NZ POLITICS DAILY: Government vulnerable on allegations of corruption and cronyism
‘Dodgy politicians’. That’s the likely verdict throughout the country in response to the Maurice Williamson scandal and resignation. So often the details of such scandals are too opaque, murky and ‘beltway’ for voters to concern themselves with. But nonetheless the public takes allegations about corruption and cronyism very seriously, and can be quick to write off an administration as being tired and politically sleazy. That’s why the National Government is highly vulnerable on the Williamson scandal, especially because it comes on top of other similar scandals and allegations.
Opposition politicians are now ramping up the pressure on National with such messages. Toby Manhire deals with this best today in his column End of rainbow man golden chance for Labour. He says, pointedly, that ‘the overarching impression plays directly into the opposition's primary line of attack: cronyism, special treatment for special friends. If there is a weak link in National's stonking popularity, it is the perception that this second-term government is increasingly detached from New Zealanders at large’.
Audrey Young ponders Labour’s response today, and forecasts that for the next week ‘the themes National, cronyism and corruption will be on trial, along with John Key's standards’ – see: Lack of judgment as worrying as it is bizarre. Also in terms of Williamson she also wonders whether ‘power has been so corrupting he lost the ability to tell right from wrong’. That will be a widespread feeling.
The problem for National is that the Williamson scandal could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for many voters, because the accumulation of so many individual allegations about cronyism and corruption might suddenly hit the some sort of electoral ‘critical mass’. Today’s Dominion Post puts this very well: ‘It's not individual scandals that typically hurt a government, but a multitude that somehow connect – that indicate some recurrent, essential failing. The Williamson and Collins sagas jointly suggest a troubling cosiness between National and its funding sources. For a party naturally associated with wealth, it's a bad look’ – see: Friends with deep pockets. The editorial also points out that the public is proud of the country’s low-corruption status, and such political interference in policing challenges that.
The Southland Times newspaper also pushes this point strongly: ‘Williamson's fall has done some damage to wider Government credibility, feeding the spectre of money buying political favours. Liu, after all, was a party donor. The Opposition will now be encouraging the public to link this to other cases of impropriety on behalf of financial supporters’ – see: The perils of just askin'. It argues that ‘This Government is already particularly vulnerable to the impression of favouritism. Its actions have made it so’.
The Herald’s editorial is equally scathing of the National Government, questioning its ethical compass: ‘The number of such incidents involving members of the Key administration has reached a concerning level. It seems almost as though the Cabinet Manual is an irrelevance unless media disclosure is guaranteed. How much of this behaviour is never revealed, hidden away tidily through "no surprises" - the insistence that bureaucrats warn politicians in advance of potentially embarrassing publicity?’ – see: Williamson – the other questions. The editorial also states, ‘that this is a far from isolated instance of a member of Mr Key's Government displaying so grievous a lack of judgment that it raised questions about their personal ethics’.
So, is the National Party too close to wealthy investors? It depends on your perception. Vernon Small says today that the Williamson scandal ‘opens the door to the perception of a different standard for the big investor over the average Joan Public; that "economic importance" could be a factor in the way the police go about their business’ – see: Maurice Williamson fallout will colour perceptions. He also says that ‘It all feeds in to the Opposition parties' narrative that the Government helps its "rich mates".’
National vulnerable on the immigration aspect
Part of National’s vulnerability relates to the ethnic and immigration aspects of National’s relationship with donors, which will certainly concern more xenophobic voters. The NBR’s Rob Hosking deals with this well in his paywalled column, Williamson/Lui affair a stalking horse for taxpayer funded political parties. Hosking says, ‘That raises the other area of damage: migration and foreign investment. This is the sleeper issue of Election 2014 but it is one which is now waking up, fast. Whatever you think of the rights and wrongs of the level of both investment and migration – especially from China – the crude political fact is it makes a lot of New Zealanders very uneasy. And a lot of that unease is stirring in the breasts of people who would normally vote National. Yes, it is often crude, xenophobic and downright racist at times. But it is there, it works at a very emotional level, and it is potentially very damaging not only to National's political prospects but also to the country's longer term well being’.
Gordon Campbell also raises similar issues about the public’s suspicion of residency-for-money money rules – see: On Maurice Williamson’s brand of after-sales service.
Judith Collins scandal reignited
A big downside for the National Government is that the Williamson scandal reignites questions about the Judith Collins Oravida affair. Many commentators are now questioning why Williamson had to resign but Collins didn’t. This is best argued by Paul Buchanan in his blog post, Another National double standard. The key part is this: ‘What is similar and what is different about the two cases? They are similar in that they both involve Chinese nationals with economic ties to the National party or entities linked to it. They are similar in that the ministerial interventions were in violation of the cabinet manual regarding conflicts of interest. They also represent obvious forms of political influence peddling. How are they different? Collins is a key player on National’s front bench, whereas Williamson is on the outers with National’s heavy hitters. Thus he is expendable while she is not. Comparatively speaking, Williamson’s crime was arguably less than that of Collins’.
For Andrea Vance the explanation is that Williamson is the victim of Collins being protected by Key: ‘After Judith Collins' questionable dalliances with Chinese company Oravida, National could not afford another whiff of cronyism. Even the best spin doctors would struggle to contain a scandal that involves a long-serving minister, domestic violence and a wealthy donor. Former minister John Banks will go on trial next month accused of submitting a false election return. In an election year, and weeks out from the Budget, Key can't afford to use precious airtime defending the inappropriate behaviour of a low-level minister. Particularly one that many say is past his sell-by-date’ – see: Nicely done Mr PM.
Similarly, Duncan Garner says that Williamson has ‘paid the price for Key being too kind on Judith Collins and her involvement in helping Oravida get ahead in China’ – see: Maurice Williamson’s approach was pure arrogance. Garner takes a very hardline on National and Williamson: ‘What is it with National and their Chinese contacts and donors? It’s really starting to stink, isn’t it? Anyway, it’s now time for Williamson to signal the end of his political career in Wellington. He is no longer fit to stand again in Pakuranga. It’s over. He has no future in Parliament. Out in disgrace’.
For another explanation of why this is so bad for National, see Danyl Mclauchlan’s National’s week. He argues that Williamson’s sins are worse than other previous transgressions: ‘I think this Williamson resignation is a pretty big deal. Superficially it resembles the case of Nick Smith resigning after intervening in an ACC debacle. The big difference is that Smith intervened on behalf of a friend who was struggling in her dealings with the agency, while Williamson intervened on behalf of a National Party donor who assaulted his wife and her mother by informing the police that the accused was very wealthy. Smith looked like a Minister who abused his position. Williamson looks like a horrible, hateful crooked scumbag who obviously doesn’t accept that he’s done anything wrong: he’s given a ‘sorry if I caused a perception of wrongdoing’ non-apology and insists he’s going to stand again in September’.
Allegations of cronyism
There are other parts of the National Government’s administration that are under attack at the moment. And not just from opposition parties. The NBR’s Matthew Hooton is now running an ongoing campaign against ‘corporate welfare’ and the idea that the state is getting too close to businesses and industry. This is best put in his paywalled column, Joyce resurrects Muldoonist state. Hooton focuses on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), which he says has become ‘a socialist monstrosity, the likes of which Mr Anderton could only dream’. Hooton draws attention to numerous subsidising roles that MBIE undertakes, focusing particular attention on a golf tournament example: ‘Mr Joyce personally decided that Sir Michael Hill’s annual golf tournament – some call it a private party – should receive $2 million of taxpayers’ money. Mr Joyce knew the tournament was certain to make a loss. Therefore, he decided, taxpayers should reduce the losses of its promoters, who have close links to the government. The golf tournament’s backers even got to present their case directly to senior ministers, after the Major Events Investment Panel – chaired by a close personal friend of the prime minister’s chief of staff – couldn’t make up its mind’.
In today’s NBR, Hooton has yet another column focusing on such ‘cronyism’: ‘decisions on funding are ultimately the gut instincts of ministers and officials. That is, decisions about many hundreds of millions of dollars – if not billions – have been based on value judgments by politicians and bureaucrats against woolly criteria. The whole thing is arbitrary. If this were a sub-Saharan country, we would call it business as usual. In New Zealand we might use another word’.
Finally, the demise of Maurice Williamson could provide the necessary boost for the Conservative Party, especially if Colin Craig is able to take advantage of the mess and successfully stand in Williamson’s Pakuranga electorate.
Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Williamson aims to stand at election
Dominion Post: Editorial: Friends with deep pockets
Southland Times: The perils of just askin'
Vernon Small (Stuff): Maurice Williamson fallout will colour perceptions
RadioLIVE: Pressure not over for Williamson
Isaac Davison (Herald): Embattled MP reveals more links to businessman
Jared Savage (Herald): Crossing the thin blue line
Adam Bennett (Herald): Police alerted Beehive under 'no surprises' policy
Brent Edwards (Radio NZ): Power Play
Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): The Soap Box: Motormouth Maurice Williamson
Craig McCulloch (Radio NZ): Opposition sets sights on other ministers
Jared Savage (Herald): Maurice Williamson conducted citizenship ceremony himself
Marilynn McLachlan (Herald): Eight NZ politicians who were forced to resign
Andrea Vance (Stuff): Williamson resignation: Nicely done Mr PM
Tova O’Brien (TV3): The fall of Maurice Williamson
Bryce Edwards (Liberation): Top tweets about the Maurice Williamson scandal
Pete George (Your NZ): Should Williamson resign from Parliament?
Danyl Mclauchlan (Dim-Post): National’s week
Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): Right thinking: Just looking after the investor
Morgan Tait (Herald): Williamson: An 'error of judgment'
Isaac Davison (Herald): Profile: Who is Maurice Williamson?
Brendan Manning, Jared Savage, and Isaac Davison (Herald): Maurice Williamson 'crossed the line' – PM
Radio NZ: Resignation 'shows falling standards'
Audrey Young (Herald): Why Maurice Williamson should be sacked
Brent Edwards (Radio NZ): Career marked by controversy
Rob Hosking and NBR Staff (NBR): Williamson resigns as minister over call to police
3 News Online Staff (TV3): Maurice Williamson resigns as minister
Ian Llewellyn (Stuff): Maurice Williamson: The dark days
Andrea Vance (Stuff): Maurice Williamson: A career of highs and lows
Jared Savage (Herald): Maurice Williamson: Emails between top cops revealed
Alan Papprill (The Irascible Curmudgeon): National Party Shaken, Stirred and Split.
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Maurice Williamson has resigned – not every rainbow over Pakuranga has a pot of foreign investor gold in it after all
Peter Cresswell (Not PC): More Good News From National!
No Right Turn: Two obvious questions
No Right Turn: "No intention to interfere"
Kevin Norquay (Stuff): Political downfalls
Newswire: Williamson and Liu's links
Paul Buchanan (Kiwipolitico): Another National double standard.
Matthew Beveridge: What was he thinking?
Danyl Mclauchlan (Dim-Post): The normal job of an MP
Radio NZ: Resignation 'shows falling standards'
Duncan Garner (RadioLive): Maurice Williamson’s approach was pure arrogance
Labour’s monetary policy
Rob Stock (Stuff): Bank warning for Labour KiwiSaver plans
Brian Fallow (Herald): Labour's plan a subtly blunt instrument
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Labour now joins NZ First as being anti-immigration
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): How big an impact would variable compulsory saving have?
Susan St. John (Daily Blog): Let them eat cake
Taranaki Daily News: Constituent MPs make their mark
Nicholas Jones (Herald): Legal highs pulled from shelves
John Drinnan (Herald): Making a stand on dope
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Drinnan and the ALCP ‘conspiracy’
Rosemary McLeod (Stuff): Twice in one week, a Govt decision makes sense
Newswire: Six legal highs pulled from shelves
Michael Cummings (Manawatu Standard): Hayes tries to take easy route
Stephanie Rodgers (The Standard): Todd Barclay’s real problem: naïveté
Matthew Beveridge: Paper cut outs
Bevan Hurley (Herald): Bogus car testimonial adds to MP's woes
Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): NZ First travel claims queried
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Herald on MP staffing
Newswire: National names Dunne's opponent
3 News Online Staff (TV3): Dunne: Internet Party's purple could confuse
Laura Dooney (TV3): Dunne denies political deal
Radio NZ: United Future says logos too similar
Lois Cairns and Charlie Gates (Stuff): 'No shortfall' in repair costs, says Brownlee
Glenn Conway (Stuff): Mayor showing the strain
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Labour goes crying to Helen
No Right Turn: Labour will restore democracy in Canterbury
Andrea Vance (Stuff): ACT candidate's awkward video mocked
David Farrier (TV3): David Seymour explains YouTube campaign ad
Dean Parker (Herald): Let's remember the martyrs on May Day
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Unhappy May Day – National’s war on workers
Michael Daly (Stuff): The story behind the Odd Future ban
No Right Turn: A shitty reason to refuse entry to New Zealand
Paul Easton (Stuff): Claims of statutory management at Te Papa 'garbage'
Radio NZ: Postgrad allowance won't be reinstated
Karl du Fresne (Stuff): Ignorance rife on social media
Niko Kloeten (Stuff): Chinese rules likely to boost dairy deals
David Fisher (Herald): Snowden invitation proposed
Grant Duncan (Voxy): Pre-election agreements: Bad for democracy?
Elspeth McLean (ODT): Time for some of our politicians to take a good dose of elixir