The Spinoff and RNZ “sharing our journalism” – and also sponsors?

There were some heated exchanges on Twitter last night over a just announced arrangement between RNZ and The Spinoff to share news – “we’ll be sharing our journalism”, but there are issues over whether RNZ are also sharing The Spinoff’s sponsorship and advertising.

RNZ is a long serving non-commercial Government funded media organisation based on radio, but with a growing online presence.

The Spinoff is a a relatively new online media enterprise which relies on sponsorship for funding. They have just launched a premium prescription service – “the best stories from around the NZ media hitting your inbox at 7 am weekdays”. That sounds similar to a service Bryce Edwards has provided free for several years.

Yesterday (12 March) RNZ announced RNZ and The Spinoff announce content partnership:

RNZ and The Spinoff are delighted to announce we’ll be sharing our journalism.

Under the arrangement material from will appear on and vice versa.

The new arrangement maintains RNZ’s policy of sharing content with media partners and extends to 16 the number of agreements in place with a range of media organisations.

Glen Scanlon, RNZ’s head of digital, said The Spinoff team had blazed a path for independent websites and the partnership extended RNZ’s proactive approach to make news and information available to more New Zealanders.

“The Spinoff is the source of some of New Zealand’s wittiest, and well-thought, journalism and we’re very much looking forward to being able to feature it.

“Duncan Greive and his team are a creative force, and they have helped bring issues to the forefront of people’s minds in many new ways.”

Greive, The Spinoff’s managing editor, said he was “extremely stoked to be entering a partnership with RNZ”.

“It’s an organisation we admire immensely. The work it does feels thoughtful, urgent and agenda-setting, and we’re privileged to be able to share it with our audience.

“We’re particularly happy that we were able to design a pioneering relationship for RNZ – one which sees our work available for syndication on their sites, as well as theirs on ours. It’s our way of supporting a cultural and journalistic giant which does so much to sustain the rest of our media.”

The Spinoff made their own announcement, quoting from the media release and trying to add some humour: Spinoff and RNZ announce conscious coupling

The juggernaut of quality New Zealand journalism is teaming up with friendly local website The Spinoff, it was announced today to nil fanfare.

According to a media release from RNZ, both parties are delighted about the arrangement, which provides that “material from will appear on and vice versa” and “maintains RNZ’s policy of sharing content with media partners and extends to 16 the number of agreements in place with a range of media organisations”.

“Sixteen seems a lot,” said one unnamed source at The Spinoff. “Are there even 16 media organisations in New Zealand?”

According to Spinoff sources, staff were excited about adding more top RNZ content to their website, but more importantly they were motivated by the opportunity to get a mention from New Zealand’s most consistently funny parody Twitter account.

A story shared yesterday led to a heated exchange on Twitter last night.

The original article was posted on The Spinoff on 7 March: 30% cheaper to build and pre-consented: is this a solution to the housing crisis?

An old cigarette factory in Masterton, a remnant from the Think Big era, has been re-purposed to tackle our affordable housing crisis. Rebecca Stevenson caught up with builder Mike Fox to find out how a plant in the Wairarapa is producing modular, kitset homes on the cheap.

That is from Rebecca Stevenson, and looks almost like an advertorial for a house building company, but there is no suggestion it was paid for publicity. However like other Spinoff stories, it has a sponsorship message:

The Spinoff’s business content is brought to you by our friends at Kiwibank. Kiwibank backs small to medium businesses, social enterprises and Kiwis who innovate to make good things happen.

Check out how Kiwibank can help your business take the next step.

That’s how The Spinoff pay their wages and bills, and it is open disclosure – similar to commercial TV stations have sponsors associated with programmes or news segments like business news and the weather.

On 9 March RNZ republished this article – note that this is prior to them announcing their sharing arrangement with The Spinoff. They acknowledged at the end of the article:

This article was first published on The Spinoff

Bryce Edwards got suggested potential problems with this approach for RNZ, and was confronted by Duncan Grieve from The Spinoff:

Touchy from Grieve. I thought the Spinoff article read like an advetorial too, and that was before reading Edwards’ tweets.

Toby Manhire (from The Spinoff) also seemed aggrieved:

It may have not been paid content on The Spinoff (just openly sponsored), but it is odd content for RNZ to choose to share.

Remember that The Spinoff has just launched a subscription service that sounds similar to Edwards’ free daily round up.

Another Twitter exchange on the topic:

@GeoffMillerNZ – and have announced content-sharing deal. Seems fairly dodgy from RNZ’s perspective, given much of Spinoff’s content sponsored by corporates/PR. You can’t spell “Spinoff” without “spin”

@DCohenNZ – I support what RNZ is doing with content sharing. It’s one of a number of impressive decisions that have been taken on the watch of . Whether other participating media have a “spin” (or political tilt) isn’t important as long as the RNZ content is used extant.

@fundypost (Paul Litterick) – My concern is the problems arising from RNZ taking The Spinoff’s content. The Spinoff runs on sponsorship. It also has an ideological slant.

@GeoffMillerNZ – What’s different about this deal is that RNZ for the first time is reproducing another outlet’s content. Other content-sharing deals were one-way, i.e. other outlets paid a nominal fee to use RNZ content, but the arrangement was not reciprocal.

@DCohenNZ – So the question will be what content is used. Presumably, there will be vetting. The concern you raise is reasonable, but my point is about the need for new ways of thinking about the ongoing good health of media (which I’m sure we both agree is important).

@GeoffMillerNZ – Agree on your last point David, the question is how we get there. As it stands we have RNZ republishing sponsored content without even the disclosure that the Spinoff provides (e.g. see the housing article today, sponsored by Kiwibank but no mention of this on RNZ).

@zigzagger2 (John Drinnan) – In which case RNZ was smart enough to remove the mention because it would undermine the story, but loose enough that it did not see the sponsorshp an issue for the state broadcaster,

@GeoffMillerNZ – Exactly – they are in an unsolvable bind here. Provide disclosure and it’s free advertising for sponsors on RNZ, don’t provide it and it’s arguably even worse. Hence why the deal should not have been agreed to in the first place.

@fundypost – RNZ does not need to trade. It produces high-quality stuff that other broadcasters want. Why should RNZ want anything from the Spinoff; what does it do that RNZ cannot do?

@GeoffMillerNZ – Exactly. Content needs to be paid for somehow, so I am not totally against the sponsorship models The Spinoff and Newsroom are pursuing (although still problematic). But RNZ gets public money (& more under Labour) precisely to stay out of this murky area. So why go there?

I suspect that RNZ will be somewhat more careful about what content they share from The Spinoff – the housing article was a very strange choice and I think poor choice, republished before the sharing arrangement was announced.

It appears to be the only article republished at RNZ so far (as indicated by a site search of ‘The Spinoff’).

But the links to sponsored news publications (along with advertising) remains a problem for RNZ.



More on the media and murky lobbying in politics

Bryce Edwards has continued to question the relationships between paid lobbyists and politicians, but also points out that relationships between lobbyists and media mean it isn unlikely ton get much exposure.

Political Roundup:  Lifting the lid on lobbying in politics

Recent revelations that a lobbying firm owner and director was recruited to work over summer as Chief of Staff for the Prime Minister, with the expectation he would then immediately return to lobbying, barely raised a mention in our media.

What should have been a major political scandal, was the subject of a must-read investigative report last week on The Spinoff website – see Asher Emanuel’s Conflict of interest concerns over lobbyist turned chief of Jacinda Ardern’s staff. Emanuel’s article is important because it raises unanswered questions about ethics and procedures in the hiring of lobbyists to work for the government.

One explanation for this extraordinary situation going largely unreported, is that Wellington political insiders often operate as a “political class” who are careful not to step on each other’s toes. For the media, in particular, a symbiotic relationship can make it problematic to report on powerful individuals who they depend on for stories and access.

Danyl Mclauchlan earlier this week pointed to a second, very important, factor in why so little public scrutiny had been applied to this lobbyist. He writes, “a jaw-dropping conflict of interest” such as this could have been massive: “If such a thing happened during the Key government there would have been a huge outcry: protests, online petitions, Twitter hashtags, Radio New Zealand flooded with academics lamenting the death of our democracy. Instead there was an indifferent silence” – see: Simon Bridges and the opposition vacuum.

Partly, Mclauchlan attributes this to partisan bias. But, crucially, he suggests that another important component of New Zealand’s “political class” – Parliament’s Opposition – decided not to make the issue a scandal. He says “Most government scandals need opposition leaders asking questions in the house, crafting lines so that the voters can understand what’s happening, providing optics for the TV news, and having their research units breaking new angles to keep the story live. If none of these things happen then there’s no scandal.”

The Opposition is supposed to be a check on Executive power – it’s their job to expose the government’s ethical transgressions such as any misuse of power or willingness to allow conflicts of interest to occur at high levels. So why didn’t National push the issue? According to Mclauchlan: “National has no interest in progressing such a story because they in many ways spent the last nine years acting as a vertically integrated lobbying and fundraising operation, and their former chief of staff is now a consulting partner with the same lobbying firm as Labour’s former chief of staff.”

More here from Edwards:

But with the primary means of holding power to account – the media and the Opposition – both complicit it is unlikely this will be given much scrutiny.

Good on Edwards for having a crack at it. He could be putting his media access at risk.

Time to give a push for more open government

Bryce Edwards is being an open political activist, calling for support to “guide the new government” into being “more open with its information”.

Newsroom: It’s time to open up the Closed Government Act

Calling all journalists, academics, public servants, political activists, and members of the public who believe in the need for government to be more open with its information. We need to form a coalition to fix the Official Information Act (OIA).

It’s time for everyone who believes in reforming the OIA processes to join together and campaign to make that actually happen. Such a coalition could guide the new government in making the necessary changes so that New Zealand is once again a world leader in open government, the way we were in 1982 when the extraordinary act was introduced.

The OIA itself may still be fit for purpose, but the wider official information system desperately needs review, especially in the way that the act is adhered to by government. At the moment, it often functions more as the Closed Government Act.

Now is the perfect time to act. Whenever a new government is formed, it’s normally enthusiastic and idealistic about fixing problems in the system. And when it comes to problems with the OIA, the parties coming in from opposition are highly sensitive to its faults because they’ve been on the receiving end of governments keeping an overly-tight grip on information.

The parties making up the new coalition government have protested strongly against abuses of the OIA that occurred under National. So, hopefully they’ll want to prioritise some sort of review aimed at fixing the problems.

Clare Curran is the minister with responsibility for “Open Government”, as part of her role as Associate Minister for State Services. She has already committed her government to doing much better than the last government in terms of releasing information.

But in a recent interview with the Otago Daily Times’ Eileen Goodwin, Curran wasn’t very clear about whether any reform of the OIA would be forthcoming.

Hence the need to ‘guide’ the Government.

Instead, journalists are now leading the way in calls for reform. Newsroom’s Shane Cowlishaw has recently explored all of these issues in his must-read article, The OIA is broken, can it be fixed? He says, “the spirit of this law has dissolved in an air of contempt that has spread, like a stain, from the top down”.

Cowlishaw reflects on his own experiences as a journalist, noting the growth of government department spin-doctors, and saying that the “ever-growing mighty wall of ‘comms staff’ has seemingly forgotten its obligation to the public in a desire to protect its Ministers from embarrassment.”

The new government – as well as the opposition – need some constructive encouragement to take this key area of democracy very seriously and make sure it’s fit for purpose.

I’m keen to bring together participants, set up forums, and help establish a way for interested parties to come up with ideas about how to move ahead. At the very least, such a campaign could compile all the complaints and examples of how the OIA isn’t working, or is being thwarted and put everyone in touch who has an interest in OIA reform.

There’s a lot to consider. For example: Does the legislation need fixing, or just the way that the OIA is observed? Is there a need for a new Information Authority that would be responsible for overseeing the operation of the OIA, and teach government departments and the public how to use and adhere to it? Or is the Ombudsman’s Office best placed to carry out these functions? And is it resourced and empowered enough to fulfil such a role? Should there be stronger penalties for abuse of the OIA? Does the OIA need to be extended to Parliament, or at least to some of its agencies such as the Parliamentary Service?

The new coalition government has specifically made a commitment to “strengthen New Zealand’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information”. This wording is in the confidence and supply coalition agreement between Labour the Greens, and it could quite easily also be the stated focus of a new Campaign for Open Government.

Sounds like a worthwhile aim. As well as journalists and media it should get support from blogs from across the spectrum, as well as from other online forums.

If you’re interested, please get in touch. Contact me:


TOP lose legal bid to debate

The Opportunities Party went to court to try to get included in tonight’s minor party leaders debate and lost. This isn’t surprising, it’s hard for a court to force a media organisation, but it’s very disappointing to see our state owned television broadcaster using ‘rules’ to be undemocratic.

The MMP system – in particular to ridiculously high 5% threshold – is stacked against new parties making it into Parliament.

TVNZ’s ‘rule of not allowing parties who haven’t got at least 3% in their last two polls to take part in the biggest debate of the campaign for minor parties is a disgrace to democratic principles.

RNZ: TOP loses legal bid to appear in multi-party debate

The Opportunities Party (TOP) has lost its legal fight to appear on TVNZ’s multi-party debate tomorrow evening.

TVNZ lawyer Stacey Shortall said it had robust criteria for parties to be involved, including either already being in parliament or polling at at least three percent in one of the two Colmar Brunton polls before the debate.

It is not ‘robust criteria’. State owned broadcasters in particular should have a responsibility to be fair to serious contenders, but TVNZ is denying TOP a prime  chance of being seen and heard.

TOP polled at 1 percent in its poll at the end of August and at 1.9 percent today.

TOP’s lawyer Francis Cooke QC argued the party’s inclusion in the debates was critical to the election process and TVNZ’s criteria should be more robust.

But the political-media system remains stacked against them.

Key points from Edwards’ affidavit:

24 Fourth, in my view the use of such criteria is self-perpetuating and antidemocratic. A party that is excluded from the debates has little chance of making headway in the polls. What is more, I think that excluding them from the debates sends the message to viewers that their views and policies are not worthy of consideration. I think this is dangerously undemocratic.

25 Fifth, this year’s election campaign is proving extremely volatile. Political scientists and commentators appear to be in consensus that we are witnessing the greatest polling volatility yet recorded in an election campaign in New Zealand. Therefore, it seems unreasonable to take two Colmar Brunton polls as a snapshot of likely outcomes in the election – the flux is just too great at the moment in politics to regard such polling to be definitive.

27 Finally, the minor parties seem set to play a pivotal role in this year’s election as they are likely to hold the balance of power after the election. In my view, this makes it particularly important that the public is given sufficient exposure to their leaders and policies.

30 In my view TVNZ’s exclusion of TOP would do a disservice to democracy.

31 If TVNZ proceeds with minor party leaders’ and young voters’ debates without The Opportunities Party (TOP), this will have a significantly negative impact on TOP’s chances to be taken seriously by those members of the public looking to vote for a party other than Labour and National. It will send a strong signal to voters that it is not a viable candidate for voting consideration. It may seriously affect TOP’s electoral chances. And given the inclusion of less popular parties, it would be arbitrary and irrational.

The full affidavit:

The judge probably had no legal basis to rule in favour of TOP, but TVNZ are doing a disservice to taxpayers and to democracy.

Large and incumbent parties (and their supporters) and large media do what the can to deny newcomers a fair chance. Incumbent also have other substantial financial advantages.

Politics isn’t theatre

Politics is serious stuff, especially in an election campaign when we get to decide, sort of, who will run the country for the next three years.

Several months ago some journalists openly dreaded a boring election between the two main contenders, Bill English and Andrew Little. All they had to over-embellish headlines was the old troubadour, Winston Peters.

Then Little changed everything when he stood aside, allowing Jacinda Ardern to take over. The media had already played a party in Ardern’s promotion to deputy earlier this year, and this was headlines on a plate for them.

The media was besotted, as were a lot of potential Labour supporters who had had a drought of hope for nine years. So we had ‘Jacindamania’, the ‘Jacinda effect’.

Journos were fizzing at the bung in anticipation of last Thursday’s first leaders debate.  This turned out to be a useful opener, but there was media disappointment at the lack of excitement.

Bryce Edwards summed it up:

Last night’s leaders debate on TVNZ1 was lacklustre. A lot of people will tell you that the debate was quality – it was calm, it was respectful, and it focused on policy. But, actually it was boring and we didn’t learn anything new. Yes, of course they put forward their different policy generalities and attempts to show that they have vision and values. But it was all terribly bland and vague.

Woe is Bryce. A boring debate! Most people find most politics boring most of the time.

We did learn something important and new – two leading politicians could have a respectful debate.

Media would have loved attacks and abuse and mayhem, but here’s an important thing – elections aren’t for the entertainment of journos and pundits. Or they shouldn’t be.

Barry Soper:  The Soap Box: Politics is missing the theatre

Politics is these days missing the theatre, although in fairness Winston Peters is still performing and looks set to be playing the starring role after the vote in three weeks time.

He’ll undoubtedly put on another performance this week while the big players will continue what so far has been a fairly mundane affair…

Woe is Soper – despite continually giving the old Thespian Peters a nationwide soapbox the campaign is still lacking sufficient drama!

And it’s fair to say the current aspirants don’t put in the same election campaign hard slog that former contenders did. Long gone are the daily Town Hall meetings around regional New Zealand, along with the theatre that accompanied them…

Soper is yearning for the past, much like Peters. The world has moved on to much more wide ranging and far reaching forms of communication.

Last week, officially the first of the campaign, saw Jacinda Ardern essentially at schools and tertiary institutions where she was mobbed by students wanting selfies while Bill English also hit learning institutions but at least did venture into a shopping mall for a walkabout among the great unwashed which can be high risk, given they’re expected to shake the hand of any random who approaches them.

But these are essentially the fill-in events while they prepare and perform for their spin doctors away from the cameras for the main event, the television debate. There’s another one of those tonight and another one on Thursday.

Actually there is going to be a town-hall type debate in Christchurch tomorrow night – where opposing leaders contest, rather than an old fashioned one party PR exercise that Soper seems to prefer,

You’d have to wonder what they can say that hasn’t already been said but with the political tumult of the past several weeks, the only thing that’s predictable about this campaign is the unpredictable.

Many voters want to be able to actually assess the capabilities and policies of the politicians, and these debates are the best way most have of doing that.

They aren’t looking for the best actor – to the contrary, they want to most credible and most capable leader. There are far more important things to do in running a country than supplying drama and headlines.

In trying to decide who to vote for I try hard to see past the headlines, past the theatre, past the noise and nonsense, so I can judge policy details and especially competence.

Green options

Bryce Edwards suggests four options for the Green Party in The Greens go nuclear – and other options: (but he misses another option).

Greens option #1: Go nuclear

Green MP Barry Coates has spilt the beans about the fact that the Greens are considering making the threat to pull the plug on a Labour-NZ First government and refusing to provide their votes in Parliament to allow a minority government to govern.

According to Patrick Gower, the revelation from Coates “has shown the Greens are ready to enter a high-stakes game of political chicken with Peters. James Shaw has tried to hose this down but hasn’t actually ruled this out – that’s because it is pretty much the Greens’ only option. The problem is, it doesn’t exactly make the Labour-Green-NZ First combination look stable. In fact, Winston Peters is suddenly looking more stable than the Greens” – see: Green Party’s ‘nuclear’ election threat shows fear of Winston.

This is all very extreme, Gower says: “It is an extreme call that demonstrates the extreme fear the Greens have of Winston. It shows us they are panicked by the current rise of Peters. It also shows us that the Greens don’t trust New Zealand First. But more importantly, it shows us the Greens don’t trust Labour.”

They should be wary of what both NZ First and Labour might do. They are competing for votes with Labour in particular. They have a problem in needing Labour to get them into power.

Greens option #2: Appeal for more votes in order to counter NZ First

They will obviously want to “appeal for more votes” regardless – that’s kind the aim of contesting an election.

The Greens’ ideal scenario is one in which the New Zealand First vote collapses and the Greens shift well ahead of them to maintain their position as the third biggest party. In that situation, Labour might not need Winston Peters, or in any case it would be even more difficult to push the Greens aside.

The Greens seem to have decided to go hard against their rival party, and to use the strategy they think might best damage New Zealand First – challenge their progressive credentials, especially in terms of racism.

It’s not appealing for votes that will counter NZ First. Greens seem to have chosen to highlight negatives for NZ First to deter people from voting for them. Negative campaigning is supposed to be not the Green way, but they are very negative about National.

So this isn’t appealing for more votes for themselves, it’s appealing to voters not to support other parties.

This is just standard campaigning – the aim is always more votes for them, less votes for others.

Greens option #3: The crossbenches

The Greens seem hell-bent on getting Cabinet roles under a Labour-led government. But given that minor parties normally suffer from being involved in coalition governments, shouldn’t the Greens relish the chance to avoid the fate of every other minor party that has been punished after taking Cabinet positions?

I argued in a previous column, Have the Greens gone too far, or not far enough? that the Greens would probably be better off and possibly more influential if they stayed out of government and remained on the crossbenches: “that is possibly the answer to the Greens’ current dilemma – commit to being on the cross-benches, supporting a Labour-led government, on a case-by-case policy basis. That seems to be a potentially powerful place for minor parties to exist, flourish, and have plenty of influence. The problem for the Green MPs, however, is this way you don’t get the Cabinet positions and baubles of office for yourself.”

The Greens have made it clear they won’t enable a National government from the cross benches so this is only an option if they support Labour+NZ First from outside government. They have made it clear that this is not something they want to do.

It would be particularly hard if Labour’s vote shrinks and NZ First’s grows.

Would Greens support Winston Peters as Prime Minister, either as a part of a tri-party coalition or from the cross benches? That would be very hard for them.

Greens option #4: Negotiate with National

In theory, if the Greens are left out of government by Labour and New Zealand First, they could still negotiate a better deal with National. And, although the Greens have seemingly closed off the option of working with National, they haven’t categorically ruled out supporting a National-led government.

They seem to have all but ruled out enabling and supporting a National-led government in any way.

This option is surely only a bargaining position, as it would be an extreme high-risk move in reality. The history of such bold political realignments suggests that it would work, but only once, and at great cost. The massive internal Green ructions following a decision to prop up National would likely destroy or severely damage the party before any tangible benefits would be realised.

But having virtually ruled out helping National the Greens don’t have much of a bargaining position, it’s accept what Labour give them or nothing.

Their only way of increasing their bargaining is increasing their share of the vote relative to Labour and especially relative to NZ First. Which means seeking as many votes as possible, which is what all parties try to do, that’s the key to MMP.

Another Green option – setting themselves up for the future

I think the Greens actually have two key options – doing everything they can to get whatever they can out of this election (which may be only crumbs from Labour if NZ First allow it).

Alternately they could look to the future, in particular positioning themselves to benefit as much as possible from what may be a very messy term whether National or Labour lead the next government in coalition with NZ First.

This means going for broke for themselves and competing as hard as possible with votes from all the other parties, including Labour.

And this could include changing past practice and trying to win some electorates. More on that in the next post.

See How many electorates will Greens contest?


Rigged to advantage the rich

I think it’s hard to judge how significant this is leading into the election.

Headlining this ‘Time for a change?’ makes it look like an election advertisement, not a good look for a poll report.


This was an online weighted survey of about 500 people, a relatively low sample size.

Stuff:  Over half of Kiwis think politics and the economy are rigged against them

A new poll shows that a majority of the country think the economic and political system are rigged against them.

The Ipsos poll, taken in May of 2017, shows that women and those earning less are even more likely to consider the system broken.

But Kiwis are less disenchanted than those in other countries and just a quarter think the country is in “decline”.

So relatively not bad here.

There is too little information to judge the  importance of the poll to the election.

It’s likely to have been normal for a very long time that poorer people tend to think the financial system is stacked against them

Fully 56 per cent of Kiwis questioned agree that traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like them.

That doesn’t surprise me – most people have little or no direct contact with politics or politicians.

Just 16 per cent disagreed with that sentiment, and the unemployed were far more likely to think the system was rigged.

That’s hardly surprising either.

In other countries like Australia dissatisfaction was higher.

That’s why we have a lot of Kiwis leaving Australia and coming back to New Zealand.

“There definitely does seem to be some sense that there is a mood for change,” said Ipsos’s Nicola Legge.

Really? I don’t see that  being polled.

What if disenchantment levels have reduced?

“There is a sense that the economy is most benefiting those who need it least, with politicians having lost sight of the needs of everyday Kiwis. Low income households especially are feeling the strain.”

“There are also signs that as we prepare to go to the polls in September many are open to a leader that will break the mould and release us from more of the same.”

“While we are not alone in the world with these views, it would be wrong to assume we are primed for a sea-change such has that experienced in other countries in the past year.”

A pollster trying to link their limited poll result to elections in other parts of the world in very different circumstances.

Political scientist Bryce Edwards said everyone who was part of the “system” – left or right – should  heed the warning.

Politicians should always heed warnings of disenchantment.

“Until now, it has looked like New Zealand has been immune from the world-wide increase in radical politics and rebellion against the establishment. This poll shows that such political upheavals could yet come to New Zealand,” Edwards said.

I don’t see that in the poll at all. Without knowing trends I don’t think much can be deduced.

Edwards said how this might play out on an election might be hard to predict, as many of the disenchanted would simply not vote.

Yes, very hard to predict. And those who might feel disenchanted may have equal feelings for all parties, or different people may be more disenchanted with different parties.

“But there will be some looking for some sort of electoral outlet for their concerns. And the best positioned parties are going to be NZ FIrst with Winston Peters and Shane Jones, and TOP to some degree.”

What if a lot of people are disenchanted with Winston’s same old button pushing dog whistling rhetoric? And what if Shane Jones turns out not impressing voters?

It seems to me that some media want political turmoil to report on so look for reasons why it could happen.

“The fact that half of New Zealanders would appear to welcome an anti-democratic politician ruling the country should be a huge concern.

Where the hell does he see that?

One poll result was 50% wanted a strong leader willing to break the rules – but that is very vague and could mean many things.

I think that many people may be disillusioned with the same old politics and would like the mould broken, but Peters and Jones are political establishment who court controversy for media attention, not for doing anything much different.

“This suggests that politics really is in a very unhealthy state”.

Very unhealthy? It could be improved – I’d like to see some improvements for sure – but while our democracy may in ways be ailing it’s probably less unhealthy than most of the alternatives.

Many people have probably thought the system is rigged for the rich and against them.

Will National’s proposed tax cuts change that?

‘Neoliberalism’ debate continues

The economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s in New Zealand rescued the country from the extreme interventions of Robert Muldoon, which were misguided attempts to re-invent New Zealand’s economy after Britain dumped us as one of it’s primary producers and to deal with the oil shocks of the late 80s.

I don’t recall those reforms ever being described as the introduction of a new ideology, nor them being called neoliberalism. (But I didn’t follow politics closely in those days).

I’ve followed politics a lot more over the last decade and even then it seems to be increasingly in more recent years that people from the left have lamented the advent of neoliberalism and expressed a yearning to how things once were (while never saying how that was supposed to have been).

Certainly how we manage our economy and social services and public services has changed markedly over the last half century. Margaret Thatcher changed things in Britain, and Ronald changed things in the USA. But it was hardly a massive shift from capitalism to neo-liberalism as if it was as drastic as a move in the other direct to communism would have been.

Then this week Jim Bolger, New Zealand Prime Minister in much of the 1990s, seemed to denounce neoliberalism in an interview for RNZ: The Negotiator – Jim Bolger: Prime Minister 1990-97

Bolger says neo-liberal economic policies have absolutely failed. It’s not uncommon to hear that now; even the IMF says so. But to hear it from a former National Prime Minister who pursued privatisation, labour market deregulation, welfare cuts and tax reductions – well, that’s pretty interesting.

“They have failed to produce economic growth and what growth there has been has gone to the few at the top,” Bolger says, not of his own policies specifically but of neo-liberalism the world over. He laments the levels of inequality and concludes “that model needs to change.”

That’s kind of remarkable. Certainly there has some problems that have emerged from how the country is managed over the last three decades.

A discussion was sparked on Twitter today.

Bryce Edwards:

Jim Bolger recants neoliberalism, & now on Michelle Boag graciously acknowledges Laila Harre’s good work in industrial relations!

Liam Hehir:

Can you point to an instance of him explicitly praising “neoliberalism” at any point?

Bryce Edwards:

He’s widely accepted to have overseen the implementation of a version of a neoliberal programme, no? He was fairly praiseworthy of that.

Liam Hehir:

Yeah – and he really expressed no regret for that in the podcast. He also didn’t suggest his reforms were neoliberal – that was Guyon’s word

Bryce Edwards:

All true. Yet David Farrar suggests that Bolger is now “to the left of Helen Clark”. I look forward to your column on this.

Rob Hosking:

There’s a huge amount of oversimplification & revisionism going on about this (and related matters) at the moment. It’s very misleading.

Phillip Matthews:

I’d be interested to know if the word “neoliberalism” was used much in NZ in the 1990s. People talked about market forces or Rogernomics.

I’ve only heard “neoliberalism” being used over the last few years. It’s a retrospective label that most people have no understanding or even knowledge of.

Greg Jackson:

I wrote about economics and politics in the 80’s and 90’s. Never heard “neoliberalism” bandied about in popular or private usage.

Liam Hehir:

Whatever you call it, it was never promoted as an ideological agenda. It was sold as a necessary, if bitter, medicine.

(By prime ministers, I should add).

In the interview, Espiner asks Bolger about neoliberalism. Bolger is non-committal about the term. He then goes on to express some dissatisfaction about current economic circumstances. So what happens, “OMG Jim Bolger has denounced neoliberalism you guys!!!!”

Ben Thomas:

Re revisionism: Guyon suggested Douglas’s economic plan happened under cover of “popular social reform” like homosexual law reform.

I mean, we all pretend on Twitter we’ve always been woke, but that’s a helluva way to misremember 1980s NZ (& the courage of the reformers)

Yeah, the BWB crowd’s window into the 1980s is via Kelsey’s books and Alistair Barry’s documentaries. It gives a skewed picture.

I was sorta relieved when Moore pointed out actually there weren’t thousands protesting in the streets each day, or complete social collapse.

I think generally people knew things had to change and quite drastically.

Matthew Hooton:

The craziest is the idea the “unpopular” economic reforms were possible because of the “popular” anti-nuke & homosexual law reform moves.

For many, anti-nukes was tolerated cos of economic reforms & the homosexual law reform bill was extremely controversial at the time.

How things were economically in the early to mid 80s was untenable, and we can’t undo what has happened.



  1. How the heck do you change the model from neo-liberalism?
  2. Why don’t we address the problems, deal with them and move forward?

From what I’ve seen most people who say “we must reverse neoliberalism” actually mean “we need to change to socialism”. We can’t go back.

Why don’t we just do what we can to fix the problems we have now and not worry about labels and revolutionary changes.


Ardern lipstick on a Labour pig?

The media and pundit obsession with trying to pressure Labour into promoting Jacinda Ardern to deputy leader continued yesterday.

This is despite the reality that most people don’t know who deputy leaders are and don’t care.

It seems to be a sign of the growing obsession with promoting celebrity politics – Ardern is better known for her cultivating of the celebrity circuit than for her political accomplishments.

Sure she won the Mt Albert by-election, but that was in a safe Labour seat against no opposition, and having moved there after three failed attempts to win in two other electorates.

Last week Bryce Edwards virtually demanded a deputy leadership change this week if Ardern won in Mt Albert.

He followed up yesterday with a round up of old and new items from activists (who \used to be journalists) and pundits promoting his agenda – Political Roundup: How long can it be before Labour elevate Jacinda Ardern to deputy?

Edwards included just one alternate view:

One commentator disputes the need to make Ardern the deputy. Russell Brown sarcastically says “of course what Labour needs in election year is yet another leadership shakeup” – see: Mt Albert: Cooperating, competing and carpooling.

I posted King of the deputy castle, media dirty rascals yesterday morning but that was probably a bit too critical of his activism to rate a mention. There has been more media activism to promote Ardern into the deputy headlines.

This is all more a symptom of journalists and pundits who want to be political players and movers and shakers rather than being reporters and analysts.

Annette King seems to have quietly done a good job holding the Labour caucus together and protecting Andrew Little’s back. As a deputy is supposed to do. It doesn’t make sense to throw a spanner in the works there with six months until the election.

Ardern has a new job to do in Auckland, she needs to establish herself in an electorate for the first time, and also needs to prepare herself for the election.

It makes no sense to me to give her another new job which will tie her more to Wellington and bury her in the party machine.

And I’m sure Little doesn’t want a deputy who attracts all the media attention.

Who cares who is deputy leader of Labour? I think that most voters don’t give a toss. Those that do can read about Ardern in the Woman’s Weekly.

And perhaps some journalists could consider whether they are political reporters, or activists promoting their pet politicians.

And – would Ardern lipstick really help a Labour Party pig?

Edwards: 10 Take seriously the struggles of those at the bottom

Political scientist and commentator Bryce Edwards believes that “New Zealand badly needs a revolt against the current political system for the good of our democracy” and has published “my 10-point manifesto for change in New Zealand”.

Each of his ten ‘pledges’ will be posted separately this week.

Pledge Ten: Take seriously the struggles of those at the bottom

Much of modern politics ignores the struggles of those at the bottom, preferring instead to concentrate on identity politics or social liberalism. Gender politics in mainstream political parties becomes about getting women into business or ahead in the professional world – not helping working class women at the bottom. The same goes for ethnicity.

All political parties focus more these days on the easier answers of posing as bicultural, more politically correct, or culturally sensitive. This usually has minimal impact on improving life for those in poverty and hardship, but makes the coterie of liberal politicians feel superior.

There is a place for this cultural approach – highlighting sexism, racism, or transphobia – but an overwhelming focus on this can lead to a larger disconnect between politicians and the public. An anti-establishment movement would not simply mimic the parliamentary parties’ increasingly metropolitan, socially agenda. Instead, the primary focus would be on material wellbeing, economics and class politics.

There’s a lot of discontent out there amongst provincial and working class New Zealand. But a truly anti-establishment and progressive movement wouldn’t dismiss or mock the masses as “deplorables”. It would instead take their anger seriously. If not, a more Trump-like movement might be ready to listen instead.