Political Roundup: The Seriousness of electoral fraud in NZ
by Dr Bryce Edwards
The Police passing over the National Party’s electoral donation case to the Serious Fraud Office is more than a “bad look”, even though that’s the phrase being used by commentators to describe this latest headache for the National Party and Simon Bridges.
And the best analysis so far, comes from electoral law expert Andrew Geddis in his blog post, Simon Bridges, National and the Serious Fraud Office – what does it all mean? In this, Geddis argues that, despite the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) becoming involved, it’s not possible to make judgements about the guilt or otherwise of those involved in this case. But he concludes that the optics are still very bad for National and Bridges: “as any political commentator worth their salt will tell you, not a good look. At all.”
It’s also a “bad look” for the integrity of the political system as a whole. For the public, this will fuel greater suspicion about unethical financial arrangements in New Zealand’s political parties and elections.
It’s likely the current rules and arrangements will now come under more scrutiny. For regardless of what the SFO now does, we are already seeing other revelations and allegations about corrupt practices and the ineffectiveness of the current laws to keep the system honest.
For an immediate indication of this, it’s well worth listening to former politician Peter Dunne comment on political parties and wealthy donors circumventing the electoral law by splitting up large donations into smaller ones. His five-minute interview about this on Magic Talk can be heard here: Ryan Bridge and Peter Dunne discuss Serious Fraud Office investigation.
Dunne makes some stunningly strong allegations about corrupt practices, essentially arguing that all the political parties are guilty of evading electoral law. On being asked about the SFO looking into parties evading the rules, Dunne says: “Every party has done it since time immemorial. So, there will be quite a lot riding on this.”
He explains why the parties might want donors to split their large contributions into smaller amounts: “If I’m a large donor then either I make the donation in a way that protects my anonymity, if that be my wish, or I don’t make it all. But the political parties are keen to get the money, and if someone says ‘I’m happy to donate but I don’t want my name splashed all over the paper’, then it’s almost logical that the parties then say ‘Well here’s a way that you can do it and not have to do it’. Now, is that unethical? I think that some people would say ‘In some senses, yes’. And in other cases there might be very good reasons why someone doesn’t want their name disclosed. It might be that they are giving similar amounts of money to other parties as well, for instance.”
Dunne elaborates on the fact that parties say to potential donors, “Don’t give us one big donation” because he says “people often don’t want to disclose, for various reasons. So, you say to them, ‘Give it to us in a series of smaller donations’. So, if the Serious Fraud Office takes the view that that is fraud, then that will not only affect the National Party but will affect just about every other party as well.”
It has to be remembered that Dunne is an extremely experienced politician, having been in Parliament from 1984 until just 18-months ago. He had a long career in the Labour Party, then as leader of United Future, and also as a Minister in various Labour- and National-led governments. So his knowledge and experience is substantial and credible.
When asked if party donors are often asked to split their large donations into smaller amounts to avoid disclosure, Dunne says, “As a general point the practice was common across political parties.” And he talks about his own experience detecting it: “I can honestly say that I didn’t [know this was happening in United Future] but you could work out after the event when the disclosures are made, you know when the records are declared after the election, you can work out that actually that was a series of donations.”
The interviewer, Ryan Bridge asks Dunne: “So you might have been aware that there was an offer of a big donor and then it comes out in the wash ‘oh look we had ten amounts of ten thousand dollars that equals one hundred, I assume it’s the same guy’.” Dunne replies: “Well I never got a donation that large, but essentially yes.”
Dunne’s account of what appears to be a corrupt practice, is that it is the norm amongst parliamentary parties: “This practice has been more honoured in the breach than anything else. And if the Serious Fraud Office finds that it is a fraudulent behaviour – which will be contradicting the Electoral Commission’s handling of it over the years, incidentally – but if they do, then that will set the cages rattling amongst all the parties, and that may be not a bad thing”.
In this, I argue that “corruption is corruption” and if this is found to be occurring in more than one political party then that’s no defence for anyone who is caught out. I also call for further debate and a review of whether New Zealand’s electoral finance laws are fit for purpose.
After all, the current allegations are not just about a potential “technical” breach of electoral law. Disclosure about who donates large sums of money to politicians and parties can be seen is a fundamental cornerstone of any democracy worth the name. It doesn’t take much to work out why large donors may want to keep their identity secret. Those reasons are precisely why the public is unhappy with donations being made in secret.
Finally, in the case of the National Party, much will hinge on whether the $100,000 that was apparently donated to National was really from one person or many. Did the one wealthy donor essentially divide up the $100,000 and have it distributed to National in these smaller amounts in order to keep the whole donation from having to be declared? Or were all the eight donors that individually gave $12,500 (which combined to $100,000) genuinely using their own money? The first scenario would be a corrupt practice, while the latter would be fine. And the configurations of what went on will determine who has liability if any laws have been broken. For a good discussion of this, see David Farrar’s Donation legality.
Political Roundup: Should MP Sarah Dowie have been named by the media?
by Dr Bryce Edwards
Dr Bryce Edwards.
There’s always been a strong tension in politics between politicians’ right to privacy and the demands of political accountability. The difficult question is: which of these ideals should be paramount? This ethical question has been ever-present throughout the whole Jami-Lee Ross mega-scandal. And one of the most contentious media questions has been about whether National MP Sarah Dowie should be identified publicly as the woman who apparently had an extra-marital affair with Ross for over two years.
This has now been decided, with the publication [Friday] morning on the New Zealand Herald front page of a story by David Fisher, in which he explains: “Ross, 33, has previously named Invercargill MP Dowie, 43, as one of the women with whom he had an extra-marital relationship while National MP for Botany” – see: Police probe text allegedly sent from phone of MP Sarah Dowie to Jami-Lee Ross.
Fisher reports: “Ross and Dowie were understood to have been in a relationship for more than two years. It is believed to have ended around May. During that time, Dowie and Ross were both in marriages with children each. Dowie and her husband later separated.”
Previously, Fisher explains, even though Ross had told journalists about the affair “the Herald and Newstalk ZB obscured Dowie’s name from statements made by Ross. The decision to disclose her identity now comes after police have confirmed that a text message allegedly sent from the phone of Dowie – a sitting MP – is under investigation by police.”
The text message to Ross included the statement “You deserve to die”. Fisher explains why this is important: “The text message raised questions over whether there was a breach of the Harmful Digital Communications Act, passed under National and voted for by Dowie. The law regulated digital communications, including text messages, making it illegal to urge someone to self-harm.”
Both of these items revealed important parts of the story. For example, Ross is reported in Watkins’ story as explaining his suicidal feelings on the night that he read the text message: “I just didn’t feel like existing any more, I didn’t feel like I had anything left. So on that night the police were contacted. I didn’t know at the time but they had deployed the police dogs, there was a police helicopter, there were ground units looking for me, they had stopped the train on the train tracks because I told my wife that I was on train tracks.”
The media’s decision to identify Dowie
There will be plenty of debate about whether the media outlets have done the right thing in “outing” Sarah Dowie. For instance, on Twitter, lobbyist Neale Jones responded to the news: “This makes me uneasy. I realise a police investigation does create a public interest, but given what we know about how JLR victimises women I don’t think Dowie’s name should have been released.”
Yet the decision by media outlets to name Dowie became virtually inevitable once a police investigation into the texting became known. After all, has there ever been a case of the media not identifying an MP who is known to be under investigation by the police?
As Barry Soper has explained today, “It’s not the Parliamentary Press Gallery’s job to protect MPs when a police investigation is under way” – see: Sarah Dowie, the police inquiry, and the text from her phone. Soper, who is the political editor of Newstalk ZB – the radio stablemate of the Herald – also adds: “The decision to name Dowie in no way countenances the behaviour of Ross towards the women who have anonymously made claims of harassment and bullying against him.”
The contents of the text to Ross are also republished by Soper: “Before you interpret this as your usual narc self – don’t. Interpret it as me – you are a f***ing ugly MF pig. Shave that f***ing tuft of hair off your f***ing front of skull head and own your baldness – you sweaty, fat, toe inturned mutant. You deserve to die and leave your children in peace and your wife out of torment – f***er!”
Virtually all other media outlets have followed the Herald’s lead today. For example, Stuff’s political editor Tracy Watkins published the following story: Sarah Dowie named as National MP investigated over text to Jami-Lee Ross. In this, Watkins reports “National’s Invercargill MP Sarah Dowie has been widely linked to the text on social media but has only been named by news media now because of the police investigation. She has not responded to texts and calls and Stuff has been told she will not be speaking publicly.”
Previously, Dowie’s local newspaper, The Southland Times, has taken a close interest in the story, publishing two very sharp editorials aimed at the local MP, but without identifying her. The first, Another issue arises from the Ross case, raised the question of whether the then-anonymous MP should face charges for her text under the Harmful Digital Communications Act. The newspaper concluded: “When more information is provided, as it must be, the appropriate consequences for the text sender – including whether she can stay in her role – then become a legitimate issue.”
A second Southland Times editorial was much more pointed, accusing the unnamed local MP of “hypocrisy” – see: ‘Moving on’ is not acceptable. The editorial included a list of questions for the MP and her party:
• “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?”
Late last year I also covered the issue of whether the media should, or would, identify Sarah Dowie as the MP mixed up in the Jami-Lee Ross scandal – see: The Media’s fraught role in the Jami-Lee Ross scandal. This included the different views of a number of people on the issue of identifying Dowie.
Probably the most interesting was that of veteran journalist Graham Adams, who wrote the following on Facebook in favour of naming Dowie: “the female MP whose name has been frequently mentioned on social media represents a conservative electorate, is socially conservative herself and has promoted family values from her first days in Parliament. I think the public should always been told when an MP’s publicly professed values are at sharp variance to their own private behaviour. That is an obligation the media should fulfil. Furthermore, she has no right to privacy when she has anonymously and publicly shamed Jami-Lee Ross in the Newsroom piece by Melanie Reid. She’s an MP and a highly educated professional whose actions should be held to account. If she had any courage, she would come clean herself.”
Will Sarah Dowie actually be prosecuted by the police for the text to Jami-Lee Ross? There are certainly some who think this is over the top – for example, rightwing commentator Matthew Hooton tweeted this morning in response: “FFS. What a lot of nonsense, and a shameful waste of @nzpolice resources.”
In David Fisher’s article today, the analysis of Netsafe chairperson Rick Shera is reported: “Shera said the new law allowed serious emotional distress to be a trigger for action, meaning it could be enough for conviction – or a civil case – if the recipient of a message seriously considered self-harm. In criminal cases, it was necessary to show the ‘intent’ behind sending the message. The context in which it was sent, the resilience of the person who received it and the age of the people involved were also factors considered. The legislation shows someone convicted of inciting someone to self-harm or suicide could face up to three years in prison.”
But there is a “high bar for prosecution” according to Lucy Bennett’s article, National MPs staying quiet on latest Jami-Lee Ross foray into the public. Reporting on the views of Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker, Bennett says: “Any prosecution would have to take into consideration the context in which the comment was made but under the Act, a single text message inciting suicide could be considered a harmful digital communication.”
Cocker adds: “Whether a person complains is a significant factor for the police in considering whether to take a prosecution because so often with armful digital communications stuff it’s wrapped up in very personal, complex cases where prosecution may not be in everybody’s best interests. Police have got to take that into consideration”.
Blogger No Right Turn sees some poetic justice in the police investigation, because “Back in 2015, she voted for National’s Harmful Digital Communications Act, an overly-broad law which criminalised exposing corrupt politicians on the internet. Now, she’s being investigated for possible prosecution under that law” – see: Hoist by her own petard.
He also says: “A lot depends on what exactly the police decide to charge her with. Because the ‘inciting suicide’ offence carries a maximum penalty of three years, meaning that if Dowie is convicted, she would automatically lose her seat in Parliament. And if the Police don’t charge her with that, its going to look like another case of them going soft on politicians, just as they have done in the past.”
David Farrar has blogged about both the media naming Dowie and the police investigating her, and is highly dismissive – see: Dowie named. In terms of the investigation, Farrar doesn’t believe there’s any chance of a prosecution: “The idea that a solitary ‘I hate you and wish you were dead’ text message as a relationship broke up could be in breach of the law, is risible. If so, hundreds of thousands of people are probably also criminals. Merely saying I wish you were dead is not the same as incitement.”
Political Roundup: Will the Government fix spying in the public service?
by Dr Bryce Edwards
The week before Christmas was dominated by what may actually have been the most important political issue of the year in New Zealand – revelations that government agencies have spied on New Zealanders through the use of private investigators. The matter ended up being somewhat buried in the end-of-year chaos, and perhaps conveniently forgotten about by politicians with an interest in the issue remaining unresolved.
Yet the story isn’t going away. Today, the Herald published revelations about how the private investigations firm Thompson & Clark was previously employed by government-owned Southern Response insurance to review Official Information Act answers about the use of the private investigations firm itself – see Lucy Bennett’s Megan Woods seeks answers on Southern Response’s use of private investigators.
Here’s the key part of the story: “In January 2017, when Woods was the opposition spokeswoman on the Christchurch quake recovery, Thompson & Clark Investigations Ltd (TCIL) invoiced Southern Response $2070 for reviewing a response to an Official Information Act request from the Labour Party research unit on its use of TCIL.”
The article reports on how “TCIL also appears to advise Southern Response on how to circumvent public scrutiny.” For example, Thompson & Clark gave the following advice to Southern Response’s chief executive: “to get around disclosure, privacy and OIA issues, we normally set up a discreet email address for you – in Gmail or similar … do you want us to set up a discreet email account for you – or do you want to?”
The original “explosive” SSC report
Despite the State Services Commission report being released during the busy period just prior to Christmas – leading to what some see as a lack of media coverage and scrutiny of the issues – there have been some excellent articles and columns published about it.
Andrea Vance produced some of the best coverage of the report and the aftermath. Her first report, Security firm spied on politicians, activists and earthquake victims, detailed the full extent of what had been uncovered by the report into government agencies using private investigators. Overall, she said that the “explosive report details a slew of damning revelations”.
Vance followed this up with an in-depth article, Public service bosses ignored warnings about Thompson & Clark for years, which revealed that “for a decade public service bosses ignored the warnings about Thompson & Clark. Their tentacles were everywhere. Dozens of ministries and agencies used their services – and yet no-one in the upper echelons of the public service questioned their reach or influence.”
According to Vance, “officials became drunk on the power of the information offered up by security firms like Thompson & Clark. It allowed them to keep tabs on their critics and stave off any reputational damage.” She also argues that “A cavalier attitude to personal and sensitive information, and a troubling disregard for the democratic right to protest, was allowed to flourish within the public service over 15 years and successive governments.”
Hamish Rutherford produced some excellent analysis, explaining: “In an age where the use of contractors is already under scrutiny, a string of government agencies have effectively outsourced snooping, in some cases for highly questionable reasons. In some cases this was done with a lack of clear contracts, creating a fertile atmosphere for mission creep” – see: Use of private investigators exposes carelessness about role of the government.
Rutherford writes about how remarkable it is that public servants weren’t aware (according to the report) that what was going on was unacceptable. He therefore concludes: “we are reading about public servants who appeared to be seduced by private investigators, who decided to make their job easier without considering the implications for democratic rights, or the need to remain neutral. Weeding out improper behaviour may take work, but it seems the report exposes examples where public servants need to be told what their job involves, which would be a far more fundamental problem.”
RNZ’s Tim Watkin also has some strong analysis of what occurred, saying that the report on the state snooping “is a bit of a page-turner and a terrifying read for anyone who cares about the integrity of the public sector” – see: Heart of Darkness in the public sector.
According to Watkin, the situation is perplexing, given the risk-averse nature of the public service: “My concern is what this says about the culture at the heart of our public service. How did leaders who are by the very definition of their roles meant to be servants of the public decide that this level of covert surveillance was a good idea? Government agencies are typically so risk averse these days that they have multiple managers signing off press statements and an inability to make a decision on which pencils or toilet paper to buy without first clearing it with the minister’s office. Yet they are willing to subject those ‘ordinary New Zealanders” to secret surveillance.”
Possibly, Watkin says it’s the very risk-averse nature of the current public service that has caused them to be more open to snooping on citizens: “there seems to be a deep-seated sense of butt-covering and paranoia”. This is the very point made by Gordon Campbell in his blogpost, On why Thompson + Clark are just the tip of the iceberg.
In recent years, according to Campbell, the public service has become politicised, meaning that public servants have become more sensitive to the political needs of their ministers rather than the public good. This means that snooping on citizens and protestors starts becoming sensible, and to dissent against breaches of ethics in the public service has become much more dangerous for your career.
Not surprisingly, some of the strongest condemnation of state snooping on citizens has come from those organisations known to be affected – especially environmental groups. Former Green co-leader, and now Greenpeace head, Russel Norman emphasises the anti-democratic nature of what has been going on: “The chilling effect of being under constant and intrusive surveillance for simply campaigning on important social issues, fundamentally corrodes what it means to live in a free and democratic society. We’ve learnt that under the previous government, no-one was safe from being spied on if they disagreed with government policy” – see: Rotten to the core: The chilling truth revealed by the SSC report.
Norman concludes: “The State Services Commission (SSC) investigation may well be one of the most important examinations into the inner workings of the state that we’ve seen in New Zealand. I’d go as far as to call it our Watergate moment.”
If that sounds like the expected complaints of an activist, then it’s also worth reading what former United Future leader Peter Dunne had to say in his column, Only a first step in the data battle.
Dunne explains what has occurred as being “a gross breach of that implicit covenant between the Government and its citizens”, and he raises serious questions about how much more privacy is being curtailed by government agencies. In particular: “Was any information provided, formally or informally, to the intelligence services by Thompson and Clark, and was any information gathered at the behest of the intelligence services?”
Newspaper editorials have also condemned what has been uncovered in the public service. The Otago Daily Times has a strongly-worded editorial about the dangers to democracy uncovered in the report: “It blasts a warning about the insidious nature of state power and the need for vigilance and protection. Those who would disregard civil liberties for what they might think is the greater good should think again. Big brother and big sister are an ever-present threat. This is even more so in the electronic age. It was first thought the internet might lead to more freedom and more opportunity for dissent. But the massive losses of privacy, the ease with which data is collected and modern data analysis all hand more potential power and surveillance ability to big business and big government” – see: An ‘affront to democracy’.
In Christchurch, The Press has been asking important questions about what the report has revealed – see the editorial: More questions about spies and the public service. Here are the concluding questions: “The public needs to know more about this scandal that is so contrary to the way we expect our public servants to behave on our behalf. The public wants to know who approved of this surveillance, why it was considered necessary in a democracy and, perhaps most important of all, how much was really known about it by the ministers in charge.”
Will anything actually be done about the spying scandal?
The biggest risk to arise out of the controversial investigation into government agencies’ misuse of spying on citizens is that nothing further will now occur. So despite new stories being published about the state surveillance, there’s a danger that we are coming towards the end of the scandal, with no significant reform being offered to correct the problems.
Although the Thompson & Clark firm has been discredited by the scandal, many are arguing that they are not actually the real problem. For example, Andrea Vance says: “although they took advantage, Thompson & Clark aren’t responsible for public service culture and the undermining of democratic rights. That lies with Peter Hughes. For public confidence to be fully restored, the public service must demonstrate accountability and accept culpability, starting from the top down.”
Perhaps it’s time for a proper official and independent commission of inquiry into the spying problems in the public service. Security analyst Paul Buchanan has been arguing for this. And Gordon Campbell agrees: “given that the Thompson+ Clark problem is a by-product of the politicisation of the public service, security analyst Paul Buchanan is dead right in calling for a public inquiry. Only a wide-ranging investigation can address the attitudinal issues and power relationships between ministerial staff and public servants, of which Thompson + Clark are merely one of the end results.”
Tim Watkin has also argued that more needs to happen: “The proper response to this report is not a few hours of tut-tuting, the Prime Minister expressing formulaic concern that the spying was “disturbing” and the symbolic resignation of a single chair. No, the proper response is a change to the public sector culture. So who will lead that?”
Other activists – especially those affected by the state spying – put forward proposals for reform in Jessie Chiang’s article, Environmental groups call for change after security firm revelations. For example, Russel Norman calls for prosecutions of those involved, and for the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment to be broken up. And Kevin Hague from Forest and Bird says: “I’m encouraging state services to go back to [learning] how to operate as a state service… and your obligations to the public and not just to the government of the day”.
For more thorough reform suggestions, also see blogger No Right Turn’s A private Stasi. He says “Businesses like Thompson and Clark, whose service is explicitly anti-democratic, need to be made illegal and put out of business.”
Finally, there’s the issue of the breaches of rules by Crown Law when working for the Ministry of Social Development – which Andrea Vance has described as “one of the most shocking findings”. The chief executive of MSD at the time was Peter Hughes, who of course is now chief executive of the State Services Commission, and therefore in charge of the whole of the public service. There will therefore be suspicions of conflicts of interest in terms of resolving that issue, and Hughes has handed the ongoing task to his own deputy at the SSC. For the best discussion of all this, see Aaron Smale’s Hypocrisy at the highest levels.
Political Roundup: Should rodeos be banned in New Zealand?
by Dr Bryce Edwards
The Summer rodeo season is in full swing. And so protesters are, once again, drawing attention to what they regard as the cruel and archaic nature of this “entertainment sport”. This is leading to clashes between rodeo supporters and protesters.
Rodeo, steer wrestling. Image sourced from Wikimedia.org.
A few days ago, the group Save Animals from Exploitation (SAFE) revealed that two animals had recently died at a rodeo in Gisborne. Rodeo organisers had already acknowledged that a bull had been killed, but a whistle-blower alerted the animal rights group to the fact that a horse had also been killed at the event – see Karoline Tuckey’s Second animal death at Gisborne rodeo ‘freakish’.
SAFE accused the rodeo of a cover-up over the death and claimed that, in general, it “highlighted a lack of transparency” in rodeos. But the president of the New Zealand Rodeo and Cowboys’ Association (NZRCA), Lyal Cocks, explained the silence over the death, saying that his organisation “has understandably become cautious [about] speaking out in an environment of extreme negativity towards rodeos, which appears to be promoted by most media organisations.”
Cocks also explained the horse’s death at the rodeo: “After it competed it went out into the yards out the back, and for some inexplicable reason it went into a post and died, it was instantaneous – it was very strange, freakish.” Similarly, when another bull died at a Martinborough rodeo last year, after breaking its leg, at the time Cocks described this as “freak accident”.
Latest rodeo protests
Tensions are rising between supporters and protesters of rodeos, with an altercation taking place a few days ago at a Whangarei event – see Esther Taunton’s Protesters ‘assaulted like the animals’ at rodeo, animal rights group says. Some of this tension revolves around animal welfare activists attending rodeos and filming events, with organisers trying to ban the use of cameras.
One of the organisers of the Northland rodeo, Dianna Bradshaw, explained: “The camera ban was due to the possibility of footage being used out of context”. She added: “These people have an agenda, they’re not coming to these events with an open mind.”
According to one of the activists, Josh Howell, “There was particular emphasis on not being able to film the roping event – the calf roping event – because they acknowledge that it’s particularly controversial… They said we don’t want you filming at all even on your phones the calf-roping because one image can be taken out of context” – see RNZ’s Rodeo protesters consider police action after supporters confront them at event.
A number of other rodeos and protests have occurred in recent weeks. For example, about 24 people from the Queenstown Animal Activist group picketed outside a Wanaka event at the start of the month, calling for an end to “legalised animal abuse” – see Michael Hayward’s About 5000 attend Wanaka Rodeo despite protests.
Call for a rodeo ban
Animal rights activists are demanding that rodeos be outlawed in New Zealand. However, this demand has already been considered by the current Government and rejected. Until she was sacked for alleged mistreatment of staff, Meka Whaitiri was the minister responsible for animal welfare (as the associate Minister of Agriculture), and she made a decision not to introduce a ban on rodeos.
The decision was announced in March of last year, with Tess Nichol reporting that “Whaitiri didn’t believe rodeos were harmful enough to justify a ban” – see: Government won’t ban rodeo, animal welfare Minister says. According to this report: “She acknowledged public concern, but said rodeos were popular in many communities. The Ikaroa-Rāwhiti Māori electorate MP grew up on the East Coast of the North Island and said rodeos were common there – she had attended several herself.”
In lieu of a ban, the minister announced that she would work to strengthen regulations, and said she had asked the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee “to fast track further advice on rodeos this year”. It’s unclear, however, if this came to anything, and after Whaitiri was dismissed as a minister the Prime Minister decided to leave the ministerial portfolio of animal welfare unfilled.
Animal welfare organisations have been unimpressed with the Government’s lack of action on rodeos. The SPCA has responded by saying that “more needs to be done” and reiterated its support for a rodeo ban. The SPCA has also reminded the Government that it promised to do more: “They need to take this very seriously and uphold their election promise, which was to ban the use of animals under 12 months, flank straps, rope burning and the use of electronic prods” – see Newshub’s Govt won’t ban rodeos but will look into improving animal welfare.
This article also draws attention to corporate sponsors pulling out of involvement with rodeos: “Foodstuffs, LJ Hooker New Zealand, Saddlery Warehouse, Stuff, Meridian Energy, House of Travel, Bayleys, and Harcourts, all withdrew sponsorship in relation to the animal cruelty claims made by advocacy groups.”
There has, however, been some reform of the rules and regulations governing how rodeos treat animals. According to Michael Hayward, reporting in September, “The New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys Association announced four key changes to improve animal safety, which were confirmed at their recent AGM”, and he details these – see: New rodeo animal welfare rules ‘crisis management’, critics say.
Rodeo debate heating up this summer
This week Green Party MP Gareth Hughes has written an opinion piece making the moral arguments against rodeos: “Do this to a companion animal like a cat and a dog and you would be jailed. Do this on a farm and you could be investigated and prosecuted. Do it in front of a crowd at a rodeo and it is called entertainment. This summer in New Zealand, animals are being terrified, hurt and killed for fun” – see: Rodeo is animal cruelty dressed up as entertainment.
There is a growing sense of inevitability in much of the debate about rodeos being eventually consigned to history. Much of this escalation of concern started towards the end of last summer, with plenty of articles and opinion pieces forecasting a rodeo-free future. For example, the Hawkes Bay Today newspaper ran an article last February reporting on the growing activism following on from animal deaths at rodeos – see: Rodeo in the spotlight: Could Hawke’s Bay incidents be the beginning of the end?
In this, SAFE campaigns manager Marianne Macdonald is quoted saying “Year by year more and more people are speaking out strongly against rodeo. It’s really not something that New Zealand, in 2018, wants. It’s something that really needs to be consigned to the history books.” She adds: “Rodeos are banned in the UK, the Netherlands and parts of Australia, the United States and Canada. It’s time for New Zealand to make a change.”
In contrast, however, the Rodeo Association’s Lyal Cocks points out: “Judging by the increased crowd sizes this season… there are many more people who would like to see rodeo continue as a sport in NZ than those who would like it banned.”
In fact, the Rodeo Association estimates that about 100,000 people attended events last summer. And the sport has been fighting back against bad publicity, even employing former MP Michael Laws as a spokesperson, and getting Government MPs and ministers along to events – last February New Zealand First MPs Ron Mark and Mark Patterson were special guests at rodeo events.
This escalating ideological battle was well covered last year by Philip Matthews in his feature article, Cowboys and injuries: The end of rodeo? In this, he points to changing societal attitudes to the use of animals in sport, and cites survey evidence: “a Horizon Research survey commissioned by Safe and the SPCA found that 59 per cent of people wanted an end to animals in rodeo, 63 per cent wanted calf roping banned and 66 per cent wanted an end to use of flank straps, which cause animals to buck.”
Last year, newspaper editorials also weighed in on the issue – with the Dominion Post asking “Is this really how we want to have fun in a supposedly civilised country in the 21st century?” – see: Rodeos pitting humans against animals belong in the past. In contrast, the Otago Daily Times sat on the fence on the issue, pointing out the right to protest and right to participate in rodeos, and emphasising that both sides need to acknowledge the rights and concerns of the others – see: The rights of rodeos and animals.
For an indication of the turning tide on rodeos, it’s well worth reading Rachel Stewart’s mea culpa on the sport, in which she declares that “As a kid, I rode steers at my rural district sport’s day” but “we all know in our hearts that rodeo is wrong” – see: Rodeo doomed to bite the dust.
Stewart concludes: “Rodeo is on the way out. It’s on the wrong side of history, and the likes of Michael Laws won’t save it. In fact, unwittingly, he’s likely the best thing to happen to the anti-rodeo movement. Because “the truth of the matter is” that rodeo is toast. Yee-ha!”
Similarly, another columnist from the provinces, Tom O’Connor, says “In my brash youth I rode bulls at various rodeos around the country” but “I have come to question the attitude of my youth” – see: All the fun of the rodeo not worth any animal’s pain. He concludes “Like bull fighting, rodeos belong to history, as enjoyable as they might have been.”
For a counter to all this, writing a year ago, Michael Laws argued that concerns about rodeo animals are misplaced: “The science suggests animals suffer no long-term harm. And rodeo injury rates for participating animals are less than for many other animal events. Therefore, NZ Rodeo believes that animal activists are fundamentally misinformed and misguided” – see: Rodeo’s critics ignore findings that it’s not cruel.
Finally, for those wanting to enjoy the rodeo, or to protest its existence, the Rodeo and Cowboys’ Association has listed its upcoming events here: 2018/2019 Rodeo Dates.
Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Navigating allegations of illegal foreign state meddling in New Zealand
One of this year’s most potentially explosive and dangerous political issues has been allegations of foreign meddling against the University of Canterbury’s Prof Anne-Marie Brady because of her role as a critic of Chinese state political interference.
It’s a fascinating tale alleging attacks by a foreign state on the politics and democracy of another country. It involves burglary, state spies, police investigations, and suspected sabotage of Brady’s family car. Brady and her supporters say this is a case of a very powerful foreign state carrying out outrageous and illegal actions in New Zealand in order to silence a critic.
Some are even comparing the alleged 2018 interference of the Chinese Government in New Zealand with France’s bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985. Certainly, allegations about the sabotage of Brady’s car, raises the spectre of state-sponsored terrorism and warnings have been made in light of the recent Saudi killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
It’s been a slow-burning topic throughout the year, and has finally come to a head with the publishing yesterday of an Open letter to the Government from a coalition of academics and civil society figures, demanding that they stand up in defense of Anne-Marie Brady. In particular, it asks that the Prime Minister and her Foreign Minister “Be very clear that any intimidation and threats aimed at silencing academics voices in this country will not be tolerated.”
This is covered best by Matt Nippert in his report, Burgled professor case: PM called on to defend academic freedom. He points to support for the open letter from the Green and Act parties, and reports that David “Seymour said the nine-month silence from government on the issue was concerning.”
To illustrate Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s reluctance to comment on the issues, Nippert reports that his own “request to discuss the matter” has been consistently declined by the Prime Minister’s office over the last six months.
The instigator of the open letter, Tze Ming Mok, is also reported as complaining that Ardern isn’t doing enough on the issue, saying “The silence is very conspicuous” – see Anusha Bradley’s ‘Shocked and disturbed’ by alleged Chinese govt intimidation. Also, it’s reported that Brady’s experience is having “a chilling effect amongst China-focused experts in this country with many unwilling to comment on the saga publicly”.
Brady is quoted as saying the Police investigation is over, and the ball is in the Government’s court: “The police have done a really great job and a thorough investigation has been completed. The next step now is the political will that needs to have the guts to face up to the situation.”
Matt Nippert has been covering all of these issues in depth, and his article last week is particularly worth reading – see: Report says China researcher Anne-Marie Brady’s car ‘tampered with’. This deals primarily with the apparent break-in to Brady’s garage to tamper with her car tyres: “The Herald understands pressure in the front two tyres had been lowered to around 14 psi, a level at which the low pressure is not obviously visible but that significantly increases the risk of an accident when cornering at speed.”
The article also reports on wider debate over the Brady claims: “The Brady case has sparked furious debate, both within the foreign policy establishment and the New Zealand Chinese community. Auckland councillor Mike Lee suggested on Facebook over the weekend that Brady was inventing her complaints to advance American interests.” The article quotes Lee: “Where is the proof? Or are these smear tactics by an academic who receives funding from hawkish American think tanks?”
In an article from earlier this month, Nippert reports on the debates on Brady and her allegations – see: Suspected sabotage of car belonging to burgled professor and China researcher Anne-Marie Brady. In particular, details of the Police investigation are given: “A Herald investigation into the Brady break-ins can also reveal the case is being handled by the Police’s National Security Investigation Team, a secretive unit that is understood specialises in national security cases – including terrorism – and works closely with the New Zealand Security and Intelligence Service.”
Nippert also draws attention to recent vitriolic responses to Brady in some Chinese-language media: “Commentary in local Chinese-language media has been an especially heated, with a recent op-ed by Morgan Xiao – published simultaneously by SkyKiwi, the Mandarin Pages and the New Zealand Chinese Daily News – describing Brady and other New Zealand-Chinese democracy activists as ‘anti-Chinese sons of bitches’ who should ‘get out of New Zealand’.”
Response to open letter
Jacinda Ardern has now responded to yesterday’s open letter, in a much more robust way than previously: “I absolutely defend the rights of academics to utilise their academic freedom, and of course the rights that are granted to them through our legislation, I absolutely support that and defend that. They should continue to be able to do their work, and with freedom from repercussion and from this Government or any other government.”
In terms of the Police investigation into Brady’s situation, the PM vows to take action if the findings warrant it: “Quite frankly, if I received a direct report that said that there was an issue there, that could be directly attributable to China, or at China’s direction, I would act on that. But I have not received such information.”
This is all best covered today by Laura Walters’ Worldwide calls for Govt to speak up on China, which also reports on a second open letter written by professors Geremie Barmé and John Minford, who have both previously taught Brady, and are recognised China experts. According to this pair, “international foreign policy experts and researchers have been producing reports backing up [Brady’s] work”.
One of them is quoted warning that the New Zealand Government needed a stronger stance on China because, without this, New Zealand is becoming “internationally regarded as the soft underbelly that’s basically sliding towards becoming a vassal state of China”.
To read the full open letter, see Michael Reddell’s Voices in support of Anne-Marie Brady. And Reddell adds his own comments on “the supine, scared of their own shadow, attitude of the government.” He speculates that the New Zealand political elite may not actually want to see a Police investigation result in any clarity and resolve: “Official Wellington might be thought to have a strong interest in the investigation not coming to a conclusion”.
There’s a very good reason for the New Zealand Government to tread extremely carefully on the topic according to Chris Trotter, who says very frankly that “Pissing-off China… can be extremely injurious to this nation’s economic health” – see: The Case of the problematic professor.
Trotter suggests that those wanting the Government to take strong action are being rather naive and foolish. His point about New Zealand’s economic reliance on China is worth quoting at length: “But do people have any right to answers in a matter as delicate as this one? Is the public entitled to push aside all the geopolitical and economic factors impinging on their government as if they are of no importance? Prattling on about being the ‘critic and conscience’ of society is all very well, but when New Zealand’s universities are so dependent on the continuing inflow of international students, is it really all that wise to antagonise one of the largest contributors to this country’s educational export trade?”
Furthermore, Trotter raises the prospect of agricultural exports and investments being endangered: “And all that Chinese investment in New Zealand’s agricultural sector: all those massive milk treatment plants springing up around the provinces; how keen would the government be to see all that brought to an end? How would Shane Jones respond to the loss of so many well-paying jobs? And David Parker, how would he feel when New Zealand’s perishable exports started piling-up on China’s docks? How would Federated Farmers react to a Chinese freeze-out? Or the Dairy Workers Union, for that matter?”
Trotter goes even further, and questions Brady’s role in the wider US-China rivalry; suggesting that she might be, inadvertently or not, part of the United States’ “soft-power” strategies against China.
As to what the Government should do, Trotter suggests that Ardern learn from the realpolitik way in which Donald Trump dealt with Saudi Arabia and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, making no real moral condemnation but instead pointing to strong trade ties with the rogue state, which enriches America.
RNZ’s Tim Watkin also draws parallels with the Khashoggi affair, but reaches the opposite conclusion, calling for Ardern to take action if evidence warrants it: “If it comes to it, Ardern must use this event to reinforce that principle, not shrink from it. It is past time our leaders – Ardern especially – made it clear just how serious these allegations are. And if the evidence is there, she must not be cowed or muted in her response. Some things are just too important” – see: If Jacinda Ardern wants inspiration on Brady & China, she can look to Khashoggi & Trump.
Watkin’s parallel is also worth quoting at length: “Ardern should look to Trump’s play as she assesses how to respond to the Brady claims. It’s a classic case of how not to respond. If the claims are confirmed – or even considered probable with ‘high confidence’ – then this will be Ardern’s first true test on the international stage. And it cannot be half-hearted or full of weasel words. We look back at the fourth Labour government’s handling of the Rainbow Warrior bombing with little pride, as France (with support from some of our supposed allies) dodged its responsibility. Labour does not want another fail grade when it comes to standing up to power. If China did what Brady claims, the only difference between it and Saudi Arabia is that the Saudis did not fail. The Saudis sought to stifle dissent and free inquiry. They used violence and terror (yes terror; such a murder can send only one message to other critics) to stop an independent press from asking questions and critiquing those in power.”
Finally, in the weekend, visiting former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr went on TVNZ’s Q+A to warn New Zealand against following Australia’s “China panic” – you can watch the 10-minute interview here: Q+A with Bob Carr, as well as the panel discussion that followed: Q+A Panel: Justice and China.
It’s looking like the Government has made an embarrassing stuff-up over the controversial decision to allow a Czech criminal to stay in the country after he finishes his prison sentence.
Czech national, Karel Sroubek, is currently in prison for a drug importation conviction, but has had his deportation effectively cancelled by the Government over what appear to be concerns about his safety if he had to return to the Czech Republic.
Another very useful article today by Derek Cheng – Investigation called into residency case of drug-smuggler Karel Sroubek – quotes Sroubek’s lawyer, Simon Laurent, saying it would be “quite problematic” if it turned out that his client “had been back to the Czech Republic, and that could be established beyond a doubt – then it would undermine the case for the Minister”.
The Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges is now calling for Lees-Galloway to resign. As Claire Trevett points out, this is actually the first time that Bridges has called for a resignation from the Labour-led Government, and although that demand seemed “somewhat hollow” at first, and based on what “seemed a low threshold”, as time has gone on it seems Bridges “may have struck it lucky” with a fair call – see: Minister red-faced, National in muck over opaque Czech residency decision.
Trevett explains that resignation calls shouldn’t be made too freely: “The trouble with calling for a resignation is the more you do it, the less impact it has. Former Labour leader Andrew Little called for heads to roll so often nobody paid any attention at all.”
She agrees that the Government has reason to reflect on its performance, especially given their insistence on secrecy, which has denied the public an understanding of what’s been going on: “the Government may want to take a long, hard look at its handling of the issue. Voters do accept that sometimes they cannot be told everything. It is tolerated in cases where national security is at issue or there are genuine privacy issues. But there are limits to what they will accept. They generally draw the line when it looks like New Zealand is being hoodwinked by someone with a criminal past.”
According to Garner, the Minister should have been more questioning of his immigration officials, especially about the details of Sroubek travelling freely back home in recent years: “that information would have been easily available, but Lees-Galloway didn’t ask enough questions in my view, and his officials cut corners”.
Garner doesn’t believe that the Minister can simply blame his officials: “It’s Lees-Galloway who wears the big-boy pants here, he gets the big salary and ultimately he made this decision.” He asks, “How can we have confidence in Lees-Galloway when the next case hits his desk, and the next case?”
Interestingly, however, two opposition politicians appearing on the AM Show today, seemed to disagree with the need for Lees-Galloway to resign. Both National’s immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse, and Act party leader David Seymour, wanted to know more before calling for the Minister to resign. Seymour said that the mistake “could happen to any minister”, and “We don’t know what the facts are. We don’t know why it is he appears to have made a decision based on the wrong information. I think it’s a bit premature to ask somebody to resign” – see: Duncan Garner confronts Michael Woodhouse with Sroubek-like case under National’s watch.
Nonetheless, Woodhouse was still highly critical of Lees-Galloway’s decision, which he asserts puts the safety of Sroubek ahead of New Zealanders’ safety. Furthermore, the decision seemed unnecessarily rushed: “This guy’s in jail, he didn’t need to rush the decision. He could have asked his officials to go back, interview, talk to Czech officials. We’re not talking about a failed state here… They didn’t have to hurry it.”
For a stronger defence of Iain Lees-Galloway, see Gordon Campbell’s article, On ministerial transparency, in which he argues “we should be pleased that we have an Immigration Minister willing to err on the side of caution when it comes to potentially life and death decisions. In the past, National and Labour governments alike have popped people onto planes back to Saudi Arabia and India and elsewhere with little apparent concern about the consequences.”
Campbell also points out that while the issue is embarrassing, it’s “hardly of lasting impact” given that Sroubek remains in jail for some time yet, and the situation can now be properly sorted out. What’s more, it’s mostly just a case that the Minister received “inadequate advice from departmental officials”.
According to Campbell, “The lesson for Lees-Galloway is about transparency, not competence. He should have been entirely open about the reason (presumably humanitarian) for his original decision.” Likewise, in another article he explains why the Minister may not have been willing to go on the record about his concern for Sroubek’s safety: “presumably because doing so could result in those grounds being cited as evidence if and when Sroubek ever comes up for deportation before the Immigration and Protection Tribunal anytime in future” – see: On why deportation decisions should be transparent.
Campbell concludes: “One can only hope the Sroubek case indicates that under the coalition government, New Zealand will be taking a far more humane approach to those seeking asylum here. Yet the public shouldn’t be left in the dark to infer this, or forced to take it on faith.”
Other commentators are less sympathetic, suggesting that the Government has been naïve. For example, Mike Hosking: “The information that’s triggered the review is not new – it’s contradictory. In other words the info was always out there, and the Government got stitched up, as we said they had been. Iain Lees-Galloway has had so much wool pulled over his eyes you could call him Shrek” – see: Naive Government duped again on Karel Sroubek’s residency plea.
Hosking thinks that all of this could have been prevented by the Government: “All of this was predicted on Monday on this show. And here we are Thursday, and the Government yet again is in a mess, yet again is backpedalling, yet again is reviewing, yet again is going to have to back down and do what they should have done on day one. Lees-Galloway didn’t ask questions, didn’t do his job, and then doubled down and took his Government’s reputation with it. They created the problem, exacerbated the problem, and got caught with their pants down because of the problem. This is entirely their fault.”
Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Should taxpayers fund political parties?
One of the more substantial and contentious political issues to arise out of the Jami-Lee Ross mega-scandal concerns electoral finance rules, and the increasingly promoted idea that taxpayers should fund the parties, so that they are less reliant on private funding.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was reported as being open to following any public lead on state funding: “She said the Government was reviewing the 2017 general election, as it does with every election, and if there is public appetite for a change in political funding rules, she was open to listening to those concerns.” She is quoted saying that “There are overseas examples where [Governments] have chosen to opt-out of that [private system of funding], and to have a different system. I’m not sure whether there is the public license for that”.
Former Massey University Vice Chancellor, Bryan Gould, who was also previously a senior British Labour MP, is an enthusiast for state funding, arguing that it’s important for democracy to have parties well-funded, and it’s the lack of state funding which has produced some of the current problems – see: Jami-Lee Ross saga underlines need for public funding of parties.
He also argues that political parties – once considered separate from the state – are now quasi-state institutions and therefore needed to be properly resourced. He says taxpayers should be ready to make a “valuable financial contribution to that essential purpose” of ensuring parties are strong enough to carry out their democratic role.
The best case for state funding is put today in the Dominion Post by Victoria University of Wellington’s Michael Macaulay who highlights “concerns private donations simply lead to policy capture: that vested interests buy political influence to benefit their own agenda”, and hence donations could be replaced by the “radical” idea of state subsidies – see: Line between political access and political influence is porous.
Macaulay points out that this doesn’t have to cost a large amount, and would allow parties to focus on more important tasks: “Public funding need not be a huge burden: the total funds parties raise and declare amount to 0.0001 per cent of the government budget. It also builds on current arrangements that make public funding available for party electoral broadcasts, which at the moment stands at $4 million. Furthermore, public funding would enable party supporters to refocus their energies: not on fundraising but on developing public policy for the decades to come.”
For him, the cost to the taxpayer would be worth it: “All right, another tax, I hear you grumble. But could we just direct maybe some of the tax take towards a realistic pool of funds that are allocated to political parties to allow them to operate? Of course, we’ve already got public funding for election campaigns. This would extend that concept out to the day-to-day operations of political parties. Even-handed. It would be quite even-handed and mean that no political party would enjoy a ‘moneybags’ advantage over its competitor.”
No system of political party funding is perfect, and yesterday I wrote an article for Newsroom, which argued that in addition to state funding not being a panacea for the problems of political finance, it could actually make things worse – see: State funding of parties is bad for democracy.
In this, I point out that New Zealand actually already has a very generous system of state funding via Parliament, which is generally used for electioneering: “The latest annual report of the Parliamentary Service – just published – shows that the most recent “Party and Member Support” budgets for the parties totalled $122 million. Individual parliamentary budgets were as follows: National, $65.1m; Labour, $43.7m; New Zealand First, $6.2m; and the Greens, $5.8m. Amongst other things, these budgets pay for about 402 parliamentary staff working for the parties and their MPs.”
I argue that such state funding has actually led to more problems, especially in regard to the parties becoming less connected to society, and also providing incumbents with a significant monopoly over fledgling new parties trying to enter into Parliament.
Today the NZ Herald has published an editorial making similar points: “The disadvantage of public funding is that these benefits are not available to parties outside Parliament. It becomes harder for new parties to form and compete with those that have gained a foothold in the system. If the law was to forbid private donations, an exemption or a provision would have to be made for parties not in Parliament and where would that line be drawn?” – see: Complete public funding of parties would be a big step.
Furthermore, the Herald points out that “Exclusive public funding of parties could make the incumbents more comfortable and deprive our politics of some for the challenges, changes and dynamism a democracy needs. It requires careful thought.”
Finally, it’s worth reflecting upon the irony that the whole Jami-Lee Ross mega-scandal was triggered with questions about Simon Bridges’ alleged misuse of the state funding, with the leak of his travel expenditure details. As John Armstrong argued at the time, the parliamentary budgets of the parties are meant for “parliamentary business” but all the politicians have “licence to do just about anything”, and in the case of the National Party leader, he was essentially using the budgets to electioneer – see: Simon Bridges’ travel spending ‘was state funding of a political party in drag’.
Evening Report Analysis – National Affairs and the Public Interest, by Selwyn Manning.
Accusations have surfaced alleging the current National Party leadership conspired to politically destroy Jami-Lee Ross – this after details of his affair with a fellow party MP became known to them. The allegations raise serious questions. Those questions include: what did National’s leader and deputy leader know and when did they find out?
A sworn to timeline of events is now essential so that the public interest can be satisfied. This must be a crucial element that is cemented in to the methodology of Simon Bridges’ inquiry into the culture of the National Party. Above all, it must be independent and publicly accessible.
The inquiry must examine the National leadership team’s actions and culture, test whether they acted in a proper and timely manner, and assess whether their actions considered a concern for the welfare and mental health of an MP they had previously supported, promoted, and embedded within their leadership team.
It follows that allegations suggesting a “hit job” was orchestrated from inside the National Party leadership must also be independently explored.
If the inquiry finds that either the leader, or deputy leader, was part of a destructive and inhumane attack on Jami-Lee Ross – while it was known that he was at high risk of being pushed over the edge, was ill, and verging on suicide – and that they acted without reasonable regard for his welfare, then it must be accepted by the National Party caucus, its membership and the public, that this National leadership team is at the very least morally bankrupt.
This inquiry ought to be conducted amidst a background whereby Ross declared his role in the destructive side of politics; following the orders of Sir John Key, Bill English, Paula Bennett and Simon Bridges. Ross was afterall a ‘numbers man’ for Bridges, and benefitted from the patronage that the Bridges-Bennett leadership team offered.
There are a number of ‘ifs’ in this analysis, but the public interest demands that they be considered.
The allegations have surfaced on the blog-site Whaleoil which is owned and edited by controversial writer Cameron Slater.
Some may dismiss the allegations on the basis of tribalism, or ignore the allegations because Slater was centrally involved in National’s so called Dirty Politics as revealed in 2014. But the nature of the allegations are as serious as they get in politics, and, if accurate played a part in the sudden deterioration of Jami-Lee Ross’ mental health, the sectioning of Ross for his own protection, and the erasion of credibility of a potential political opponent who was determined to continue as a critical member of New Zealand’s Parliament.
This analysis’ argument suggests any such bias, on behalf by Cameron Slater’s opponents, ought to be ethically and morally put aside until such a time as the truth and facts are tested. Such an inquiry, preferably judicial but essentially independent, must be robust and critical in its analysis.
To reiterate; numerous elements of this saga elevate the issues to a matter of serious public interest.
And it must be noted at this juncture, that the party’s leader Simon Bridges insists he has acted appropriately and denies taking part in any political “hit job”.
Let’s examine what Evening Report has learned from contacts close to events.
Alleged details of events between Saturday-Sunday October 20-21
There is a txt-chain of events that investigators can forensically examine that are central to understanding who was involved in the sectioning of Jami-Lee Ross.
If the txts are examined they will determine if it is fact that the National Party MP, with whom Jami-Lee Ross had a three-year affair, rang the Police and that as a consequence of that call the Police used mental health laws to take Jami-Lee Ross into custody and contain him within the mental health unit at Counties Manukau Health.
Txts will also show whether it is fact that the female MP then called Simon Bridges’ chief of staff at 9:15pm on Saturday October 20 informing him of the events. If so Bridges’ office was aware of an alleged suicide attempt. Investigators would then be able to assess whether a txt message from Jami-Lee Ross’ psychologist, who Evening Report understands messaged Jami-Lee Ross at 9:28pm on Saturday October 20, asking if he was ok, and that the psychologist had minutes prior received a txt message from Jamie Gray, Simon Bridges’ chief of staff.
It is a matter of public record that Simon Bridges appeared on NewsHub’s AM Show on Tuesday October 23, denying all knowledge of events on the Saturday night – that is until a wider grouping within the National Party became privy to what had happened to Jami-Lee Ross.
It appears reasonable to form an opinion that Bridges’ chief of staff would have informed the leader of such an event. If he didn’t, why didn’t he inform Bridges?
The sectioning of Jami-Lee Ross ended a week where many National Party MPs, and a wider network of those loyal to the party, appeared to be actively orchestrating a coordinated campaign to destroy the so-called rogue MP’s political chances and to discredit his claims of corruption within the National Party leadership. Had Jami-Lee Ross abused his position as the senior whip within the party? It certainly appears so. Did he abuse the power he was afforded? Media reports would suggest this was so. Did he have an affair with at least two women? Yes. But it appears that the public attacks began, not at the time when senior members of the party were informed of Ross’ actions, but, once Ross began to attack the leadership. This is significant.
An Opposition’s Role As The Public’s Advocate
As senior representatives of New Zealand’s Legislature, leader Simon Bridges and deputy leader Paula Bennett can arguably be regarded as the public’s advocates within Parliament. Their job is to keep the Executive Government on its toes, challenge its policy and rationale, to be Parliament’s keepers of the public’s interest.
As such, the public deserves to know if the leaders, as a team or individually, conspired to destroy the political chances of an MP and former colleague, who they considered to have gone rogue, and who they knew was suffering a crisis of mental health so serious that it could have ended in death.
It is in consideration of the public interest, that this editorial is written.
We now know as fact, Jami-Lee Ross had a three year affair with a South Island-based National MP.[name withheld]. Like him, she has two children and was married.
While the affair was going ‘well’, contacts inside the National Party have told Evening Report that Jami-Lee encouraged Bridges to promote his lover above her standing and reputation in caucus, well above some high profile MPs like National’s Chris Bishop who are respected among colleagues and media and seen to have been doing their job well. The promotion was seen to give leverage, to sure up the numbers to stabilise Bridges’ and Bennett’s leadership team at a time when they sensed support was delicate.
Meanwhile, Jami-Lee Ross continued to pull in big donations from wealthy Chinese residents in his Botany electorate. As a reward, Bridges embedded him into his inner core, the top three. Politically, this is really an unsound move by a political leader. With Ross being senior whip, he is supposed to be directed by the leader to pull MPs into line, to do the leader’s bidding, and to do this without necessarily knowing the deep and dark details underlying the leader’s moves.
In effect, with Jami-Lee Ross becoming a central figure, knowing all the details, the dirt, the strategy and tactics, it centralised too much power into the whip position and elevated a real danger of a whip using the position for his own gain. To reiterate, this appears a seriously stupid move of Bridges and Bennett to pull a whip in on their machinations. And, in a significant contact’s view, it appears they risked this because Jami-Lee was pulling in the donor money.
Jami-Lee Ross had been on the rise for a time. Former Prime Minister John Key promoted him to the whips office. Then PM Bill English secured Ross’s rise by maintaining and elevating his whip role. Bridges and Bennett further empowered Jami-Lee Ross by cementing him into the whip position, a move that suggested National’s power-politicians were well satisfied with his service.
It’s hard to tell how far back it was when Jami-Lee Ross began to record Bridges. And, at this juncture, it’s difficult to know if he recorded Bennett as well. The public is left to fathom whether it was when his affair with the National MP went sour and perhaps Ross sensed Bennett having become close to her.
In any event, when Jami-Lee Ross fell out with his colleague and lover, sources say Bennett played a crucial role in the analysis of his conduct, in particular women who had allegedly been burned by Ross. Two women, contacts inside National state were staff of the National Party leader. The MP (whom Ross had a three-year affair with) and the two staff members are said by National Party contacts to be the subject of NewsRoom.co.nz’s investigation into Ross’ activities, an investigation that is believed to have spanned up to one year in duration. Evening Report raises this aspect as the public interest demands to consider whether it is reasonable to believe that two staffers in the leader’s office never told nor informed Bridges, or the chief of staff, that they were cooperating in a media investigation into the leader’s chief and senior whip?
Contacts state that Bennett gained the women’s confidence, received information so it could be prepared as part of a disciplinary process. Did Bennett choose to engage media with this information? If so, once media received the information, what involvement did the deputy leader have or continue to have, or engage with, the complainants and media?
Sources inside National state Bennett then seeded info about Jami-Lee Ross having had an affair. They point to her having hinted at behaviour unbecoming of a married member of Parliament during an interview before TV, radio and print journalists. Did she do this without Bridges knowing or being forewarned.
If true, in effect, this would have driven the narrative ahead of the leader. If so, it is reasonable to fathom that a senior politician would know Bridges would be forced to defend the character-attack campaign that appeared orchestrated and designed to destroy Ross. Amidst the firestorm, National MP Maggie Barry spoke out against Ross with significant indignation. This will have been digested by the public that National had expelled a human predator from its midst. It also gave the impression National’s female caucus members were unified. However, respected MP Nikki Kaye kept out of it. Why?
Next, Bridges was forced to field political journalists’ questions about breaking the old convention that you keep affairs and family issues under the covers.
Bridges was then compelled to inform media that he had “told off” his deputy leader for giving credence that an affair had been ongoing between Ross and a Nat MP. This made Bridges look even weaker.
The future of National’s leadership
National Party contacts suggest Bridges is positioned where he will be forced to absorb the political fallout for what is seen by some as a character assassination campaign gone wrong. One contact states that once Bridges is rendered useless, and the issue dies down, Bennett herself will be well positioned to remove Bridges as leader in 2019.
It is reasonable to form an opinion that senior National MP Judith Collins will also be available if the leadership were to fall vacant. Her popularity is again on the rise.
At this juncture, for Bridges and Bennett, it appears wise for them to expect more National Party dirt to emerge before the end of the year. Evening Report’s sources say: “ample dirt lingers just below the surface.”
For a party that once stated it had no factions, it certainly seems its personality factions are now in all-out political warfare.
Judith Collins’ star has been rising since she returned to the front-bench in opposition. And it has been bolstered by a favourable Colmar Brunton Poll. It’s fair to suggest she has laid heavy hits on Labour’s Housing Minister Phil Twyford. As a consequence, her standing within the caucus has improved. On investigation, it is clear she has not had the loyalty of Jami-Lee Ross since he was promoted by John Key. He, along with Mark Mitchell, then supported Bill English for the leadership. Bennett and Mitchell are politically close. It does appear that moves by some media to connect Jami-Lee Ross’ revelations with a Judith Collins plan as not based on fact.
While there’s an expectation among interested public that Collins will be the next leader, she will need the support of what’s left of National’s social conservatives and those loyal to Nikki Kaye.
For Collins to succeed, she will have to be seen to inoculate the party from damaging information that may be in the possession of Jami-Lee Ross. All the while, she, like Bennett, needs Bridges to continue to fail as a leader.
It is fair to accept, the recordings and damaging information are now with Cam Slater and Simon Lusk. It is also reasonable to suggest that Bridges is a disappointment to some who once supported his bid for leadership. Cam Slater is clearly appalled at what he refers to as a “hit job”.
Slater is adamant that he is not motivated by an agenda, nor by a pitch by a fiscal conservative faction to gain leadership of the National party. Rather he said, he is motivated to help an old friend who the current leadership moved to destroy. He added on his blog-site, if the current leadership continues “to lie” he will continue to reveal the truth.
Meanwhile, Jami-Lee Ross is being reassured and cared for by a mutual friend of his and Slaters who is a pastor with the Seventh Day Adventists.
Contacts say, with regard to Jami-Lee Ross and his National Party former lover and colleague, the three year affair was a relationship that in the end didn’t deliver what either banked on – despite promotions and connections and having benefitted politically from their association.
It’s fair to say, Jami-Lee Ross was out of his experiential depth and in part abusive from the point of view of how to handle political power, networks and consensual relationships.
Two other women who laid complaints about Ross, worked in the leader’s office.
Bridges is adamant he didn’t know about the abuse of power nor the complaints. Did Bennett know? At what point was she privy to the information?
One National Party contact said: “It defies reasonable belief that Bridges didn’t know.”
It is right that Bridges has initiated an inquiry into National’s culture. But that in itself falls short or what the public interest demands. Why? Because the inquiry reports back to Bridges, who as leader may well be one of the protagonists. Also, the report will not be released to the public which leaves it as a golden prize, the holy grail, for any journalist and, irrespective of who it damns or exonerates, will become a currency for any MP with leadership ambitions.
As it now stands, Bridges’ worst nightmare must be not knowing what Jami-Lee Ross recorded and at what point did he begin taping the National Party leader’s conversations.
If those recordings contain further embarrassing or damaging content and references, then he will be finished as leader. Bridges, as leader, even if he has a clear conscience, must be wracking his memory as to past conversations and comments while knowing the conversations may be in the hands of people with whom he has lost their trust.
And the question remains unanswered: Was Paula Bennett recorded as well?
If her actions are found by inquirers to have led an orchestrated political response to Jami-Lee Ross’ revelations, whether that be at the behest or otherwise of the current leader, then this will destroy any higher ambitions that she may have ever contemplated.
It follows, that if the report concludes that the rot inside National extends to its current leadership, then it may well be that Judith Collins will become the leader of the National Party, unopposed.
Whatever the future holds for the National Party, it is in everyone’s interests that an independent judicial investigation into this National affair be conducted in a spirit of openness and propriety.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Evening Report invites any individual connected to this analysis to have a right of reply.
Footnote: Interview between the author and Jami-Lee Ross on his role as a new National Party MP (August 13 2012):
Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: An Embarrassing week for National
Published 5 October
“Embarrassing” is the word of the week for the National Party. Leader Simon Bridges applied the term in various ways to MP Jami-Lee Ross, when explaining that Ross’ personal circumstances required his temporary departure from Parliament.
Bridges described Ross’ personal situation as “perhaps actually embarrassing. A lot embarrassing, potentially”.
It was then Bridge’s turn to be embarrassed when the focus quickly shifted to why Bridges insisted on using that term, before later retracting it. Some saw it as a sign of incompetence and a lack of empathy for the beleaguered Ross, and others saw it as a sign that Bridges was somehow signalling that the departing MP is in fact connected with the leak inquiry, or is suffering from mental health issues.
As most commentators have said, the timing of Ross’ departure and the leak inquiry is either unfortunate or very telling. It’s natural that speculation has fallen on Ross as being the leaker within National who was trying to undermine his leader. And Audrey Young reported that “Jami-Lee Ross is among a handful of National MPs who have been quietly suspected as a potential leaker among colleagues for some time”, and therefore “the timing of his time-out from politics is cruel. Because if he is not the leaker, many people are left wondering whether he is” – see: Timing of Jami-Lee Ross’ departure from Parliament raises questions.
Bridges had no choice, according to Young, but to announce in his press conference that Ross’ departure is unrelated to the inquiry, regardless of whether he is under suspicion. But she points out that if it turns out Ross is eventually announced as being involved in the leak, then “he would be in the best place to endure the fallout – away from potentially unforgiving colleagues and the limelight.”
It seems possible, therefore, that Bridges’ repeated use of the term “embarrassing” about Ross was consciously or unconsciously designed to intimate that, although Bridges was formally saying that his departure was unrelated, it was in fact highly-related.
There has been a backlash against Bridges for his use of the word “embarrassing”. According to Newshub’s Duncan Garner, Jami-Lee Ross was also very unhappy about it. Garner says: “A senior source inside the National Party got hold of me yesterday to say Jami-Lee Ross, who stood down for personal reasons, is ‘highly pissed off’ with Bridges for saying the matter was embarrassing” – see: Jami-Lee Ross ‘pissed off’ with Simon Bridges’ ’embarrassing’ comment – source.
According to Garner, “The source went on to say what is embarrassing is National’s internal polling which has Bridges’ internal favourability collapsing”.
Garner refers to a lengthy phone conversation with the National leader about the use of term “embarrassing” and whether there was a connection between the leaks and Ross: “Bridges got stern during the chat when he said Ross isn’t the leaker of his travel expenses and this is not some kind of manufactured cover up in advance of the investigation… He almost pleaded with me to believe that” – see: Simon Bridges’ ’embarrassing’ comment breached Jami-Lee Ross’ privacy – Garner.
There were other bizarre things said by Bridges at his press conference, such as: “You think you know your colleagues very well, but you don’t always know everything that’s going on”. Mike Hosking responds to this statement about Ross, saying: “What do we take out of that? We take out of that, he’s done something wrong”, and therefore Bridges “made matters a hundred times worse” – see: Bumbling Simon Bridges has made Jami-Lee Ross saga so much worse.
Hosking also speculates on Ross’ own statement about his need to put family and kids first: “which is [normally] code mainly for an indiscretion, or as the British so eloquently put it, you’ve been playing away.”
Bridges “looked spooked, rattled, and ill-prepared. Hence his bumbling performance” says Hosking. But perhaps that was simply because the situation is incredibly untidy: “So none of the speculation is surprising, and the pressure is now on National to make this look a lot tidier than it appears. Unless, of course, it can’t be tidied. Unless, of course, we have our leaker.” And he says that Bridges response to journalist’s questions about Ross’ innocence was “Not at all convincing.”
Veteran political commentator Richard Harman has thrown more petrol onto the fire, reporting further details. He conveys rumours that “Ross was being advised by National Party board member, Glenda Hughes”, who has previously helped other beleaguered MPs such as Todd Barclay – see: The Jami Less Ross affair.
Harman also puts a lot of attention on the claims of Winston Peters to know who the leaker is. The statement of Peters in Parliament a couple of weeks ago is reported: “Peters continued: ‘There are members over there that should be very nervous’. Peters was standing in his usual position, two seats below Ross but on the other side of the House. He then said “I won’t look at them” and then he turned to face where Ross had been sitting. He then said: “Or look where they should be, because if I do, then the suspicion will be cast on them without us getting the reward for disclosure.”
Harman draws attention to a blog post from Cameron Slater, which also deals with Peters and the leak in more detail – see: Winston to Bridges: “…reveal to the public who the leaker is, or I will”. Slater concludes: “I believe that Winston Peters does know who the leaker is. It is pretty much an open secret now among National people. I understand that the leaker has admitted as such to some Young Nationals in Auckland. I also know now who it is, and that is from many sources, all saying the same name. The clock is ticking. Observant and well informed journalists will also know as the leaker is now being shunned by caucus.”
All of this has turned into something of a disaster for Simon Bridges this week. Newspaper editorials have been scathing. The New Zealand Herald says about the inquiry: “This can not end well for National” – see: Simon Bridges’ stellar rise has struck bumbling block.
The editorial notes that “Ross, in his own public comments, implied his problems might not be confined to health.” But it’s Bridges who gets the worst evaluation: “The way an Opposition leader handles problems in his or her party provides an insight to their credentials for a more important job. So far, Bridges is not passing the test” – see: Simon Bridges’ stellar rise has struck bumbling block.
The Press also draws attention to Paula Bennett’s description of Ross’ personal situation as “traumatic”, which it says “again could increase public speculation and curiosity” – see: How to turn an opportunity into a disaster.
The newspaper complains that Bridges hasn’t dealt with Ross’ departure with “maturity and discretion” and expresses surprise that he used the word “embarrassing” about his MP “not once, not twice, but three times.” It concludes that Bridges “looks like a man who knows his days as leader are numbered.”
Leftwing political commentator Chris Trotter also sees the end in sight for Bridges, telling Duncan Garner yesterday that “When you see politicians gripped by this kind of paranoia, you know that things are very bad inside their party because why else would they be looking over their shoulder all the time?” – see: ‘Smell of death’ following Simon Bridges – Chris Trotter.
Trotter elaborates: “National is entering that terrible deadzone where all eyes are only on the leader – not on policy, not on the party, the deadzone that Labour lived in for nine long years.” The article also reports that Trotter believes “Bridges’ days could be numbered, with hints of a plot to roll him forming”.
The political editor of Stuff has some similar analysis: “Bridges’ pursuit of National’s travel expenses leaker is shaping up as one of those pivotal moments by which his leadership will be defined. If there were seeds of doubt in Bridges judgement before among his MPs, they must have blossomed into full grown dismay that Bridges’ decision to order an inquiry keeps blowing up in his face” – see Tracy Watkins’ Simon Bridges’ judgment call coming back to haunt him.
Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Does freedom of speech extend to far-right voices?
New Zealand has largely escaped the escalating debates and conflicts occurring in the US and elsewhere about whether to allow or ban offensive political speech. Until now. Two controversial Canadian speakers who have cancelled their NZ appearance after being banned from Auckland Council venues have ignited debates over “hate speech” and “freedom of speech”.
Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux had been due to appear next month at the Bruce Mason Centre in Auckland. But on Friday, the Auckland City Council, which owns the venue, pulled the plug on the event, due to “security concerns” involving the “health and safety” of the presenters, staff and patrons of the event. This is all covered by Anna Bracewell-Worrall in her news report, Auckland ‘alt-right’ event cancelled due to ‘health and safety’.
The article explains that the issue was sparked when “Auckland Peace Action (APA) called on the Government to not allow the speakers entry to New Zealand.” The group also threatened to disrupt the event, saying: “If they come here, we will confront them on the streets. If they come, we will blockade entry to their speaking venue”.
Mayor Phil Goff fronted the issue, and explained the decision: “I just think we’ve got no obligation at all – in a city that’s multicultural, inclusive, embraces people of all faiths and ethnicities – to provide a venue for hate speech by people that want to abuse and insult others, either their faith or their ethnicity”.
Event promoter, David Pellowe, then announced that the show was cancelled, saying “there were no other venues available at this late stage” – see the Herald’s Mayor bans controversial Canadian pair from talking in Auckland Council venues. He complains that Phil Goff’s decision is political, and that “Far from being willing to engage in a robust contest of ideas, he finds it far simpler to shut down any ideas he disagrees with.”
A victory against “hate speech”?
The other group attempting to prevent Southern and Molyneux from speaking was the New Zealand Federation of Islam Associations, who say the pair are spreading hate about Muslims. The Federation has been lobbying the Minister of Immigration and Immigration New Zealand to deny them entry to the country.
Federation president Hazim Arafeh explained that one of the two, Lauren Southern, should not be afforded the right to free speech, because she “abuses her right of freedom of speech. She’s just going to give a talk in which she’s just going to insult all of us… I don’t think insulting Muslims comes under free speech, that’s an abuse of freedom of speech” – see Emma Hatton’s article, Controversial speaker Lauren Southern ‘going to insult all of us’ – Islamic community leader.
This article cites Massey University’s Paul Spoonley categorising the pair as being “white supremacists” and their message as “hate speech”. But he is also reported as believing that “banning people entry to New Zealand would need to meet a high threshold and the decision warranted a public discussion.”
Saziah Bashir has an interesting opinion piece in favour of the clampdown on the Canadians, saying in her RNZ item that Southern’s “actions are actually physically and emotionally harmful” – see: Hate speech more than just ‘an unpopular opinion’. Therefore, any decision to deny them entry to New Zealand is quite straightforward and uncomplicated, especially because their presence here “risks the safety of an entire community” – Muslims.
She argues the “right to freedom of expression is not unfettered”, and because Southern and Molyneux have other ways to distribute their message (YouTube), their rights to freedom of speech would not be harmed by any ban on them.
Some of these debates about hate speech might sound esoteric, but for Oscar Kightley it’s very straight forward, because the concept of freedom of speech should include the freedom to ban people from coming to speak to others: “Of course, freedom of speech is an important principle, but that isn’t one way. Surely people have that same freedom to have their own reactions to any speech. Including the freedom to say: yeah nah, you can’t actually come into New Zealand and say that stuff” – see: We have the freedom not to stand such divisive speech.
Suppressing “free speech”?
The decision to ban the Canadians from council venues is A triumph for left-wing bigotry and intolerance according to Karl du Fresne, who says “July 6 was the day when extreme left-wing bigotry and intolerance triumphed over the democratic values”. He says that “Goff has betrayed us all” by capitulating to “fringe extremists like Valerie Morse” of Auckland Peace Action. It “sends a signal that all the extreme left has to do in future to deny a platform to people it doesn’t like is to threaten violent disruption.”
He also draws attention to the “irony” that Valerie Morse has previously escaped conviction for “burning a New Zealand flag in a protest gesture at an Anzac Day service in Wellington in 2007” because the Supreme Court ruled – rightly in du Fresne’s view – that “Freedom of expression quite properly allows New Zealanders to engage in acts that other people find deeply objectionable.”
He argues we should be, and are, robust enough to deal with fringe views: “New Zealand is by world standards a remarkably tolerant and moderate society, and stolidly resistant to inflammation by extremists of any stripe. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s a robust democracy that is perfectly capable of being exposed to rancid opinions without being swayed.”
He argues the threshold for banning something should be incredibly high, and this has not been reached: “Unfortunately, being insulted is just something people have to put up with in a free and democratic society, and our Supreme Court is on record (in Brooker v Police) as saying so. We have a right to freedom of speech in New Zealand, which covers not just the right of these racists to speak, but also the right of their racist audience to listen. Restricting that right pre-emptively requires a very high test: basically an announced intention on the part of the speaker to incite a riot. If that test isn’t met, there’s no justifiable reason to prevent them from speaking.”
The Dominion Post has a similar view, publishing an editorial that says a healthy society has to put up with some offensive views, and that “Without the possibility of offence we would be a bland, totalitarian state devoid of interest, imagination and ideas” – see: Tolerance is a virtue.
It argues a ban on such views are counterproductive, as it “plays into the hands of those seeking publicity and profile.” Furthermore, we need to distinguish between what is “truly damaging and hateful” and that which is “merely offensive and comfortably dismissed”. The editorial believes that Southern and Molyneux fall into the latter category.
There’s also the problem of giving politicians such as Phil Goff the power to make the decision on which political views to ban. This is the argument put by David Farrar who says “the Mayor now personally decides whose speech is acceptable, and can use an Auckland Council facility. Governments tend to own many large speaking venues so this in fact does massively restrict the ability of someone to do a public session” – see: Phil Goff the new commissar of speech.
Farrar wonders if future speakers who allegedly stir up religious tensions will also be banned: “now Goff has unilaterally announced his own test, let’s keep him to it. If you ever see a booking for a Council facility which has a speaker from an organisation with a history of anti-semitism or supporting terrorism, then make sure we all know so we can demand Goff be even handed.”
Finally, could Auckland ratepayers end up with a costly bill from the decision to cancel this event? Blogger No Right Turn has just blogged to say that the decision looks to be illegal, as it breaches the Bill of Rights Act, which includes “the right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of political opinion” – see: The cost of a free and democratic society II. He also says the decision sets a dangerous precedent: “Because if we let the mayor of Auckland decide what speech is acceptable in public facilities, then a future mayor may decide that they don’t like speech that we approve of. Like union meetings, or speeches in favour of reforming drug laws, or political movements against landlords and the rentier economy. Or speeches in favour of racial justice”.