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NZ POLITICS DAILY: The National govt is looking sleazy

Perceptions of corruption, cronyism and conflicts of interest can be incredibly damaging to any government, and National will be very wary of a narrative developing that this administration is infected with political sleaze. Nothing makes a government look more tired, out-of-touch, and arrogant than scandals that suggest governing politicians are ethically compromised and governing in the interests of the powerful rather than the public. Judith Collins’ milk endorsement scandal is beginning to have a serious impact on the Government’s reputation. But unfortunately for National, there are a number of similar stories dogging it at the moment, and they all come on the back of previous allegations of cronyism related to the scandals over John Banks as well as the SkyCity convention centre procurement process.
Allegations of corruption, cronyism and business dealings
The scandal over Judith Collins and her allegedly favourable treatment of the milk company that her husband helps run has allowed National’s opponents to make some strong attacks on the character of, not only the Minister of Justice, but the whole National administration – see, for example, Felix Marwick’s Government all but accused of corruption. Opposition politicians are accusing the Government of being too close to the interests of the rich and powerful, and claim they are being compromised by National’s various links to businesspeople.
If this characterisation becomes accepted by the public, then the Government will be badly damaged by the ‘sleaze factor’. In our anti-political age, in which politicians, political parties, and governments are viewed suspiciously by the public, such allegations can prove to be electorally disastrous.
For those still not convinced that there’s been any sort of conflict of interest in the Judith Collins scandal, see Tim Watkin’s blog post Collins & Cunliffe – how to win friends & influence people. Adam Bennett outlines the parallels of this scandal with the one that brought down another National minister – see: Shades of Pansy Wong.
What is particularly unfortunate for National is that the Oravida firm in question isn’t just linked personally to the Minister of Justice, but has incredibly strong links to a number of senior National Party people. For more on this, see David Fisher’s Milk firm has hosted string of Nats. And for a further example of how easily National is being painted as too close to private interests, see Jane Clifton’s The 'Crusher' looks a bit flat.
Arrogance in government
So far the problem has been that National, John Key, and Judith Collins have not appeared to take the issue seriously, which has just made the situation worse. I commented on this yesterday on TVNZ’s Breakfast programme – see the article and interview Judith Collins 'blinded by arrogance' – commentator. In my view the over-confidence of Collins – and the National Government in general – is causing it to make mistakes. I also discussed this last week in my column, National's overconfidence problem. Collins herself has responded to my analysis in her 7-minute interview together with Shane Jones on Breakfast this morning – see: Shane Jones apologises to Judith Collins over personal remarks.
Today the Otago Daily Times has a hard-hitting assessment of Collins, calling for her to be sacked, and drawing attention to National’s arrogant response to the public concerns on the issue, and concluding: ‘The familiar pattern of pride, even arrogance in long-serving government MPs - which also afflicted Helen Clark's team in its last term - is insidious.  Ms Collins, it could be argued, clearly manifested such dangerous signs.  If National is going to win September's election, it must root out such tendencies without delay’ – see: Insidious arrogance of power.
Today’s Dominion Post also cites the growing arrogance of National as its Achilles heel: ‘Two senior National figures have been made to look foolish and cavalier. Mr Key knows that voters detest arrogance in their rulers, and he has tried hard – not always successfully – to avoid any taint of it in his own style. But this episode has combined high-handedness and incompetence, a deadly combination’ – see: Collins embarassing the PM. The editorial says that the ‘serious issues at stake here that must not be dismissed as mere beltway storms’, and the scandal has ‘raised serious questions about National's trustworthiness’. See also, Rachel Smalley’s Collins has been flippant and foolish.
The very strong condemnation of Collins
Probably the harshest condemnation from a political commentator, is Duncan Garner’s very strongly worded opinion piece, Judith Collins must resign. In this must-read column, Garner says ‘She has misled the NZ public and that’s not acceptable. She has lost the confidence of a nation. She has misled the PM – and that’s where it always used to get terminal for Ministers with Helen Clark in charge. But John Key has decided to tough this one out. It’s the wrong decision. He should sack her’.
It’s not only Collins who has handled the scandal incredibly poorly and appeared not to take it seriously. John Key is now coming in for a lot of criticism for his role in it all. The most interesting response has been Patrick Gower’s John Key is scared of Judith Collins.
For similar analysis, see also John Armstrong’s 'Mr Angry' pulls minister down to Earth and Vernon Small’s Minister caught with milk on her face.
The Crushing of Judith Collins’ political ambitions
Despite surviving in her job so far, Judith Collins’ future political ambitions appear to be have been crushed by her own actions. Few commentators – or National insiders – are likely to be forecasting Collins to take over as party leader when Key eventually steps down. Until recently she’s been the frontrunner but, as the NBR points out, the iPredict website has shown a big fall for Collins, a rise for Steven Joyce and an even more interesting rise for Simon Bridges – see: Bridges edges Collins as favourite to replace Key.
In Defence of Judith Collins
Few on the political right appear to be willing to go into bat for the beleaguered minister. Despite usually being the darling of the rightwing blogosphere, it’s difficult to find any significant defence of Collins. Instead, the rightwing politician has been left to stand up for herself. You can watch her recent appearances on TV, such as the 6-minute interview with Paul Henry, Judith Collins on Oravida and cutting ribbons and the 10-minute interview with John Campbell, Judith Collins fronts about Oravida visit.
Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking suggests that ‘the smallest mole hill is in serious danger of being made into a ridiculously large mountain’ – see: Where do we draw the line? Moreover, he makes the case that Collins might be excused due to the grey areas involved in the case: ‘If you have found what Collins did to be dodgy, let me ask you a few questions. Just where do we draw the line? If you’re a minister and your partner is in business, are you banned from ever dealing with that business or dealing socially with the people in that business? If the partner is in an export business, what’s the line between promotion of that business given we’re an exporting nation and it looking a bit slippery?’. Hosking also argues ‘I don’t think anyone in their right mind thought Collins was endorsing a milk product when she said she liked the milk’.
Similarly, in the Listener Jane Clifton puts the case for Collins: ‘Those calling for her head, however, are stretching a point. Yes, she may have praised Oravida’s milk, but it would have been bad manners to do otherwise. And she neither wrote nor authorised the account of her praising the milk that appeared in the company’s publicity material’ – see: Another balls-up (paywalled). Clifton also points out that it has now simply become the job of Cabinet ministers to promote such business interests: ‘MPs visit businesses every week and talk them up. Jingoistic boosterism is mandatory when they go overseas’.
A further defence tactic of Collins and National is essentially the line that ‘it is human to err’ and that Judith Collins is simply human. Although, in reply to this, blogger Carrie Stoddart-Smith says Minister Collins human error is not a defence.
For more on Judith Collins and what makes her tick, see the latest Ruminator blog post interview Me and Ms Collins. Expect to see more ‘human’ stories about Collins and less projection of the ‘Crusher Collins’ image. And perhaps expect to see some tears. One account of a tearful Collins can be seen in Rachel Glucina’s gossip column Crusher in tears over bungled Oravida affair.
And for more on why Collins is upset about personal rumours, see Stacey Kirk’s Collins knocks 'hurtful' rumours.
Parallels with the 1999 general election campaign
The best New Zealand case study of ‘political sleaze’ scandals helping kill off a government’s popularity, can be seen in the lead up to the 1999 general election, in which the Jenny Shipley-led National Government was dogged by similar allegations of corruption and cronyism. The most damaging was the Shipley-Saatchi scandal in which the PM was accused of conflicts of interest in her political relationship with the Saatchi and Saatchi Chief Executive, Kevin Roberts. The Saatchi boss was a close personal friend of the PM’s, and his dinners with Shipley become a story of controversy. Shipley admitted that the dinners were about advising the Government on campaign strategy. At the same time, Saatchi was awarded an international marketing campaign for the Government Tourism Board. This eventually led to resignations from the Tourism Board that cost $900,000, and the resignation of the Minister for Tourism Murray McCully.
There were other public sector scandals around this period including allegations that the National Government had stacked many public sector organisations with their supporters, one of whom – the TVNZ chairman Ross Armstrong – was forced to resign. Leading up to this, there were also a spate of public sector prosecutions, firings and embarrassments that called into question the ethical probity of the government sector. Also prior to the 1999 election, the Minister of Immigration, Tuariki Delamere resigned after controversy over his approval for permanent residency of a group of Chinese businessmen.
It was at this election that New Zealand saw its first campaign based around allegations of scandal and cronyism. The Labour Party made much of such political sleaze, and was partly elected on the basis of getting rid of public sector corruption, mismanagement and improper conflicts of interests. Ever since then, there’s being an escalating war in New Zealand politics about personal and political impropriety.
There is no doubt that Labour will now throw everything into bolstering this scandal and attaching the idea of political sleaze to the Government’s reputation. Labour blogger, Will Matthews has correctly pointed out the strength of this strategy for the Opposition: ‘Allegations of crony capitalism have been one of the only things that the opposition have been able to make stick to National, and a week of stories that incriminate some of the most important figures in government could be the start of a slippery slope that ends in election disaster. If Judith Collins goes, then she could take the future of the National Party with her’ – see: Oravida’s Employee of the Month.
The latest scandals foretell a particularly aggressive election campaign on its way. There will be much more discussion about links between business and politics – with more columns such as Brian Rudman’s latest: Cash needed to grease wheels of democracy. But, in the end, fights over political finance and trust will lead to a further sullying of public’s opinion of MPs and political parties – see Gordon Campbell’s This is why we don't trust politicians.
Mixing business, politics and citizenship decisions
It’s unfortunate for National that another political finance scandal has been brewing this week – with revelations about the National Government providing citizenship to a businessman - against the advice of officials - and then accepting a political donation from one of his businesses – see Jared Savage’s original story Citizenship, then $22k for Nats and today’s update: Businessman in citizenship row up on violence charges.
This citizenship story has parallels with Labour’s scandal over a similarly-named Bill Liu, but David Farrar points out that there are some key differences – see: Another Liu citizenship issue. Nonetheless the saga raises key questions again about whether Cabinet ministers should be over-ruling immigration officials, and today the Herald calls for reform on the matter – see: Ministers and immigration shouldn't mix. See also, Stacey Kirk’s Key: 'Nothing untoward' in citizenship waiver.
Further allegations and satire
A less high-profile scandal is alleged by blogger James Dann – see: Special Investigation: Adams Family Values. Other leftwing bloggers have followed up on the issue with further questions for National’s Amy Adams – see Rob Salmond’s Amy Adams in very serious conflict of interest, and No Right Turn’s Amy Adams owes us some answers.
Finally, for satirical and lighthearted portrayals of the issues of the day, see Scott Yorke’s John Key explains to the media, Toby Manhire’s You've got mail from our esteemed leaders..., and my own blog post of cartoons and photos -  Images of Judith Colllins and the Oravida milk scandal.

Today’s links

Judith Collins

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Collins knocks 'hurtful' rumours

Mike Hosking (Newstalk ZB): Where do we draw the line?

Jane Clifton (Stuff): The 'Crusher' looks a bit flat

Waatea News: Collins crushes National credibility

The Ruminator: Me and Ms Collins

Adam Bennett (Herald): Collins targeted in Parliament over links with businessman

Peter Wilson and Sarah Robson (Newswire): MPs set sights on Collins' Oravida meetings

Rachel Smalley (Newstalk ZB): Collins has been flippant and foolish

TVNZ: Judith Collins 'blinded by arrogance' - commentator

John Armstrong (Herald): 'Mr Angry' pulls minister down to Earth

Claire Trevett (Herald): Key serves Collins a bout of indigestion

Jane Clifton (Listener): Another balls-up

Dan Satherley (TV3): Peters: Collins broke the rules, has to go

The Jackal: The face of corruption

Willie Jackson (Stuff): 'Crusher' Collins in trouble

Stacey Kirk and Vernon Small (Stuff): Collins vows to resign if she shames the boss again

Dominion Post: Editorial: Collins embarassing the PM

ODT: Insidious arrogance of power

Adam Bennett (Herald): I'd resign if it was true, says Collins

Felix Marwick and Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): NZ First attacks defiant Collins over Oravida saga

Will Matthews (Left Estate): Oravida’s Employee of the Month

Brook Sabin (TV3): Pressure mounts on Collins

TVNZ: Opposition keeps heat on Collins over China dinner

Gordon Campbell (Stuff): This is why we don't trust politicians

The Standard: Scandals


National citizenship waiver

Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB):More scrutiny demanded over citizenship case

Adam Bennett (Herald): Donation draws political fire

Jared Savage (Herald): Businessman in citizenship row up on violence charges

Herald: Editorial: Ministers and immigration shouldn't mix

Keeping Stock: A Herald beat-up

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Key: 'Nothing untoward' in citizenship waiver

Jade Cooper (Newstalk ZB): Accusations of favouritism after wealthy businessman becomes citizen

Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): PM says all above board over citizenship decision

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Another Liu citizenship issue

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): National faces citizenship allegations

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Another Liu citizenship issue

The Standard: Scandals


Amy Adams 

James Dann (Rebuilding Christchurch): I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more

Rob Salmond (Polity): Shortcomings in the disclosure rules

James Dann (Rebuilding Christchurch): A couple more questions for Amy Adams


Genesis float

Jamie Gray (Herald): Share bonus for Genesis float

Newswire: Genesis offer 'a desperate fire sale'

Newstalk ZB Staff (Newstalk ZB): Greens suspect monkey business in the Genesis Energy float

Taylor Sincock (TV3): Govt unveils Genesis share details

Tim Hunter (Stuff): Genesis Energy offer priced low

Joanna Hunkin (TVNZ): Genesis share offer revealed


Shane Jones vs. Greens

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Why Shane is wrong about the Greens

Keeping Stock: When satire and truth collide

Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): A statement from Shane Jones

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Jones lashes Norman



Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Novopay costs continue to mount

Newswire: Govt, Talent2 still at odds over Novopay costs

Sarah Robson (Newswire): Novopay alternative not on the cards

Samantha Anderson (Daily Blog): It’s someone’s fault


Polling and the election

Chris Trotter (Stuff): Early election call brilliant

Grant Duncan (Policy Matters): How to disfranchise 10,000 citizens

Siobhan Downes (Stuff): Politicians looking awkward with babies

Rob Salmond (Polity): Endangered: Polls without cell phones

Grumpollie: Rob Salmond’s post on cell phone polling

Pete George (Your NZ): On polls and cellphones

Andrew Chen (Mashed Calculator): Thoughts on Negative Politics and Youth Participation

Ellipsister: Brief note on Party Politics and MMP

Daily Blog: Miriam Pierard – Why I’m voting this election

Grant Duncan (Policy Matters): The Winston factor

Matthew Beveridge: National and info graphics



Newswire: Up to 60 Corrections jobs set to go

Newswire: Corrections staff 'sick of change fatigue'



TVNZ: Greens launch $200m cycle safety policy

David Kennedy (Local Bodies): LB: Greens hit the ground running

Eric Crampton (Offsetting Behaviour): Discounting Cycling

Will de CLeene (gonzo): Mojo's Fulcrum



Simon Wong (TV3): MPI lays charges against Fonterra

Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Fonterra to plead guilty to MPI charges

Stuff: Drought declaration ruled out

Stuff: Erosion shares water quality blame



Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): The Soap Box: Wheeler removes the punch bowl from the party

Liam Dann (Herald): How much the rate rises will cost me

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): What 0.25% means

David Farrar (kiwiblog): Food prices

Catherine Harris (Stuff): NZ 'muddling through' on rule-making

Brian Easton (Listener):Been counters

Richard Meadows (Stuff): Kiwis need to face retirement facts



Stuff: Today in politics: Friday, March 14

Herald: The Insider: Roll out the red tape

Richard Prebble (Scoop): The Letter

Karl du Fresne: Bitten in the bum by the Human Rights Act

David Williams (Stuff): The cruel irony of a Maori land grab to build an expressway

Stuff: Activist faces forced house sale

NZ Parliament: New Zealand MPs at the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly

Stuff: Helicopter funding row resolved

Listener: Editorial: Character witness

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Turkish PM also muses about closing down Facebook!

The Standard: Stand up for fairness in & for NZ – TPPA, March 29

Greer Berry (Manwatu Standard): Editorial: Rate increases simply shocking

Grumpollie: Explaining how a minimum wage rise can reduce inequality

Keith Rankin (Daily Blog): Coalitions and Tabloid Interviewing

Efeso Collins (Daily Blog): Deconstructing the media metanarrative

Matthew Beveridge: John Key, David Cunliffe, Russel Norman and some Twitter analytics

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): How hard is it to proof read 12 words or so?

Michael Fox (Stuff): Power bill transparency promised

Comments and questions

I don't think it matters two hoots what National looks like. The socialist economics espoused by Cunliffe, and certain to be approved by Red Russell, will keep true centre-left Labour voters well away from the booth come polling day.

What about the socialist economics espoused by Key and English? Kiwisaver, KiwiBank, interest-free student loans, the super fund, Working for Families etc - they've kept on every single one of Helen Clark and Michael Cullen's core policies.

Key and English come nowhere near the frightening 'tax businesses and the rich pricks more' Labour vision he espoused yesterday. Policies designed to destroy, not just those he is aiming at, but those who depend on them.

National have no choice, bad legislation becomes a 'right' overnight. It will be fifteen to twenty years before some groups of people can be weaned of these imagined 'free' rights; meanwhile the country struggles to develop meaningful employment opportunities, and take advantage of world demand for our Rural sector primary produce, dairy, meat, fruit, wine etc,- the backbone of NZ's economy.

On its website, Oravida says it bought the Quay St building two years ago. Agencies including the NZ-China Council, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and others have since opened their doors there.
NZ-China Council chief executive Patrick English said his agency signed a lease with Oravida after it purchased the building, on full commercial rates, and the attraction had been the building's location and the proximity of NZTE and MFAT. He did not see any conflict with so many government-funded agencies being clustered around Oravida.
- Patrick English is wrong, isn't he?

Either Oravida should move their office out of the building or the Minister's husband should resign from the directorship, at the least, in order to remove the impression that the Government is too cosy with this company.

The leases should be handled by a third party on Oravida's behalf, and attendance by Auckland-based agencies at the company's promotional events should be strictly monitored and accounted for. It is good a spotlight has been brought to bear on this situation so that lessons can be learnt, adjustments made and standards set.

In any other democratic country Collins would be gone - custard

But not here in this unethical banana republic

If you have lived anywhere else in the world, you know this not to be true. NZ is pretty clean in politics compared to at least 20 other countries am aware and have first hand knowledge of. Clearly, NZ can do better re internal image but too much time is spent on this 'little' issue when so many others are at stake which have a clear impact on NZ families and the economy in general.

Bryce, you are supposed to be a Political Reporter, not a Socialist spin doctor.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Collins having dinner with her husband and his business colleagues. A minor error was not telling Key every little detail of her waking hours.
There are far greater potential disasters sitting just over the horizon this year; but you seem totally unaware of such. Stop being a spin doctor if you expect to have any credibility.

So it was OK for Helen Clarke to open the offices of David Cunliffe's wife's new law practice which she ( Cunliffe's wife) openly said was set up due to environment policies of the then Labour Government and she probably had early inside knowledge of, but it is not OK for Collins to have a glass of milk and a dinner.

If Collins has to resign so should Cunliffe.

Just to be clear I don't think Collins or Clark did anything wrong but is the Labour Party who bought all this up and is trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill of it.
I presume Doctor you know about glass houses and stones.

Maybe Dr Norman?go figure.

Supporting NZ business should be in any ministers job description regardless of who owns them..

Bryce why don,t you dig around and find who Cunliffes secret donors are.

agree ministers should be supporting NZ business, so how many other businesses did Collins visit in China on that trip - once /let alone twice?

The issue is that Olivida has close links so the perception is of favouritism. collins has been stupid and or arrogant in this matter.

But as i say above how many other companies where visited, how many asked her to visit but where turned down. Lets see if the treatment of all businesses is similar or there is favouritism.

My own experience is that helping NZ companies unless they are very big (or have some form of relationship as per this case) you get NO support from ministers.

The perception is that Labour is in self destruct mode and that their political supporters in the media are doing their best to deflect the public's attention away from the train wreck by manufacturing "crises" about minor issues which are meaningless in the real world.

Of course Collins should resign. Perception is everything, as Abraham Lincoln argued. She knows this. And of course Labour have been just as culpable in the past.

Why would you vote for any of them? - particularly giving them a party vote?

When politicians are not accountable directly to an electorate, it's open slather.

Moreover, we should be making sure that we, the people of this country, have the power to put a stop on any legislation they cook up to pass. We don't vote for it. They inflict it on us

The smart Swiss did with their 100 Days provision. It will come here because people are getting more and more fed up with political bullying - and the How-dare-you-ask-me-this type of arrogance we have recently seen.

This is the only way to control politicians and I, too, back this overdue movement.

Yes. National is looking worse than sleazy.,

When you look into the details, any government in power will have some 'sleaziness'. Meeting with a company as a Minister (by any government) - how can this be considered sleazy especially if it is going to help a NZ company? Maybe we are being a little too hostile to such a minor issue.

Who else did she visit. Why is sge not helping other companies in the same way?

compared with Washington – where a succession of corruption scandals have forced legislative efforts to rein in the powerful lobbying industry – New Zealand looks like the Wild West. It is relatively easy to find out which doors Fonterra's lobbyists have been through in Washington. Here, the only way the media or a member of the public can access such information would be to go through the laborious Official Information Act

This week the Greens raised questions about ministers and ministerial staffers accepting tickets to pop concerts and corporate boxes from Westpac Bank, ... the Greens have raised a legitimate concern. Corporate boxes are not all about the rugby. They are also places where the movers and shakers gather to flap their lips about issues of the day. There is nothing particularly sinister about that, so long as ministers and their staffers also take soundings in the wider community – at school field days, down at the shops, even from the occasional soup kitchen line.

as the army of lobbyists grows, the lack of rules around disclosure – not just about what sort of hospitality our ministers accept, but the lack of any sort of transparency about who is talking to who – should worry us all.

What are we to think of the government movers and shakers gathered in the Oravida Building in Quay Street along with Oravida's NZ office? One big corporate box?

The landmark building owned by the company at the centre of a political storm over its links to a senior Cabinet minister plays host to a clutch of National Party grandees and agencies tasked with opening doors in China.

John Key: "Pansy, Pansy Wong; come back home, all is forgiven. I done you, wrong".