Female looks and male ‘beer test’ competing with substance in 2019 politics

Political PR presents politicians in ways they think will appeal to voters, but ultimately substance should be a primary focus in 2019 in New Zealand.

Too much fluff and illusion can eventually backfire if the PM, Ministers and the Opposition don’t deliver.

Stacey Kirk (Stuff):  No amount of photoshop will paste over broken promises or scandal in 2019

Problems arise though, when the photoshopping – both metaphorical and literal – is carried out with a bit too much gusto.

Just ask Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who found himself the butt of ridicule when his staff botched an unnecessary photoshop job, by pasting hip new sneakers over his tired old kicks.

(Funny – see Scott Morrison Photoshopped shoes)

More seriously, the gaffe served to highlight the level of detail a leader’s army of press secretaries will go to, to control their image.

New Zealand’s politicians are no different in that regard.

Whether it’s Clark Gayford breaking a month-long Instagram hiatus to poke self-depracating fun at his “christmas belly”, National leader Simon Bridges guzzling a beer in a floral shirt, or Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern signing on for a round of soft media in the gossip mags.

None of this PR appeals to me (and I successfully avoided “christmas belly”, I have no desire to have a beer with Bridges, and my recent experiences at The Standard and Kiwiblog cannot be described anything like soft social media).

Sadly, in the case of women, it’s more closely aligned to the subject’s looks. But as it applies to male political leaders, it could perhaps be more accurately described as the “beer test”, as in “he seems like a good guy to have a beer with”.

Hence the beer gut, the drinking shot, and myriad softly-lit photo shoots.

But that only gets a politician so far and this is the year where the rubber hits the road for the leaders of both major parties.

The matey drinky PR spin does nothing for me. Simon Bridges will probably be battling to keep his job as National leader this year. He has to smarten up his media image, and come up with some policies and positions that will appeal to mainstream voters.

So far he has tended towards more conservative (and less popular) stances on current issues like drug law reform, euthanasia and abortion – all of which could be included in referendums alongside the general election next year.

This is the year that Jacinda Ardern and her Government will have to come up with some substantive progress on pressing issues.

The Government’s stalled as long as it can with sundry working groups. The trouble with appointing experts to these things is that they’re incredibly earnest in their responsibilities to come up with solutions.

Solutions which cost money, of which the Government has plenty but still not enough to fulfil the promises it’s made.

Kiwibuild will have to look like thousands of houses that wouldn’t otherwise have been built (without Government investment) are at least in progress.

An actual plan for progress on climate change will be needed to show that James Shaw and the Greens can go beyond vague targets and ideals (Shaw doesn’t seem to do the PR poncing though).

Health, mental health, education reform, justice reform, public service pay, climate change and tax issues are all crying out for bold decisions and tankers of cash.

They were crying out for that a year ago.

A lot will depend on the budget in May – a number of Ministers seemed to be stalling, waiting for a commitment of money from Finance Minister Grant Robertson, who was prudent last year, but will have more pressure on him this year.

‘Māoriness’ hurts Māori and is generally insulting

More on Simon Bridges and the ‘Māoriness’ debate at Stuff: Debating Simon Bridges’ ‘Māoriness’ hurts Māori

Is it a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t, for Simon Bridges?

He’s the first Māori leader of the National Party, and that is no small thing.

Māori culture appears to be on the cusp of a much-needed renaissance in New Zealand – it will require a country-wide effort and recently it feels like more of the country is getting on board.

But Māori is still an incredibly intimidating culture to dive into, as proven by the at-times rabid response of some commentators and opponents in relation to Bridges’ “Māoriness”.

In part the ‘rabid responses’ were racial, but in parts they were more petty political – some people involved in politics jump to atack those they see as political opponents without caring about double standards.

Bridges has never tried to trade off his Māori heritage. It’s others who have made it a controversy, though if asked about it he has to provide a response.

He can earnestly say that he hopes it would inspire more Māori to reach for higher education, higher office, to vote National, or to simply think that whatever it is they want to do, they can achieve it.

That sounds like a good thing to me. Inspiring non-Māori is not ruled out either.

Some commentators have effectively already said: “Why would they? Are you even that Māori.”

Or Bridges could say ‘look, I’ve never grown up on or near a marae so I’m not going to be pushing it’.

To which those same pundits would respond: “You’re not proud of your heritage, you’re just pulling the ladder up behind you.”

While it might seem like a lose-lose argument for Bridges, it could also work in his favour.

A cynic might argue it raises his profile in a similar way to what Ardern had to endure by being asked about future baby plans, shortly after she became Prime Minister.

Possibly. Time may tell how much Bridges keeps being bashed over his ‘Māoriness’, or claimed lack of.

There’s a tinge of racism (either overt or unintentional) in every society but New Zealanders on the whole are fair.

On the whole that’s probably a fair comment but there is quite a bit of racism in New Zealand. And there is also quite a bit of political intolerance and politically motivated reactive attacking. When combined it can look quite ugly.

And any fair-minded New Zealander is bound to see that the blood ratio of any leader makes no difference to the policies they stand for or the seriousness with which they approach Māori issues of deprivation, health and education.

But to distil that debate into the strength of Bridges’ bloodline is reductive and insulting to Māori of any fraction, whatever part of New Zealand they live in.

It could be reductive and insulting to any fair-minded New Zealander. I have no fraction of Māori genes, but I thought it was reductive and insulting – however it wasn’t surprising in a political environment where ignorant insults are common.

I deliberately left the identification of the author of this until the end. It was political journalist Stacey Kirk, who, similar to Bridges, would be classed as ‘urban Māori’ disconnected from their roots:

I say that as a Māori of Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi descent. And one, like many in New Zealand, who had a very average Kiwi-European upbringing.

I’m very fair skinned, whereas my sister is very dark. We look alike, it’s just that one of us has mum’s (German/Scottish) colouring and one of us has dad’s (Māori). And no one ever questions her Māori heritage – in fact, it’s assumed.

When people find out I’m Māori – and after we clear up that yes, we’re full sisters, same parents, neither of us are adopted – invariably the very next question is ‘what percentage are you?’ Putting aside the racial undertones of that, it’s just an incredibly thick question.

It is a thick question, and an insulting one. I’ve never been asked what percentage of any cultural or ethnic mix I might be. It shouldn’t matter.

Government not walking the transparency talk

Prior to and on becoming Government Labour and the Greens talked the transparancy talk.

From the Labour-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement:

20. Strengthen New Zealand’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information.

From Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Speech from the Throne:

This government will foster a more open and democratic society. It will strengthen transparency around official information.

But they are not walking the walk – instead they seem to be sticking a finger up to the Opposition and to media.

The refusal of Ministers to properly answer written questions is covered here: Parliamentary question spat

Media are also getting frustrated at being denied information they should be provided with.

Stacey Kirk in Labour promised transparency in Government, but they seem to be buckling on that early

Labour is also yet to release what’s known as the “Briefings to Incoming Ministers” – or BIMs.

They are the documents prepared by the experts and officials, delivered to ministers in their first week to give them a crash course on the portfolio they’ve just been handed – in some cases rendering them responsible overnight for the spending of public funds totalling billions.

All of them have been requested under the Official Information Act by reporters across New Zealand. All of them have been denied by the Government on the grounds they’re about to be released publicly anyway.

The trouble with that is the law actually applies to occasions where the document in question is yet to be printed or the minister hasn’t had a chance to read it first.

These were read by the ministers more than a month ago, and its understood to decision on when to release the BIMs – state sector wide – is to come from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“[The section] should not be used to delay the release of information which is intended to be incorporated in other material which, although to be made public at a later date, may still require the making of other policy decisions,” is the expressed order of the Ombudsman.

Kirk also comments on the written question spat:

They can lodge questions to ministers on matters related to their portfolios, and ministers must respond within six working days. There is no limit as to how many questions can be lodged, they must be concise and targeted.

Undoubtedly, 6000 written questions in a month is a lot.

But is it fair to demand those answers? Absolutely. Is it hypocritical of National to be complaining they’re being blocked? You bet. Does that matter? Not one bit.

Because the answers, or at least the willingness to provide those answers, benefit New Zealand as a democracy.

In July 2010 Labour asked 8791 questions in a single month.

More than 7000 of those questions came from MP Trevor Mallard alone.

Now in the Speaker’s chair, it’s his jurisdiction to force answers where they are not fairly being withheld if a complaint is laid.

Labour is getting off to a poor start on transparency.

That’s certainly how it looks, and it seems a deliberate tactic not to be transparent.

Where is Jacinda Ardern’s leadership on this? She has promoted absolute transparency. Like in Debate #1:

Ardern managed to get in a couple of references to the generation factor, including “your generation” directed at her opponent. He pushed hard at the tax nerve, and Ardern’s response was all about being “absolutely transparent”, which is evidently a cousin of relentlessly positive.

But the even then the walk didn’t match the talk.

Ardern’s insistence she was being “transparent” and “clear” about her refusal to reveal any detail on tax – or really anything much at all – started to grate as the hour progressed.

And at election time:

Ardern unilaterally ditched her party’s commitment not to implement tax changes in a first term, declaring herself absolutely transparent about profound uncertainty.

Ardern in particular has benefited from at times very favourable media coverage, but transparency alarm bells have also been sounded, during the campaign and since.



“This government will foster a more open and democratic society. It will strengthen transparency around official information.”

Ardern and her Government need to start walking that talk.

Otherwise he light may be shone through a thin veneer of Ardern insincerity and Government bull.

If journalists don’t get Government information they are entitled to they may get increasingly grumpy.

They may be more inclined towards their own transparency tricks “allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen”.



8 improvements for Oranga Tamariki

CYF (Child, Youth, Family) have a controversial record. They ceased to exist at the end of March, and have been replaced by the Controversially named Minister for Vulnerable Children, known less cringingly as Oranga Tamariki.

Stacey Kirk suggests there are Eight things the new Oranga Tamariki Ministry for Vulnerable Children must do better than CYF.

It’s carrying the weight of a record number of children placed in CYF care in the past year, and Government expects the ministry to usher in a new era of child care and support.

Here are 8 things it must do better, if it’s to be a success:

1. Children must be heard

A panel of former CYF kids has advised on nearly every facet of setting up the new system. Above all, they told Minister Anne Tolley and a panel of experts leading the overhaul that they only ever wanted to be in a safe, stable and loving home.

That may or may not be with their parents, but a child knows where they feel the most comfortable to thrive and often, it will be with family. Wherever possible, the children’s voice can’t just be heard but listened to.

Not just listened to but given priority to, except in exceptional circumstances.

2. All rates, (but in particular Maori rates), of re-abuse must come down

Rates of re-abuse among Maori children, once they leave the care of Child, Youth and Family, are startling.

It’s a given that abuse and especially re-abuse rates have to come down. It’s not just up to Oranga Tamariki but they will be an essential part of many solutions.

3. Children cannot be passed around 

Ministry research shows that countless numbers of children in state care said they wanted to stay in the same place. They wanted stability.

Taking a child away from their family is traumatic, but in some case the act of moving them back again multiple times can be just as harrowing.

After safety stability is important, but it can be difficult to achieve. There have to be enough stable alternatives to family.

4. Resources must be adequate

This new system will change the emphasis to working with families at the earliest opportunity, to make sure children don’t have to be removed.

For that, resources need to be bolstered and used far more efficiently than they are now.

If significant funding increases aren’t in next month’s budget then it will be an ongoing struggle to make any progress. Investing more money now should save it in the longer term.

5. Information sharing

Information between agencies like social workers and health professionals and police is very contentious, but kids have fallen through some very big cracks due to a lack of information being available to the right people.

6. Cutting down the paperwork

Many cry out for more social workers – they of course, would be helpful. But hiring more social workers is a wasted exercise if they’re still having to spend more than 50 per cent of their time on paperwork.

Tolley says work is being done by the new Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss to cut down KPIs – or targets – from more than 200, to 60.

Good paperwork is essential, but too much paperwork takes too much time and there is a risk of information overload that detracts from effective care.

7. Reduce the number of children going into care

Tolley has set a lofty target here herself: “That within a generation of care we’re talking hundreds of children in care, rather than thousands.

The latest figures showed a record high of nearly 5500 children in CYF care at the year to December, 2016. Taking that down to the hundreds within a generation is a target many would be happy to hold the Government to.

That’s a huge improvement – if it can be achieved. It won’t be easy.

8. Support families to help themselves

The biggest measure of success surely has to be a country of families in which CYF does not need to have a presence.

There will always be some who need help. But if this work is a success, within that same generation it shouldn’t be hard to imagine a circuit breaker where New Zealand families thrive together and don’t abuse or neglect their children at all.

Abuse and neglect can’t be eliminated altogether, but it has to be significantly reduced. Massively reduced.

Twyford versus media, continued

Phil Twyford blasted the media following Labour’s conference last weekend, on Twitter and apparently in person.

And not surprisingly journalists reacted, which unless Twyford is trying to do a Trump has been a damaging distraction for Labour.

Stacey Kirk returned the blast, with interest – Attack dog or liability? Phil Twyford’s thin-skinned reaction to reports on Labour omission

There’s an argument that attacking the messenger sends a message itself. 

If that’s the case, Labour MP Phil Twyford might like to take another look at the image he’s conveying – both for himself and his party. 

Twyford, and the rest of Labour did not like the claim in a TV report, it had gotten its figures wrong. 

They had not, and were perhaps within their rights to feel aggrieved at that. 

But their omission was glaring, and if deliberate then misleading. If not deliberate, then concerning. 

Either way, it was something they should expect to be called out on, which perhaps makes Twyford’s reaction all the more nasty.

Twyford stirred up a media reaction, perhaps not in the way he intended.

What has many baffled is why he was allowed to launch into such a diatribe without a flick from his leader or the wider party. 

Andrew Little has not publicly supported Twyford’s media attack, though he hasn’t denounced it either.

One source close to Labour has said Twyford has designs on the leadership.

It’s understood some caucus members are none too trustful of him, but appear to fall into two camps.

On one side, let him be the attack dog – maybe Labour could do with one. On the other, let him become his own undoing.

This is hardly new territory for Twyford. It was said former Prime Minister Helen Clark blocked his entry into politics in 2005 because she felt she couldn’t trust him.

And while Maryan Street was publicly pinned as leading the campaign to undermine former leader David Shearer, Twyford was said to be involved.

Of the ensuing Labour leadership idol: “He backed Grant Robertson in the leadership bid, but was one of the first to turn up to Cunliffe’s success party – that says it all,” says the insider.

Ouch. Twyford’s attacks have been returned, with interest.

Twyford has been one of the more active and visible Labour MPs amongst a lacklustre line up, but the visibility may be more negative than a help, especially with this attack.

He was also at the centre of Labour’s Asian surname nonsense.

And he seems to have painted a target on himself and then given journalists the arrows. They have bared their barbs (not just Kirk).

Is this the beginning of the end for John Key?

Stacey Kirk asks if this is the beginning of the end for John Key. It probably is, Key seems to be in decline politically, but it’s difficult to predict how quickly the end will come. It may be next year, or he may limp into another term with some heavy coalition parties weighing on his legs.

Is National prepared for a post-Key era? Some lessons National and Labour can learn from each other

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not predicting any sudden demise, but familiarity breeds contempt and few politicians have ever had a best before date stretching longer than three terms. 

The Prime Minister’s favourability ratings across all parties’ internal polling have been in slow decline for months.

Internal polls tend to look more comprehensively at favourability ratings, but decline is not apparent from Colmar Brunton:

“Now thinking about all current MPs of any party, which one would you personally prefer to be Prime Minister?” IF NONE: “Is there anyone who is not a current MP who you would prefer to be Prime Minister?”

John Key since July 2015: 40%, 40%, 40%, 40%, 39%, 39%

But eight years in and he still has capital to burn.

Will he have enough to fuel him first across the line for one more election? At this point, it seems likely. 

That’s certainly not down to his Government’s clumsy handling of a housing crisis, spiralling dangerously out of control (and Labour adroitly capitalising on that).

Nor evidence that inequality is rising, New Zealand is all but a tax haven and essential services like public health are stretched to capacity. 

New Zealanders have a long history of simply voting for change when they want it, but the other side to that is what the alternative looks like. 

Not quite there. 

What Little and Robertson lack in dynamic-duo appeal, Key and Finance Minister Bill English have in spades. 

Colmar Brunton rating Andrew Little: 8%, 10%, 8%, 9%, 7%, 7%

In a way lack of a serious contender helps Key, but it may also make him complacent. If Little finds a way to appeal to voters – he can really only get better – Key may not have anything more to compete with than same old.

And attention will increase on what will happen after Key, especially if voters think he may retire mid term should he win another.

The stars of long-speculated Key heir-apparents, Paula Bennett and Steven Joyce, appear to have waned slightly.

Key still highly rates Bennett however, along with Ministers Jonathan Coleman, Simon Bridges and Amy Adams. 

Any of those options would have to foot it as an effective Opposition leader before they’d have a chance at the ninth floor – Key’s unlikely to step down while he still has a grip on power.

It’s not the end yet. 

National haven’t got an obvious successor. That helps secure Key’s position at the top but as time goes on the lack of other options will figure more in voting decisions.

Labour have had a dire eight years since Helen Clark lost and resigned, leaving both a lack of leadership options and a mediocre support cast in caucus.

Can National hang on for another term? And can they survive the loss of key when he goes?

There may not be a credible alternative Prime  Minister to Key in Labour, still, but is their a credible alternative in National’s ranks?

Blind to torture, revolution required

Emerging details on the torture and death of three year old Moko Rangitoheriri’s death is damning of those who could have intervened, or at least could have tried to intervene.

And it’s damning of a culture of violence alongside a culture of turning a blind eye to violence.

Will yet another case of abuse, violence and killing finally provoke a serious standing up against these cultures?

Stacey Kirk: Many knew of Moko’s torture – now they’ll have to live with his death

OPINION: Would you call CYF on a hunch? We must all act to help our abused children – because getting outraged afterwards can’t save Moko. That’s why we are calling for a ministerial inquiry to discover how we can do better to protect our most innocent.

It was not just the two people who beat, tortured and eventually killed three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri who knew the little boy was at risk. There were others.

Kirk highlights a big part of then ongoing problem.

This public culture of not intervening is beyond disgraceful, so here’s the list of people and organisations that we know knew something – there are likely more:

Her list:

  • The Maori Women’s Refuge social worker: she followed up the seven-year-old’s claim by ringing Shailer. Shailer lied and blamed Moko’s sister. She said she feared for Moko’s safety once he was back in the hands of his mother.
  • The refuge was aware Shailer herself had escaped from a violent relationship with Haerewa and had returned to that relationship after Haerewa was let out of prison.
  • The same social worker was there when Shailer went in to CYF to say the children were at risk of being exposed to domestic violence.
  • Shailer told CYF she wasn’t coping with Moko, 11 days before his death. CYF denies being told Moko was being hurt.
  • Shailer told a friend Moko had fallen from a woodpile, when his situation was becoming dire. The friend was concerned, but never spoke up when Shailer declined her offer to drive them to the hospital.

At no point did anyone go to see Moko.

Had they done, they’d have seen damage no seven-year-old could ever inflict.

This is far from just a  Government problem, although they have to find ways of trying to address this better.

This is a family problem, a whanau problem, a community problem, a country’s problem and a country’s shame.

The trouble is, all named in the above list had at least one small piece of the puzzle. So why did no one seek Moko’s voice? Should they have done? Should the Government go knocking on doors at the slightest hint of trouble?

It’s a difficult and complex problem.

In the 1980’s social welfare visited me because a flag was raised about one of my daughters – she had been to A & E three times in a year. Being routinely checked out didn’t worry me because the accidents were easily explained – and no action was taken.

But still, thirty years later, the system is not protecting children at risk.

These are questions that needs answers. That is why the Sunday Star-Times is calling for Tolley to step in and call a full and independent inquiry.

Another Government inquiry? Is that where change should come from?

Isn’t it time families and whanau and communities stopped leaving it to another lengthy hand wringing inquiry and took responsibility for this crisis of violence?

Sure the Government can and should help.

But a revolution in caring for children has to be a revolution of the people.

For the people. Especially for the kids.