China relationship a sensitive issue for Ardern

New Zealand’s relationship with China appears to be a sensitive issue, with Jacinda Ardern sounding quite defensive when questioned about it in Parliament yesterday by Simon Bridges. Ardern was supported by both Winston Peters and David Parker asking friendly questions.

Has New Zealand’s relationship with China deteriorated under her Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): No. There is no question that an economic and people-to-people relationship with China is incredibly important to New Zealand. Visitor numbers in the last year are up 8.4 percent. There’s also been an increase in goods exports by 20 percent in the year to September. That demonstrates the strength of our economic engagement and, I would also say, demonstrates the importance of a bipartisan approach to our relationship.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could the Prime Minister elaborate on her comments yesterday about the collapse of New Zealand’s hitherto foreign policy consensus?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Absolutely happy to, because I do think this is an important point. New Zealand, for a number of years, has rightly had an independent foreign policy line that is in the best interests of New Zealand economically, in terms of national security, and in terms of its values. That has generally been followed by both the Government of the day and the Opposition. It’s disappointing that in recent times, we have seen the politicisation of our relationship, which sits directly in contradiction to our economic interests and our national security interests.

Hon Simon Bridges: When the last Government Minister to go to China, David Parker, visited last year, did he secure a meeting with his equivalent ministerial counterpart?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I do not have in front of me the individual bilateral engagements of every Minister who has visited in recent times. But let us speak frankly in this House: there are challenges in our relationship. There are challenges in our relationships with a number of countries at any given time when you run an independent foreign policy.

Hon David Parker: Can the Prime Minister confirm that when I visited China as Minister of Trade and Export Growth in November last year, I met with Vice Minister Chang from the Chinese administration, who is responsible for both the World Trade Organization negotiations on the part of China and for the bilateral trade relationship with New Zealand?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I can.

Hon Simon Bridges: When will her foreign Minister, Rt Hon Winston Peters, next visit China?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, I’ve already referenced the fact that he visited in May 2018. I haven’t asked him about his forward intentions for visits there, or in fact about any other of our engagements. But let us in this House speak frankly. I do not resile from the position that this Government has taken in support of our independent foreign policy, our economic interests, and our national security interests.

She has no idea when her Foreign Affairs Minister will be visiting China next?

Hon Simon Bridges: Is any progress being made on her visit to China as Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, as I’ve already pointed out, I have already had high-level engagement at the highest level, where, in fact, the Premier, the last time we met, talked about his invitation to me to visit. But, again, I do not measure the strength of our relationship in such binary terms. We have—[Interruption] Our people-to-people exchanges have increased—[Interruption]

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of the fact that she hadn’t read that Georgetown speech before it was delivered, does she confirm that she agrees with all of its contents today?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The Deputy Prime Minister’s address acknowledged that the United States had taken a different foreign policy line in recent times and that it is in all of our interests if the United States continues to engage both at a regional level and with multilateral institutions. If the Opposition doesn’t agree with that, then that’s a matter for them.

Hon Simon Bridges: Just who is ultimately responsible for New Zealand’s foreign affairs: the foreign Minister or Jacinda Ardern?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As is, of course, convention the Prime Minister and not the Leader of the Opposition.

Hon Simon Bridges: Then why didn’t she read the foreign Minister’s incredibly significant speech to Georgetown University before he gave it?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We absolutely have agreeance on the principles of our position and our engagement both with the United States and with China, and in past Governments, there’s equally been general agreeance around New Zealand’s foreign policy interests between Government and Opposition as well. I was already aware of the principles contained in that speech.

So two sensitive issues – the relationship with China, and Ardern’s relationship with Peters.

Of note also was James Shaw’s contribution:

Hon James Shaw: Does the Prime Minister think that the relationship with China might be improved by, say, gifting a sheep farm to a wealthy businessman from that country?

I didn’t think it was Green practice to play those sort of diversionary games in Parliament.

NZ Herald addresses this in their editorial:  Has our govt antagonised China?

When friends fall out it can be very hard not to take sides. When the “friends” are superpowers and you are tiny by comparison, it becomes doubly hard. That is the position our Government is in. Its avowed foreign policy is to remain strictly neutral in the trade war and other tensions between the United States and China. Yet China appears to believe New Zealand is siding against it.

It is hard to draw any other message from the suspension of the invitation to the Prime Minister to visit the People’s Republic this year and the postponement of a joint tourist promotion that was to be launched in Wellington next week. And it is not hard to see why China would have the impression this country is not the friend it used to be.

The new Government’s “reset” of policy towards the Pacific Islands is strongly tinged with support for the US and suspicion of China’s interests in the region. At a speech in Washington in December, Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the Southwest Pacific was “becoming more contested and its security is every more fragile”. A purpose of his visit, he said, was to “enlist greater US support in the region closest to New Zealand”.

“We unashamedly ask for the United States to engage more and we think it is in your vital interests to do so. And time is of the essence,” he added.

He talked of “asymmetries at play in the region when larger players are renewing their interest in the Pacific” and said, “the speed and intensity of those interests at play are of great concern to us.” He went on to acknowledge China and said New Zealand “welcomes all partners in the Pacific on terms that take account of the Pacific’s needs, where quality projects are sustainable and delivered transparently”.

Point taken in Beijing no doubt.

Two key points from all of this is how Peters is managing the sometimes relationships between both the USA and China, and how much influence (and knowledge) Ardern has with Peters and his Foreign Affairs portfolio.

Peters has a history of being not very complimentary about China, even making Chines ‘jokes’. He also seems to see himself as the experienced statesman compared to the inexperienced Ardern.

It was always going to be a challenge having the crucial Foreign Affairs role taken by someone in a different party to the Prime Minister. And when that role is being carried out by Peters I think Ardern may continue to have problems with dealing with China.

It will be a real test of Ardern’s mettle as prime Minister that won’t be helped by feel good PR.

The non-naming of the National MP raises media issues

The non-naming of the National MP alleged to have had a several year relationship with Jami-Lee Ross continues, despite probably anyone who wants to know knowing who it is.

It is odd to see the media refraining from naming her, still. Neither National nor Labour want this going public, and there may be some journalists worried about where naming one unfaithful person involved in politics may lead.

The Southland Times should have a special interest in this considering where the MP has her electorate. Today’s editorial: ‘Moving on’ is not acceptable

An editorial published on October 25 raised the point that another issue had arisen from the Jami-Lee Ross saga, in relation to the “You deserve to die” text, said to be from a colleague with whom he acknowledged he had been having an affair.

Was it possible this text could be a breach of the Harmful Digital Communication Act, and could the sender of the text really stay in her role as an MP?

So, on November 8, the following questions were put to the National Party

* The “deserve to die” text reportedly came from a married MP. While National has indicated it is doing a review of its culture, has a separate investigation been launched to speak to the MP who reportedly sent his text?

* What discussions has the party had with the MP who reportedly sent a text like that?

* Has that MP been censured, faced internal discipline, or been stood down from duties? If no action has been taken by the party, why not?

* Does the National Party believe that the text message sent breached the Harmful Digital Communication Act?

* Does the National Party still believe the MP, who reportedly sent the text, is still fit to be an MP and represent the National Party, given they reportedly sent a text saying someone deserved to die?

* Has the MP offered to stand down? Or, are they still carrying out their duties as normal?

And wait for it, here’s the no comment from National.

“The National Party has no comment on these matters. Jami-Lee Ross is no longer a National MP and the party is moving on.”

Moving on … we don’t think so.

National may be “moving on” as it puts it, but in its wake it is leaving a trail of distrust, arrogance, and a big finger to its own party values.

Don’t forget that front and centre of National’s core values for building a society are two important words. Personal Responsibility.

Surely by now the MP in question would front up and take personal responsibility.

Hypocrites.

So the Southland Times slams National and the MP – but doesn’t name the MP.  This is a very strange approach from media.

It’s not just media – both National and Labour seem to want this kept quiet. On the AM show yesterday:

Duncan Garner: I’m not going to name names, ok, because um i don’t really know if it’s true or not, but can you tell me this, we’ll keep it generic.

Was Jami-lee Ross having relationships or affairs with National MPs?

Judith Collins: Well I don’t know. What I do know is that clearly there was something going on, but I always try and keep out of other people’s personal business, and what I do know is that that’s one of the things that I’ve always taken, is a given that you never get involved in other people’s business.

Michael Wood: …look, the Prime Minister from the top down in our Government has said that we don’t want to get involved in this stuff. We’ve got our job to do, going down the personal track with this kind of thing is not a healthy route for our democracy and our politics.

So that’s a clear message that Labour don’t want to get involved in personal relationships.

Given how much the parties attack and criticise each other over all sorts of things this is a curious situation.

More so the media’s reluctance to reveal a name – lest it become names? Jami-lee Ross threatened to ‘lift the bed sheets’ on Parliament, and if that happened it would be likely to name and out more than just MPs.

Graham Adams at Noted has concerns about this apparent pact of silence – The Jami-Lee Ross saga: Questions around cover-ups continue

Cover-ups — or allegations of them — leave a lingering stench that no amount of air-freshener can disguise. Simon Bridges may have tried to clear the air this week by testily telling journalists that he is moving on from Jami-Lee Ross and doesn’t want to talk about him any more but that seems much more like wishful thinking than acknowledging political reality.

But as the messy Jami-Lee Ross saga rolls on, accusations of cover-ups are not being levelled only at Bridges, Paula Bennett and the National Party. The news media — and particularly Parliament’s press gallery — have been accused of their own cover-up regarding the questions they are not asking in relation to the married National MP who apparently had a long-standing affair with Ross.

She was one of the four anonymous Newsroom complainants who made allegations about being bullied by Ross and she was later also reported to have sent Ross an abusive text that included the words, “You deserve to die.”

Richard Harman, who publishes the authoritative Politik newsletter, recently asked on the Kiwi Journalists Association Public Group Facebook page (which can be read by the public “in order to promote transparency, which as journalists we expect from others”) whether his fellow journalists thought he should publish her name.

Harman wrote: “Like most political journalists, I believe I know who that MP is… The inexorable pressure is now moving towards naming the MP. It’s a very difficult ethical issue. I certainly have emails from people on the left making the same allegation as Whaleoil — that the Press Gallery is party to a cover-up. But equally at what point does this simply become prurient gossip?”

There is certainly a difficult issue in how much personal relationship information should be made public. It would be bad if every little pash and bonk made the headlines. But there must be a line somewhere in between minor and major, rather than a comprehensive brick wall.

Although nearly all the opinions in response (including mine) were in favour of naming her, Harman concluded that he would be guided by the aphorism that “What the public is interested in is not necessarily in the public interest” and that she should remain anonymous.

Is ‘public interest’ the overriding factor here? Or is it self interest from media who fear what might come out?

In fact, there are very good reasons in the public interest to name her, and the Facebook discussion canvassed most of them. Obviously, there is the old-fashioned test of hypocrisy. If the married MP is indeed the one who has been widely named on social media, she represents a conservative electorate, is a social conservative herself, and publicly espouses family values. At the very least, you might think, voters might like to be told who she is so they could decide whether to continue supporting her.

It’s likely that many in her electorate will know who it is and may judge her accordingly at the next election, but that doesn’t excuse the media being some sort of moral guardian.

It’s not as if political journalists don’t know who the MP is either if they want to ask questions. All the news organisations to which the abusive text was leaked must know, including RNZ. And Heather du Plessis-Allan and others who work for Newstalk ZB must also know because in an interview with Ross he named her (which was bleeped out).

The hypocrisy test can also be used to judge the media alongside the MP. Certainly, the argument that it is not in the public interest to name her stands in stark contrast to the media feeding frenzy that erupted in 2013 when news of a sexual liaison between Auckland mayor Len Brown and a junior council adviser was made public on the Whale Oil blog.

Once the name is published it may open the floodgates, but not even Whale Oil has gone as far as naming her on this occasion – Slater has all but named her, but not ‘crossed the line’.

The fact that five years later the media is so coy about naming a married National MP who anonymously gave Newsroom highly personal details about her relationship with another married National MP inevitably raises uncomfortable questions — including whether there is one rule for Parliament which has a dedicated press gallery that operates in a symbiotic relationship with politicians and another for councils which don’t.

A casual observer might conclude that when you’re a woman like Chuang who is an ambitious nobody you’re fair game but when you’re a woman like the National MP who is an ambitious somebody the media will protect you.

And that’s hardly a good way to inspire trust in the media’s impartiality or its willingness to upset powerful people.

I suspect that some of the difference between Brown/Chuang and Ross/Dowie is national versus local politics. Local body politics is much more fragmented, both elected representatives and media.

Parliament is not just a grouping of MPs frequently in one place, it is also a media gallery of journalists who work alongside each other and alongside MPs a lot. It’s like some sort of club that has adhered to ‘what happens on tour stays on tour’.

I think that the media should name the MP who is at the centre of this issue, but if the do they should also look at the wider issue of relationships and sex amounts MPs, journalists and staff.

Journalists should disclose personal relationships if it relates to politicians they are reporting on and giving their opinions on. There are issues with journalists straying more and more into political activist roles, so the public has a right to know who may be influencing their opinions and their choice of stories and headlines.

The naming of the MP may be uncomfortable for parties and politicians, but they have long records of keeping things private and secret of they can get way with it.

It is up to journalists and media to investigate and to reveal pertinent political secrets. When they don’t want to go near the sex and relationship thing it suggests they could have secrets of their own they don’t want disclosed.

This is not a good situation for the supposedly without favour fearless fourth estate to be in.

The phone age

Christmas dinner:

PhoneAge2Celebrating the New Year:

PhoneAge8

Going on holiday:

PhoneAge3

Holiday at the beach:

PhoneAge1

Phone age relationships:

PhoneAge4

PhoneAge6PhoneAge7

PhoneAge5

Evolution needs an update, this is so last century:

EvolutionFound one:

PhoneAge9