When it’s hard to keep count of the number of inquiries into a political scandal then it’s safe to say the Government is in a hole.
In political terms, inquiries are supposed to take the heat out of issues and to allow those most feeling that heat some breathing space before being independently vindicated, in whole or in part.
The sheer scale of the Dotcom spying scandal is rivaling the ACC saga in inquiry numbers, although the body count is yet to start.
Some commentators, however, doubt there will be any official casualties at all.
The most effective way of achieving this is for the Government to make sure that any official inquiries are blunted and cautious.
The last thing the Government will want is to have to give into demand for a fully independent and comprehensive inquiry. Today’s Dominion Post editorial says, however, that ‘The case for a full independent inquiry into the entire debacle grows stronger by the day’ – see Overseer's oversight lets us down.
This hard-hitting editorial laments that Prime Minister John Key ‘has badly let the public down’ with his ‘inexcusable failure’ to provide appropriate oversight of the spy agency.
Naturally, the Opposition parties are pushing hardest for another inquiry – see RNZ’s Opposition says independent inquiry now inevitable. But there isn’t much point in more inquiries into what wasn’t known or done thinks Graeme Edgeler: ‘What matters now is how the actions of the GCSB and other Spy Agencies are checked in the future’ – see: Kim Dotcom: We need an Inquiry! Edgeler also calls into question the wisdom of wanting increased political oversight of the state spies: ‘The only question that really needs to be answered is whether David Shearer would do it differently, and whether a Prime Minister taking a more interventionist role in controlling our spy agencies is something to be welcomed, or feared’.
The existing inquiries are especially problematic. The initial Paul Neazor inquiry was seen as either a ‘white wash’ or too limited its purview and now the current internal GCSB review led by seconded Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Kitteridge is being portrayed as yet another insider review. Gordon Campbell points out that Kitteridge ‘will be required to pass judgement on her old boss’ – see: On the Kitteridge inquiry into the GCSB. Campbell also looks at the new head of the GCSB, Ian Fletcher, and his involvement in the British Gower Report that ‘strongly advocated cracking down on illegal downloading and counterfeiting’.
The current police investigation is also being criticised for a perceived lack of independence – see, in particular, Adam Bennett’s Dotcom spy lawyer has police ties. Of course, claims of a cover-up will be very hard to completely disprove when the agency at the heart is by its very nature secretive. The scepticism is summed up by Scott Yorke in So It's Possible.
At the very least, the Prime Minister shouldn’t be seen as undermining the current investigations says media-law specialist Steven Price: ‘we have our Prime Minister telling us that the police’s investigation is a “political stunt” and a “waste of time”. What if the police take this as a not-very-veiled indication of what the Prime Minister wants the outcome to be?’ – see: The operative word.
The problem for the Government over the illegal spying issue is – as with ACC – that further revelations may confound attempts to quarantine the issue. There are now claims that the GCSB was involved in spying on Kim Dotcom as far back as November 2011, months before the raid on his mansion – see David Fisher’s Suspicion over Dotcom net glitch and Andrea Vance’s Kim Dotcom surveillance began earlier.
But more serious for the Government, was the news on Wednesday from John Key that he had in fact been made aware of the GCSB involvement in February and not September – see TVNZ’s John Key to make correction over GCSB spying.
It is bewildering, writes Jane Clifton, that senior minister were not paying more attention, if not for political reasons, than just because ‘in even the most basic human terms, this is a fascinating stoush’ How responsible is the NZ government for the Kim Dotcom fiasco?
All this, according to John Armstrong, has meant that the PM is going through his roughest patch since coming into office. But despite the loss of trust in the GCSB and being obliged to apologise to Parliament, Armstrong thinks the worst looks to be over for National – see: PM suffers his hardest blow so far. While that may be true, a tipping point may have been reached. Vernon Small warns that all the elements are in place: ‘The killer mix for every government is a cocktail; unpopular decisions, an electorate tiring of the same old faces and a loss of perceived competence' - see Are voters turning against John Key?
Having got it wrong to Parliament was very unfortunate for Key as his main line of defence has been his willingness to be upfront. Cameron Slater compares this attitude favorably with that of Phil Goff, who got into a public stoush with civil servants about what he was or wasn’t told at a briefing – see: The difference between John Key and Phil Goff. Indeed, if Labour continue to call for a wider inquiry, National might be tempted to extend it right back before 2009 to see if Labour’s political oversight of the GCSB was up to scratch, especially during the massive Urewera surveillance operation. It may be a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’.
Joe Bennett looks at the issue through spy eyes: ‘You don't issue speeding tickets to James Bond’ – see: Easy to drop ball when playing with big boys. The GCSB share their initials, but not much else, with other organisations. Or rather they do when they get their own name right – see Toby Manhire’s The GCSB: a reality slide show.
Meanwhile it’s off to Hollywood, where the PM will meet with Mr Dotcom’s sworn enemies. The Labour Party see a conspiracy in this, pointing out that Key has been meeting with the Hollywood lobbyist who Dotcom accuses of getting the US Government to destroy him – see Andrea Vance’s Labour joins dots on PM's dinner and Dotcom. The Waikato Times thinks Key needs to keep it real: ‘If he really expects us to believe the Dotcom affair won't be mentioned, we can only wonder who is in Fantasyland and where it is located’ – see: Special favours for film? However, Professor Jane Kelsey, from Auckland University sees a ‘deeper significance’ in his trip given that ‘The entertainment industry is the principal driver of US demands for radical new intellectual property protections in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement’ – see Newswire’s Key's Hollywood trip `all about TPP'.
Other recent political articles of note include:
* Winston Peters should look to Labour after the next election if he wants to be in government for any length of time argues Chris Trotter in Peters can get it right with a lurch to the Left. Trotter’s logic about Peters being a ‘red tory’ and having more in common with ‘blue socialists’ is sound, except he leaves out the complicating colour green which could be a major barrier to Peters joining a centre-left government in the future.
* With a Labour re-shuffle confirmed for this year tensions appear to be mounting within the Labour caucus. A tweet about ‘enemies from within’ from Nanaia Mahuta set off speculation but the education spokesperson said she was referring to internal Tainui politics – not the Labour caucus. But today she was clearly warning that she would not allow the birth of her second baby to be used an excuse to demote her: MP hits back at demotion rumours in Labour reshuffle.
* Mahuta is also clearly unimpressed with the possible return of John Tamihere but Claire Trevett would welcome it – if only for the headlines he would undoubtedly generate – see: Tamihere capable of rising above messy past. Trevett thinks Tamihere would contribute in two areas where Labour is lacking: ‘He has inhabited a place all too rarely visited by politicians: the real world. There is another problem for Labour which he could help rectify - the erosion of the Maori caucus.’ Taking on Paula Bennett in Waitakere is Tamihere’s plan but as Carmel Sepuloni came within a whisker last time he may have a fight on his hands to win the nomination. Greg Presland doesn’t rate his chances – see: Tamihere eyes up Waitakere.
* As always there is plenty of speculation and advice for Shearer about who to promote and demote - see: David Farrar’s The Labour reshuffle, Robert Winter’s A Labour Re-shuffle? and Martyn Bradbury’s Labour Party reshuffle & the rebirth of Tamihere.
* Shane Jones has been very quiet lately but made an exception to criticise Greenpeace for attacking his former employers – see: Bill Moore’s Greenpeace stays firm despite MP's fury over Sealord spoof (http://bit.ly/SAKQOG). The Standard questions where his loyalties now lie: Shane Jones: now pimping for Sealords.
Steven Cowan wants to know why the Council of Trade Unions is seemingly reluctant to join the fight: ‘Perhaps both the CTU and Labour should reflect on the fact that to win an election you have to show that you are prepared to take the fight to this government and that you are offering something more than yet another variation on the failed policies of neoliberalism’ – see: The Invisible CTU.
* By publishing National Standards results ahead of the official release, Stuff’s John Hartevelt and the Herald on Sunday’s Jonathon Milne found themselves having to defend the data on TV3’s Media 3 against blogger Keith Ng. The journalists argued that, despite problems, there was valuable information that justified publication, while Ng maintained his view that providing warnings and additional stories to add context cannot change the fact that the data is fundamentally unreliable. To Hartevelt’s credit he has continued to cover the official admissions about shortcomings in how pupil evaluations were made and revealed that officials didn’t want results published this year because it risked "damaging buy-in from the sector" – see: National standards report exposes 'flaws'.
* School closures are always going to be politically difficult but the Ministry of Education’s handling of the Christchurch re-structuring is making it a lot harder. Campbell Live revealed that the information the proposals are based on is flawed – see: Christchurch schools claim merger data incorrect.
* Gerry Brownlee was presumably told to breathe through his nose as Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg told TV3’s Firstline that New Zealand appears to be choosing a different path to the one the top-ranked Finnish education system is using – see: Finland education expert discusses New Zealand schools.
* Kate Wilkinson was just being brutally honest when she said that 50 people could die in the next six years during the rebuild of earthquake-hit Christchurch – see: RNZ's Minister warns of fatalities during city rebuild.
* Ex-Libertarianz candidate and ex-Act MP Deborah Coddington gives some friendly advice to the Libz ahead of their re-branding conference this weekend: Goodbye Act, hello Libertarians.
* Finally, the dearth of local political satire in the mainstream media has Russell Brown looking to the blogosphere for the funny stuff – see: Irony Deficient.