.6 mill ( probably a loan)
              IRD $700k
              $7 mill owed to Kiwibank
              $2.8 million overdrawn from his shareholders’ account

              There was so much more
              https://www.nbr.co.nz/article/anz-sues-law-firm-over-loan-transaction-former-rich-lister-don-ha-sf-p-153355

            • Blimey. I thought that he owed less than a million.

              He was going to build a housing estate at Ngaruawahia, but there isn’t much sign of it after ??? years !

            • Blazer

               /  9th May 2020

              Don Ha takes his place as a ‘successful failure’.

            • Corky

               /  9th May 2020

              ”I know enough rich people to know how they made their money. I don’t need you to tell me that. ”

              I was about to go to war and have some fun. But the ‘funnies’ came to me. I know rich people too. But of course so do many people. I was talking about a mindset.

            • Corky

               /  9th May 2020

              ”Blimey. I thought that he owed less than a million.”

              How could you afford a subscription to NBR to read said article?

              BTW… looks like the article is from 2014 (?). I know I told you not all news items are ‘time sensitive.’ But this one is if you are throwing dirt.

        • duperez

           /  9th May 2020

          And the degree to which the citizens want them to be socialist apparently depends on the day, the mood or the weather?

          Reply
          • Corky, your conceit is astounding. If you imagine that anyone wants advice from you about anything, especially what their mindset ought to be, you are sadly mistaken. I prefer to have an open mind to having a set, narrow one. The people I know who have money are not chancers like Don Ha and are highly unlikely to go bust.

            Reply
            • And your speculation about what I can and can’t afford is intrusive and ill-mannered. It’s none of your business.

  4. Derek Cheng (NZH): The gagging order from Jacinda Ardern’s office – cynical, arrogant and unnecessary

    Controlling the message is critical, especially at a time of crisis, and the PM’s office has clearly tried to continue its tight control over the Government messaging.

    It is a common communications strategy to release bad news late on a Friday, when newsrooms are emptier and people are more focused on weekend plans rather than the news.

    With the gagging order, there is virtually no chance to ask a minister about anything in the documents for three days, and by the time Jacinda Ardern fronts on Monday afternoon, the nation will be firmly focused on whether we are moving to alert level 2.

    And it’s not just the cynical timing. The “no real need to defend … we can dismiss” reeks of arrogance – the subtext is “we are above scrutiny” – and blatantly flouts Ardern’s cultivated reputation for openness and transparency.

    It also undermines the access provided in the almost-daily press conferences that have taken place during alert levels 3 and 4.

    Even if the information drop could not have happened before yesterday afternoon, ministers should be able to front.

    The shackles should be discarded and ministers should be open to scrutiny. If they can’t be trusted to answer questions about their portfolios, they shouldn’t be ministers.

    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12330745

    Reply
    • Yes, the ‘we can dismiss’ wording is most unfortunate.

      The PM comes across as a dictator, not the empathetic persona she has built up.

      Reply
    • Gezza

       /  9th May 2020

      The shackles should be discarded and ministers should be open to scrutiny. If they can’t be trusted to answer questions about their portfolios, they shouldn’t be ministers.

      Bingo. It says something about the low average intellectual capacity of many of her senior Ministers – OR

      about how poorly managed & coordinated her Cabinet is – and that’s Jacinda’s role.

      Reply
      • Or both. Add weakness and sycophancy,

        This is a disgrace and an abuse of power to the nth degree.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  9th May 2020

          Add weakness and sycophancy

          I wouldn’t add those because Ministers who disagree with the PM are rare beasts. Most Ministers & MPs are weak & sycophantic in that they publicly back their leader & vote according to the leaders’ dictates.

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  9th May 2020

            Explain that to Winston?!

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  10th May 2020

              Well, he’s not a Labour MP & outside of Parliament he’ll always posture for election purposes. But at Question Time or when he’s Acting PM you won’t get anybody more sycophantic than Winston Peters, who frequntly extols her virtues.

            • Gezza

               /  10th May 2020

              😮 😠

              *frequently

    • Pink David

       /  9th May 2020

      “cynical, arrogant and unnecessary”

      Certainly cynical and arrogant. I was, however, necessary. Can you imagine the disaster if anyone of her MP’s had been allowed to speak and think for themselves. My god,.

      Reply
      • Duker

         /  9th May 2020

        Those Herald journos must think their jobs are totally safe ….like those at Bauer Media.
        Other the lockdown money I can’t see the public money going to keep their business afloat
        Let them sink I say….
        very strange that media bailouts were at the top of the most asked questions by our esteemed inquisators. No doubt egged on by the Nats media friends

        Reply
  5. Alan Wilkinson

     /  9th May 2020

    A UK summary of relative risks. See the twitter thread link for details:
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/coronavirus-spreads-affects-countries-differently/

    Reply
    • It’s very odd that children don’t only get it to any extent but don’t transmit it even when they are in contact with it. I would imagine that people are going all out to work out why this is.

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  9th May 2020

        I expect it is because their immune systems are efficient at getting rid of it so they don’t produce much to spread around.

        Reply
        • Why this and not other viruses ? I can’t imagine why three PDTs dislike the idea of studies to see why this is. I’d have thought it was an obvious thing to study to see if whatever it is can be replicated or synthesised.

          The news banging on about the ‘Kawasaki’ illness that has not appeared here seems to be pandering to scaremongering and totally unhelpful.

          Reply
  6. Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  9th May 2020

      Try “Too late”, Clare. You’ve already killed thousands of jobs and businesses.

      Reply
  7. Fight4nz

     /  9th May 2020

    Not a good look.
    Are there any bombshells in the papers?

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  10th May 2020

      Apparently not.

      “The Page 3 Girl, a feature of British tabloids for decades that allowed readers to turn the front page and stare at a topless woman over breakfast or on their commute to work, is getting covered up.

      The Daily Star, the final holdout in the market, has been trying a nipple-free Page 3 since the beginning of this month — although women still figure prominently on that page.
      “The Daily Star is always looking to try new things and improve,” Jonathan Clark, the editor, said in an emailed statement. “In that spirit, we’ve listened to reader feedback and are currently trialling a covered-up version of Page 3.”

      Topless women on Page 3 have endured in British tabloids since the 1970s, and are associated with The Sun, the Rupert Murdoch-owned paper with a circulation of about 1.4 million. The Sun reveled in the controversy around the images.”

      Reply
      • Blazer

         /  10th May 2020

        A giant leap backwards for …mankind!

        Reply
      • No one was forced to buy it and the girls were not coerced or too stupid to know what they were doing. It did good things for Samantha Fox’s careers and may have for others, for all I know.

        Reply

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