Will political foxes reform electoral and transparency laws?

Two SFO investigations into party donations, and multiple failures to fulfil openness and transparency pledges, suggests that our political parties and MPs need better laws to make them comply with more honesty and openness. The problem is, the political foxes make the laws to limit themselves – and then find ways to circumvent and ignore.

How political donations are disclosed, plus the Official Information Act are two things that need revised. There is no chance of that happening before the election, but will something be done by the next Government (and hopefully with the support of the whole parliament)?

ODT editorial: Keeping their noses clean

On Monday, the SFO, already with its hands full dealing with complaints about National Party funding arrangements which have resulted in four people facing charges (but not the party itself), had the Electoral Commission file on the New Zealand First Foundation passed on to it by the police for further investigation.

While it is difficult to paint a rosy picture of a situation where two of the country’s major political parties have found themselves under investigation, there is something heartening about this.

Politicians like to quote Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which regularly places New Zealand high in its rankings of the least corrupt countries in the world.

It is because investigations such as the ones the SFO have undertaken are permitted, because public scrutiny of political donations is expected and the highest amounts are disclosed publicly, because political parties are obliged to disclose their expenses, that New Zealand can maintain this reputation.

And because party officials with consciences are prepared to whistleblow on questionable practices?

But that does not mean that all is well.

It obviously isn’t.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has suggested a full independent look at political donation laws, which would be a beginning but only a beginning.

Every general election is subject to a subsequent select committee inquiry, but the assessment of the 2017 election was rendered somewhat farcical by constant delays and wholesale politicisation of the process.

Unfortunately politicisation and delays are ways that politicians avoid anything being done to curb their excesses.

Justice Minister Andrew Little, who assigns projects to what is an independent crown entity, might consider electoral law as something the commission, or another equally as high-powered independent legal committee, could profitably examine.

This election is already tainted with allegations of wrongdoing before the campaign officially begins, no matter how many Facebook transparency agreements political parties sign up to.

To better serve the voters they seek to represent, politicians need to rise above their partisan divide and work towards a suite of electoral laws for 2023.

But will the foxes do anything to guard the political henhouse? Or will they continue to flout the intent of the current laws, and what the electorate expects of them?

A start would be to get each party to commit to doing something in the next term – but that will only work if the follow up and actually do what they promise.

 

Herald announces digital subscription model for premium content

NZ Herald has announced pricing for it’s ‘premium’ digital subscription – $5 per week, although a ‘special introductory offer’ will be offered next week when the premium content launches.

That’s $260 a year, quite a bit for part of one media company’s content. It’s a risk, especially if the free content is watered down too much and keeps promoting so much trivial click bait content.

This has been a long time coming, it has been talked about for years.

NZ Herald launches digital subscriptions for premium journalism, reveals pricing

NZME will become the first major New Zealand media business to unveil digital subscriptions – costing $5 a week, with a special introductory offer to be announced next week.

While much of the content on nzherald.co.nz will remain free, digital subscribers will access a range of premium content across business, politics, news, sport, lifestyle and entertainment including indepth investigations, exclusive reports, columns and analysis. There will also be more foreign, premium content from a range of internationally renowned mastheads.

I can get all the international news and analysis I want now.

People who have five-, six- or seven-day subscriptions to the NZ Herald or one of NZME’s five regional newspapers – the Northern Advocate, Bay of Plenty Times, Rotorua Daily Post, Hawke’s Bay Today and Whanganui Chronicle – will have automatic access to premium content. Print subscribers will be contacted next week with details of how to activate their digital subscription.

So it’s free for newspaper subscribers – for now at least.

They say it will help support ‘quality journalism’ and will provide ‘indepth analysis and insight’. If it allows them to do more of this that will be a good thing, provided they get sufficient subscriptions to keep funding it.

One problem with important investigations being limited subscriptions is that it will limit the impact.  The glare of publicity can sometimes impact on negative things that have been happening or have been done, and that publicity will be reduced if limited to subscription content.

I presume they will promote summaries or teasers of premium content so people know what they might be missing out on.


On a related matter – three years ago my household decided to drop our ODT print subscription, because we found we were hardly reading it, and could get sufficient news online.

Last year we restarted our ODT subscription. We found we missed it, especially for local (Dunedin and Otago) news, and also information about what was happening in the area. It does a good job generally on local news, and we felt it was worth supporting. And we are reading it more now – there’s something about flicking the large paper pages and browsing.

This is one reason why I won’t be subscribing to the Herald online.

The ODT republishes some Herald content – I wonder if this will continue and will include premium content?

Harrowing stories from male sexual abuse survivors

The extent of male sexual abuse in New Zealand is gradually emerging, and it is as horrifying as female sexual abuse.

There has been a lot of world wide publicity given to abuse within the Catholic Church, but that is only a part of the dirty iceberg of abuse that has been happened for a long time, and has been largely hidden from view.

Survivors are starting to speak out and reveal the horrors and the long term affects. This is important in showing other victims that they are not alone.

ODT have done a lot on investigating and reporting local Catholic abuse – see

They have widened their revelations – NZ’s sexual trauma story: ‘We have failed to protect our children’ – In the finale of the series, peer support worker Paul Davenport and Males Survivors Aotearoa national advocate Ken Clearwater talk about New Zealand’s path to ‘owning’ how badly it has ‘failed to protect children’.


WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT: Why did 10 men sit down and tell their harrowing story of sexual trauma to our cameras? Because they all thought they were the only one. But they want others to know that they are not alone.

One in six boys will be sexually abused before they are 18.  In this CTV video series, 10 men have told their stories. All grew up believing they were the only ones it had happened to. Now they want other victims to know they are not alone and, if they are ready, help is there for them.

Need help?

Need to talk? 1737, free 24/7 phone and text number

Healthline: 0800 611-116

Lifeline Aotearoa: 0800 543-354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828-865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Samaritans: 0800 726-666

Alcohol Drug Helpline: 0800 787-797

General mental health inquiries: 0800 443-366

The Depression Helpline: 0800 111-757

Youthline: 0800 376-633, txt 234 or talk@youthline.co.nz

What’s Up (for 5-18 year olds; 1pm-11pm): 0800 942-8787

Tone Miller, Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Dunedin/Invercargill: 0211987878.

ODT editorial on secrecy and the OIA

Journalists use the Official Information Act extensively to try and get information out of national and local government sources, so know as well as anyone about the problems with the way the OIA is being abused by politicians.

Today’s ODT editorial looks at The perils of secrecy

Keeping secrets from the public — or as those guilty of that action would prefer to put it, withholding information for various, sometimes tenuous, reasons — is one of the first worrying steps towards that scourge of modern-day life: “fake news”.

Not so many years ago, reporters at this newspaper and other media outlets could simply pick up a phone and ask a burning question of the appropriate person at city hall, or the hospital or the university.

That is now happening less and less frequently. Instead, questions, submitted in writing, are vetted and — perhaps the same day but often a day or two later — an anodyne response is issued. That is the best-case scenario.

Politicians now often protect themselves from scrutiny by employing ex-journalists as a barrier.

In the worst-case, either the organisation leaves it a few days before saying it will not comment, or it plays fast and loose with the Official Information Act and cynically uses up the entire 20 working-day period allowed for in the Act before replying.

In a democratic nation like New Zealand — one widely vaunted overseas for its lack of institutional corruption — such pettiness and refusal to engage on matters of public interest is disgraceful. Where the public is paying, through rates or taxes, the salaries of those in the organisation doing the concealing, their actions are completely abhorrent.

These people who are actively working against transparency, who enjoy blocking the media, acting after all as the public’s advocates, are effectively walking roughshod over democracy.

Yes, and New Zealand’s democracy is much the poorer for it.

People are paid more to keep secrets than to uncover information.

Late last week there were several examples of flagrant obfuscation and obstruction from the Dunedin City Council.

In one case, the council is choosing not to answer questions which have been put to it by this newspaper for nearly a year about alleged bullying and other problems in its city property department. Despite Official Information Act requests, it is withholding a Deloitte report, saying it needs to protect privacy and also citing commercial sensitivity. Elected representatives and council staff all ran for cover when asked for comment. The ODT has now referred the matter to the Office of the Ombudsman.

On the same page of Friday’s newspaper, the city council refused to say what assets valued at $63 million it was planning to sell, again specifying commercial sensitivity as the reason. This also has been referred to the Ombudsman.

This sounds particularly stupid – how are they going to sell assets without saying what they are going to sell?

It is disgraceful that the ODT has to go to the Ombudsman on a regular basis in order to get information that should be the public’s as of right.

This refusal to engage is a very troubling development. Stalling, fudging and engaging in sophistry make any organisation look bad.

Of course, it is not just the DCC that plays these games — even the most simple public information can sometimes be very difficult to receive in a timely fashion from other Otago councils, the Southern District Health Board, the police, the University of Otago and, especially, the Government.

Especially the Government – or more accurately, Governments present and past, who have set a very poor example of refusing to engage and inform.

We need to stop this slide into secrecy before we have a New Zealand filled with nepotism and favouritism, undeserved privilege and injustice, one in which corruption is able to breed in dark, secret corners.

Lawyer Graeme Edgeler writes at Public Address: A Small Official Information Act Fix

A few days ago, TVNZ journalist Andrea Vance tweeted an Official Information Act response she had received from David Parker, the Attorney-General. Vance had sought information about workload and funding pressures on Crown Solicitors, something he had apparently taken an interest in while in opposition.

The response received advised that “the Attorney-General is not subject to the OIA in the performance of their Law Officer functions.” This is footnoted to an Ombudsman opinion that does not appear to be online. I’ve no reason to doubt it exists, although I think the argument is weak. I’m aware of another Ombudsman’s opinion (that is publicly available) that says that the Solicitor-General in performing her Law Officer functions is outside the OIA because the Office of Solicitor-General is not listed in the Ombudsman Act, or in the OIA, which I can accept. I’m not sure that it’s as clear for the Attorney-General. Ministers of the Crown are subject to the OIA in the performance of their ministerial functions, and I would have said that Attorney-General was exercising a ministerial function when acting as a Law Officer of the Crown.

That said, even the exclusion of the Solicitor-General for the OIA is a pretty big oversight.

I can’t imagine it was a conscious decision, but even if it was, it was wrong. The Solicitor-General is the Executive’s chief legal officer, and exercises all sorts of government power. There’s probably a lot of information that the Solicitor-General has that shouldn’t be made public, but that can be protected by the other grounds in the OIA, like legal professional privilege. There is no reason for a blanket exclusion.

So, with that in mind, I have drafted a short bill. It adds a short subparagraph to the definition of official information to provide that information held by the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General in the exercise of their function as Law Officers of the Crown is official information.

The problem here is that it requires a majority of politicians to force better compliance with the OIA.

Both Labour and the Greens have promised better transparency, but Labour seems to be doing the opposite.

An old school reporter retires

A lot of things have changed significantly in New Zealand and in the world over the last fifty years. One of those things is journalism along with the means of distributing news and views.

Dave Cannan started as a cadet reporter for the Otago Daily Times in 1970, moved on to work for newspapers in Christchurch and Timaru before returning to the ODT where he rose to the position of chief reporter in the first decade of this century.

To mark his retirement from the newspaper business the ODT has a profile of him and his career as a reporter.

ODT: It’s news to us all

”The Wash” wound up on Friday last week. In a strange twist of timing, it also marked the 65th birthday of Cannan, who is putting behind him a career in journalism that has spanned almost five decades – specifically, since January 20, 1970, when a 17-year-old Mosgiel youth started as a cadet reporter at the Otago Daily Times. Back then, New Zealand had yet to hear of Harvey and Jeannette Crewe (killed six months later at Pukekawa, Waikato). The same year, John Rowles sold a million copies of his single Cheryl Moana Marie, and Hogsnort Rupert claimed a Loxene Golden Disc Award for Pretty Girl.

I was still at school then but remember those things – I followed the Arthur Allan Thomas trial in the ODT, but I wasn’t a fan of either Rowles or Hogsnort Rupert.

Anyway, after being sent home from Wanaka by mum, I saw an ad in the ODT for an apprentice photo-lithographer. I got an interview – which was in the old ODT building at Queen’s Gardens – and basically got offered the job. But I mentioned I was interested in a job as a reporter and was taken up to the editorial department to see [then chief of staff] Clarke Isaacs.

”(In those days – and until the early 1990s – the ODT took on youngsters as cadet journalists; they started on the bottom rung of the ladder, typically learning their craft from a variety of industry veterans.)

”It was pretty rough and tumble and not particularly politically correct, you might say. But you got to learn from people like Clarke and from senior reporters.

”Once I got the job I had to get my head around what reporters actually do. As a cadet you’d get some menial tasks – the fruit and vegetable column,  the fire calls, the shipping news – but they were a good way to learn the basics of the craft, from ringing people up to checking your facts and figures.”

Details of his reporting career follow that, to:

Appointed chief reporter in 1999, Cannan looks back with some pride on his tenure of what is, typically, one of the most challenging positions in daily journalism.

”I’d been deputy for a while, so had a taste of it, but, when I think about it now, I had no managerial training. In journalism, if you are any good, you just get pushed up the ladder.

”I was chief reporter for nine and a-half years. It’s an emotional, passionate job. You live and breathe it. And sometimes, perhaps, I rode rough-shod over someone’s feelings.

”I probably upset a lot of people because I did it my way. I tried to lead by example and got it wrong a few times. I made mistakes and annoyed a few people. Looking back, I was probably in too much of a hurry to get things done.

”But the buck ultimately stops with you. You have to believe in yourself. If you don’t, you’re buggered. There was a lot of pressure to that, a lot of long hours.”

From what I’ve heard it was not a glamorous or particularly well paid job, but it was hard work.

This is an interesting profile of an old school reporter.

Disadvantaged children

The problem with waifs and strays is obviously not a new problem:

There are 4123 children under the control of the department. The Minister states that it is well that the State is prepared to stand `in loco parentis’ to this large family of waifs and strays, but it is a matter for public concern that year after year there should be a constant supply of such children claiming the State as its foster-parent.

It has to be admitted with regret that home influence is not so strong nor of so fine a type as it was a generation ago. It has often been urged that, rather than the children, parents who have proved themselves unfit to be parents should be placed under restriction. It certainly seems to be the height of folly to take children from a home which is judged to be unfit for children and from parents who are unfit to rear children, and yet to wait year by year for the succession of additional children which proceeds from the same home.

In many cases the evil effects cannot be remedied even if the children are taken charge of from infancy, for physical or mental infirmity are often stamped on the children for life through the moral or physical degeneracy of their parents.

There has never been easy solutions to bad parents and parenting,  and unsatisfactory home situations for children.

That’s from the ODT 26-9-1917: https://www.odt.co.nz/opinion/100-years-ago/industrial-school-system

Take Waitangi Day on tour?

While many people attending Waitangi Day celebrations think it is a great occasion much of the country sees it as a media circus giving a few Ngāpuhi activists some attention at the cost of political and national inclusiveness.

David Seymour has suggested a solution to the ongoing antics at Waitangi Day – move the celebrations around the country.

PM should take Waitangi Day ceremonies on tour

Te Tii Marae’s continued failure to respectfully host the Government on Waitangi Day should prompt the Prime Minister to visit a different marae each year, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“The behaviour of a small group of perpetually-grumpy activists has turned Waitangi Day into an annual political circus, denying Kiwis a national day we can all enjoy,” says Mr Seymour.

“It’s never been clear why one iwi gets to monopolise the celebrations. The Treaty wasn’t just signed at Waitangi, it went on tour and was signed by chiefs all over the country.

“If an iwi is going to host representatives of the Crown to symbolise this 177-year-old relationship, why not rotate the host iwi and location? It could be in a different place each year, perhaps following the path that the Treaty took during 1840.

“Ngāpuhi activists have denied the whole country a proud national day a few times too many. Let’s take this show on the road. There were 20-odd signing locations so it’ll return to Te Tii Marae in around 2037.

“A bit of competition among locations might help to lift standards of behaviour, bringing some dignity and joy back to this special day.”

Today’s ODT editorial thinks that this has merit – from The importance of Waitangi Day:

Act New Zealand leader David Seymour suggested the continued failure by Ti Tii to respectfully host the Government on Waitangi Day should prompt the prime minister of the day to visit a different marae each year.

It has never been clear why one iwi – Ngapuhi – gets to monopolise the celebrations.

And that hasn’t been working out very well – it seems to have become more about them and less about the country.

The Treaty was not signed just at Waitangi; it went on tour and was signed by chiefs throughout the country. He suggests the celebration of the Treaty signing could follow the path the Treaty took in 1840.

Waitangi Day is quickly slipping from relevancy for many New Zealanders who are just looking forward to a day of holiday when, in fact, the Treaty is considered New Zealand’s founding document.

Those who attend the Waitangi Day events often say it is overall a very good occasion, if you ignore a few attention seekers and media obsessions and distractions.

But currently for me and I think for many others Waitangi Day is a contentious circus hijacked by a few activists.

If it was celebrated in different places more it may become a country focussed occasion rather than a local leer up.

Treasury delays Dunedin hospital rebuild

Last year the Government tried to speed up the process to rebuild Dunedin Hospital but Treasury slowed things down. Existing buildings are deteriorating, particularly the clinical services block which includes operating theatres.

ODT: Brakes put on hospital

The Treasury has managed to slow down the Dunedin Hospital rebuild, despite the  clinical services building being at risk of abrupt clinical failure. Advice released under the Official Information Act shows the Treasury warned Finance Minister Bill English that haste was a “major risk to a successful outcome”.

Last year, Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman told officials to try to speed things up. In response, health officials proposed shortening the lengthy Treasury-approval process by six months.

But the Treasury told Mr English: “The [Southern Partnership Group] and the Ministry [of Health] are coming under pressure to expedite timelines for the business case process. We see this as a major risk to a successful outcome.”

The March advice was not the first such warning from the Treasury, but the Otago Daily Times has ascertained that its advice meant a move to speed up the project was scrapped.

Late last year, the ODTreported  Treasury had warned both Mr English and Dr Coleman against speeding up the timeframe.

Southern Partnership Group chairman Andrew Blair, in a statement to the Otago Daily Times, said the group settled on a slightly slower timeframe which struck an “appropriate balance”.

A new hospital is more than seven years from completion. The ministry has said it is looking at the entire hospital campus, and it has not said exactly what will be built, nor the site.

An official assessment of the clinical services building says it is “crumbling” and at risk of a significant defect that causes its abrupt closure.

The clinical services block in particular has a number of problems. In 2014 there were major leak problems in the operating theatres.

ODT: Q&A: The Hospital rebuild

The clinical services building is crumbling and suffered years of maintenance neglect.

It does not meet standards for electrical wiring, infection control, and management of dirty laundry. 

Its asbestos problem means even though there’s a special budget now for deferred maintenance, some areas are no-go.

Built in the 1960s, it’s at risk of abrupt clinical failure.

There are concerns it would not withstand a significant earthquake.

What about the ward block?

Even though it’s younger (built in the 1970s and commissioned in 1980) the ward block has suffered from the same deferred maintenance as the CSB.

It needs “substantial renovation”.

A 2012 assessment deemed its remaining “service life” at just under 16 years.

It “needs systematic re-lifing or will otherwise stumble through with reactive upgrades as building systems fail” according to an official assessment.

Unusually good looking ODT website

The Otago Daily Times has a new look website, and it looks unusually good for a news website.

While the home page packs in a lot of information it looks simple, clean and uncluttered, it’s easy to browse and it has a very modest and unobtrusive amount of advertising. This is unusual for a news website.

ODTNewWebsite

If you click on a link to a story this page is also clean and clear, also with relatively unobtrusive advertising. So far very good. But there is a big BUT.

In the top right of the screen are three links:Subscribe |Log in /Register

It looks like they have moved to their promised partial paywall. At this stage I can access news pages but presume there will either be a time limit or a number of links limit.

Subscribe

It is very easy to start your Otago Daily Times home delivery and/or digital edition subscriptions.

From as little as $5.76 per week you can have home delivery six days a week of the ODT plus access to the digital edition.

For each option below, digital access is available for no additional price. If you live outside the delivery area or you do not want to receive a paper copy of the ODT, the digital only subscriptions are available at the same price.

This is where I raise my eyebrows. The digital only subscription is “available at the same price” as the print plus digital.

I guess this is to try and stop people from dropping the print edition and going digital only. So from a retention of circulation point of view it may make sense, but I think it may deter many people from going digital only when it is presumably simpler and cheaper to deliver but costs the same for less.

And something that’s quite peculiar:

If you would like to set up a digital only subscription please call our circulation team…

Ringing up to arrange an online subscription seems bizarre. I can guess again, perhaps they want to force you to talk to a sales person to give them the opportunity to try and sell you up to a full print+digital subscription.

But I think that the people most likely to want a digital only subscription are less likely to bother to ring, especially if they are overseas.

Register

I’ve been able to register a User Accoun…

  • Your account has been granted temporary access. You will need to click on the link in the account verification email to set a password and complete the account registration process.

  • Registration successful. You are now logged in.

but I haven’t received a confirmation email yet so I can’t complete the set up. If I can eventually complete…

If you are a subscriber to print or e-edition you will get unrestricted access to ODT online.

I don’t know what restricted access means.

My initial impression is that the new ODT website is unusually good looking for a news website, but it will take time to see whether the subscription options encourage or deter readers of both print and digital editions.

While I can’t find any news information about the ODT upgrade this story in March indicated where they were headed:

ODT Online relaunching with paywall

The Otago Daily Times plans to introduce a metered paywall for its online content next month as part of an exciting relaunch of its website.

The metered paywall will allow online users to read a certain number of free articles each month, after which they will be required to pay.

Existing print subscribers will get full access to www.odt.co.nz at no additional cost to their print subscription. Subscribers will also continue to enjoy free access to the ODT tablet (iPad/Android) edition, which is a replica of the printed newspaper.

The new website will be optimised to mobile and tablet devices as well as offer a refreshed look and feel.

It looks like this has just been implemented.

Otago Daily Times profile

A very interesting profile of the Otago Daily Times via a Listener interview with managing director Julian Smith.

Interview: Sir Julian Smith

If you want to know what New Zealand newspaper offices used to be like, a visit to the Otago Daily Times should do the trick. The clunky Imperial typewriters have been replaced by computer keyboards, but in almost every other respect the ODT building is like a time capsule: a rabbit warren of corridors and poky ante-rooms that bear evidence of having been subjected, in time-honoured newspaper industry tradition, to decades of ad hoc alterations.

The whole article provides worthwhile insights into the newspaper industry in New Zealand.

Smith is an old school publisher and the ODT stands out as an old school newspaper surviving in an increasingly turbulent industry (media generally, not just newspapers). In New Zealand print news has become dominated by overseas interests, with both the major players, Fairfax and APN, owned by Australian companies.

My respect for the ODT goes back half a century, having been a regular reader. I reluctantly ditched my print subscription last year but a bit ironically read more of it now, online.

There’s more to Allied Press than the ODT as they publish a number of community papers, they have a majority share in the Greymouth Star and run two regional TV stations, CTV in Christchurch and Channel 9 in Dunedin (which I can’t watch because there’s no signal where I live).

The ODT has adapted less than most other newspapers to the digital age but has survived better, so far. Time wil tell whether they keep up with change enough or get left behind.