Balance in the Newsroom?

Newsroom have been praised for their investigative journalism after a series of revelations and articles on the Todd Barclay issue.

Questions have also been raised over their possible collusion with a dirty politics campaign, seemingly not just designed on damaging Todd Barclay.

After he has lost his political career over it the attention turned to Bill English, who was placed a very difficult position by drip fed Newsroom revelations. English was strongly criticised for not being open about things, but there was a confidential employment agreement involved, and also a secret recording that it would have been illegal to reveal existed let alone the contents.

There was the potential to bring down English, bring down the Government, and swing the election (that could still be a consequence).

It is very important that media holds power to account, and holds elected people and Governments to account. But media have power of their own, and that also needs to be held to account.

Newsroom are an Auckland based media organisation. They must have put considerable resources into a story about as far from Auckland as you can get, in Clutha-Southland.

There is a big contrast between their handling of the southern story and the other big political story of the past couple of weeks where it was important to hold another bunch of politicians to account – the Labour Party Fellowship/intern story. This is very much an Auckland story.

Newsroom is new and relatively small, so can’t be expected to cover every story in depth, but some balance should be expected.

Integrity and truthfulness of leading politicians were involved in both the Barclay and intern stories.

How did their coverage of the two stories compare?

On the National/Barclay Story:

  • Politicians, police, and the payout
  • Todd Barclay’s file of denial 19 June
  • Barclay payout raises questions over leader’s fund 19 June
  • Setbacks derail National’s election plan 23 June
  • Todd Barclay responds: ‘I did nothing wrong’
  • Barclay sorry for ‘misleading’ comments
  • Police to review Todd Barclay case
  • Privacy Commissioner may probe Barclay claims
  • Allegations Barclay invented complaints
  • Fall from grace for Baby of the House
  • How Barclay’s career went up in smoke
  • PM accused of cover-up
  • Hughes stonewalls Dickson questions
  • Barclay affair: What the board knew
  • English: Barclay offered to play rec
  • Officials knew details of Barclay tapes

On the Labour/intern story

  • Labour under fire over volunteer ‘hypocrisy’

No investigations on their own turf, no investigation about funding of the scheme, no questions about Andrew Little’s  integrity and truthfulness. Little slammed English’s morals while claiming the high ground over the interns, but media has barely touched on his lack of openness and on his varying and vague explanations.

Perhaps Newsroom are doing an in depth investigation and will publish soon.

Perhaps the Auckland Labour Party and the New Zealand Labour Party will still be held to account.

‘Auckland Labour Party’ responsible for intern scheme

The ‘Auckland Labour Party’ has now been named by Labour Party general secretary Andrew Kirton as responsible along with Matt McCarten for the intern scheme.

Kirton has also said that “it started off as a Labour Party project”. So Kirton, and one would expect Labour’s leader Andrew Little, would have known more about the scheme than they have admitted.

When the Labour intern story broke it was obvious that Little and Kirton were not being open about what they knew about the scheme.

Little has said he had heard about the scheme as an idea at the start of the year, has admitted finding out it was running as an unapproved scheme in May, and he says he stepped in when they started getting complaints around Monday last week (but there are variations in that story too).

Matt McCarten quickly became the scapegoat. He was employed (by Parliamentary Services) to work for Andrew Little in Auckland, and no campaign work was allowed. However it is clear that McCarten has spent some time (months) working on the intern scheme aimed at campaigning for Labour.

The scheme was advertised overseas in February as a “Labour Party Fellowship”, with @labour.org.nz email addresses for contact. It became ”Movement for Change” in May and changed soon afterwards to “Campaign for Change”.  With McCarten leaving his Labour job it seems there was an attempt to distance the scheme from the party.

Little in particular has talked as though it was not a Labour Party scheme.

But that position was untenable. Other Labour Party people were connected with the scheme.

Earlier this week it was reported that Labour’s Auckland/Northland Representative on their NZ Council, Paul Chalmers, had stood down. Stuff on Tuesday (27 June): Two on Labour’s intern programme may have broken immigration rules as council member stands down:

Labour Leader Andrew Little on Tuesday said Paul Chalmers, who was connected with the scheme, had voluntarily stood down over the weekend “and he is not involved in the governing council of the party at this point”.

Chalmers is still named on Labour’s website as an Auckland/Northland representative.

Little said it was also possible the party would have to cover some of the costs of the plan masterminded by Little’s former chief of staff Matt McCarten, who more recently was Little’s Auckland organiser but stood down from that role in mid May when his contract ended and was not renewed.

An eight month contract terminated four months before the election seems odd.

Also on Tuesday in an RNZ interview Little’s story was starting to wobble over what he knew and who was responsible. From More details emerge of Labour’s intern scheme:

Suzy Ferguson: Are you saying you don’t know where this money’s coming from?

Little: I don’t know any details about the organisation of it apart from what we now know, I think 85 young people here staying on a marae, and helping out in various parts of the Auckland campaign. Beyond that I don’t know, I’m not sure if the party knows or knew at the time, and we’re in the process now of getting the detail about the organisation behind it.

Suzy Ferguson: …are you saying you don’t know where the thick end of two hundred grand has come from?

Little: Well, um, no one in the party is responsible for what Matt and others, and let’s be fair, it wasn’t Matt alone, there were at least four people involved in driving this, three on the party side…

Suzy Ferguson: …while this was being done Matt McCarten was in the pay of the Labour Party wasn’t he.

Little: Um, he was the, he was my, he was the director of the Auckland office, um, which is funded out of the Leader’s office, my office, um he was working for me (a) to open and run the office and (b) to run my Auckland programme, outreach programme.

Suzy Ferguson: Ok, so he’s working for you, but you’re saying you didn’t know what he was doing, you didn’t know about this?

Little: I didn’t know about this. I didn’t know the extent to which he was organising stuff.

That didn’t sound convincing.

Even more details emerged yesterday. Newshub ‘It’s not a good look’ – Labour fronts up on intern visa problems

Labour general secretary Andrew Kirton told The AM Show it’s “not a good look,” but said as soon as he heard of the programme’s problems, he stepped in to sort it out.

“My team arrived on Tuesday to sort out this programme of Matt McCarten’s and the Auckland Labour Party.”

“It’s been a bit of an effort but we’re getting on top of it now. The young volunteers are now really excited to get out and learn about MMP environments across the country.

“It started off as a Labour Party project – not too dissimilar to what we’ve done in the past. The problem with this though was it was expanded out quite significantly by Matt McCarten with support from the Auckland Labour Party.

“[It] got out of control, the management got out of control, and that’s why we stepped in straight away.”

So after about a week of trying to distance Labour from the intern scheme Kirton has admitted that it was an “Auckland Labour Party” programme, along with McCarten who was effectively Little’s chief of staff in Auckland.

Little and Kirton appear to have been somewhat frugal with the truth over the last week.

They have either deliberately misled and lied about the extent of their knowledge of the scheme, or the Labour Party in Auckland and Little’s Auckland employee were running an unauthorised scheme without telling them anything about it and without them finding out about it until last week. Or the week before. Or in May, depending on which explanation you listen to.

A number of Labour’s Auckland MPs and candidates have been involved with the interns in their campaigning – seeLinks between interns and Labour from April.

Alongside Little’s claimed lack of knowledge of the scheme it is also curious that deputy leader Jacinda Ardern, Auckland based and with a special interest in young people and getting them out to vote, seems to also have had no knowledge of an international and local student get out the vote campaign in her own city.

Labour still have major questions to answer about who the mysterious anonymous donor was, and why McCarten and possible other Labour staffers were running a campaign scheme when their employment terms didn’t allow that.

 

More details emerge of Labour’s intern scheme

Media paid attention to Labour’s intern scheme yesterday and eked out some more details from Andrew Little. There are still a number of gaps in information and credibility.

The key issues are where was the money, if there was any, who was responsible, and how this happened under Andrew Little’s nose. And did it also happen without deputy leader Jacinda Ardern being aware?

She is Labour’s most prominent Labour M with a special interest in young people and getting them out to vote, exactly what the scheme was designed to do.

Newshub:  McCarten may have left Labour in debt after intern scheme

Labour leader Andrew Little says Matt McCarten’s botched student scheme may have left a debt for the party.

Mr Little admitted today that Mr McCarten, one the scheme’s organisers, might not have the funding he had claimed and that the party would have to pick up the bills.

Internal documents obtained by Newshub show that Mr McCarten claimed to have over $100,000 funding from unions.

The unions named have all denied this, raising questions about where Mr McCarten got his money from.

There has been talk of a substantial private donor but no amount has been revealed. If it was over $30,000 then Labour have a responsibility to identify the donor. That could be awkward, especially if the aim was to finance things on the sly to try to sneak around electoral law.

While it sounds like debts have stacked up some money must have already been required.Was this handled through Little’s Auckland office? Or through the Labour Party Auckland branch?

Following McCarten being thrown under a bus – Cosgrove bus follows Labour over McCarten – the Auckland Representative on Labour’s NZ Council, Paul Chalmers has “stepped down”:

He said a senior Labour council member, Paul Chalmers, stepped down over the weekend because of his connection to the scheme and there would be an internal investigation.

Chalmers has a union background (like McCarten) and has also been campaign manager for Jacinda Ardern.

He featured in this from February 2016: Revealed: Speaker’s Warning to Labour Over Parliamentary Funds

Some weeks ago Labour sent an email in the name of Paul Chalmers, the Project Manager at Labour House, to Labour’s Auckland supporters detailing how Andrew Little had opened a Auckland office that will be “the centre of the Labour and progressive movement in Auckland and the place to co-ordinate the local government and General Election campaigns.”

The email also called on “like-minded partners” to share office space and other facility resources.

So Chalmers was already on notice, as was Little and the Labour Party.

Andrew Little was aware of the idea of the intern scheme in January but says he told McCarten then that it had to be a party campaign thing. He then says he found out about the unauthorised scheme in May and said “this is not the party thing”.

Little would have us believe even though his Auckland organiser McCarten was operating a scheme in Labour’s name purportedly without Little’s knowledge, and in breach of Parliamentary staffing rules, did nothing about it until some students complained about their accommodation last week.

And where does Jacinda Ardern stand in all of this? She has been a strong promoter of young people vote.

Just last week in The Spinoff:  Chlöe and Jacinda go back to school

Arden flattered them. “You’re the most powerful voters,” she said. “The 18-24-year-old age group, it’s the most powerful because it votes the least. Did you know there were 125,000 young people registered to vote last time, who didn’t show up. If you all vote this time, the impact will be enormous. You change the government on your own.”

So it’s hard to believe that a student get out the vote campaign being organised by Ardern’s campaign manager and Auckland’s representative on Labour’s NZ Council would not at least have said something about the scheme to Ardern. Other Auckland MPs and candidates were involved with the scheme.

And back to Little’s claims of knowing nothing about what McCarten and Chalmers and the interns were up to.

RNZ: Labour’s intern programme wasn’t authorised by party

The Labour leader says he wasn’t aware an internship programme to help with the election campaign had gone ahead as it wasn’t authorised by the party.

The party’s leader, Andrew Little, told Morning Report he had been left in the dark.

“This isn’t something that has been sanctioned or approved or authorised in any way by the party organisation.

“I think what we all discovered last week when the party got the complaints, [and] the rest of us got involved trying to sort it out, is there’s a whole heap of details we’re just trying to work out,” Mr Little said.

How could he not have known something about it? He has admitted knowing an unauthorised scheme was operating in May so his claim defies belief.

Suzy Ferguson: Are you saying you don’t know where this money’s coming from?

Little: I don’t know any details about the organisation of it apart from what we now know, I think 85 young people here staying on a marae, and helping out in various parts of the Auckland campaign. Beyond that I don’t know, I’m not sure if the party knows or knew at the time, and we’re in the process now of getting the detail about the organisation behind it.

Suzy Ferguson: …are you saying you don’t know where the thick end of two hundred grand has come from?

Little: Well, um, no one in the party is responsible for what Matt and others, and let’s be fair, it wasn’t Matt alone, there were at least four people involved in driving this, three on the party side…

Little wouldn’t say, but McCarten, Chalmers and one other presumably.

Suzy Ferguson: …while this was being done Matt McCarten was in the pay of the Labour Party wasn’t he.

Little: Um, he was the, he was my, he was the director of the Auckland office, um, which is funded out of the Leader’s office, my office, um he was working for me (a) to open and run the office and (b) to run my Auckland programme, outreach programme.

Suzy Ferguson: Ok, so he’s working for you, but you’re saying you didn’t know what he was doing, you didn’t know about this?

Little: I didn’t know about this. I didn’t know the extent to which he was organising stuff. I mean he doesn’t work for me 24 hours a day. He he has a job to manage, put together my programme when I’m up there every week, and arrange the visits that I do, um he does that.

Suzy Ferguson: But is it his job to put this kind of thing together though, when he’s working for you?

Little: No.

Suzy Ferguson:When he’s being paid for by taxpayer money?

Little: No he’s not. When he first floated the idea to me at the beginning of the year of an internship programme I said to him then that’s a party issue, that’s a campaign issue, that has to be dealt with by the party. Um, I was not aware that he was involved in ah dealing with this.

McCarten floated the idea to little at the start of the year, was effectively told he couldn’t do it but went ahead anyway without saying any more about it to Little?

Little: Um now he can deal with this stuff in his own time, as I say he doesn’t work for me 24 hours a day…

Moonlighting on a Labour labelled scheme alongside Labour people seems remarkable for someone in McCarten’s position.

Suzy Ferguson: But is it clear he did do this in his own time, or was he doing this while he was being paid by the tax payer?

Little: Well I certainly wasn’t aware of him being involved in this in the times that I was in the Auckland office and he was with me as I was going about my sort of Auckland visits and programmes.

Suzy Ferguson: Why do you think this was kept from you by someone who’s essentially your Chief of Staff in Auckland?

Little: well, um, I go back to the fact that this this wasn’t anything, this programme or project wasn’t authorised by the party at all. It wasn’t part of any formal party organisation.

Suzy Ferguson: Would you not expect that he would talk to you about this kind of thing though, because otherwise it ends up coming out in a pretty surprising sort of fashion, I mean in terms of a no surprises thing wouldn’t you expect ‘oh by the way, you know in my own time, in the evenings whatever I’m doing this?

If it was as Little stated it was a remarkable situation for his main man in Auckland not to speak to him about a significant campaign project.

Little: Um yes I don’t keep a track of everything he’s doing in his own time. I think the fact that this was, if that document was to be believed about anything at all, he was clearly considering involving unions in all this, it wasn’t just a party thing…

“Wasn’t just a party thing” – but it was in part a party thing?

…so he, it looks to me like he, and whoever else was involved with him, was embarking on a project that that wasn’t just a party thing, so he was going beyond that.

So he doesn’t tell me absolutely everything he does, I’m not sure I want to know…

Sounds a bit like plausible deniability.

…I certainly wasn’t aware um this project was being organised in the way that it was, and was as advanced as far as it was before we got notified of the problems with it.

Little let a few things slip especially towards the end of the interview.

“I didn’t know about this. I didn’t know the extent to which he was organising stuff”.

He didn’t know at all, or not to the extent it was organised?

“So he doesn’t tell me absolutely everything he does, I’m not sure I want to know”.

This sounds like a nudge nudge, wink wink sort of arrangement. Little obviously knew if McCarten worked on Labour’s campaign it would breach Parliamentary rules. Did he turn a blind eye deliberately>

And it got out of control, with the unions and McCarten overreaching when they tried to push Labour policy left as well as run the intern scheme?

Little almost certainly is being frugal with the truth here.

Labour’s “souls for the polls”

Media got back to Labour’s embarrassing intern scheme yesterday.

Stuff:  Two on Labour’s intern programme may have broken immigration rules as council member stands down

Two of Labour’s interns may have broken immigration visa rules, the party says.

Party secretary Andrew Kirton said in the course of sorting out the international volunteer programme the party had become aware two of the 85 interns may not have held the visa necessary to take part in the programme.

That seems to be a relatively minor issue.

One curious aspect of Labour’s intern programme was an attempt to turn out votes from church goers.

McCarten had also floated the idea of bringing in a reverend from the United States – dubbed “souls for the polls” to unify the Ratana and Pasifika churches and turn out voters.

“I can’t imagine Al Sharpton coming down,” Mr Little said.

Interns in the programme had been working on targeting ‘religious Labour votes’:

InternPak3

Little said McCarten’s plan – which he has named a “Campaign for Change” –  was one of those “ginger groups” that pop up from time to time. He described McCarten’s ideas as “fantasy world stuff”.

It was originally promoted as “Labour Party Fellowship” and was also referred to as”Movement for Change” (a document that gave details about the scheme referred to ‘Movement for Change Ltd’ but there is no registered company of that name).

Bringing out a bunch of US students to campaign for them was criticised as hypocritical due to Labour’s recently announced policy aimed at substantially cutting down on student visas.

If they had brought out a US pastor to campaign for them it is likely to have raised more eyebrows. Is there a shortage of Kiwi pastors?

Newshub:  McCarten may have left Labour in debt after intern scheme

Labour leader Andrew Little says Matt McCarten’s botched student scheme may have left a debt for the party.

“There is a potential for it [debt], yes,” Mr Little said. “We take moral responsibility and that means and creditors and suppliers have to be looked after and we will have to do that.”

They may need a few pastors with collection plates

 

 

Private funder for Labour’s intern scheme

Matt McCarten says that the Labour intern scheme had a private funder “who thought the scheme was a good idea”.

NZ Herald: Mystery funder behind Labour intern programme – and party doesn’t know who

A mystery backer funded the volunteer scheme for overseas students working on Labour’s campaign – and even Labour does not know who it was or how much was involved.

Matt McCarten, who set up the scheme and ran it under his “Campaign for Change” organisation, told the Herald it was funded by a “private funder” who thought the scheme was a good idea.

McCarten must have also thought the private funding was a good idea.

He was chief of staff for David Cunliffe and Andrew Little, and ran Labour’s election campaign in Auckland until he quit to balls up the intern scheme last month.

Has he no clue about the requirements of political campaign funding? Or did he think he wouldn’t be found out?

It is understood Labour itself still does not know who that funder is or how much was spent on the programme and it has been left to cover some of the costs of housing the interns at Awataha Marae, although McCarten said he believed the payments were up to date.

This has put Labour in  a very difficult situation, as by association they may end up being responsible for this.

Labour’s General Secretary Andrew Kirton took over the programme this week after concerns about how it was being run and the ability to manage the numbers involved.

He would not comment on the funding issue, saying he was still working on taking care of the interns and “sorting the mess out”.

After that he may have a funding mess to sort out.

Heading into an election campaign this is a terrible diversion for the Labour Party.

Labour will also have to consider whether it needs to declare any contributions to the costs of the programme as a donation.

Electoral law expert Graeme Edgeler said it would have to if it was a Labour Party programme, but it probably would not have to if it was a third party campaigning for Labour.

It was advertised as a “Labour Party Fellowship”, involved Labour MPs, and was set up by McCarten while he worked for Labour until May – but was run by his Campaign for Change.

The Campaign for Change change seems to have been a rush job to try to distance the scheme from Labour, but ” third party campaigning” could be very difficult to argue.

Other Labour Party activists and staffers have been names as involved in the scheme.

One could wonder if a more effective sabotage of Labour’s campaign could have been executed, but I think it’s more likely that this was a mix of arrogance and ineptness from McCarten and those directly involved, and a glaring lack of oversight by the Labour Party at best.

Labour leader Andrew Little said the party would disclose anything it was required to and would ensure third parties did as well. However, the party was still working out what funding there was in place.

Awkward.

Interns have given mixed reviews – yesterday one told the Herald that much of the attention had been on the standard of accommodation, but that had not been the problem or the reason Labour officials had to step in. Nor had complaints by individual interns.

“There’s pushback from many who feel it shouldn’t have been shut down so quickly, but I really don’t know how much longer it would have lasted, especially since the whole programme was labelled ‘Labour’, without clear connection to Wellington. It was a ticking time bomb until Wellington found out and shut it down. That’s ultimately why it was shut down – it had Labour’s name all over it, but Wellington had no control over the situation or even knew many details about it.”

So it seems that McCarten was out of control.

Unite’s National Director Mike Treen said the union had taken part in the programme and planned to use the interns for an programme to enrol Unite members, but had not provided any direct funding.

“Matt is ambitious, and where there is a will there is a way is often his attitude. He may have tried to reach too far in this case. We thought there were positives and are a little bit sorry to see it’s all fallen on its face.”

So Treen was also involved. He stood for the Mana Party last election and has links to socialist groups – see  Mana Party and Socialists

It looks like a misconceived attempt at a coup of Labour – see Labour policy coup attempt?