The dangers of crying ‘bully’

Bullying can be crappy, horrible, terrible, debilitating. Sometimes it is clear cut and obvious, but it can also be subjective, and bullying can easily be perceived as such when it is closer to over-expressive leadership, and even of being a justified bollocking.

Listener (Noted):  Maggie Barry and the dangers of crying ‘bully’

It was easy to applaud the advent of #MeToo. The felling of atrocious tyrants, such as movie producer Harvey Weinstein and the drunken, groping New Zealand legal titans who were revealed as serial sex pests, was long overdue. There has been a welcome global consciousness-raising.

There has been overdue attention given to despicable behaviour.

But as this era of atonement for workplace bullying matures, its fine print is proving divisive. The recent inquiry into police Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha’s conduct and allegations against MP Maggie Barry show a lot of on-the-job conflict is rather more nuanced and debatable than the headline #MeToo cases.

I don’t know how nuanced either of those situations was, but they are certainly debatable, especially with the absence of much evidence.

Haumaha’s career was called into question because three staff in his unit didn’t like the way he spoke to them. A QC’s enquiry has found no evidence of bullying, but a robust leadership style. Barry stands accused of bullying two former staff by such actions as swearing in front of them, teasing them and saying disparaging things about other people.

As far as I’m aware the jury is still out in both these cases.

It’s straightforward to diagnose such things as violence, threats, groping and sexual extortion as abusive. The older #MeToo grows, the more amazed we’ll be in retrospect about how much of it society has tolerated and excused.

But, speaking tersely, swearing, bantering, tantrums, sniping behind colleagues’ backs – are these necessarily bullying? They’re generally undesirable, and in quantity can become abusive, but in occasional doses, such behaviour is normal and human.

If people are going to start informing on each other, or as with Barry, covertly taping for such transgressions, we risk creating another form of workplace danger: a low-trust environment.

Worse than that – it risks over-embellished accusations, hit jobs and revenge attacks.

The allegations against Barry seem well short of the sort of mistreatment #MeToo was conceived to root out.

As for personal remarks, such as Barry’s likening a staffer’s attire to that seen in The Great Gatsby, one person’s affectionate teasing is another’s hectoring sarcasm. We cannot reform human nature. Teasing, and even its ruder cousin, banter, is often a sign of deep affection and a way of signalling mutual trust. A little gossip can be team-building. These things can morph into bullying, but are we seriously considering outlawing them as inherently dangerous?

Banter one day could be perceived as bullying the next, depending on the mood and the situation. Too much ‘banter’ can become bullying.

Parliament’s timely inquiry into its bullying is justified by the serious transgressions of MP Jami-Lee Ross and former minister Meka Whaitiri. But there’s a danger of our getting to the stage where just crying “bully!” is enough to blight someone’s career, and for that suspension of doubt to be misused out of spite. Not all workplace interactions can be positive and nurturing. High-pressure situations cannot always be gentled with pleases and thankyous. And it’s not abusive to tell a staffer their work isn’t good enough.

It’s easier (and human) to allege bullying than concede and accept ‘I was crap’.

Workplace safety can surely be protected without outlawing many manifestations of the human personality, or holding that feeling slighted is proof of abuse. We need simply to treat others as we’d like to be treated, and have the wit and empathy to notice if our tone or humour isn’t well received.

Sometimes relationships turn to crap, in workplaces as well as in homes.  It is easy for for behaviour that had once been acceptable to become intolerable.

All of us can at times overstep the banter line.

We need to be careful we don’t overstep the line of acceptable behaviour into dumping on anything someone else says they don’t like.

This is a particular problem in politics where it is common to exaggerate things for devious political motives.

We should expect reasonable and professional behaviour from our MPs and public servants, but we should also not cry ‘bully’ when it isn’t justified.

If we get too picky and too sensitive and too intolerant of normal human behaviour then we will take our eye off the important ball – the serious cases of harassment and assault and bullying that deserve proper investigation, and condemnation when proven.

Listener poll – September 2017

The latest Listener has a party poll that has a similar result to the latest Colmar Brunton polls.


That shows a huge jump for Labour but very little movement for National. The percentages are misleading because in contrast to most polls, this includes the ‘Don’t Know’ portion of responses.

Taking ‘don’t know out we get:

  • Labour 41%
  • National 38%
  • NZ First 8%
  • Greens 7%
  • TOP 2%
  • Maori 1%
  • ACT 1%

Those are approximate because the source numbers are rounded, and the minor parties are too small to have any useful level of accuracy.

The poll canvassed 1528 New Zealanders aged 18-plus who are planning to vote in this year’s election and was taken from September 1-5.

This is the final Election Time Barometer of our election-year research. The results are weighted by age, gender and region, and the margin of error at the 95% confidence level is ±2.5%.

An interesting indication of ‘leader most capable of managing the economy’:


Listener party poll

Listener polls don’t have a history so it’s difficult to judge their accuracy. They say the margin for error is +- 3% which is the same as other polls.

The way they present party vote poll is different to other polls so may be misleading so i have adjusted them so they are comparative.

  • National 45%
  • Labour 27%
  • Greens 14%
  • NZ First 9.3%
  • TOP 2.3%
  • ACT Party 1.2%

I have taken out the ‘Don’t know’ and ‘Not sure’ and scaled the rest. This is only approximate as their results are already rounded.

Polling done Tuesday 1 and Wednesday 2 of August, so as the Labour  leadership change was unfolding and before the Greens turned to custard.

This poll doesn’t really tell us much. The results look much in line with others with Labour already recovered a bit from other recent polls.

Here are the Listener results:

That includes the ‘Don’t know’ and ‘not sure’ totals which other polls don’t do so can’t be directly compared.

The Election Year Labour Leadership Snap Barometer continues our election-year research coverage. This online poll, carried out from 5pm, Tuesday, August 1 (the day of Labour’s leadership change), to 11.30am, Wednesday, August 2, canvassed 1175 New Zealanders aged 18 and over who were planning to vote in the general election. The results are weighted by age, gender and location, and the margin of error at the 95% confidence level is +/- 3.0%. See

From  Why Labour’s last-minute leadership change may be its salvation


Listener political poll

The Listener has a political poll:


The Adjusted column is closer to other political polls which exclude undecided in their main results.

Adjusted is quite similar to other recent polls except that Labour is down a bit and Greens are up a bit. Together they total just 40%.

Gareth Morgan was promoting this poll for obvious reasons – TOP seem to be getting some traction.

The same base numbers with a Listener readers’ poll as well.


Online only is different to the other main public political polls, which still do telephone polling.



Listen: Hager revelations and elections

Nicky Hager has a history of launching anti-Government revelations that happen to coincide with elections. Last year he claimed the timing of “Dirty Politics” had nothing to do with the general election but that was as credible as much of his unbalanced assumptions’ based on cherry picked illegally obtained data.

Important messages were largely ignored by voters, or reacted against, amongst a fog of war words.

Undeterred Hager is driving another series of revelations, this time on the GCSB and spying, that happen to coincide with a by-election.

There’s other significant factors in the by-election – the ex-Sabin effect, the Winston effect, the “I’ve got ten bridges to sell you” effect, the large Little Labour capitulation effect, and the Osborne-possum-in-headlights effect.

So it’s going to be difficult to determine whether Hager manages this time to undermine the National led Government or if he again helps motivate voters to react against his aims.

Last week’s Listener editorial covered this well.

I Spy a By-Election

The Pavlovian response can work in reverse, as peace researcher Nicky Hager demonstrates, again seizing on an election campaign to prosecute his latest accusations against a government.

Voters’ clear message when he attempted this in last year’s general election was “Don’t try to railroad us”. His Dirty Politics allegations not only failed to dent the Government’s re-election chances, but may have backhandedly assisted them. Yet Hager has chosen the heightened atmosphere of the Northland by-election to drip-feed more leaked information purporting state malfeasance.

He has taken a different approach this time, drip feeding his claims week by week. Last election he tried one big hit with his book dump of selected data.

However interesting and potentially concerning Hager’s information may be, his timing puts his work at an inevitable discount. Northland voters could be forgiven for feeling resentful, as the by-election should be a platform for their concerns, not to further an activist’s minority agenda. Also galling is the way Hager uses the tactic of rationing information, ensuring he and American whistle-blower Edward Snowden can frame discussion on their terms, rather than allowing all the facts and implications to be judged. Hager seems as oblivious to these concerns as he is to the double-standard of his using illicitly obtained data to accuse others of illicit data collection.

Not just Hager. His fan club is so devoted to eliminating spying and eliminating the Key Government they either willingly or blindly ignore the double standards.

What galls most, however, is his apparent lack of perspective. This tranche of evidence that the Government Communications Security Bureau routinely hoovers up information about Pacific neighbours, allies and New Zealand citizens alike in a blanket take-all trawl of data has so far failed to “shock” voters as he predicted. This is because the subsequent sieving of that information is precisely what most citizens want and expect security services to do, in order to protect them not just from terrorists, but from crime, epidemic, biosecurity threats, child sex rings, drugs and all manner of menace.

Hager, in contrast, appears to start from the position that all or most surveillance is unnecessary and predominantly a stalking-horse for malign political purposes. In this he is hardly alone, as regular, well-attended protest meetings attest. However, Hager’s is still the minority view.

That minority thinks either that all they need to do is reveal “truth to power” to win over majority support, or that the general population are too dumb to see what they can see.

It may very well be that the GCSB exceeds its legal bounds. It would be astonishing if it did not at times test the spirit of its governing legislation. This needs close watching and robust accountability, and the public questioning Hager engenders is healthy and valuable.

Sort of valuable. By over playing his hand Hager could as easily be as counter-productive to the cause of holding to account as he is saviour of the surveilled.

However, an enduring majority of voters see a reasonable amount of state surveillance as necessary. “Reasonable” is a hard balance to strike where incursion into civil liberties is an unavoidable means to the end. It can be a Hobbesian choice. But this week’s news of a threat to contaminate baby formula – a terror-grade response to the Government’s continued use of 1080 poison – surely underlined the need for continued targeted surveillance. It is unquestionably the role of security intelligence to protect people from vengeful zealots who might conceivably act on their agendas and harm others, either physically or by economically ruinous acts. Such vigilance scarcely makes the GCSB the tool of self-interested political forces.

So far the debate over Hager’s latest revelation has eddied around the distinction between wholesale blind collection of data, and that which is sifted from among that information to be physically inspected. The Government says the mass trawling is a merely mechanical first step in a carefully targeted intelligence-gathering system. Critics like Hager say the data collection is illegal, full stop. It’s not a debate on which either side will agree to differ anytime soon.

Glen Greenwald joined in the war of words regarding the definition of mass collection – see The Orwellian Re-Branding of “Mass Surveillance” as Merely “Bulk Collection” – and Orwellian interpretations are as prevalent in his arguments as those with differing views.

If, as he again hints he will, Hager can produce evidence our spies or their political masters are misusing data, then the whole country will listen with concern. Prime Minister John Key’s dismissive and at times high-handed responses to Hager’s allegations may yet set him up for resignation, if it is proved our spies have exceeded their bounds.

Key doesn’t help his own cause with his at times “dismissive and at times high-handed responses”.

However, the mere fact of our spying on our Pacific neighbours is hardly proof of that, as most of their leaders have acknowledged. Our close relationship with these much poorer nations means it is our role and responsibility to watch out on their behalf for terrorists or criminals trying to establish a new beachhead.

That’s something Hager fails to recognise or acknowledge – spying on the Pacific is probably more for their benefit that something for them to be concerned about.

In so consistently failing to persuade most New Zealanders to his perspective, Hager may conclude most people are complacent about their civil rights. He might more usefully conclude that most are simply less complacent than he is about genuine threats to the security of our sphere.

He and a few anti-spying idealists – like the four Green co-leader candidates who want to scrap the GCSB and withdraw from Five-Eyes. See Green leadership contenders on spying.

Hager, Greens and a few others think we will be able to rename New Zealand to New Nirvana if we drop most of our spying and security measures.

The Greens didn’t stand a candidate in Northland. Part of the reasoning for this may have been to avoid splitting the anti-Government vote. Labour has thrown their candidate under a bus in a much clumsier attempt to do likewise.

It would be interesting to know if the Greens were aware in advance of the Hager by-election campaign.

If the Sabin stench wasn’t hovering over National in Northland and if National had chosen a strong candidate (there’s suspicions they selected Osborne on the basis he was least tainted by Sabin associations) then the Greens/Labour/Peters gambit alongside the latest Hager hit job might have been a revolution in vain, again.

But the Northland by-election result will be conflicted by the mess of National’s own making versus the combined anti-Key anti-spying informal coalition.

The voters of Northland are pawns in a much bigger game of political chess.

Stuff – no paywall but pay for premium?

Stuff report on their own plans to try and make some money out of online content – Stuff looks at premium membership.

Fairfax Media’s news website may not be considering a paywall, but options to offer a premium membership service to New Zealand online readers are “really quite exciting”, says Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood.

I’m really excited to know what the difference is between a paywall and paying for “a premium membership service”.

NBR and the Listener already run models that involve partial public access with more being available to paying subscribers.

A major problem with this approach is that their best content is the least accessible. Most people choose not to pay, they simply look elsewhere, so ‘premium’ journalism gets a greatly reduced audience.

And worse – their best stories get picked up by other media who get much wider coverage offering it for free. The New Zealand news market is very small.

But maybe they aren’t talking about paying for news.

New Zealand chief executive Simon Tong was looking at a membership model and monetising the audience in different ways.

“That’s something Simon and his team are working up,” said Hywood.

“You can provide a whole range of services to members. It’s really up to your imagination and your ability to produce product.”

And that product has to compete with the wide variety of free products available online.

The only subscription service I pay for is Consumer, and I’m about to stop that as I get little from them that I can’t get elsewhere (their pay content offers too little value).

Perhaps Stuff can move to magazine/entertainment.celebrity type pay content, that’s where most interest and least thought about value seems to be. MacMedia sort of stuff.