QOTD: Felix Marwick on the OIA and John Key’s hats

I missed this earlier in the week: an update on Felix Marwick’s long-running attempts to uncover the extent of John Key’s communications with bloggers (i.e. Farrar and Slater). The last two paragraphs are spot-on:

What my use of the OIA shows is that leaks and surreptitious acquisition of evidence is the only way you are going to get political material of this nature that is in the public interest. The Official Information Act won’t overcome political self interest as long as politicians are allowed to determine what hat they’re wearing when they’re using public information for their own political ends. Being a Minister and a Prime Minister is a full time job. Politicians shouldn’t get to finagle the system just so as to protect their political manoeuvring. Governments wield immense power so there need to be adequate checks and balances on those that exercise that power.

The other thing you can deduce from a three year battle over access to correspondence is that the most senior politician in the land probably had something to hide.

John Key’s “well I was wearing a different hat at the time” obfuscations were quite literally straight out of Yes, Prime Minister. We’ll probably never know the full truth – especially given Key’s totally-not-suspicious tendency to delete all his text messages – but we can absolutely conclude that he was up to shenanigans he didn’t want the New Zealand public to be aware of, and we need better systems to ensure it cannot happen again.

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It’s almost like John Key doesn’t realise he’s the Prime Minister

There are two John Keys. That’s the only way to explain it. There’s the John Key who has been sitting on the ninth floor of the Beehive for seven years (and in Parliament for six years before that) and then there’s the John Key who gets wheeled out like the Winter Soldier whenever they need plausible deniability.

How else do we reconcile statements like this, on MPs’ pay rises:

Key has expressed his disappointment in the pay rises for MPs for the past five years.

It’s funny how someone who literally leads our country was powerless to do anything about changing the rules his government set for five years. Rules which incidentally they strengthened in favour of themselves in 2012.

And now there’s this, on travel perks:

Prime Minister John Key was bemused that MPs still get to take their spouses along, even in this day and age, and he won’t be alone.

Bemused?

Are we really meant to believe that a man of John Key’s business acumen and managerial experience, with 13 years as an MP, really just didn’t know that the perk existed? Despite the fact that sixteen members of his Party* have gone on such trips in the time he’s been Leader? Including two Speakers and one Deputy Speaker from the National benches? (Hat-tip @philiplyth for the link to reports of those trips.)

I mean, it’s not like the topic of pay rises and lifetime travel perks gets a lot of media coverage on a regular basis. David Farrar himself produced a handy guide to the perks as they stood in 2009. The Herald slammed the perks in a 2010 editorial. Maybe Key’s spokeswoman in 2012, who agreed that the perks are out of step with modern remuneration practices, could have explained it to him.

But no. We’re meant to buy that John Key is just a regular chap like us who can’t be expected to know anything about his own organisation and employment practices, much less pay attention to whatever unimportant stuff the newspapers are complaining about now.

Still, you have to wonder if it isn’t a little bit convenient that one of the BFFs of Key’s favourite texting buddy Cameron Slater raised the issue in headline-making terms so he could be “bemused” by it.

 

*Colin King, Paula Bennett, David Bennett, Jo Goodhew, Kate Wilkinson, Brian Connell, Katherine Rich, Nicky Wagner, Chris Tremain, Lindsay Tisch (as a member and leading as Deputy Speaker), Paul Hutchison, Tim Macindoe, Melissa Lee, Phil Heatley, plus David Carter and Lockwood Smith as Speakers of the day.

How the Dirty Politics machine continues to do its work

“There are a few basic propositions with negative campaigning that are worth knowing about. It lowers turnout, favours the right more than the left as the right continue to turn out, and drives away the independents.”

Simon Lusk, email to Nicky Hager reproduced in Dirty Politics (p18)

One of the many dispiriting things Nicky Hager described in Dirty Politics was how attack blogs like Whaleoil and two-dimensional shell organisations like the Taxpayers’ Union have been deliberately created by the right to push their narrative on New Zealand politics.

From page 103:

Like the blogs that ‘need not be associated (in name) with your party or campaign’, the NZTU is an example of a supposedly independent organisation designed to back up the work of a political party. Its launch press release described it as a ‘politically independent grassroots campaign’, but it is no more politically independent than the election finance and anti-MMP campaigns. In fact, it was like a rerun of the anti-MMP campaign, with Jordan Williams once again as frontperson and [David] Farrar as founder and main strategist.

The strategy works on a big or small scale. Sometimes it’s specific stories – like Len Brown’s affair, which was “broken” on Whaleoil – and sometimes it’s just general ideas and memes which benefit the right – all politicians are troughers, government spending is out of control, unions are evil.

The point isn’t to stir up the Whaleoil or Kiwiblog commentariat into ever grosser expressions of racism, misogyny and generalised hatred. It’s to make headlines in the mainstream, offline media. To get specifically-chosen language into the common vernacular.

And here we are today, with the Taxpayers’ Union pointing fingers at MPs’ travel expenses – always an easy target and one which literally everyone, besides the MPs themselves, are happy to throw shade at – and specifically, at the extension of those perks to partners. Or as they put it:

‘WAGs’ Should Stay at Home

WAGs is a very particularly British term, applied to the partners (“wives and girlfriends”) of professional football (soccer) players. It’s pretty obviously demeaning and dehumanizing – you’re not a person, you’re a vagina attached to a famous man – and feeds into any number of boring sexist tropes about women as pointless accessories whose “proper” place is in the home.

In this day and age, and when applied to the partners of New Zealand Members of Parliament, it’s also wildly inaccurate, since:

  • Not all MPs are men
  • Not all male MPs are heterosexual
  • Not all women partners of MPs fit into the categories of “wife” or “girlfriend”

But it is a snappy headline, precisely calculated to create indignation among one part of the population (containing me and my very best Killjoy Feminist buddies) and Daily Mail-esque class resentment in another.

And thus it was copy-pasted straight onto an article at Stuff:

MPs’ Europe trip: ‘WAGs should stay home’

And that’s how the machine keeps on ticking.

The irritating thing about it is that there is an important issue to explore here. The idea of partners (who yes, historically were assumed to all be wives) getting subsidised travel, even being automatically included, in work-related travel is a pretty archaic idea, still barely clinging on in some sectors and industries.

But that honestly doesn’t matter to the Taxpayer’s Union. They – and it feels somehow inappropriate to use a plural pronoun – weren’t created to fight issues of government spending on principle. They were created to sow National Party-favouring ideas into mainstream political discussion, and they’ll do that by any means necessary.

Specific reform of MPs’ expenses isn’t the goal. It’s about getting widespread acceptance of the idea that all politicians are troughing scum and all politics is dirty and why bother voting, it just encourages them.

Just like Simon Lusk said.

QOTD: Supreme hubris from POAL CEO Tony Gibson

On Q&A yesterday, Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson said regarding their planned – and thoroughly rebuffed by the community – wharf extensions:

“I don’t think we’re arrogant as a company. That’s not part of our values. I think we’ve really engaged with the public”

The first two sentences are outright falsehoods, and the third only makes sense in a world where “engaged with” means “leaked confidential information to” and “the public” means “Cameron Slater.”

And yes, Tony Gibson was the CEO of Ports of Auckland during the 2012 lockout of its workers, in a hamfisted attempt to force its workers to become contractors, degrade their pay and conditions, run out the clock on their collective agreement, and possibly even open the Port up for privatisation.

And if you want to talk about arrogance – how about the arrogance of a company which spent $33 million to lock out its workers and attempt to break the union, an unnecessary waste of money which put POAL’s books in the red?

If none of that meets Tony Gibson’s personal definition of “arrogance”, I’d hate to see what did.

John Key’s weird “gotcha” moment on ACC

Andrew Little was pushing the Prime Minister today on the fact that he’s ripping off workers and businesses to the tune of $350 million in ACC levies in order to generate his much-promised, never-delivered budget surplus.

Desperate to throw mud any way he could, Key took this patsy question from Tim MacIndoe:

 

Here’s the release in question.* That’s right, folks: apparently Andrew Little is a hypocrite because in 2009 he said levies were being raised unnecessarily high in order to prop up National’s political agenda, and in 2015 he’s saying levies are being kept unnecessarily high in order to prop up National’s political agenda.

Breathtaking, isn’t it? A real knockout punch, from the OTT reactions of Macindoe and Ross sitting behind him.

But maybe that does sound like hypocrisy to someone like John Key, to whom going back on his previously-held positions is second nature, whether it’s promising to resign over mass surveillance of New Zealanders, promising to apologise to victims of sexual assault, or promising he hasn’t had contact with Cameron Slater.

The surprising thing is what a terribly weak attack line this is. Since Key and his office lost Jason Ede it’s like all the pizzazz has gone out of the dirty politics machine.

*And no, there’s no conspiracy in me posting that link; it’s the top result when you google “andrew little acc levies epmu”, so calm down, Chaos & Mayhem.