9th Floor – Helen Clark

This weeks 9th Floor interview was with Helen Clark.

RNZ: The Commander – Helen Clark

After researching and conducting interviews with five former Prime Ministers it’s a strange feeling to realise that the job doesn’t exist. There is no job description. You can take a chair of the board, consensus approach and delegate power to Ministers as steward of the Cabinet or you can be master and commander.

“We don’t have a written constitution so nowhere is it written down what are the powers of the Prime Minister. It’s partly your personality. It’s the skills that you’ve got and it’s how you use the office,” Clark says.

My feeling was that, such was her dominance, if Clark said something out loud then in would happen. She largely agrees, adding that “what you say in public you need to have thought about because if you say it, it’s going to happen”.

Her actions in calling a snap election in 2002 are a vivid example of how she wielded power. So how does it actually work? Can you just call a snap election? Not according to our last Prime Minister John Key. “The reality is… to have an early election you can’t just say, it’s a lovely day in March let’s have an election,” Key told RNZ last September. He went on say that in order to hold a snap election the government would have to either lose a confidence vote or go to the Governor General and say it could no longer command a majority.

So I asked Clark what happened when she went to the Governor General to make the case for a dissolution of Parliament in 2002. Did the Governor General test you? Clark laughed at this, an ‘are you kidding?’ laugh. “They act on advice.” So despite what Key believed, you can pretty much call an election when you like? “Pretty much,” Clark replied.

And that was pretty much the style of Clark the Prime Minister. She was a huge force and her influence spanned a vast array of policy and almost none of it, she famously said, came from the tens of thousands of public servants.

Clark is the best known of the Prime Ministers we interviewed. She was our first mass media Prime Minister, interviewed morning, noon and night. But her nine years on the ninth floor look different, nine years after leaving office.

Unlike Key, it was the voters who decided Clark’s time of departure. We discuss that too and her thoughts on what it is like to lose power are as interesting as how she sought to hold power and to exercise it.

The whole interview at RNZ will be fascinating to watch when I get a chance over the weekend.

Previous 9th Floor interviews: http://www.radionz.co.nz/programmes/the-9th-floor

9th Floor – Jenny Shipley

The next interview in the RNZ ‘9th Floor’ series features Jenny Shipley.


The 9th Floor: Jenny Shipley – The Challenger

By Guyon Espiner

Jenny Shipley evoked strong responses from New Zealanders during her time in politics and I suspect that, with her new comments about “middle class welfare” and working with Winston Peters, she is about to do so again.

But while people respond strongly to Shipley, there has been very little examination of her leadership. Researching the interview for The 9th Floor series, Tim Watkin and I found there were few books and very little academic study of this hugely influential New Zealand politician.

During the day we spent with Shipley she said New Zealand needs to take the “blowtorch” to middle class welfare, with student allowances and healthcare areas where middle and higher income earners should pay more. She finds it “morally bankrupt” that the country doesn’t have an honest discussion about this and that she personally feels “sick” that on her income she can’t opt out of subsidised health care.

She also has some fascinating observations about working with Winston Peters, who may again be a key coalition player after the coming election.

“Winston could have been Prime Minister but for want of himself. His complexity often got ahead of his capability. Watching him on a good day he was brilliant,” she says. “He was an 85 percent outstanding leader. And the 15 percent absolutely crippled him because he would get so myopically preoccupied with a diversion that it took away his capability and intent on the main goal.”

Shipley also says that Peters, Deputy Prime Minister from 1996 to 1998, was excellent at absorbing information but sometimes simply hadn’t done the reading. “I would make a personal judgement as he came into my office as to whether the envelope with the papers in it was either open or closed and it often would tell me the extent to which he had read what we were then going to discuss. I learned to both respect and manage it and on those days the meetings were short.”

Perhaps more than any other leader we spoke to she lets us in on the influences, conflicts and complexities of being Prime Minister. There are two striking aspects to this. The influence and impact on her family is one, and includes a harrowing story of how death threats against her affected her young son. The other is being a woman at the top of politics. Would history have treated Jenny Shipley and Ruth Richardson differently if they were men?

The 9th floor – Jim Bolger

In the third The 9th Floor interview Jim Bolger is headlined as ‘the negotiator’ but is stirring things up on ‘neo-liberalism’ and race relations.

RNZ: The Negotiator – Jim Bolger: Prime Minister 1990-97

I think Jim Bolger might be about to spark a debate. Two debates actually. One on our economic settings and the other on race relations.

On neo-liberalism:

He says neo-liberalism has failed and suggests unions should have a stronger voice.

“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 neoliberalism the world over. He laments the levels of inequality and concludes “that model needs to change.”

So should we scrap neoliberalism?

Or fix what’s wrong and leave what is generally working ok?

On race relations:

He says Treaty of Waitangi settlements may not be full and final and that Maori language tuition should be compulsory in primary schools.

Indeed Bolger is at his most passionate speaking about Maori issues. He has a visceral hatred of racism and explains the personal context for that.

We asked him whether future generations will open up Treaty settlements again – given Maori got a fraction of what was lost – or whether they are genuinely full and final. He says it is a “legitimate” question and “entirely up to us”.

If Maori are still at the bottom of the heap “then you can expect someone to ask the question again because it means that society has failed”.

He is also scathing of former National leader Don Brash’s Orewa speech on ‘Maori privilege’. “It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as Trump but it was in that frame.” Of course Don Brash never made it to PM, replaced by John Key in 2006. ‘Gone by lunchtime,’ was the political phrase popular at the time.

Bolger also says it’s time to give power back to unions.

Being a more recent Prime Minister makes the issues he raises more pertinent to today’s debates.

Espiner interview with Mike Moore

The 9th floor – Geoffrey Palmer

Sir Geoffrey Winston Russell Palmer KCMG AC QC  became the 33rd Prime Minister of New Zealand in August 1989. He was rolled by Mike Moore in September 1990, two months before an election that Labour crashed in.

Guyon Espiner (RNZ) is doing a series of interviews with five ex Prime Ministers., starting with Palmer.

The Standard has a summary in RNZ: The 9th floor – Palmer

The Reformer – Geoffrey Palmer: Prime Minister 1989-90

NZ’s earliest living Prime Minister begins the series reflecting on the revolutionary fourth Labour government and his year as one of its three Prime Ministers.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer was one of New Zealand’s most prolific lawmakers and reformers, but a reluctant politician.

Imagine a country where the Prime Minister set the price of basic goods. Where the Cabinet, without having to even put it to a vote in Parliament, decided the wages you get and the taxes and interest rates you pay.

That was the country Geoffrey Palmer was determined to change when he entered Parliament in 1979. It was an economy, he told The 9th Floor, that no young New Zealander would recognise. … Palmer, a constitutional lawyer, describes Prime Minister Robert Muldoon as running an elected dictatorship between 1975 and 1984. It’s a big claim. …

Ultimately of course Palmer would get his chance to run the country too. He was Prime Minister for 13 months sandwiched between David Lange and Mike Moore, who a desperate Labour party turned to just two months before the 1990 election in a bid to save the furniture.

So what was it like to run the country? What is it like to be Prime Minister? “I found being the leader a nuisance,” Palmer told us. …

RNZ report and audio: full hour-long interview

Palmer is an essential voice on what it means to exercise power – precisely because he never wanted it and remains highly sceptical of those who do.

Palmer is worth listening to but not necessarily heeding. He has proposed a written constitution that doesn’t seem to have excited many, and he has proposed making voting compulsory – see next post.

Comments at The Standard suggest that Palmer is not revered on the left, but being associated with the Lange/Douglas era of reform is an instant fail for many.

Sanctuary lead off.

That went a long way to re-confirming my view of Geoffrey Palmer as a very intelligent uber-technocrat completely besotted with his own cleverness.

The man has the certainty and fanaticism of the technocrat, the arrogance of a self-regarding intellectual and the political nous of a fool. He was, and remains, a very dangerous conviction politician with scant regard for the opinions of the hoi polloi.

Listening to Palmer, the viciously toxic culture of arrogance of the Roger Douglas era Labour cabinet comes flooding back.

He followed up:

Nothing wrong with being clever, but being a clever clogs who projects that as an intellectual hauteur is IMHO an absolutely fatal and fundamental flaw in a (so called in this case) left wing politician.

Palmer’s ability to diagnose the ills of the world are not particularly unique, you or I could have just have easily rattled of the list of fairly trite topics – climate change, Trump, the crisis of democracy – he did. What struck me about Palmer was his unerring technocratic ability to correctly identify a crisis then just as unerringly use that crisis as a vehicle to push an agenda driven and completely incorrect solution.

For instance, the crisis of democracy and voting won’t be fixed by a written constitution or fiddling with how we vote. Palmer’s constant fetishisation of mechanistic solutions to political problems with their origin in fundamental clashes between democracy and authoritarian global capitalism is entirely keeping with the machine like mind and lack of imagination of the high priesthood of neo-liberal technocrats across the West.

Palmer is more suited to being a legal academic than a political leader or reformer.

He comes across as too theoretical and not practical.

How big should tax cuts be?

Bill English made this point several times today: “We’re not putting forward tax cuts as some kind of sugar shock.”

So he is signalling tweaks rather than slashes, to be announced in May’s budget, and indicated to probably take effect in April 2018 (at least it’s not April 2038 like proposed  Super changes).

Is a little bit less tax going to be enough?

From RNZ Tax cuts ‘on the table’ – PM

Guyon Espiner: So you said that their probably will be a point of differentiation, that means there will be tax cuts offered by National.

Bill English: Ah yeah we’ve got tax cuts are on the table, ah we will look at that in the context of these other demands such as the growth in population, the need for infrastructure to support a growing economy,.

Guyon Espiner: So there will be cuts.

Bill English: Well they’re on the table. We go through the process now in the lead up to the budget and the campaign.

Guyon Espiner: Will any tax cuts that you introduce take effect in 2017, or will they only take effect should you win the election?

Bill English: Look most measures that you bring in to do with household incomes would follow the usual cycle which is if they’re announced this year they’d start first of April next year.

But this election year, and it would be odd to commit to tax cuts that may not take effect if National loses power in September.

However it is much tidier implementing income tax changes at the start of the tax year and the May budget will be too late for that.

Guyon Espiner: Ok so no tax cuts taking effect this year, only if you win.

Bill English: Well we would follow the normal cycle.

Guyon Espiner: Ok, John Key had talked about three billion dollars of expenditure needed to make a meaningful tax cut. Is that the sort of ball park that you’re operating in?

Bill English: Look that’s yet to be seen, there’s economic forecasting going on now about how the economy is going to grow, ah there’s these issues around what growth pressures there are right across our public services, the needs for long term infrastructure, the need to get our debt down, so the process we go through is to make sure we’ve got a clear understanding of all those.

I think partly for the reasons that have been discussed and that is people won’t want to see ah surpluses used just on one thing when we’ve got this range of needs to meet.

Guyon Espiner: And you’re looking at lower and middle income earners as your priority?

Bill English: Ah yes, we’ve stated that for quite some time.

Guyon Espiner: lower income, or lower and middle?

Bill English: Well lower and middle income, you know everyone thinks they’re middle income, but I think you’ve got people there who don’t always get support that’s available for lower income households, ah and they want to be able to share in the growth in the economy the same as everyone else.

Guyon Espiner: And you’re talking about those sorts of families getting, you know, north of twenty thirty dollars a week?

Bill English: Well look that’s…

Guyon Espiner: It’s not worth it otherwise is it?

Ten or twenty dollars extra a week would probably be gratefully accepted by many people who are not earning incomes like Espiner.

Bill English: Well you know we’re not putting forward tax cuts as some kind of sugar shot, ah that’s going to…

Guyon Espiner: Why are you doing them then? What’s the rational?

Compensating for the effectively increased tax rates through bracket creep for one thing.

Bill English: Well it’s just over time you’ve got these, if you’ve got a growing economy and surpluses then you can, through a variety of mechanisms support households and lift…

Guyon Espiner: Yeah but they have to be meaningful to lift incomes don’t they, I mean ten bucks a week isn’t going to cut it is it.

Bill English: Well it depends on what sort of household you are, and ah what other changes go on.

Guyon Espiner:  So you can promise that it’s going to be more than that or…

Bill English: No I’m not going to be making any promises today, but there’s, look, people get support from Government through a whole range of mechanisms, last, two or three years ago we did the free doctors visits for under thirteens. That was you know a help to households who had twelve year old children.

Guyon Espiner: So it wraps into this family package that we heard about last year. You’re looking at Working for Families increases potentially as well.

Bill English: Well there’s you know we’ve got these choices…

Guyon Espiner: Thats on the mix?

Bill English: We’ve got a lot of choices here, ah, but it is important that um the ah anything that’s done around household incomes fits alongside meeting these other requirements of a growing economy such as the pressure on public services.

That was mostly a wasted interview.

Espiner tried to push English into committing to a universal lotto win for exeryone as he has no idea what a few dollars difference might mean to people at the bottom of the income pile, but English had no inclination to give away any specifics  about what might be in the budget in two months time.

English didn’t have much to say about it apart from repeat hints of tax cuts so waffled around the issue. The only thing he did was repeat “growing economy” a few times, which seems to be the crux of National’s campaign strategy at this still early stage.

Are lazy journalists drug addled?

There seems to be a divide between what Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse and Prime Minister John Key have said about New Zealand workers, and what media and critics are saying. This was highlighted on Q & A yesterday.

What Michael Woodhouse said a week earlier on Q & A.

I think what you’ve done is presuppose that money is the only barrier to people moving to work. Now, what we know and what we’ve said and listened to employers about is that that is one of many barriers.

Geography is definitely one. Skills, attitude, recreational drug and alcohol all prevents some of our young New Zealanders from gaining work.

Woodhouse has cited five reasons preventing “some of our young New Zealanders from gaining work“.

Key has since been heavily criticised for I have had a listen to the RNZ item and Guyon Espiner introduced it with:

The Prime Minister admits high immigration is putting strains on the country’s infrastructure but John Key says the Government will continue to bring in a large number to fill in jobs. He says this partly because many employers can’t get New Zealanders to do the work due to problems with drugs or work ethic, or that they can’t move to where the jobs are.

After some discussion Key said:

“We bring in people to pick fruit under the RSE (Recognised Seasonal Employer) scheme, and they come from the islands, and they do a fabulous job. And the government has been saying ‘well, OK, there are some unemployed people who live in the Hawke’s Bay, and so why can’t we get them to pick fruit’, and we have been trialling a domestic RSE scheme.

“But go and ask the employers, and they will say some of these people won’t pass a drug test, some of these people won’t turn up for work, some of these people will claim they have health issues later on. So it’s not to say there aren’t great people who transition from Work and Income to work, they do, but it’s equally true that they’re also living in the wrong place, or they just can’t muster what is required to actually work.”

Espiner responded:

Isn’t that a major failing for New Zealand, if what you are saying is right, that these people are too drug addled, or frankly, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but basically too lazy is what you’re saying, they can’t get their act together.

Key:

Well what I’m saying to you is that, just go and ask an employer because I ask employers all the time, and we transition lots of people off Work and Income into work, but when you ask the question about why is there this group versus this demand, even in some reasonably low skilled jobs, it’s often they’re not in the right location, so they’re living in Northland and we need the work somewhere else, and that’s genuine, you can understand that, or they don’t have the skills, or there are these other wider issues, they’ll turn up for a while and then they won’t last there.

Key said that “lot’s of people” transition to work, and he cited location, skills and “these other wider issues”.

“Drug addled” and “too lazy” where Espiner’s words, not Key’s.

Jessica Mutch introduced yesterday’s coverage of Are some young NZers too lazy to do the work migrants will do? saying that what Woodhouse had said “sparked some debate” and that Woodhouse had made some “interesting remarks”. Woodhouse was quoted.

Mutch then said:

Prime Minister John Key followed up the next day saying the Government had to bring in migrants to fill the jobs because many young New Zealanders had a poor work ethic or a drug problem.

I haven’t seen any evidence of Key saying it like that.

Q & A then showed some street interviews in Wellington and showed a variety of responses, including:

Interviewer: We hear people saying that people, especially young people, don’t have a good work ethic, too lazy to work, drug problems…

Young person 1: Oh I’d love a job.

Young person 2: Some people don’t want to hire us because we’ve got criminal convictions.

Young person 1: I’ve got no one to watch my dog, that’s why I don’t, I’ve got no job.

Then three people were interviewed.

  • Hew Dalrymple, farmer and vice chairman of Federated Farmers Maize and Forage
  • Tony Stevens, one of three co-conveners of Stand-up, the young wing of the CTU
  • Calvin Fisher from the Amalgamated Workers Union

Dalrymple:

My experience has been, especially through the squash industry and harvesting squash, the comparison between the different crews that work behind the harvesting machines is dramatically different.

And probably, I’ll be honest, the biggest problem with the, what I’d describe as perhaps the people that don’t want to come to work is the lack of attendance. So the foreign work crews will be probably fifty and up to a hundred percent more productive. They earn very good money.

And that money is equally available to anybody that’s doing this manual labour.

He says that the best earn over $1000 in the hand per week, and $800-1000 in the hand is common.

The local crews you might end up with ten behind the squash harvester one day, five the next day. We can’t  operate our businesses like that.

Mutch:

Basically what you’re saying is that Kiwi pickers just aren’t reliable, they don’t turn up and they’re not as respectful.

Dalrymple:

No, some are, so I generalised with that, of course there’s exceptions to the rule, but unfortunately the system that’s in place at the moment is putting people out in that type of work that don’t want to be there in my opinion.

That sounds like an issue that deserves examination but it was not on the Q & A agenda.

Mutch switched to Fisher…

Calvin I want to bring you in on this as well, you’ve put Kiwi workers to some of these farmers, what’s been your experience? What have many of the farmers you’ve spoken to prefer, do they prefer the foreign workers or are they happy to employ New Zealanders.

Fisher: Well it really is a mixed bag…

…and he went on the say that the nature of agricultural work had changed markedly with bigger gangs now required.

Then Mutch switched to Stevens with the issue she was determined to pursue:

Tony I’ll bring you in on this, the Government coming out this week  saying Kiwis are drugged up and too lazy to work…

No, that is what media has said, not the Government.

…what’s you’re experience, what’s your reaction to those comments?

Stevens: Hugely concerned by those comments. You’ve got to think about how we as young people and young workers are receiving that message from out highest office.

Actually it’s a message from media who appear to be misrepresenting what the Government has said.

This is our Prime Minister and Employment Minister basically describing entire generations as being hopeless and on drugs.

That overstates and generalises even more than media.

You know it’s already hard enough to try and enter the labour market as a young worker without having these you know these negative almost ingrained stereotypes so we go in to a job interview and employers already have this perception of us. It makes it very difficult.

I largely think it’s untrue, there are pockets of young workers that may be like that, but um I think that to really make blanket statements about entire generations really doesn’t give us a lot of hope in our Government.

There are plenty of valid criticisms and complaints that can be levelled at the Government.

But I have major concerns if someone representing young workers misrepresents what was actually said so much.

Fisher came in:

I want to pick up on Tony’s comments, I think the generalisation from the Minister was just disgraceful.

Back to Stevens:

Mutch: Tony at the end of the day they have to turn up for work consistently, they have to be drug free, for these examples here are they creating a bad impression for everyone else?

Stevens: Um, yeah, possibly, um but I think it’s still again an over generalisation of an entire workforce.

Stevens then went on to generalise about exploitation of immigrant workers.

Unless I’m missing something said by Woodhouse or Key or the Government it appears to me that some journalists have cherry picked and embellished comments made and have created a week long story out of it.

This has been carried on by Q & A, and interpretations claims made by Stevens in particular have been repeated and not questioned.

This is poor from the media and poor representation of young workers by Stevens if he misrepresents what has been said by Government ministers so much.

I don’t think journalists like Espiner and Mutch are lazy or drug addled, but they appear to me to be misrepresenting what politicians have said, seemingly determined to make stories that are inaccurate and unjustified.

There are important issues around work ethics, immigrant workers, exploitation of workers and unemployment. These have been poorly served by this coverage.

Q & A:

 

Q+A today

Q+A today (9 am TV One) has a focus on foreign trusts and land tax:

Revelations this week that a company set-up by John Key’s lawyer lobbied the Government against changing the rules on foreign trusts. We asked Revenue Minister Todd McClay for an interview but he wasn’t available nor was the Prime Minister. But former Revenue Minister Peter Dunne will join us live to discuss.

Also, economist Arthur Grimes from the Motu Research Institute on Land Tax. Will it work?

Plus:

Minister of Police and Corrections Judith Collins is back. How will she tackle drugs and gangs?

Joining our host Greg Boyed on the panel will be political scientist Dr Raymond Moore, Green Party chief of staff Andrew Campbell and social commentator and Ngāti Whātua spokesperson Ngarimu Blair.

Peter Dunne says he is looking forward to this:

The longest serving revenue Minister he’ll join us to discuss the and 9am Sunday

There’s been some preliminary exchanges on this on Twitter between and :

Espiner: says Panama Papers a ‘wake up’ call on foreign trusts. I interviewed him in 2012 for TV3 doco: he denied they were a problem.

Dunne: The issue has moved since then: IRD’s first of expression of concern to Ministers was August 2014, after I left portfolio

Espiner: exactly the same regime as I put to you then. Difference is 8000 trusts in 2012, 12000 now. Attraction is the same: secrecy.

Dunne: Again, you’re not listening. The first advice of concern from IRD was late 2014 when I was not Minister.

Espiner: Why didn’t you listen to me in 2012?!

Dunne: As I’ve long suspected, it’s all about you 🙂

Espiner: It’s my job to be fair …. (!)

Dunne: And mine to act on the basis of competent official advice.

: What if there is no competent advice?

Dunne: Personally, I think it foolish to take any advice on anything that is not competent.

Dunne was Minister of Revenue from 17 October 2005 to 7 June 2013 – the three years of that was during the Clark Labour Government’s third and final term, and then Dunne continued with Revenue in the first term plus a year of the second term under Key’s National Government.

 

 

Wise words from Winston 0n Waitangi

Some wise words from Winston Peters on the Waitangi mess:

Winston Peters: The reality is that it’s very sad that regardless of who the Prime Minister is we are not as a country treating them with the dignity of their office on a national occasion like this, and it’s seriously disappointing from both a Maori perspective and also a New Zealand wide perspective.

Guyon Espiner: You think it has been handled in a way that’s disrespectful already?

Winston Peters: Well the reality is that Ngāpuhi is there as hosts on behalf of the whole nation in a sense that this is where the setting is established.

And you know you’ve got three hundred sixty four other days a year to argue these things on your national day to turn it into a major complaint, maybe rightfully so but not on that occasion, with the Government, is disappointing in terms of our international perspective, our image internationally, and also the growing of a culture where we actually treat similar things that have resulted from the unity of people over a long period of time.

Guyon Espiner: What’s the solution because you’ll remember well Helen Clark as Prime Minister, she stayed away didn’t she from Te Tii Marae for exactly this reason. I guess she was concerned that the Ngāpuhi elders who were organising it couldn’t get their act together was her view on it so she stayed away. Do you think that is the approach that should be taken?

Winston Peters: Well it’s actually worse than that. Before she became the Prime Minister there was the disgraceful incidence inside the meeting house at the lower marae where Titiwhai Harawira attacked her right to speak on behalf of the Labour Party. And you know things just descended from there.

So frankly, how shall I put it, I would have thought that this from a Ngāpuhi point of view is most unacceptable.

You will not see this happening down in Ngai Tahu in the South Island.  You will not see it happening in Ngāti Porou in Gisborne. You won’t see it happening in Rotorua.

So why on earth is Ngāpuhi putting up with this in Northland?

That’s the real issue and sooner or later they are going to have to address that question.

Guyon Espiner: It’s a little confusing isn’t it because they’re saying “look we’re inviting the Prime Minister to Te Tii Marae but we’ll try to block him from getting there and we’re in doubt about whether to let him speak and if he does speak we don’t want him to speak about politics”. It’s a bit of a mess.

Winston Peters: Well I don’t know how I could add anything more to it. It is a total utter mess and it’s been a mess for a long time. Sometimes it’s gone more smoothly than others but for over thirty five years that’s what we’ve put up with up north

And one of these days Ngāpuhi leaders are going to have to come to their senses and say this is not the image we want, we’re the biggest iwi in the country, this is not good for either Maoridom or any economic or social advancements or opportunities we might have, and it’s not good for our country.

But that day sadly in 2016 may not have arrived.

I, and I think a lot of Maori and Pakeha, will agree with Peters what Peters says here, and are as saddened as he sounds about the mess that Waitangi too often becomes.

And today it got even messier with John Key eventually pulling out of any visit to Waitangi this year.

Transcript from Radio NZ Winston Peters backs Key’s decision to attend Waitangi.

I wonder if Peters now backs Key’s decision to withdraw from a Waitangi visit.

Key links to dirty politics confronted

On Radio New Zealand Guyon Espiner has strongly challenged John Key of his stance and apparent acceptance of dirty politics as played by Cameron Slater on Whale Oil.

This is a compelling interview. When I get time I’ll look at it in more detail.

Prime Minister stands by minister and staff

Originally aired on Morning Report, Monday 18 August 2014

Five days on from the release of Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics, the Prime Minister has told Morning Report he is standing behind his staff and ministers.

I have tweeted:

Thanks @GuyonEspiner for that interview with @johnkeypm – questions that needed asking and deserve better answers @rnz_news

See also Key’s reasonable point about the left being left out of Hager’s book but again sidestepping responsibility for National’s part in dirty politics:

PM says Dirty Politics book omits the left

John Key says if Mr Hager’s book was a serious attempt to look at politics, it would have shown Labour’s up to its eyeballs in the same activities.

That Labour do it to is a very poor stance by the Prime Minister. He should set standards, not accept that dirt in politics is ok.

Key is avoiding responsibility, he is complicit at least by association.

TRANSCRIPT: (from The Standard)

KEY: What we do know is, you know, you’ve got a a book that’s pretty selective, in its in its emails and they’re based on one perspective. And probably a bit out of context and with a whole bunch of assumptions that are either aren’t correct or are made up and now can’t be backed up.  But whose behind it? You have to go and ask yourself the question, “Who has the motivation? And who has the capabilities?” The answer is I, I don’t know the answer to those.

ESPINER: Well let’s have a look at some of those specifics in the book. Cameron Slater gets an OIA request granted from the SIS which embarrasses Phil Goff. It’s approved in a few days, which is unheard of for information to be released that quickly, especially from the highly sensitive SIS.

KEY: Well

ESPINER: Did that did that request come across your desk?

KEY: No.

ESPINER: So you’re the minister responsible for the SIS, yet you did not sign off on that request?

KEY: No.

ESPINER: You had no knowledge that a request had been made?

KEY: I knew there were requests cause, you know, I would have known cause generally they say, you know, there’s a series of requests into the into the SIS or the GCSB, but they often sign off on, well they would sign off on things on their own timetable. We’ve got slightly better processes now so they’ll tell me.

ESPINER: So, you had, I mean this is very unusual for a minister

KEY: No.

ESPINER:  not to get, not to get OIA requests put by them before they go out.

KEY: Not always, to be honest. Sometimes I I myself am amazed the stuff I see on the paper that’s been released under the SIS.  But, look, at the end of the day, I mean Phil Goff made either a genuine mistake, or he was incompetent. This is an issue from 3 years ago which probably most voters aren’t that interested in talking now but

ESPINER: So, why did Cameron Slater get the information that the general media sought, asked for, and didn’t get?

KEY: Well, you’d have to ask the SIS that. It must be to do with the way the request was written. But, and I think he actually didn’t get the information. I, look I can’t remember cause it was so many years ago now, but I think he got the [type?] of what was in there. But that was because Warren Tucker did brief him. I was saying that publicly Warren Tucker briefed him. I was saying everywhere, because we knew he was briefed on the issue. Now he either just genuinely forgot, or he was incompetent and didn’t realise it.  But what ultimately happened there, was that he was wrong, and Warren knew he was wrong and was, maybe he was offended by it but it was a pretty simple thing so he released it. Lots of OIAs go out quite quickly. It was nothing to do with me.

EPSINER: OK.  The accessing of the Labour Party computer. You have said it is OK for Jason Ede to have looked and poked around in that material.

KEY: Well, could I jus, firstly there’s a few assumptions in that in that whole thing. One as I understand it, [?] rehash the whole thing. But one is that you know somehow National hacked into the thing. That that’s just not true. Secondly it was nothing to do with us in terms of, you know, the initial sort of thing.  My understanding of it, only because generally

ESPINER: Yes but, but you, but you have conceded you think it’s OK for Jason Ede to have been looking around in that material.

KEY: Yeah, I do. Because there’s the, the point here was that there was no hacking of anything. Obviously a couple of these guys, one of which includes Cameron Slater worked out.

ESPINER: But it was supposed to be private material though isn’t it?

KEY: No.

ESPEINER: But you think it’s OK for one of your staff members to go looking around in it, even if it was mistakenly improperly secured.

KEY: So are you genuinely saying Guyon, if National made a bit of a mistake, and on its website, where people can donate to us or where there’s a there’s information about our members, if we, if we took our security off, made a mistake and left it open, and that a left wing blogger became aware of that, very much like

ESPINER: No, your own staff member and you haven’t.  No one’s denied this,

KEY: No

ESPINER: Your own staff member picked through the information.

KEY: No, no, but let’s say a left wing blogger, because we had that

ESPINER: Well, no we don’t need to deal in hypotheticals, because we’ve got a real scenario right here. What is appropriate about the fact that someone in your office, was poking around in another party’s private information?

KEY: Take a breath for a second, and let’s just let me finish. OK so if a left wing blogger, went around and found out that there was a situation where the security had been taken off, right. And we’ve been told that to, I don’t know, someone who works in David Cunliffe’s office, would they potentially go and have a look? And the answer is , Yes, and that would be totally fine. If theall.  If the Wallabies, on Tuesday night, left their starting line-up, up on, on, on their website, on their private website, would the All Black’s go and have a look? The answer is yes. And the reason I know that is it’s happened. And

ESPINER: So this, this is just a way that dir, that politics is, now is it? This is dirty politics, but it’s OK?

KEY: Well

ESPINER: This is the moral leadership you seem to be presiding over here? Oh, well, it’s fair game, the door was open, so we came in and had a look around.

KEY: Well, a left wing blogger worked out that the WINZ sites were open. And went.

ESPINER: And so you uphold the same standards as some blogger do you, as the Prime Minister of New Zealand?

KEY: No, what I’m saying to you,

ESPINER: Well they are the analogies you’re giving me.

KEY: No, they’re not, what I’m saying to you is, that a whole lot of assumptions were made in the book, or were cast that way, that were either would knowingly have been wrong because Nicky  Hager must have known that was wrong: this is [?] that was broken into, or he was, you know, in such a rush to get the job out that was basically gone and run roughshod over the facts. But what I’m saying to you is that in the end, yeah, look, at the end of the day, people do look at things, and that’s just, that’s just the way it works.

KEY: I mean

ESPINER:  OK. Well what about the behaviour of your minister Judith Collins?  Is it acceptable for her to divulge the name of a public servant, because he may have leaked details ?

KEY: Well I don’t have the details on that one

ESPINER: she suspected he did.

KEY: I just don’t

ESPINER: Well, why don’t you ask her?

KEY: Well because I. A: it’s very. Sorry it’s.  Look to be

ESPINER: In fact, in fact, with respect, Mr Key, she has admitted that. She conceded she did pass on that name.

KEY: Yeah, but I don’t know the details under, of all of that scenario.

ESPINER: So why don’t you ask her?

KEY: Because, at the end of the day, we’re five weeks out from an election, people can see that Nicky Hager’s made a whole lot of things up in his book. He can see that he can’t back a lot of them up.

ESPINER: Well, I’m talking about one that can be backed up. You’re not going to get away with that.

KEY: See he

ESPINER: Because, because, this is one that can be backed up, because the Justice Minister of New Zealand has conceded publicly, that she did pass on the name of a public servant.  That resulted in him getting some pretty severe death threats. And you think that’s, OK?

KEY: And people can see that

ESPINER: It’s OK?

KEY: And people can see

ESPINER: Yes or no? Is it OK?

KEY:  And people can see that this

ESPINER: Is it OK?

KEY: People can see

ESPINER: Is it OK that Judith Collins did that, yes or no?

KEY: And people can see that this is a smear campaign by Nicky Hager and

ESPINER: I’m not asking you for a critique about Nicky Hager’s motivation

Key: Well I

ESPINER: I’m asking you about something that is publicly in the arena. Judith Collins has said, “I passed on the name of this public servant.” And we know what happened after that.

KEY: But the

ESPINER: I’m asking you a simple question. Was that appropriate, Yes or No?

KEY: context  is totally relevant, because at the end of the day, I don’t know all the context of what happened here and in all those situations

ESPINER: You know the context here, Prime Minster. Please answer the question.

KEY: We don’t know

ESPINER: Was it appropriate for your Justice Minister to pass on the name of a public servant doing his job, who was then severely sanctioned on a website?

KEY: So, I don’t know all the details behind all of that. But what I do know, is that this is a series of selected pieces of information. Many of which can’t be backed up. I know that this was

ESPINER: I’m asking you about one of them.

KEY: Yeah, well, I’m not going to go into your individual ones, because in the end, this is a smear campaign, about which, I gotta say, started the week with with people, you know, out there

ESPINER: No, I’m not, you’re not going to talk about burning effigies, etc, because it has nothing to do with this.

KEY: Well, it does [voice hits a squeaky note]

ESPINER: I’m talking No

KEY: to do with this, because, at the end of the day,

ESPINER: No. this is about the behaviour of your Justice Minister. Do you stand by her today?

KEY: Yeah [slightly squeaky voice] I stand by her. And in the end, it does have a lot to with it, because we started the week with burning effigies. Then we went into, into, sorry, FU videos. Then we went into into burning effigies, then we went into Bill

ESPINER: OK, we’re not going to traverse the whole history.  Here’s a final question for you.

KEY: but

ESPINER: Were you aware that Jason Ede was running, effectively, a dirty tricks campaign from your office? Did you know about that?

KEY: He’s he’s been briefing bloggers and, of course he briefs people on the right – just as people – I’m in the Labour leadership over the years have briefed people on the left.

ESPINER: Yeah, but he’s not just briefing a blogger. There’s a guy who writes, “Feral dies in Greymouth did world a favour”; calls people in Christchurch after the earthquake a a scum

KEY: Yeah b

ESPINER: Are you happy to associate yourself with Cameron Slater of Whale Oil?

KEY: Well at the end of the day, he’s not, he’s not my guy, Cameron Slater. I don’t run anything. Anyone who knows Cameron Slater, knows that he’s a force unto himself. And at the end of the day, yeah, he gets

ESPINER: Yeah. And what do you think of him?

KEY: information from a whole bunch of things. I’m not here to, to either defend the guy

ESPINER: But you are, because you engage with him and your office was in a systematic campaign of feeding him information.

KEY: No, no, what happens is, there’s certainly. Of course we would brief bloggers and talk to bloggers. And there’s a whole wide range of them. And so does the left. And if they don’t, then you’re either naïve or

ESPINER: Do you respect the work he does?

KEY: That’s not for me to critique his stuff. What I have to

EPSINER: Well, it is because you engage with him. You’ve told us that.

KEY: I’m not a political

ESPINER: You text him and you talk to him.

KEY: OK. I’m not a political commentator. What I have to do is be aware of what’s on blog sites.  And the truth is, Guyon, you and I would have fifty thousand more conversations than I have with that guy. So, you can deny that if you want

ESPINER: So, are you

KEY: even though

ESPINER: No.

KEY: In your previous

ESPINER: No No

KEY: roles I’ve spoken to you

ESPINER: Yes so

KEY: I hardly the talk to this guy

ESPINER: So are you equating the work that journalists at Radio New Zealand, Television New Zealand, TV 3 and the other mainstream media do, to a guy who says “Feral dies in Greymouth did world a favour” and calls people in Christchurch scum

KEY: Well I don’t agree, I don’t agree with those comments. But he’s a shock jock right wing

ESPINER: Are you equating him with with the work that most mainstream journalists do, and the public listening to this, who consume their material? Are you saying to the public of New Zealand, “That’s just the same as Whale Oil”?

KEY: Well, all I’m saying is, whether we like it or not, social media is part of the overall media network these days. And I have to deal with those issues, just like  anyone else.

Hat tip: Karol Muddying the waters: transcript Key on RNZ

See (hear) also Marcus Lush with Our Leader John Keys weekly chat.