The Government pissed off journalists at a bad time

Journalists and media have largely been supportive of Government efforts to deal with Covid-19, but as the general population gets restless under Level 3 restrictions and want to get back closer to normal living, journalists seem to have also changed their approach to coverage.

This shift was given a big boost with the Friday dump of Covid information, along with a leaked email telling Ministers to not give interviews or answer questions apart from using dished out patsy phrases.

The Government has two big challenges this coming week, trying to keep the population on-side with lockdown restrictions, and delivering a budget in extraordinary times. And they head into this period  with a suddenly more sceptical media openly questioning Government arrogance.

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.

Tracy Watkins (Stuff):  Are these the first signs of third term arrogance from a first term government?

Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s budget this week will loom over generations to come; it’s no exaggeration to say its the most important budget in decades.

There will be intense debate about whether he has got it right; so it’s unfortunate that as we head into budget week the government is exhibiting premature signs of the affliction known as third-termitis.

That was most evident in the emergence of a leaked memo this week in which ministers’ offices were advised not to waste any time defending themselves to the media – not because they had anything much to hide but because (to paraphrase) people love us anyway, so why bother?

It’s the assumption behind that advice that is so alarming; it speaks of supreme confidence at the moment that this government can do no wrong in the eyes of the public.

So will this confidence and arrogance come out in the budget with opportunistic major changes in direction? There has been a lot of lobbying from idealists wanting to change the economic and political systems, and there has even been suggestions that Jacinda Ardern can change the world.

And Friday’s dump and email were not isolated reasons for media discord.

Given the scale of this crisis, and the extent to which it has touched every life, that is more important now than ever. The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, for instance, says 20,000 operations were cancelled and 60,000 specialist appointments parked. It will take more than a year to catch up, they say. Yet questions about how the Government will deal with this have largely been fobbed off.

There was another disturbing sight this week when Attorney General David Parker refused media interviews on the legality of the Covid lockdown, preferring instead to interview himself in a 42 minute long livestream on Facebook.

Did Parker take a leaf out of Trump’s playbook?

Facebook has become this government’s best friend; its shoulder shrug in response to questions about transparency and accessibility. But of course it’s also about controlling not just the message, but image, and the news agenda.

But as we come out of lock-down, and face up to the huge recovery mission ahead, fronting up to hard questions should not be optional.

If the Government tries to use the huge current economic and social disruption plus their current popularity after initially being widely seen to handle Covid-19 well here to lurch towards some sort of revolution they could find themselves quickly off-side with a public seemingly intent on getting back to normal ahead of the lowering of lockdown restrictions.

An obvious risk of a sudden rise to popularity on the back of unprecedented social and economic disruption is that that can become a fall just as quickly if the Government gets out of step with public sentiment.

One might think that Winston Peters would act as a check on starting a revolution via the budget (unless superannuants benefit). But it may be too late. He seems to have been sidelined by the big decision making clique now calling the shots in Government, and may have been already pressured into supporting changes due to popular support for the Government.

The confidence and arrogance of the Prime Minister and Ministers seems to be actively shutting themselves off from public contact via the media, and they already look to be rapidly getting out of touch.

The public supported them because the wanted the disruptions due to Covid to stop, and saw drastic action as necessary.

But now the public wants disruptions and changes to their normal ways of life to dissipate.

If the Government have decided to take some revolutionary steps in the budget next week they may find that the media are not so supportive as they have been over the past couple of months, and the public could easily rebel (there’s a mini-rebellion already happening against the restrictive level 3 lockdown).

Emergency measures in a crisis are generally supported. But using an emergency to undemocratically impose major changes may turn the tide against support for the current Government, and even Ardern.

Key proposes major changes

In his opening remarks at National’s 80th annual conference being held this year in Christchurch John Key has signalled major changes for the Government.

“There is absolutely no room in my view in the Government for complacency, for arrogance or for mediocrity.”

“If we keep delivering every single day, if we go into that campaign on 2017 energised with new policies and new approaches and new ways of tackling the issues that our country faces, I am absolutely confident we can continue to deliver the electoral success we have in the past.

“We have to earn the right to do that but this party is capable of doing that.”

So we shall see if the Government – especially the Prime Ministers and his Ministers – starts to earn the right to govern for another term.

It will be one of Key’s biggest u turns achievements if he succeeds in eliminating complacency, arrogance and mediocrity from the Government.

Key appears to ignore 7,000 lessons

So far, since the weekend’s by-election debacle, it looks like John Key hasn’t taken on board 7,000 votes lost in Northland.

Winston won’t play ball: Key

Prime Minister John Key does not believe Winston Peters will be any more willing to work with National now he is the Northland MP than he has been before, saying he is the sort of politician who regards Opposition co-operation with the Government as a failure.

“For the most part, if we are in favour of something, he is opposed,” Mr Key said from Melbourne last night.

“We’re always more than happy to talk to him and we’ve tried in the past and we’re certainly happy to try in the future.”

But Mr Key was not hopeful.

That’s a very disappointing negative reaction frm Key.

Things have changed substantially for Peters, thanks to Key’s and National’s ongoing mistakes.

And so far it looks like Key is choosing to change nothing. At his peril, and at National’s peril. And potentially at the country’s peril.

Peters may or may not try to rise above petty politics, but he has a mandate to be given a chance.

If Key is negative about it before trying the signs look bad for him and National, because it increases the chances of them getting the blame.

Failing to acknowledge and respond to 7,000 lessons is a disappointing reaction and just adds to a growing aura of arrogance.

The onus is on Key to repair the damage.

Police Minister non-replies “breathtaking in its arrogance”

At the beginning of his third term John Key warned his Ministers “I won’t be wanting to see any hint of arrogance creeping in” but Hide calls the ex and current Police Ministers’ stonewalling as “breathtaking in its arrogance”.

Hide has continued his strong criticism of a Government cover-up about now resigned MP Mike Sabin – Government attitude disrespects us.

His biggest barbs are directed at Police Minister Michael Woodhouse.

It’s distressing to see Parliament treated with such disrespect and a disrespect that continues through blanket refusals to answer straightforward questions.

The worst was Police Minister Michael Woodhouse. Labour’s MP Kelvin Davis set down an oral question asking him in Parliament on what date he was briefed.

The reply was breathtaking in its arrogance: “It is not appropriate nor in the public interest for me to discuss details relating to whether I may have received or provided details on a specific police matter.”

His reply to all supplementaries was equally breathtaking: “I refer to my primary answer and I have nothing further to add.”

It’s more than disrespect, as Hide calls it “breathtaking in it’s arrogance” and later “such an appalling and unacceptable undermining of Parliament.”

WoodhouseUncomfortable

Woodhouse stonewalling in Parliament:

  • It is not appropriate nor in the public interest for me to discuss details relating to whether I may have received or provided details on a specific police matter.
  • I can confirm that the last sentence of my reply said that it was not appropriate nor in the public interest, etc., etc.
  • I refer to my primary answer. I think I made it very clear why I thought that, and I maintain that.
  • I refer to my primary answer and I have nothing further to add.
  • I refer the member to my primary answer. I have no further comment as it would not be in the public interest.

It looks like Woodhouse is stonewalling under instruction.

Hide:

The questions that Government ministers won’t answer are precisely the ones that should be. And how can it be in the public interest not to be told the date of a briefing? Nothing other than political embarrassment can hang on that.

I fear ministers are confusing public interest with their own interest. It’s easy to see why.

To tell us who was briefed, and on what date, would be to tell us who was responsible for such an appalling and unacceptable undermining of Parliament.

But that’s how accountability works. Sure, it’s in ministers’ interest to duck and weave. But that is not the public interest.

Woodhouse is the new Minister of Police (since September). He may have inherited this National embarrassment from his predecessor Anne Tolley.

The Prime Minister refuses to answer the question of whether he was briefed, by whom and on what date. So does former Police Minister Anne Tolley.

Morning Report‘s Susie Ferguson gave her the opportunity to deny receiving a briefing. She wouldn’t: “I am not prepared to make any comment whatsoever,” she testily declared before hanging up.

It may be that Woodhouse is under instruction from the top to try and keep this secret, as Hide says the Prime Minister is also trying to sweep this under the National and Prime Ministerial carpets.

But it’s poor from Woodhouse. It’s difficult to have confidence in a Minister of Police who refuses to answer questions in Parliament on the important matter of holding chair of the Law & order committee to account.

It’s easy to conclude that Woodhouse and Key are trying to hide something. But Hide says it’s…

…a problem lingers: on what date were relevant ministers briefed about the police investigation – and why did they take no action?

It’s very uncomfortable. That’s all the more reason why we need answers.

Woodhouse tries to put all responsibility for disclosure on the Police. But there’s a problem with this – Sabin is an ex-police officer and there’s a chance that the Police are protecting one of their own.

Bizarrely it was Sabin as chair of Law & Order who had resonsibility for hold the Police to account. But the Minister of Police is trying to keep up a veil olf secrecy.

Davis made a point of order that Wolodhouse is responsible for a Police briefing and should answer questions in Parliament about it.

Mr SPEAKER : Yes, but as I listened very carefully to the Minister’s answers, he is effectively saying to this House that he is declining to give that information because he does not feel it is in the public interest.

That is pathetic. A Minister should not be able to refuse to answer questions because “he does not feel it is in the public interest”. They could use that to fob off anything related to their responsibility.

And it looks like Woodhouse is trying to protect his party and his Prime Minister from embarassment after very poorly handling the Sabin issue.

John Key issued a warning to warning to National MPs and ministers at the beginning of his third term:

“I won’t be wanting to see any hint of arrogance creeping in.”

The Police Minister replies look “breathtaking in its arrogance”.

The transcript from Question Time:

8. Mike Sabin—Briefings

[Sitting date: 11 February 2015. Volume:703;Page:8. Text is subject to correction.]

8. KELVIN DAVIS (Labour—Te Tai Tokerau) to the Minister of Police : On what date, if any, was the first of any briefings given by the Commissioner of Police or his staff to him, his predecessor, the Prime Minister, or any of their offices in relation to the reported investigation into Mike Sabin?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Police): Responsibility for police investigations rests solely with the police, not the executive, and it is important that this constabulary independence is maintained. Any comment on the existence or otherwise of any particular investigation is for police to comment on. Despite widespread speculation in the media and from the Opposition, police advise me that they have declined to confirm to media any investigation regarding Mr Sabin, and it is not for the Minister to get ahead of police in discussing unconfirmed operational matters. It is not appropriate nor in the public interest for me to discuss details relating to whether I may have received or provided details on a specific police matter.

Kelvin Davis : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was about a date that he received the briefing, which he is responsible for—a briefing from the police commissioner.

Mr SPEAKER : Yes, but as I listened very carefully to the Minister’s answers, he is effectively saying to this House that he is declining to give that information because he does not feel it is in the public interest. That—[Interruption] Order! That is a judgment call that the Minister has the right to make, and I accept and respect the Minister in making that judgment call. You have the right to ask further supplementaries.

Grant Robertson : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I take that that is the judgment that you have made about what the Minister said. The issue for us on this side of the House is that the Minister did not actually say that he did not believe it was in the public interest. He made a number of other statements about why he did not want to answer, but if that is what is being invoked, we on this side of the House need to be very clear about that, and I certainly was not from the Minister’s answer.

Mr SPEAKER : Certainly what I took from the Minister’s—[Interruption] I will allow the Minister to clarify.

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I can confirm that the last sentence of my reply said that it was not appropriate nor in the public interest, etc., etc.

Mr SPEAKER : That is what I heard as well. Moving forward, we will ask for supplementary questions from Kelvin Davis.

Kelvin Davis : Why is it not in the public interest for him to disclose when the first briefing to the Government occurred?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I refer to my primary answer. I think I made it very clear why I thought that, and I maintain that.

Kelvin Davis : On what date did he or his predecessor or the officers first inform the Prime Minister’s office?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I refer to my primary answer and I have nothing further to add.

Kelvin Davis : Did he or his predecessor, when they knew an MP was the subject of a police investigation, seek and/or receive an assurance that the MP was not a Minister; if not, why not?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I refer the member to my primary answer. I have no further comment as it would not be in the public interest.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Does the Minister agree with this statement: “People should be able to be safe in their home, and it’s a very serious issue for the country. It’s a really serious question when you start saying that 89,000 to 90,000 homes are visited every year because there’s a domestic violence,”; or further—“Often what had happened in the past was that if you had a domestic situation—say the husband was drunk and looked like he was going to be abusive to his wife or the children—the police had to go through quite a process to get a restraining order. We changed the law to allow that to be a much more rapid fast process”—his words—“so it could happen instantly.” Those are words from the Prime Minister. Do you agree with them?

Mr SPEAKER : This question is a long way from the primary. I will allow the Minister to answer it, but he has leeway in doing so.

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : The question strays a long way from the primary question, and without understanding the context in which the comments were made, it would be inappropriate for me to make a detailed response, but, generally speaking, yes.

Kelvin Davis : Is it still the practice of the commissioner or his staff to brief the Minister on cases of significant public interest as part of the weekly briefing?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : In accordance with Cabinet guidelines, yes.

Has Bryce Edwards manufactured news?

No, he has prompted some blog opinion and then summarised it.

Whale Oil is acting upset about Bryce Edwards asking for bloggers to write on a specific topic. Edwards tweeted on Thursday:

I’m writing a Political Roundup for tmrw on ‘National’s overconfidence problem’. Any bloggers wanna address this issue, so I can link?

That’s a bit unusual, Edwards usually does round-ups of news and opinion that’s already published.But more widely it’s common for journalists to seek opinions that go with a story they are doing, it’s a core function of journalism.

The resulting column went online at NZ Herald – Bryce Edwards: National’s overconfidence problem  -and NBR yesterday.

Whale Oil blogged Herald and Bryce Edwards manufacturing news again today:

So there wasn’t any copy for him to use on his chosen topic so he went out and begged for it…to create the impression that there was over confidence and arrogance amongst National. He had nothing..and so begged for copy. And so his dutiful obedient left wing followers all piled in to help him with his column.

And concludes:

Bryce Edwards might be ab academic, but with his columns for the Herald in election year he is increasingly partisan, and in this case he has manufactureed his content and aided conveniently by a compliant and obedient left wing of the blogosphere.

So how bad was Edwards’ column? His opening paragraph:

Voters like politicians to be confident – and the National Government is certainly obliging at the moment with supreme self-assurance. In politics, however, there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and any successful government risks tipping into overconfidence, with its associated pitfalls. It could be argued that signs of arrogance are emerging at the moment for National.

It can always be argued that a Government is showing signs of arrogance and overconfidence, right through their term. They are natural occurrences in a bubble of power. They are a potential danger in an election year so it’s reasonable to examine them.

Cameron Slater has long campaigned against standards at NZ Herald and this is a continuation, plus he makes the point…

I’m not upset, merely drawing attention to the double standards of people like Bryce Edwards who accuse me of manufacturing issues or stories and then go and do it themselves aided and abetted by useful idiots who can’t see when they are being manipulated.

Everyone commenting on politics constructs/manufactures their articles and posts. There’s just different ways of doing it. As Whale Oil well knows, he’s at the forefront of constructing political narratives.

See previous post: Overconfidence versus undercompetence

A window on Auckland arrogance

Auckland arrogance isn’t as Kiwi as number eight wire but it’s a large fencepost with a shallow foundation.

Gregor Paul, Herald on Sunday’s rugby writer makes typically Auckland arrogant claims in Doubts over Marshall a failing of Auckland.

There’s a reason that Marshall, with his fame, many endorsements and TV presenter wife didn’t consider going anywhere else in New Zealand.

Auckland has the pizzazz, glamour and maturity to house him with minimal fuss in much the same way Sydney did.

That’s reason for Aucklanders to be proud rather than embarrassed. This idea that New Zealand is defined by square-jawed sheep farmers, cold beer, tractors and loyalty to the Empire may be alive in the provinces. But that is old New Zealand.

Auckland represents the new face of the country: multi-cultural Auckland and its obsession with coffee, schools, celebrities and property prices is New Zealand’s window to the rest of the world.

Correction – the Auckland as Paul as describes it represents a new part-of-Auckland. The city is far more diverse than that.

The country is far more than Auckland, notably New Zealand rugby that has as much to thank Canterbury and Waikato in particular recently for the country’s rugby profile.

Paul may like to think that Auckland is “New Zealand’s window to the rest of the world” but expresses a typically flawed Auckland arrogance that ignores the bulk of the country as insignificant.

(Most Aucklanders aren’t arrogant but those who are often make the most noise).