“Government’s Niue dealings look dodgy”

I don’t know who Ross Henderson is but he has expressed his opinion on the Niue resort issue that was raised by Andrew Little this week.

Stuff: Government’s Niue dealings look dodgy

Here is a fact for you. An influential New Zealand businessman made a donation of $101,000 to the National Party in 2014, and one month later his company got a lucrative contract to manage a resort in Niue. A year later, the resort received $7.5million in aid funding.

That’s three facts.

How should we deal with this fact? This week we’ve seen a range of approaches. But I think there’s an obvious place to start – you must be naturally suspicious.

I was naturally suspicious – mostly about why this issue was raised now by Little, and why Little was so presumptuous saying it “stinks to high heaven” but providing no evidence of impropriety, instead promoting a ‘perception’.

The government have tried to say this week that there is no link between the donation and the tender. But the link is clear: Earl Hagaman, the founder of the company Scenic Hotel Group that won the contract, made the biggest donation National received from a living individual in 2014. There is your link.

It’s not a link. There is no evidence of a link. It could be a coincidence.

When we discover something like this we need to check it out thoroughly. If there was any favouritism, that would be corruption. It’s not just our right, it’s our responsibility in a healthy democracy to look closely at this sort of thing.

Nothing much has been discovered, but it does need to be investigated now to see if there is any substance to Little’s insinuations or not.

I’ve done a bit of investigating of my own. This Earl Hagaman fellow is a hotel tycoon that moved here from the United States –  We know the role big money plays in that country’s politics.

That’s an implicated smear with the flimsiest of connections.

With the Panama Papers still fresh, I found it a bit provoking the same NBR article reports that “[The Hagaman’s] wealth is tied up in trusts, with Mr Hagaman believing if you own it personally, somebody will try to take it away.” I wonder, how much of the fortune that Hagaman has made in New Zealand has been taxed?

More implicated smears with zero evidence. I wonder how much tax Henderson has avoided? Evaded? This is dirty stuff from Henderson.

On the government side, we have Murray McCully. Well, that name is enough to cause suspicion on its own.

Sure. But McCully has been involved in many things and it’s not practical to investigate all of them. Where there’s evidence of impropriety, yes, but when political opponents and journalists simply speculate there’s much less cause for concern, except about the smearing.

Even plenty of right wingers think he’s no good, with hard right commentator Matthew Hooton saying this week that “if McCully organised a sausage sizzle for local hospice, he’d find a way to do it corruptly.”

Hooton is not “plenty of right wingers”. I’m not a right winger and have never been much of a fan of McCully but I think deserves fair political justice like any other politician.

It’s not as simple as Hagaman slipping McCully a cheque and McCully rubber stamping an application in return. There are plenty of other people involved, and Both Hagaman and McCully are downplaying any personal involvement in the deal.

So Henderson is implying the “plenty of other people” are involved in dirty dealings.

But it doesn’t have to be a black and white, explicit transaction. The way the powerful influence politics can be a bit more subtle than that.

There’s nothing subtle about Henderson’s ‘opinion’.

Andrew Little has asked the Auditor-General to investigate. It’s one of the only things we can do from outside government when something looks as shady as this.

“We can do from outside government” is an interesting comment. Which ‘we’ is Henderson associated with?

Little’s call created a nice little sideshow distraction, as well. As Labour MP Jacinda Ardern’s father was one of the trustees appointed by McCully to oversee the deal, some have suggested Little’s comments are a smear on Mr Ardern.

Yes. Kind of like “there are plenty of other people involved”.

Little has not smeared Mr Ardern. He has not suggested that the trustees are all in on some elaborate plot.

Henderson first implicates ‘plenty of people’ and now tries to selectively exclude one person who appears to be quite closely involved in the resort contract.

He has seen big money get mixed up with politics and asked for an explanation. It’s as simple as that. As the Leader of the Opposition, that’s his job!

It’s far from as simple as that.

And it’s unusual for a major party leader to be doing the job of promoting smears without evidence. Dirty politics is usually done less directly, Winston excepted.

The Auditor-General may not find any solid evidence of corruption, but it’s still early days in this story. When we hear about this government’s crony capitalism, it can take weeks and months for the full story to come out.

I suspect that Henderson won’t wait for the outcome of an investigation, should it be done, to make up his mind about this.

But whatever happens from this point, this has been another reminder that when big money and politics mix, it stinks of unfairness.

Is it unfair to provide aid to Niue? To support a resort to encourage tourism, jobs?

There’s no one donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the National Party to advance the interests of poor people.

I don’t think there are many people living on Niue who are from the 1%. Not that there’s any known link between political donations and providing aid to Niue.

Whether there was a conflict of interest in this case or not, there is certainly a perception of one.

That sounds similar to Little’s claim that “the perception of propriety is key.” No actual facts, just implications to create a perception of impropriety.

This is dirty politics 101.

When we keep letting McCully, John Key, and the rest of them bluff their way through this kind of thing, their cronyism will get worse and worse, and we’ll only have ourselves to blame. A government should not be able to laugh off a perception of a conflict of interest. We must not let them. Not again.

The problem for Little is that one of the biggest perceptions that has arisen out of this is how hapless and out of his depth he is. There’s a perception of incompetence.

Attacking, smearing and gotcha politics looks like a desperate last throw of the dice for Little.

Going dirty might finally nail John Key. Or it might be a nail in Little’s leadership coffin that can’t be easily extracted.

Who is Ross Henderson?