The Nation interview with Bill English

Patrick Gower interviewed Bill English on The Nation this morning. He spent the whole time questioning English about the Todd Barclay saga, what he knew, when he knew it and why he didn’t do more about it sooner.

Generally English handled it fairly well, and despite The Nation’s excitement when they thought they had scored a headline there wasn’t anything new revealed. That was pointed out to them on Twitter and that line seems to have been dropped.

This was their eventual story:

It ended up being a bit of a wasted interview.

Video: Interview: Bill English

Full interview transcript:


The Nation: Patrick Gower interviews Bill English

Headlines:

Prime Minister Bill English now says there’s no evidence that his MP Todd Barclay actually did make recordings of his colleague, Glenys Dickson.

English says he’s satisfied that the issue has been handled as well as it could. He says no one comes out of it looking good, but he hasn’t let voters down.

Patrick Gower: Prime Minister, thank you for joining us. Now, this interview is all about trust – whether you can be trusted. It’s about your integrity and your standards. I want to start by asking you to be clear. When did Todd Barclay tell you that he made these recordings? When exactly did he tell you?

Bill English: In a conversation which was related to the police when I was asked about it.

Do you remember when it was? Like how long ago?

It was after the events that occurred, I think, in early 2016. The police inquiry began in March or April I think.

Yeah, but we know from that that you called Glenys Dickson on 6th of February, on Waitangi Day, in 2016 and told her Todd Barclay had a recording of her. That’s correct, isn’t it?

I can’t comment on that in detail.

Sure. But we do know that you did send that text to Stuart Davie on February the 21st where you said in it, you knew there’d been a recording and that you knew there’d been a privacy breach and a pay up. That was on February the 21st 2016. That’s correct, isn’t it?

I told him what had been told to me, letting the electorate chairman, who’s in charge of the local National Party, know what I knew.

So at that point, which is 16 months ago, you knew what had gone on. There’d been a recording, a privacy breach, you’d spoken directly to both sides. Let’s look at some of your public statements that you made after that, because less than a month later, on the 1st of March, asked by media if you’d talked to any of the parties involved, and I’m going to quote you here, you said, ‘No. Not directly.’ Was that a lie? Because you’d spoken directly to both sides.

Look, no. In the first place—

Was it a lie or not?

In the first place, the fact of a recording has never actually been established. The police investigated, came to no conclusion, no court decision.

This is about your question where you’re asked, ‘Had you talked to any of the parties involved?’ And you said, ‘No. Not directly.’ But we know from your own statement that you’d spoken to both parties directly. Did you lie?

At the time there was a confidentiality agreement around the settlement of an employment dispute and a police investigation. I didn’t know what I could and couldn’t say. I did not want to compromise either of those pretty serious processes.

But you could have said that instead of saying what you said, which was potentially a lie, wasn’t it?

I could have explained it better, but that’s 20/20 hindsight. At the time, information that I had I’d passed to the electorate chair and subsequently to the police when they were asking questions.

Okay. So from that day that you knew about the recordings until this week, which is actually 16 months or more—

Well, again, the fact of the recordings has never actually been established. The police investigated it over 10-12 months.

So from the time that you told of the recordings by Todd Barclay and by the person who believed she was being recorded, 16 months or more have gone by. Now, this week, you said that that behaviour was unacceptable. Do you remember saying that? That that behaviour was unacceptable?

Well, it’s referring to what was a whole lot of behaviour going back to early 2015, so over a couple of years.

Yeah, but you said that the recording was unacceptable this way.

The fact of the recording has never been established. But the behaviour I was referring to was over a whole period of time. This is a sad situation — the breakdown of the relationship—

You said the behaviour was unacceptable in reference to the recording.

I said it was unacceptable. The behaviour—

The question here is anyway, there’s unacceptable behaviour and for 16 months you sit by and do nothing. Was that the right and honourable thing to do, Prime Minister?

I think you need to understand here that we had two people that I both knew. Good people who fell out very badly. A difficult employment dispute grows out of that. I was not a part of that dispute at all. That had to be resolved between the employer and employee who both had obligations. Then there was a police investigation. So the matters involved in this would be dealt with appropriately by the people who needed to — the employers. And when the police complaint was made, the police were dealing with it.

But when it happened and you found out about it, you obviously knew then – you surely knew then — that Todd Barclay had potentially done something illegal when he told you about that recording that he’d done.

I wasn’t aware that the activity, whether it was legal or not. I’m not a lawyer. I was concerned about the broader picture of an employment relationship that had gone in a bad way.

Yeah. But when he said, ‘I’ve recorded her,’ you must have known that was potentially illegal. Everybody in New Zealand politics remembers the Teapot Tapes and what happened there. Everyone knows the ramifications of secret recording. And, in fact, you yourself have been recorded secretly before in a National Party conference. You must have known when he said to you, that he’d potentially done something illegal there. You must have known.

When I was recorded there was no legal or criminal action arose.

When the Teapot Tapes happened, Police raided media, you know that. So you must have known there were some potential ramifications.

I’m not a lawyer, and when the matter did arise, it was fairly quickly in the hands of the police. In New Zealand, the way our system works, the police investigate, they then lay charges, then it’s up to a court to actually decide whether the act was actually criminal. That process has not occurred. In New Zealand people are presumed to be innocent till proven guilty. I’m not a lawyer. All that process, the opportunity for that did unfold. It didn’t come to a conclusion.

Sure. So let’s look at the police investigation part of this. On the 27th of April 2016, that was when you gave your police statement, wasn’t it? So, if we look at your public statements about that, on the 21st of March this year, you were asked to clarify your involvement in the police investigation. You replied that you knew the people and did not want to comment further. ‘All I know is that the matter has been resolved.’ Why didn’t you say then that you’d been interviewed by police? Were you trying to hide something? Were you effectively there lying by omission?

This was a police investigation that had gone on for many months through 2016. It came to a conclusion that they weren’t going to lay charges, and in that sense, the issues had been resolved.

Yeah, but you were asked to clarify your involvement. You had been spoken to and interviewed, and you chose not to say that? Were you trying to hide it?

No, I wasn’t trying to hide anything. I was trying to ensure that the processes that all these events had been through, a significant employment dispute, then a eight or nine-month police investigation were respected. Because until these people have charges laid against them and it’s a public matter, or a court decides it’s a criminal matter, they’re innocent of the allegations.

Sure. Let’s look at another statement that you’ve made as well. Because when you were asked, in March again, if Barclay had acted inappropriately you said, ‘All I know is the police investigation is come to an end, so the matter is closed.’ But you knew that he’d told that he’d made the secret recordings, so you much more than the fact that the investigation had been closed.

What I knew is that I had, in response to questions from the police, given them that information. This idea that somehow giving information to the police is a cover-up is ridiculous. The police investigated the whole matter. I don’t know what actions they took. I don’t know what evidence they saw. I don’t know who they spoke to. What I do know is there is no more thorough way for the allegations to be investigated than—

Than with the New Zealand police.

…than to have the New Zealand police.

But what we’re looking at here are your public statements when you’re asked about your involvement, and here’s another from this week. You said you couldn’t remember who told you about the taping when it was later revealed, as you know, that your police statement clearly said it was Todd Barclay. Is that really credible to say that you forgot who told you? Can you understand how people just don’t believe you?

Well, I said what I thought. I went and checked the police statement.

No, but you forgot. Do you think people believe that you forgot?

Paddy, did you want to hear what I had to say? I said what I thought. I went and looked at the police statement, and I clarified the matter as soon as I could.

Here’s another one, then. On your way to Parliament this week in the press conference, you said that you reported this to police. You didn’t. They came to you. Why did you say that?

Well, that was a generalised use of the word, but, again, I’m quite happy with the view. I answered questions from the police and in the course of that I confirm—

But you didn’t report it to police. They came to you.

And I didn’t mean to give the impression that I had initiated it, but the police did already have the texts that I sent, quite appropriately, to the election chairman, letting him know what I knew. Then the police came and asked me, and, really, the interview simply confirmed the content of the texts.

The point that I’m getting at here is these all these public statements that kind of don’t match up. It’s like you’re dodging things. It’s like you’re being shifty, Prime Minister. Were you being shifty all this time?

No, I wasn’t. As someone who wasn’t party to this dispute right from the start, but you all knew the people involved, trying to ensure that the confidentiality of the agreement was respected and that the police investigation was accepted and the result of that was accepted as a thorough investigation of the circumstances, after which no charges were laid. And that sense, there wasn’t an issue. If the police investigate it and no charges are laid, then the assertion that criminal activity occurred appears to be wrong, because there was no criminal process that came to any conclusion.

But with all due respect to all of that, and, actually, I agree to some of that, this is about your answers to these questions. And the thing is some of your answers have just been plain wrong. How can anybody trust anything you say on this?

Look, my role in this is clear. It’s on the record. The material I’ve supplied has been investigated by the police. The issue has now been resolved at a political level. Todd Barclay, as a young guy, has made a brave decision to leave politics because of the situation as it’s unfolded. Our job is to resolve what is actually messy personnel issues within our party, do that effectively so we can get on with governing. I’m not a lawyer.

But aside from your own failures here, basically, to own up to your own role, you also sat by and watched Todd Barclay lie publicly; he lied to senior National Party figures, he lied at his reselection. Is that ok with you that you just stand by?

You’re making that assertion. It’s never been established that the alleged incident around the recording actually occurred. In any case, the discussion around—

He told you it happened.

His selection was carried out because of these events, and all the facts were known to his local electorate. In our system there was no charges laid. There was a confidential settlement of the employment dispute in our system. And local electorate is responsible for the selection of the candidate. They were aware of the background and went ahead and selected him.

Do you not feel that you’ve owed voters more on this now that you look back and we look at all these statements? Do you not feel that, ‘I let the voters down here’?

No, I don’t feel that. I feel that these issues have now been resolved. The original dispute is just between two good people who fell out very badly, and it’s actually been an internal personnel matter. It’s been thoroughly investigated.

Why did he have to leave Parliament, then? Why did Todd Barclay have to leave Parliament? Because nothing had changed in all of this that whole time, except you got caught out. That’s all that’s changed.

No, I don’t agree with that. Todd made his own decision about retiring at the election. I think he came to the view it would be difficult to represent his constituents against the background of all the publicity around this and the different interpretations of the facts of the matter. That was his decision.

Do you feel that you’ve let down your own standards — your own standards of credibility, your own integrity — through this?

Well, look, other people will make a decision about that. I’m satisfied—

No, but what do you feel? Do you feel like you’ve let yourself down?

I’m satisfied that in a difficult situation, knowing the personalities better than a lot of people, that this has been handled about as well as it could. It’s sad. No one comes out of this better than before the events occurred. It’s a shame, a real shame. And I feel that more than most people because I know them, because it was my electorate. The matters have now come through to this point where Todd Barclay’s leaving Parliament. My job as the prime minister is to deal with these issues effectively — everyone knows that employment disputes are messy — and get on with governing in the interests of New Zealand. That’s what we’re doing. That’s why we’ve got a National Party conference this week about an election in three months.

You said then no one’s come out of this, sort of, well, have they?

No, and that’s just because of the basic depth and bitterness of the dispute and the consequences that have flowed from that.

And do you include yourself in that, Prime Minister?

Well, look, it’s much better not to have to deal with these issues. I don’t see any benefit in it at all. But my responsibility as a leader is to make sure they are dealt with, whatever the imperfections of everyone involved, and get on with the job that the public have for us. Because, actually, the public aren’t that interested in our internal employment disputes; what they’re interested in is good government that provides good jobs, incomes and opportunities.

But they’re interested in your integrity, aren’t they?

Well, yes ,they are.

All right, that’s a good place to leave it. Thank you very much, Prime Minister.

Thank you.

 

 

Law on audio and video recordings

The Todd Barclay saga, in which the Police decided not to prosecute Barclay for making audio recordings of an employee in his electorate office in Gore (the Police are currently reviewing that decision) has raised the issue of what can and can’t be legally recorded.

Video recordings are legal:

Surveillance video is common in public and in work places.

The Privacy Commission website states that it is “usually unfair to record someone without telling them”.

Can I record someone without telling them?

Whether making an audio or visual recording of someone without telling them will breach the Privacy Act will depend on the circumstances in each case. In particular, it will depend on who is making the recording and why they are making it.

If you are an individual and you are making a recording in relation to you own personal, domestic or household affairs (for instance you’re recording a personal conversation with a friend), there is an exception which says that, generally, the Privacy Act won’t apply to what you do.

However, if you collect, use or disclose personal information in a way which would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, this exception will not apply. In other words, someone could make a complaint about you.

If you are making the recording for any reason, other than your own domestic, personal or household affairs, the general rules about collection of personal information will apply. In particular, it’s usually unfair to record someone without telling them.

You should also keep in mind that there may be other laws which apply apart from the Privacy Act – for instance, recording a private conversation that you’re not involved in will often be a crime.

That seems to be what Barclay was investigated for.

On usually unfair to record someone without telling them:

Can an agency make a video or audio recording of me without telling me?

Generally speaking, an agency must tell you if it is collecting your personal information.

However, there are some cases where an agency could collect your information without telling you. For instance, it might not have to tell you it was collecting your information if this would undermine the agency’s purpose for collecting the information in the first place, or if it would endanger the safety of any individual.

If you believe an agency has collected your information without telling you, we suggest that you contact the agency and ask to speak to their privacy officer to see if you can resolve any concerns you have about this directly.

If you’re not able to resolve your concerns, and you believe you have suffered some sort of harm as a result of the collection of your information, you can make a complaint to us.

Or make a complaint to the Police, as Glenys Dickson did in the Barclay case.

Andrew Geddis comments on this in It’s not the crime, it’s the coverup

…it’s not an offence to record yourself in conversation with others, even if they don’t know you are doing so. Nor is it an offence to record other people without their knowledge if they are not engaged in a “private communication”.

But the allegation against Barclay is that he left a dictaphone running when he wasn’t in his office so as to record what Dickson was saying in conversations with constituents.

Also in Police take another look at Barclay secret recording investigation

Geddis said the alleged breach in law on which Barclay was investigated needed to tick three boxes to be proved.

The first was there needed to be a recording with an “interception device”, as the law phrased. In this case, he said, the “device” was alleged to be a dictaphone.

Then it needed to be proved it was a private conversation – in this case, said to be the electorate office where Dickson worked.

The third element was proving that the recording was made intentionally, he said.

“If you could prove all three elements, the offence carries a jailable offence of up to two years.”

Conviction to the two-year point is the trigger which forces MPs to resign from Parliament.

Steven Price at Media Law Journal (in reference to the Bradley Ambrose case):

It’s a crime to intentionally intercept a private communication using an interception device. A private communication is one that is made under circumstances that may reasonably taken to indicate that any party to it desires it remain private, but:

does not include such a communication occurring in circumstances in which any party ought reasonably to expect that the communication may be intercepted by some other person not having the express or implied consent of any party to do so.

Although a battalion of journalists were about a metre away behind a window, let’s assume that Key and Banks couldn’t reasonably expect it to be overheard, and that the circumstances indicate that both desired their conversation to remain private.

In an electorate office if the conversation was in an open office where others were present and could hear it then it may not be private. But if Dickson was the only person present then it could be private.

The only issue, then, is whether the interception was intentional. On the paper’s account, it was inadvertent. In fact, it says, the cameraman tried to retrieve his recorder before the conversation but was stopped by Key’s security folk, and didn’t know that the recording was even happening. Now, I don’t know anything more than has been reported. But I wonder whether there is room for doubt about whether the cameraman genuinely didn’t know that the conversation was being recorded.

If it could be established that he did know, then he has committed an offence.

Bill English has said (in the now public police statement) “I had a conversation with him regarding Glenys Dickson leaving his office and he said to me that he had recordings of her criticising him”.

Barclay has said “I have read and Mr English’s statement to the police and accept it.”

“Recordings” is plural. It could be difficult claiming that more than one recording was accidental.

We will find out next week what the Police decide to do and whether they re-open the case or not.

Peters versus English on Barclay

Winston Peters smells political blood and tries a few more cuts against Bill English in this press release:  Playing Dumb Won’t Save English Over Barclay Debacle

Failure to answer questions will not save the Prime Minister.

“The facts are there: When asked about the Barclay Debacle in Parliament yesterday Mr English said:  ‘I was absolutely no party to that, and I do not know what the dispute was or how it was settled’.

“However, in a text message to former National Party Clutha-Southland electorate chair, Stuart Davie, Mr English wrote: ‘Glenys settlement large to avoid potential legal action. Had to be part paid by prime minister’s budget. Everyone unhappy’.

“Mr English confirmed in the text he knew all about the special top-up settlement from the National Party Leader’s Office.

“He has not explained why cash was paid from the National Party Leader’s Office funds despite the employer, Parliamentary Services, paying a dispute settlement.

“Why was the extra money necessary?

“Mr English refuses to say, but it was paid to cover up a criminal act, which Mr English knew about.

“Questions continue to hover around the Prime Minister over his lack of honesty and complicity in the cover up over the secret recordings in the Clutha-Southland electorate office.

“He is refusing to answer, hiding behind parliamentary rules. He’s claiming he is not responsible as a Minister, because he was wearing another hat, of an ordinary MP – that’s a new one. He’s condemned by his own words.”

That’s mild compared to what he has said directly to media.

NZ Herald:  ‘He’s got to go’: Winston Peters calls for Prime Minister to resign

“He’s got to go, Mr English. He’s got to stand down, just like Barclay. He misled the media, he misled the House in every respect he is in serious breach of his responsibilities and duties,” Peters said to media before entering question time that saw further questions about English’s actions.

Asked if English had lied, Peters said there was no other possible conclusion. Despite calling for English’s resignation, Peters did not rule out going into Coalition with National after the September 23 election.

He said he had laid two privileges complaints against English, claiming he misled Parliament about whether he knew about the allegations against Barclay. In question time, Peters challenged English to release his phone records to prove he hadn’t been involved in the dispute than already disclosed.

Winston is no stranger to over-egging so it’s difficult to know whether there is any significant merit to his privileges complaints.

And if he had a percent of vote for every time he has called on someone to resign he would be a virtual dictator.

 

 

Labour allege English misled Parliament

Not surprisingly Labour is continuing their pressure on Bill English over his responses to the Todd Barclay isssue.

For some reason Grant Robertson is fronting this:  Bill English misleads Parliament on Police statement

Bill English’s attempt to restore his damaged credibility over the Todd Barclay affair has backfired after his claim to have “reported” Mr Barclay’s actions to Police has proven not to be true, says Labour MP for Wellington Central Grant Robertson.

“Yesterday in Parliament, Bill English claimed in response to a question from Andrew Little that he had ‘reported to Police’ the information he had that Todd Barclay had recorded his staff member. In fact Mr English had only spoken to Police after they had requested him to do so when they became aware that he had this information.

“Today, Mr English has been forced to admit that he did not initiate contact with Police. In Parliament Gerry Brownlee speaking on the Prime Minister’s behalf said he had been ‘imprecise’ in his answer.

“That is not good enough, and I am writing to the Speaker today to ask him to assess if there has been a breach of Parliamentary privilege.

“Bill English was trying to make out to the New Zealand public that he had done the right thing when he found out what Todd Barclay had done. That is not true. He only spoke to Police because they requested it.

“This fits with the whole way Bill English has dealt with this matter. He not told New Zealanders the truth about his involvement, and he has allowed Todd Barclay to mislead the public as well.

“New Zealanders need to know that their leaders will act honestly, ethically and with integrity. Bill English has failed that test,” says Grant Robertson.

This seems a fairly lame attempt to me, playing with semantics. Surely there are stronger grounds with which to hold English to account.

Robertson versus English

Following a succession of attacks on Bill English in Question Time yesterday Grant Robertson had a go in the General Debate.

This may sum up Labour’s reaction to the Todd Barclay saga.

GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central): For the last 18 months, the current Prime Minister of New Zealand has been at the centre of a cover-up. He has known that one of his MPs covertly taped one of his staff members, and that that MP went on to mislead, dissemble, and not tell the truth about what had happened.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand knew this. He knew it from the beginning of last year, and he has done nothing to bring that member of Parliament to account. What is more, when the Prime Minister of New Zealand has been asked directly about what he knew about what Todd Barclay had done, he has not told the truth.

On 1 March last year Bill English was asked on the radio what he knew of the reasons for staff resignations in Todd Barclay’s office, and whether he had personally spoken to any of those staff. Mr English answered: “No.” That was on 1 March.

On 21 February, we now know that the Prime Minister of New Zealand texted the then electorate chair of the National Party in Clutha-Southland to tell that man, Stuart Davie, that Todd Barclay had indeed recorded his staff member in a covert manner.

The Prime Minister has not told New Zealanders the truth about what happened in Todd Barclay’s office. He has dissembled, he has avoided answering questions, and he has failed the basic test of a Prime Minister in this country.

Honesty is the very least that New Zealanders can expect from their politicians, and all the more so from their Prime Minister, and Mr English has completely failed on that account.

When he was given the opportunity to talk to police in April last year, he told them that Mr Barclay had indeed told him that he had recorded Glenys Dickson. When he then had the opportunity to see that document, that police statement, released as part of an overall police Official Information Act release, Mr English made sure his statement was withheld.

This is not a Prime Minister who wants to be open or transparent. This is not a Prime Minister who was being honest with New Zealanders about what has happened.

It makes no difference that Todd Barclay has left today. This is about Bill English and Bill English’s credibility to be Prime Minister, because for politicians it is not about what happens when something is exposed by the media and what you then do. It is about whether you do the right thing at the time that you know about it.

It is not a sign of credibility to come forward only when you are being exposed by the media.

It is not a sign of credibility or leadership to change your mind within 3 or 4 hours yesterday because you worked out you had been caught out and found out. Those are not the actions of a real leader or a Prime Minister, and they are not the actions of someone whom New Zealanders can trust.

The Prime Minister has broken the basic bond with New Zealand people of the trust that they should have in him. He did not tell the truth about what he knew. He stood by an MP who has told lies.

He has allowed a staff member of 16 years to be bullied and covertly recorded out of her job, and even yesterday he wanted the issue to go away instead of actually fronting up to New Zealanders about what he and his protégé have done.

This is not a leader. This is a person who has become Prime Minister, and now that he is in that role he is cruelly exposed to New Zealanders as someone who does not have the fundamental capabilities and attributes that they need in their Prime Minister—that is, that he would be straight-up with New Zealanders, that he would show leadership and deal with people who break the law, rather than try to cover it up.

The last 24 hours have taught New Zealanders a lesson. This is a squalid shambles, as the Fairfax editorial said today, and, as other commentators have said, this has now cast great doubt on Bill English’s credibility.

At this election it will be about a contest between a leader in Andrew Little who is straight-up and tells New Zealanders how it is, and Bill English, who has lied on behalf of his MP.

Rebooting Clutha-Southland campaign

Clutha-Southland is one of National’s safest electorates so it would be unthinkable that they can lose it, but they have to quickly come up with a credible candidate to replace Todd Barclay.

They have just suffered a very bitter internal dispute with an outcome that will have greatly displeased some of the party members, so the candidate selection could be challenging.

Simon Flood, the candidate who lost to Barclay last year, could try again but that would probably be contentious.

Ideally they need to come up with someone who both factions can live with – because they may have to live them for many years.

Winning the candidacy for Clutha-Southland is an opportunity for a job in Parliament potentially for decades, as long as you don’t cock up like Barclay did.

Eileen Goodwin broke the story of staff strife in Clutha-Southland last year. She writes in the ODT: Fears of damage to PM

The Otago Daily Times revealed last March that Mrs Dickson’s resignation involved claims of a secret recording.

A new selection process will begin ”very shortly” in the Clutha-Southland electorate after MP Todd Barclay’s announcement yesterday he is quitting Parliament, the National Party says.

Yesterday, National Party general manager Greg Hamilton said the party board would consider the matter soon so the new selection could start.

Mr Barclay was re-selected last December after a bitter contest.

A group of party members who believed he needed to go backed a challenge from former funds manager Simon Flood.

Mr Hamilton confirmed the party board would consider a complaint from a group of members about the selection contest. It is understood to involve claims of delegate stacking to skew the outcome.

So National will be investigating a complaint about the last selection process at the same as a new selection process.

Party member Maeva Smith, a friend of Mrs Dickson, said the party needed to take some responsibility for its handling of the problem. ”We didn’t want any damage to [Mr English] – that’s something that we didn’t want. We’ve got a great deal of respect for him.”

Significant damage has been done.

Mrs Smith said she would be working on the campaign to elect Mr English as prime minister in September. She hoped the electorate, which has up to 1500 party members, would rebuild.

”In some ways it’s cleared the air”.

For those who wanted Barclay dumped it may have, but it’s hard to imagine everyone comes out of this happy to move on.

An Otago Daily Times reporter who visited Gore yesterday to speak to people in the street said the feeling was that Mr Barclay’s decision to stand down was correct.

One woman said there was a general feeling around Gore that Mr Barclay was too young for the role.

RNZ has reported similar sentiments from elsewhere in the electorate.

Regardless, the situation now is that Barclay is not standing and National have to find someone else for a plum electorate which could be virtually for life.

Once the selection has been made one plus for National is that as the saying goes, a swede could win the electorate as long as it was blue.

How badly is English damaged?

Bill English had an awful day on Tuesday as the Barclay story emerged, with English complicit in a shoddy electorate civil war in Clutha-Southland.

English did much better yesterday as Todd Barclay was clinically removed from National’s candidate list, although he took a battering in Parliament transcripts of all of that here.

There is no doubt that English has been badly damaged by this. The big questions are how much damage, and how will this affect the election.

The story may have just become ready to publish this week, or it may have been deliberately timed to precede National’s conference this weekend.

The Clutha-Southland contingent at the conference are likely to be stressed, but unless journalists manage to dig something out that will be kept as quiet as possible.

More important than ever is how English handles himself. It is an opportunity to put the mess behind him and step up – and he needs to step up quite a lot. Plodding along isn’t going to deal to the damaging week adequately.

We will see whether English has what is required to look like a strong leader going confidently into an election campaign, or if the stress of this week looks like it has worn him down.

English can never undo all the damage done by self inflicted internal ructions, but he has to appear as if he can deal with adverse situations and continue leading the country.

What can English do now?

In the wake of the Todd Barclay mess a lot of suggestions have been made about what Bill English should do.

Andrew Little said on RNZ: ” Barclay is causing chaos, and that it’s totally unacceptable that Bill English hasn’t insisted he cooperate with the police”, but it would be totally inappropriate for English to insist that Barclay do something he isn’t legally required to do.

There have also been calls (not by Little as far as I’m aware) for English to dump Barclay from standing again in Clutha-Southland .

This may not be easy or advisable as @MatthewHootonNZ explains.

  1. Those asking to announce he is cutting loose need to read r115-116 of constitution.
  2. You can find it here: https://www.elections.org.nz/sites/default/files/National_party_rules_0.pdf
  3. Then ask yourself what happens if just said “nah”.
  4. Then ask how long it would take for the necessary decisions under rules 115 and 116 to be made.
  5. Take into account that each of those decisions are subject to judicial review.
  6. Then ask whether it really would be a good example of leadership for to make the bold demand for his resignation sought.

Here are rules 115 and 116:

Withdrawal of Endorsement

115. If it appears to the Electorate Executive that formal withdrawal of Party
endorsement of a selected constituency candidate is in the interests of the
Party, and the candidate is unwilling to withdraw his/her candidature, the
following procedure shall apply:

(a) Approval shall be sought by the Electorate Executive through the
Regional Chair from the Board for the Board to undertake a meeting
to consider withdrawal of endorsement;

(b) If such approval is given by the Board, then at least two days prior
notice of the Board meeting at which the withdrawal of the Party’s
endorsement of the candidate is to be discussed, and the fact that
such withdrawal is to be discussed, shall be given to the Board
Members and to the candidate; and the chairperson of the electorate
and the Regional Chairperson who shall be entitled to attend the
Board meeting.

(c) The candidate shall be invited to attend the said meeting and prior
to any motion being put to the meeting to withdraw the Party’s
endorsement of him or her, he or she must be informed of the reasons
for dissatisfaction with his or her candidacy and given an
opportunity to state his or her case; and

(d) A resolution of the Board withdrawing the Party’s endorsement shall
be effective immediately if passed by a majority of those present and
voting.

116. If it appears to the Board that formal withdrawal of Party endorsement of
a selected constituency candidate is in the best interests of the Party as the
actions of the candidate are prejudicial to the interests of the Party and the
candidate is unwilling to withdraw his/her candidature, and the Electorate
Executive has determined not to initiate withdrawal in terms of Rule 115(a),
then the following procedure shall be apply:

(a) The Board shall convene a Board meeting with the Chairperson of the
Electorate concerned and the Regional Chair of the Region concerned
to consider withdrawal of the endorsement;

(b) If a meeting is convened, then at least two days prior notice of the
meeting as which the withdrawal of the Party’s endorsement of the
candidate is to be discussed and the fact that such withdrawal is to
be discussed shall be given to the Electorate concerned and to the
candidate;

(c) The candidate shall be invited to attend the said meeting and prior
to any motion being put to the meeting to withdraw the Party’s
endorsement of him or her, he or she must be informed of the reasons
for dissatisfaction with his or her candidacy and given an opportunity
to state his or her case; and

(d) A Resolution of the Board withdrawing the Party’s endorsement shall
be effective immediately if passed by a majority of those present and
voting.

There are good reasons why it is deliberately difficult for a Prime Minister to dump MPs. Candidates are chosen by electorates, not by the party leader.

Little’s lame response

Opposition parties will have been very happy about yesterday’s revelations impacting on Todd Barclay, Bill English, National and the Government.

But Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little has been a bit lame in capitalising. He had an opportunity in Question Time in Parliament yesterday:

2. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he believe that the moral standards he sets as Prime Minister are high enough?

@robhosking responded:

this is a daft scattergun, kitchen sink attack from Little. Needed a surgical strike, not a widely aimed rant.

RNZ:  PM and MP’s conduct in question over recordings

The Labour leader Andrew Little says Barclay is causing chaos, and that it’s totally unacceptable that Bill English hasn’t insisted he cooperate with the police.

Barclay, like anyone, has a legal right not to speak to the police if being investigated. Barclay says he acted on legal advice in not speaking to the police.

I think it would be totally inappropriate for English to have insisted how Barclay dealt with the police.

Little:

“It looks to me like that all the way along, Bill English, Todd Barclay, and possibly others, have done everything the can to play this whole thing down.

“Look, it’s a classic lesson in politics. So often it’s not the original transgression, it’s the cover up that kills you, and that’s what’s happening now.”

The original transgression, an MP allegedly illegally recording an employee in the workplace, seems serious enough to me. But that’s just a back bench MP, not the PM.

The media are hard out holding Barclay and English to account. Little doesn’t need to do much, but his contribution has been lame.

UPDATE: Little has just been interviewed on RNZ. He says that Barclay should resign. That’s probably a fair call, many are suggesting that is an appropriate action, but Little called for another MP to resign a day or two ago so that reduces the impact of this call.

He said he wouldn’t go as far as saying that English should resign.

Transcript from Question Time:


2. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he believe that the moral standards he sets as Prime Minister are high enough?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Prime Minister): Yes, but we can always do better.

Andrew Little: Is it one of his moral standards that Minister who become aware of a breach of the law by a high-ranking public official should report it to the police; if not, why not?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would expect any Minister who became aware of possible breaches of the law to bring it to the attention of the authorities.

Andrew Little: Why has he left it until today to confirm that he himself gave information to the police about one of his MPs and an allegation of unlawful conduct on the part of that—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I just ask the member to reflect very quickly on that question, and I am going to read four Speakers’ rulings that I think are relevant. Speaker’s ruling 172/2: “The Prime Minister and Ministers are responsible for only those matters that fall within their responsibilities as Ministers, not as leaders of parties. That [applies to] all parties in the House.” Speaker’s ruling 172/3: “The Prime Minister is answerable for any statements made as Prime Minister. But the Prime Minister is not answerable for actions taken in a non-ministerial capacity, whether as Leader of the Opposition or as leader of a political party.” Speaker’s ruling 173/1: “The Prime Minister is not responsible for funding provided through the Parliamentary Service to the party.” Speaker’s ruling 173/2: “The Prime Minister has no responsibility either for what occurred at a select committee or for a member of the caucus.” I invite the member to consider his questions very carefully, but he needs to keep those four important Speakers’ rulings in mind as he proceeds with his line of questioning.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand that the comment that the Leader of the Opposition was questioning the Prime Minister about was made at a prime ministerial press conference. Therefore, he must be able to be questioned about it in the House.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, no. I do not think that is—[Interruption] Order! I do not think that is necessarily the case, particularly when I look at Speaker’s ruling 173/2: “The Prime Minister has no responsibility … for a member of the caucus.” So if it is a ministerial responsibility—[Interruption] Order! I am only relating what are the precedents that have been established in this House. The member might not agree, but she does not need to disagree with me while I am reading what is a Speaker’s ruling. I am not ruling any question out at this stage. It is going to be a difficult issue for me to negotiate my way through. I will do my best, but I am asking the member to carefully think of those four Speakers’ rulings as he frames his continuation of questions.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In making those decisions about which questions should be in order or not, one of the important distinctions that we ask you to consider is that the Prime Minister is responsible for the conduct of Ministers and what Ministers do with information that comes into their possession, including whether that information was received whilst they were in a current or in a previous role. So the Prime Minister, as Prime Minister today, may have received information in a previous ministerial role. As he is now the Prime Minister, he can still be questioned about when he knew that and what he did with that information.

Mr SPEAKER: I think that is absolutely true, and if you consider the first supplementary question advanced by the Leader of the Opposition, it fell into exactly that category. Andrew Little—to continue his supplementary questions.

Andrew Little: Was the then Minister of Finance behaving ethically on 1 March 2016, when he told media that he had not directly talked to his former staff about Todd Barclay’s alleged illegal recordings, when in truth he had directly contacted both Glenys Dickson and Stuart Davie about it?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: The then finance Minister, I presume, was answering questions about a matter that was in the media and under investigation.

Andrew Little: Is the Prime Minister standing by the conduct of his then Minister of Finance when being asked whether he had direct contact with people associated with the allegations involving the then MP—and still current MP—for Clutha-Southland, and went on to say he had had no direct contact with anybody involved in those affairs, which we now know to be untrue?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, and I understand there was some further explanation of that this morning.

Andrew Little: Does he agree with his statement that “It’s not leadership to cover up and hope it all goes away?”; if so, why is he covering things up and hoping they will just go away?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I disagree with that. I think a statement to the police is not a cover-up.

Andrew Little: In light of his conduct in relation to not only Todd Barclay but also Alfred Ngaro threating housing NGOs who criticise the Government, Nicky Wagner disrespecting people with disabilities, Simon Bridges attempting to unlawfully withhold public information, why has the Prime Minister always chosen to defend their conduct rather than defend the moral standards Kiwis expect?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first place, I dispute a number of those statements. Secondly, I think Ministers have demonstrated their adherence to much higher standards than previous Governments because they recognise their mistakes and apologise for them quite quickly. That is how you maintain standards. People will always make mistakes; the question is what you do to fix them.

Andrew Little: If the conduct of Todd Barclay, Alfred Ngaro, Nicky Wagner, and Simon Bridges is OK by him, how can he possibly claim to have any moral standards at all?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Again, I disagree with some of the member’s statements, but the conduct he refers to was dealt with by the Ministers who recognised for themselves that their conduct did not reach the standards required by this Government, and they corrected those mistakes pretty quickly.

Andrew Little: Given today’s new revelations about Pike River, which contradict his Government’s repeated claims, is it morally acceptable for him to delay and frustrate the grieving Pike River families’ desire to see justice and get their men back?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I certainly understand the distress of the families, particularly as these matters have been drawn out in a way that must have some of them reliving the tragedy regularly. All the matters that have been raised by the families were dealt with by a royal commission. It is not a matter of what the Government thinks; it is a matter of what the royal commission did, where the families were fully represented. Rather than delaying and frustrating the families, we are actually working with them now on a plan, which is about to be implemented, for a safe, unmanned investigation of the drift.

Andrew Little: How did his Government’s morals come to include bullying staff and critics, covering up its mistakes, refusing to cooperate with the police, all the while ignoring New Zealanders who are desperate for mental health care, desperate for a warm, dry home, and desperate for a place to call their own; and is it not, after 9 years, time for this Government to stop governing in the interests of the National Party and govern in the interests of all New Zealanders?

Mr SPEAKER: The Rt Hon Prime Minister—the first part of that question is in order.

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: As demonstrated by the recent Budget, which Labour voted against, we focus on the issues that matter, such as raising the incomes of the lowest-income households in New Zealand. In fact, it is because Ministers deal with their issues quickly, recognise mistakes, and move on that we have been able to stay focused on the issues that matter.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Did he check out the facts when he conveniently forgot his involvement in the Barclay affair or his involvement with the Prime Minister’s budget going towards Barclay’s staff—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Again, we are in the same territory where we have already been. There is no prime ministerial responsibility for a member of Mr English’s caucus.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister’s budget is the relevant point, with respect, that brings this question inside the ambit of the Standing Orders.

Mr SPEAKER: No; that is exactly the reason it is no longer in line with the Standing Orders. I refer the member to Speaker’s Ruling 173/1: “The Prime Minister is not responsible for funding provided through the Parliamentary Service to the party.” This question is out of order. [Interruption] Order! I have dealt with the matter.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am seeking a point of clarity.

Mr SPEAKER: What is it?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: You are saying it is the Parliamentary Service budget. This, of course, came from the Prime Minister’s office. Are you saying it is the same thing?

Mr SPEAKER: No, it is exactly the same as the leader’s budget.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I will put the question again, then.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, the question has been ruled out of order. If the member wants to ask a fresh supplementary question and have another go, he can do so.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, I am reframing the question.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question has been ruled out of order. It is lost. It is gone. If the member wants to have another—[Interruption]. Well, then, the member rises and asks for another supplementary question. Supplementary question—the Rt Hon Winston Peters. [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. I am not putting up with this behaviour from a very senior member of this Parliament. He either starts to behave himself or he will be leaving the Chamber. If he wants a supplementary question, he rises to his feet and asks it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Am I entitled to ask my question in silence, without the backbench barraging me?

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, the member is totally entitled to, but when he rises to his feet he gets on with the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister whether he conveniently forgot his involvement in the Barclay affair, and how come he told the media one thing that demonstrably is not true?

Mr SPEAKER: As far as there may be some prime ministerial responsibility I am inviting the Prime Minister—if he wishes to address it, he can. [Interruption] Order! The question has been asked. It was a very marginal question. I left it there. The Prime Minister does not have to rise to answer it. [Interruption] Order! If a member wishes to leave the Chamber—that is completely unacceptable parliamentary language. The member will now stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Chris Hipkins: I withdraw and apologise.

 

 

 

 

How good was Newsroom’s journalism?

There is no doubt that Newsroom journalist Melanie Reid extensively investigated the Todd Barclay story that hit the headlines all through yesterday. It has been hailed by many as great journalism, and to an extent that is fair praise.

But I want to raise questions about how the story was published that other media probably won’t say anything about.

The publishing of the story – actually multiple stories – looks like a carefully orchestrated hit.

It will have taken some time to investigate and write up.

It was likely to that they deliberate broke the story on a Tuesday morning, the first day of the week that Parliament sits. Fair enough, they have to decide some time to publish, and that’s when MPs are usually readily available for responses.

They didn’t just publish the whole story. They published the first hit at about 8 am. They held back more details until later in the day. Why? Good journalism? To maximise publicity and website hits? I guess that’s part of the media game these days.

They published two follow up stories late in the afternoon. Why hold those back?

They have promised another story today.  Last night Tim Murphy at Newsroom promised more via Twitter: “There’s at least one more lie to come in the morning.  “.

Is the drip feeding of a story good journalism, or is it trying to catch MPs out in not telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

I’ve seen activists describe these tactics for political hit jobs – hold back details in the hope that their targets will compromise themselves.

It is often said (and I saw it yesterday) that it’s not the political ‘crime’ that does the damage, it’s the way it is dealt with by the targets. (Update: Andrew Little was just quoted on RNZ saying this).

The aim is to stir things up with a story and then hope that the target compromises themselves further by lying or reacting badly to try and cover up or minimise their exposure.

Is it good journalism to play this game?

Or, once they have done their good journalistic investigating shouldn’t they just come out with everything they have?

I may have it wrong, but I got the feeling yesterday that Newsroom were not just reporting what they had discovered, they were trying to maximise the impact on the targets of their story.

I got the feeling that they had a dagger blow, but were stabbing for maximum political blood, not just reporting.

The lines can be very blurred between political activism and media.

Most journalists and opponents of the Government will applaud yesterday’s stories as a well researched, well planned and well executed hit.

The media  can be very powerful. They can influence major political outcomes (like US presidential elections and referendums on major changes to the European Union).

Newsroom’s stories will make some difference in our election this year. They could quite feasibly be a significant factor in changing our Government.

Should we just accept that media are as much a part of the political game playing as anyone?