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NZ POLITICS DAILY: Is NZ really the least corrupt country on earth?

Never before has the word ‘corruption’ been in so much use in New Zealand politics. The legal trial of John Banks is just the latest political scandal that involves allegations of corruption being asserted. There are plenty of other political controversies at the moment where allegations of corruption are a factor. Yet, today the Berlin-based NGO Transparency International has declared, once again, that New Zealand is the least corrupt nation in the world, ranked equally with Denmark. You can see the Transparency International report here: Corruption Perception Index 2013. For further details and discussion of the results and what they all mean, see my blogpost, Political corruption in New Zealand – 2013. In this I point out that an apparent paradox exists whereby New Zealand has experienced an explosion of political finance scandals over recent years, yet Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) suggests New Zealand is relatively immune from corruption. I look at some of the reasons why this might be. The blogpost also includes some information on how the use of the words corruption and corrupt have exploded within the media over recent years.

Senior public servant Beith Atkinson has also blogged to discuss two important questions about the latest report: Is there a rash of corruption if only New Zealanders looked for it?, and Why are we not excited about again topping the Corruption Perception Index?

In addition, it’s worth asking ‘why’ New Zealand has achieved its excellent low-corruption status. One government agency – the Ombudman’s Office – is claiming some of the glory – see Stacey Kirk’s NZ public service least corrupt: survey. The Minister of Justice is also celebrating the latest ranking and proclaiming what her government is doing to advance the corruption-free goal – see Judith Collins’s NZ tops global ranking for transparency, again. And PR professional Mark Blackham says the achievement is down to societal factors rather than what politicians do – see: Honesty is cultural, not political

Of course, the CPI isn’t the only measure of corruption – Transparency International released its Global Corruption Barometer in July, with some very interesting results for New Zealand, especially for the institutions of political parties, the media, and Parliament – see: Corruption in New Zealand survey. And next Monday, the local chapter of Transparency International is publishing its extensive National Integrity Systems assessment, which is an attempt to provide a much more nuanced and sophisticated assessment of all the areas of public life that help prevent corruption arising. (I’ve contributed chapters to the report relating to the media, political parties, and the Electoral Commission.) For some other recent scholarly research on corruption in New Zealand, see Robert Gregory’s working paper, Assessing “Good Governance” and Corruption in New Zealand, and Gregory and Dan Zirker’s Clean and green with deepening shadows? A Non-complacent view of corruption in New Zealand

Corruption doesn’t only impact on politics and the public sector. Today, Dylan Cleaver reports on NZ's biggest sporting scandal: NZ stars targeted in cricket cheating probe. See also, Matt Richens’ NZC won't name players in corruption investigation

The Government has already responded to developments – see Greg Stutchbury’s Reuters article, NZ to ramp up anti-corruption fight. But there are many other areas in which the Government might want to make reform if New Zealand is to keep it’s low-corruption status – as pointed out by Rob Stock in his column, Century-old corruption law carries wrist-slap penalties. 

John Banks legal trial

The downfall of Act Party leader John Banks is due to the upcoming court trial over allegations that he knowingly submitted a false electoral declaration about political donations. Such ‘electoral fraud’ charges add to an array of existing allegations of corruption in New Zealand politics – with the idea that politicians and wealthy individuals are illicitly buying and selling favours. This is well backgrounded by Tim Watkin in his blogpost, John Banks and the lumpy mattress of deceit. And you can watch TV3’s 5-minute recap of the whole issue: John Banks donations story, as broken by Campbell Live. See also Patrick Gower and Tova O’Brien’s review, Banks 'thoroughly honest guy', Key says

The other important items on the Banks prosecution are Adam Bennett’s Fast-track plan for Banks' trial and Graeme Edgeler’s John Banks: what next?

David Cunliffe’s election day tweeting

The Police are investigating Labour leader David Cunliffe for violating electoral law in the Christchurch East by-election. In tweeting what is categorised as an ‘election advertisement’, Cunliffe broke the law that prohibits such campaigning during polling. The Electoral Commission has referred the matter to the Police. Although such violations of electoral law might technically fit into some definitions of ‘corruption’, it’s worth keeping some perspective on the extent of wrongdoing – which is very nicely parodied by Scott Yorke’s mock statement from the Labour leader: “You will never take me alive!”

Cameron Slater has contributed two very good blogposts on the issue. In one post he seeks to refute Cunliffe’s argument that he broke the rules by mistake or ignorance – see: Cunliffe’s defence shot to hell. In a second post he points out that the Police do not have a strong track record of investigating and taking action on electoral law violations, and he suggests another agency be given that responsibility – see: Is it time for a change to electoral law? That’s why a private prosecution might well eventuate – see Stacey Kirk’s Serial litigant takes aim at Cunliffe. See also, No Right Turn’s blogpost, Prosecuting Cunliffe and Andrew Geddis’ Cunliffe’s folly.

Corruption in local government?

Allegations have been swirling around for years about corruption in the Kaipara District Council, in relation to its private public partnership in building the council's Mangawhai sewerage scheme. The millions of dollars that were illegally raised and spent by the Council have been retrospectively approved by Parliament last night – see Audrey Young’s MP's validate Kaipara rates

This law has passed at the same time that National MP Mike Sabin is attempting to get central government to payoff the $30m council debt, and just one day after the Auditor General has released her 420-page report on the scandal – see Andrew Laxon’s Auditors failed to spot Kaipara debt blow-out. Of particularly concern is the fact that auditors from Audit New Zealand (the business division of the Auditor General’s Office) failed to carry out proper checks that might have prevented the scandal occurring.

Not everyone is satisfied with the report. Some are calling it a whitewash – see Radio New Zealand’s Auditor-General apologises to Kaipara ratepayers. Stephen Franks has blogged to admonish the Auditor General and says it: ‘is a stunning vindication of several determined Kaipara people, and in particular of whistle-blower Clive Boonham.  Instead of snarling at the incompetent office-holders of the Kaipara District Council the Audit Office watch-dogs were inside fawning on them.  How secure are our traditions of incorruptibility, and accountability, when the watchers are asleep or lickspittles?’ – see: Kaipara victims of government non-performance. Many in Kaipara are calling for the Auditor-General to resign over the matter. 

Other fraud investigations

The eight-week High Court trial of South Auckland political activists accused of electoral fraud is nearly finished. For the best coverage of the trial, see Michael Field’s Candidate charged in vote fraud. And for the latest, see Newswire’s Lawyer warns of prejudice in fraud trial

The government inquiry into alleged misspending by the Kohanga Reo National Trust is still proceeding, and a draft report is expected early next year – see Radio New Zealand’s Kohanga report due within weeks. Maori Television’s Native Affairs programme broke the story – which you can watch online: Feathering the Nest Part 1 and Part 2.

Revival of the right? 

Yesterday’s retirement announcement by John Banks has set off a major discussion on the future for parties to the right of National. The discussion has been fuelled by further controversy about Colin Craig’s Conservatives – see Kim Choe and Simon Wong’s Colin Craig clarifies moon landing comments and Scott Yorke’s parody Statement from Colin Craig

The big question is whether a new rightwing party might be launched and who it might involve. Matthew Hooton has been at the centre of speculation about a new party for some time now, and he escalated discussion yesterday when he published an opinion piece on the NBR website entitled, NZ needs a new Bob Jones (paywalled). Hooton’s column reads as an announcement of a new ‘classical liberal’ party – one that would be both economic and socially liberal, much like Bob Jones’ New Zealand Party of the mid-1980s. Hooton says: ‘it is clear that the 19-year ACT project has lost its way. A new vehicle is needed. Surely there is at least 5% of voters to the right of John Key.  When Sir Robert launched his New Zealand Party, he was 44 years old and part of a new generation compared with the war veteran he was trying to depose. The new leader needs similarly to be in their late 30s or early 40s. They must know that Hong Kong is the model for tax policy, Singapore for law and order, China for welfare and the Netherlands for personal freedoms. They must know that the current government’s tendency toward corporate welfare and cronyism is dangerous and wrong’. 

Hooton was supposed to make an announcement tomorrow, but has since tweeted (@MatthewHootonNZ) to say ‘no “announcement" tomorrow. Clas-lib movement must reflect on next steps for longer’. 

Hooton says that ‘Act is dead’ but not everyone is convinced, and there’s a slew of articles today that speculate on who might replace John Banks as leader of Act and candidate for Epsom next year. The best of these are Audrey Young’s Rodney Hide's fans keen for a comeback after Banks' departure, Andrea Vance’s Commentator puts hand up for ACT, and Tracy Watkin’s ACT life support still on. Meanwhile, Martyn Bradbury outlines Why the Left should fear Matthew Hooton as ACT Party leader

Declaration: Bryce Edwards is a Board Director of Transparency International New Zealand. But the analysis here is his personal opinion.


Today’s content

John Banks, Act, Epsom and a new rightwing party

Matthew Hooton (NBR): NZ needs a new Bob Jones (paywalled)

Chris Keall (NBR): Key would set aside Chorus grudge and work with Hooton party – commentator (paywalled)

Audrey Young (Herald): Rodney Hide's fans keen for a comeback after Banks' departure

Andrea Vance (Stuff): Commentator puts hand up for ACT

Vernon Small (Dom Post): Banks takes only viable option

Dan Satherley (TV3): Hide tipped to make political comeback

Newswire: Hide bid would be welcomed: Boscawen

Sam Thompson and Frances Cook (Newstalk): Right candidate could save ACT Party

Matthew Dallas (Stuff): Editorial: Last gasp party surely at an end

Chris Keall (NBR): ACT candidacy in Epsom: Brewer puts it in black-and-white (paywalled)

Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): Banksie's long political career

Rachel Smalley (Newstalk ZB): One ruling makes politics very interesting

Grant Duncan (Policy matters): Take a bow, Mr McCready!

Rob Salmond (Polity): Free advice for Jamie Whyte

Rob Salmond (Polity): Implications of the Banks trial

Stephanie Flores (NBR): High Court agrees to hear Banks' election fraud trial

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Why the Left should fear Matthew Hooton as ACT Party leader

Tracy Watkin (Stuff): ACT life support still on

Tim Watkin (Pundit): John Banks and the lumpy mattress of deceit

John Armstrong (Herald): Banks was never going to stand again

Patrick Gower and Tova O’Brien (TV3): Banks 'thoroughly honest guy', Key says

Pete George (Your NZ): Hooton promoting new party?

Adam Bennett (Herald): Seeing parents jailed drove me - Banks

TV3: John Banks donations story, as broken by Campbell Live

Michael Sergel (Newstalk): ACT to forge ahead without Banks

Pete George (Your NZ): Can Hide save Act?

RNZ: ACT adamant it is still a political force

TV3: ACT is dead, say opposition parties


Corruption allegations in NZ

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): NZ public service least corrupt: survey

Beath Atkinson (Integrity Talking Points): Is there a rash of corruption if only New Zealanders looked for it?

Mark Blackham (Political Business); Honesty is cultural, not political

Bryce Edwards (Liberation): Political corruption in New Zealand – 2013

Radio NZ: NZ rated least corrupt country in the world



Audrey Young (Herald): MP's validate Kaipara rates

RNZ: Law validating Kaipara rates passed in Parliament

Radio NZ: Ratepayers say Auditor-General should help repay debt


Corruption in sport

Matt Richens (Stuff): NZC won't name players in corruption investigation

Dylan Cleaver (Herald): NZ's biggest sporting scandal: NZ stars targeted in cricket cheating probe

Herald: NZ's biggest sporting scandal: Law change to stop the frauds

Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Anti-drug, crime plan for New Zealand sport


Cunliffe election day tweet

Andrew Geddis (Pundit): Cunliffe’s folly

Stephanie Flores (NBR): Cunliffe tweet shows ‘clash of cultures’ in electioneering – Geddis (paywalled)

No Right Turn: Prosecuting Cunliffe

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Serial litigant takes aim at Cunliffe

RNZ: Cunliffe now being tracked by McCready

Audrey Young (Herald): Cunliffe referred to police over election day tweet

Simon Wong (TV3): Cunliffe referred to police over tweet

Michael Fox (Stuff): Cunliffe election tweet sent to police

TVNZ: Cunliffe by-election tweet referred to police

Newswire: Cunliffe to co-operate with tweet inquiry

Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Cunliffe referred to police


Colin Craig

Kim Choe and Simon Wong (TV3): Colin Craig clarifies moon landing comments

John Armstrong (Herald): Hello Colin Craig - you have a problem

Laura McQuillan (Newstalk): Colin Craig the butt of jokes in Parliament

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Craig on conspiracy theories

OIA: Colin Craig: What is not to be done

Lewis Holden: There's plenty of oxygen on the moon

Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): A statement from Colin Craig

Tristram Clayton (TV3): Epsom's opinion of Colin Craig

Rob Salmond (Polity): Conservative doubt on moon landings

Redline: Colin Craig unsure if Jesus walked on water



Catherine Woulfe (Listner): Education rankings “flawed”

Isaac Davison (Herald): Gap widens between NZ students

Rachel Tiffen (TV3): Education slide on world rankings causes concern

TVNZ: Education slide blamed on lack of teachers

Dom Post Editorial: Results bell warning for education

Timaru Herald: Editorial: No cause for panic

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): No room for complacency

The Standard: Why New Zealand’s educational standards are crashing

David Kennedy (Local Bodies): National Standards' Credibility Dives

Stephen Day (The Standard): Time to end perception of degrees for sale

Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Learning Media creditors out of pocket


GCSB inquiry

Peter Wilson (TV3):Leak inquiry 'set up to fail'

Stuff: MPs name Dunne as leak source


Asset sales

Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): English admits asset sales won't meet top target

Kate Harley (TV3): Govt revises asset sales profit down $2b

Newswire: Govt approach to assets changes

Rob Hosking (Polity): Projecting the referendum results

The Standard: 800,000 referendum votes in already



Tamsyn Parker (Herald): Labour: We will lift super age to 67

Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Is Labour looking after their rich mates in finance?



Ben Heather (Stuff): Children suffering, say benefit cut critics

TVNZ: House checks possible for solo parents on benefit

Jan Logie (Frogblog): Hiding behind beneficiaries and accusations of fraud

Herald: Over 5300 benefits cut due to info sharing



Marc Greenhilll (Stuff): Asset sales mooted to pay for rebuild

Charles Anderson (Stuff): Death or EQC - 'which is worse?'

Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Minister has confidence in EQC boss

Siobhan Downes (Stuff): SFO complaints double since quakes

Katie Kenny (Stuff): Red zone uninsured payouts 'unlawful'

TVNZ: Christchurch Red Zone lawfully created

Brendan Manning (Herald): Christchurch 'red zone' lawfully created

Brendan Manning (Herald): Christchurch 'red zone' dispute continues

Steven Cowan (Against the current): Neoliberalism can’t solve the housing crisis

James Weir (Stuff): Christchurch rebuild lifts housing figures

Eric Crampton (Offsetting Behaviour): Southern Response and Arrow Bleg



Southland Times Editorial: Relatively speaking

Guest Post (Whaleoil): Is the Press Council an elitist club?



Newswire: Doctors concerned about TPP

Haydn Green (Ruminator): You down with TPP?

Pattrick Smellie (NBR): Korea suddenly wants in to TPP, resumes FTA talks with NZ

Newswire: Opposition parties demand TPP disclosure



Andrew Geddis (Pundit): Next year's public law exam question is here somewhere ...

Sophie Barclay (Herald): Oxfam Executive Director turns to politics

Heather McCracken (Herald): Study: Sick leave costing economy $1.26b a year

Fran O'Sullivan (Herald): G20 global tax debate vital for NZ

Stuff: Today in politics - Thursday, December 5

Daphna Whitmore (Redline): Abortion rights in New Zealand

Comments and questions

This effort to sensationalise political "corruption" in NZ is, frankly, B.S. We have nothing on the Australians, the Americans or the Europeans in this context. Similarly, the puerile efforts of the media and political commentators to characterise the charge that John Banks signed a false electoral return as electoral "fraud" is pathetic. Nowhere in the legislation is the word "fraud" used in this context. The media and political commentators are just trying to sensationalise the issue and misleading the public in the process. As a famous saying goes "If I don't read the news I am uninformed. If I do read the news I am misinformed"|.


You must be commercially niave.

Ask yourself then how did Telecom, NZ Rail, Government Print, BNZ etc get sold for give away prices to parties that were supposedly advising the government on sale and price? Then the SFO chief goes to ground. This was bigger than Ben Hur.

That is not to mention the tax evasion that continues to go on by big corporates, while government have turned a blind eye to this.

MPs are elected to service NZ citizens, rather than overseas interests, which continue to raid this countries wealth.

Including the Canterbury earthquake, these big ticket items amount to more than weak governance.

How small is scale of fraud you are talking about, cause this amounts to billions.

I am not commercially naïve. I have held senior positions in business is several overseas countries, as well as in NZ. I have also been directly involved in a number of privatisations in NZ. Your comments prove my point. Your conspiracy theory views are typical of the B.S.I was talking about.

We may not have anything on the UK, US etc but we shouldn't trivialise what we do have and try to hide it under the carpets. In the last few months we have seen Auckland's mayor getting free rooms from hotels so that he can sleep with his mistress (who he got into a council paid job). In return the mayor went into bat for the hotel to enable them to expand their casino operations.

If that isn't corruption then I'm not 100% sure what is.

Legislation may not use the word "fraud" in the context of John Banks signing a false election return but "electoral fraud" describes the charge accurately.

I think we know who has been trying to mislead the public in this case.

The key word is PERCEPTION. It seems to me that number of commentators keep forgetting that.

When the “Perception of corruption” is blatantly in front of us with the example of the Mayor’s political nepotism – securing Council paid employment for his mistress – and the then woeful and complicit enabling actions by some in the MSM – one would suggest that “corruption” comes in all shapes and sizes…

All of NZ has seen proof the Mayor of our largest city performed corrupt political nepotism securing his mistress Council paid employment, yet the likes of Campbell Live’s man-love fest with Len and various other media entities all complying with the man-love stance, enabling it through complicity. So, instead of asking hard questions, or even insisting he resign immediately because of his political corruption… Len gets some Campbell man-love for his corrupt behaviour. And let’s not mention Len’s lack of ethics, gross disrespect for local Iwi and his blatant abuse of Mayoral powers to secure freebies – and then, for the corrupt Mayor to deny that the Council’s “Code of Ethics/Conducts” don’t actually apply to him is astounding.

Corruption will never end if the individual at the top is enabled to continue with corrupt practises and given a “free ride” by the very 4th Estate Media who are democratically charged with holding elected officials to account!

Ideologically sympathetic media to a corrupt Labour Mayor only enables, condones and encourages more of the same behaviours. We’ve all seen the imbalance surrounding political reporting – take the hounding of Richard Worth and John Banks – contrast that with Len’s love-fest, Shearer’s free goal regarding his secret off shore US bank account and Cunliffe’s blatant fictions in his CV – where are the investigative stories on those issues?

Or are they hushed up, swept under the mat now because the Labour Party financiers are now imbedded into the Press Council?

The Treaty of Waitangi pay outs and the on-going special favours dished out to various Maori organisations are evidence of the corruption in NZ.

It's legal under the law system. A justice system would be nice.

My observations of the Legal system in action poses the question of incompetence/corruption especially involving the Police, Lawyers, Judiciary and the blurring of the line between them. Having a law & a regulator is fine but if the regulator is under resourced or who's brief is so narrow in the circumstances in which he can act renders the law of no real value which poses the question of if Parliament itself is incompetent in not understanding the effects of legislation in practice or if such flawed legislation is a sly way of covering up incompetence/corruption. There is also the question of conflict of interest especially when it is not declared pre any action or investigation and the failure to remove those who fail to declare a conflict smacks of cover up. Whilst my main observations are on the commercial world there is also evidence of serious misconduct in one major Government organisation having knowingly mislead the Courts , a book on the subject is under consideration.

Yep - well, when our Parliament has no "minimum" standard of qualification/education/awareness of fiscal/commercial realities - NZ ends up getting individuals in Parliament through a back-door List MP mechanism where some haven't even completed a BA in "Arts"...let alone a worthwhile Degree... and then those people are then charged with creating legislation the rest of us have to abide by.

Endemic white-collar fraud. Corporate cronyism. Massive misuse of public funds at local government level. Casual election fraud. Complacent and indolent Justice and Police systems. But not corruption, can't have that.

In the recent Auckland Mayoral election, I polled 4th with 11,723 votes on a campaign to stop corrupt corporate control of the Auckland region.

This is the 'Action Plan' upon which I campaigned, to stop 'white collar' crime, corruption and 'corporate welfare':

In my considered opinion, Transparency International's 'Corruption Perception Index' is not worth the paper upon which it is written.

How 'transparent' is the data upon which this 'Corruption Perception Index' is based?

Is this 'Corruption Perception Index' not based upon the subjective opinions of anonymous business people?

The 'perception' of New Zealand, as 'the least corrupt country in the world', is about as real as the 'clean, green' image.

Pity that the reality doesn't match the perception, and the FACTS don't match the mantra?

My opinion is considered, having now attended three international anti-corruption conferences, questioned and talked to anti-corruption experts, read the material, and carried out research no one else has here in New Zealand.

Read it for yourself on
Also -

Penny Bright

Attendee: 2009 Australian Public Sector Anti-Corruption Conference
Attendee: 2010 Transparency International Anti-Corruption Conference
Attendee: 2013 Australian Public Sector Anti-Corruption Conference

Penny - where did you poll in the Mayoral Election?

...and have you paid your Rates yet? Or are you still expecting everyone else to pay their fair share and yours as well?

Look at Transparency International's supporters, and you'll understand why it can't find corruption:

Most of what you are whinging about is more to with the fact that we are in reality a village on the international stage with a populace of what 4.2 M.

His Woe ship following his tingling tool around town is one thing but if you want to experience real old deeply enshrined corruption go and live in say Indonesia, the Eastern bloc , parts of Africa.

Get real you deluded ninkinpoops - NZ is of course one of the least corrupt countries in the world - we live a thing called the rule of law, the judiciary cannot be bought and corrupt practices stick out like dogs bollocks in our small economy and will ultimately wither and die if in existence - simple as that.

Get a life ...and some form of reality and yes pay your friggin rates !