NZ POLITICS DAILY: Deception and integrity in politics and public life

New Zealand politics is ‘a dirty, disgusting, despicable game. And it involves dirty, disgusting despicable people at all levels’. That’s the view of National Party-aligned blogger Cameron Slater. Is he right? Some areas are obviously cleaner and more principled than others. The blogosphere – although a particularly valuable part of the ‘public sphere’ – is often also one of the dirtiest and more deceptive. This reputation will be further cemented by revelations yesterday that one of John Key’s spin-doctors, Jason Ede, has supplied content to Cameron Slater’s Whaleoil blog. For the best coverage of this, see Michael Fox’s Senior Key staffer's rubbish pic duty.

This story may seem frivolous or ‘beltway’, but it actually raises important questions about how political parties and politicians operate in New Zealand. For example, there are often allegations swirling around the blogosphere about who really funds the various partisan blogs, and whether they’re essentially written from within the taxpayer-funded parliamentary offices of the political parties. There are constant rumours that the various blogs are closely connected to parliamentary offices – Whaleoil to National, The Standard to Labour, Daily Blog to Mana – but no evidence to prove the allegations. The Greens are fairly upfront that Frogblog is produced by their spin-doctors in Parliament.

It appears that parliamentary press gallery journalists have been investigating John Key’s senior spin-doctor, Jason Ede, for some time. Michael Fox says that his office made requests back in October to the Prime Minister to explain the role of Ede and his relationship to Cameron Slater’s Whaleoil blog: ‘When asked by Fairfax Media in October about Ede's relationship with Whale Oil, the spokeswoman said Ede was a senior adviser in the National leader's office. He provided communication advice and support to the prime minister and to National Party MPs, including in the area of social media and other media.  "Jason works a lot in the area of social media and that includes getting out National's message to a range of bloggers and other social media sites," she said’ – see: Senior Key staffer's rubbish pic duty.

The article also quotes the Herald’s Claire Trevett in her capacity as press gallery chairperson: ‘it's odd that someone who does work in the prime minister's office would refer information on anonymously to a blogger, especially that kind of information’. Trevett says, ‘It does make me wonder what other contributions Mr Ede might have made, as well as whether this is sanctioned by the prime minister in any way’.

Isaac Davison reports the reaction of Labour leaders to the revelation in PM's office distances itself from party photographer. Davison says: ‘Labour Party deputy leader David Parker said the publication of Mr Ede's pictures showed the link between the website, run by blogger Cameron Slater, and the National Party.  "Today's unsavoury events prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the links between Cameron Slater and the ninth floor of the Beehive.  "This raises serious questions about the source of many of Cameron Slater's stories.  "We can now safely assume future leaks regarding confidential government information and political attacks National wants to distance itself from, come from John Key's office.'' Also, Phil Goff is quoted as saying, ‘It shows that there is underlying network of people who get Whaleoil to do their dirty work for them… And that network goes as high as the Prime Minister’s office’.

The twittersphere responded quickly to the story about Jason Ede, and you can read some of the more interesting tweets in my blogpost, Top tweets about Whaleoil’s connection to the Prime Minister’s Office. As you will see, unsubstantiated rumours about Whaleoil being financed and run out of the John Key’s taxpayer-funded parliamentary Leader’s Budget have been around for ages. Ede even had a starring role in Nicky Hager's Hollow Men, with David Slack ‏(@DavidSlack) tweeting, ‘Those wishing to know more of blog paparazzo Jason Ede may turn to The Hollow Men, pp 33, 76-77, 91,92,105,106 108, 143, 144, 184, 195, 260’. The NBR’s Rob Hosking (‏@robhosking) says, ‘There's long been a “black ops” rumour regarding Ede: my personal suspicion involves more a dirty yellow colour’. Satirist Steve Braunias (‏@SteveBraunias) was happy to be handed some material for his weekly column: ‘Jason Ede! “Secret Diary” has been waiting, patiently, for many years for someone as pathetic & lowly as Jason Ede. Bless you, Jason Ede!” And Patrick Gower (@patrickgowernz) writes a number of tweets in about Ede, apparently relishing Ede’s current plight.

The Standard blog has had Jason Ede in its sights for a long time, alleging that he’s part of some sort of ‘National Party smear unit’, and the manager of The Standard, Lyn Prentice, was quick respond to the revelations with the post, Cameron Slater: So who pays who?  Of course at the same time this post also drew attention to his own blog and who exactly is behind it, with one commenter asking: ‘Will Lprent confirm that no-one who writes for the Standard is in a comms team for a political party funded by the taxpayer?’ Prentice’s rather heavy-handed response to this was: ‘Provide me some proof of your allegation. Banned until you do, ie probably permanently’. This has had Pete George delving further into the issue in his blogpost, The Double Standard’s Stalin. George has also blogged at length on the main issue in Jason Ede and comms cowboys. He says the Jason Ede story ‘raises bigger questions. How much freedom do staffers have to operate in social media. How aware is Key, how aware are Ministers, of what is going on. How much say and how much control do they have. Do they simply trust these comms cowboys?  Political subterfuge and black ops are easy to carry out in social media, but it’s also easy to be caught out. All it takes is once spur of the moment mistake. When will politicians realise that openness and transparency is far safer and far more popular amongst voters? Generally the public hates dirty politics and they hate politics because of the dirtiness’.

Questions about deception and integrity in the PR and blogging world have arisen in other recent items. Last week’s Listener editorial complains that both corporate and government public relations is now all about deceiving and obscuring information and not helping improve accountability and transparency – see: The truth is out there. Blogger and journalist Peter Aranyi asks questions about the role of the institutions he is part of – see: Part of the news media? or a “PR blog” dedicated to “destroying” reputations? And media academic Merja Myllylahti says New Zealand’s blogosphere is thriving, but will the party last?

Whistleblowers for public integrity?

The Rebstock report on the public service leaks from MFAT has raised some important questions about integrity in public life. The best coverage of the report’s release is Adam Bennett’s MFAT leak: 'Person Z' hits back. But of particular interest are two excellent newspaper editorials with very different conclusions about the integrity of the ‘whistleblowers’ who leaked the MFAT report to Phil Goff. The Dominion Post says that the Leak was inspired by greater good. It proclaims that ‘there was a wider public duty and therefore the leak was justified. No government has the right to demand silence from the victims of a misbegotten purge’. It argues that public servants cannot rely on using ‘proper channels’ to blow the whistle on wrongdoing.

In sharp contrast, The Press editorial today says that the leakers actually ‘undermined the honourable cause of whistleblowing’ – see: Undermining the system. The editorial argues in favour of whistleblowing in theory: ‘‘Whistleblowers have a honourable, and legally recognised, role in a free and open society. When decision-making or some other function within officialdom has gone wrong, when there is a strong public interest in the matter and when there is no other way of bringing it to public notice, providing information to someone outside the official channels in order to get the matter put right is not only acceptable, it is also protected in law’. But, the editorial says, in this case, the leaks appeared to be about helping the Opposition score points against the Government.

Integrity in elections

The Labour Party will be embarrassed about the conviction of one of its Auckland Super City candidates for forging election documents – see the Herald’s Labour candidate guilty of using forged documents. David Farrar says that parties can’t always be held responsible for what their candidates do, but in this case Labour continued to associate itself with the candidate after he had been arrested – see: Labour candidate Singh found guilty.

So does the conviction of the three candidates mean that we have a electoral integrity problem in New Zealand? The No Right Turn blogger has a simple response to the convictions: ‘Good. The integrity of our electoral system is important, and its good to know that Singh will be held to account for attempting to subvert it’ – see: Guilty

Integrity in the judiciary and beyond

The integrity of New Zealand’s judicial system might come under challenge following the unusual joint announcement that there will be no prosecution of Pike River Coal Ltd's former chief executive and there will be a $3.41 million payment to the families of the 29 men who died. Helen Kelly has written a scathing blogpost on the so-called deal – see: On Pike. She says, ‘The Judge should have had nothing to do with this part of the agreement nor used the Court to collect the cash, and she seemed in her comments to support the deal saying it was “a good outcome”.  This is my view is highly inappropriate.  The precedent is huge’. But note, that one legal professor disagrees – see Vaughan Elder’s Pike River: Crown's choice 'difficult'

Finally, for a very sophisticated and in-depth investigation into issues of integrity in New Zealand politics and public life, it’s well worth reading Transparency International New Zealand’s major report published this week – download: New Zealand’s National Integrity System assessment. It features a critical evaluation of the role played by numerous pillars of society in helping to prevent corruption and promote integrity. I have contributed three of the chapters to the report (on Media, Political Parties, and the Electoral Commission). Much of the report is positive, but there’s also plenty of criticism and recommendations for improving the integrity of New Zealand politics and society. 

Today’s links

Pike River

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): 'Proper legal principles were followed'

Vaughan Elder (Herald): Pike River: Crown's choice 'difficult'

Southland Times: Editorial: This time it's impersonal

Herald: Editorial: Little solace for families of Pike River mine victims

TV3: Bring in corporate manslaughter – Labour

Deidre Mussen (Stuff): Whittall unwanted post-Pike

Matthew Backhouse (Herald): NZ should hang its head in shame: writer

Radio NZ: Outrage at dropping of Pike River charges

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): MPs 'appalled' by dropped Pike River charges

Helen Kelly (The Standard): On Pike

Kurt Bayer (Herald): Charges dropped against ex-Pike River boss Peter Whittall

Stuff: 'Not appropriate' to continue Pike boss prosecution

Joelle Daly, Neil Reid and Deidre Mussen (Stuff): Pike families furious over compo deal

Greg Presland (The Standard): Pike River – Charges against Peter Whittall withdrawn


Jason Ede

Isaac Davison (Herald): PM's office distances itself from party photographer

Michael Fox (Stuff):Senior Key staffer's rubbish pic duty

Newstalk ZB: Staff from Key's office sent photos to blog

Newswire: Key's staffer apologises for party photo

The Standard: Cameron Slater: So who pays who?

Polity: Key staffer caught supplying Whaleoil

Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): New media standard announced, care of Phil Goff and Claire Trevett

Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Nice to see an accurate quote

Bryce Edwards (Liberation): Top tweets about Whaleoil’s connection to the Prime Minister’s Office

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): PMs Office feeds Whaleoil venom

Pete George (Your NZ): The Double Standard’s Stalin


Electoral fraud

Herald: Labour candidate guilty of using forged documents

Radio NZ: Five found guilty in electoral fraud case

Stuff: Sikh guilty of election fraud

No Right Turn: Guilty

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Labour candidate Singh found guilty

Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Labour man Daljit Singh convicted on two charges


Rebstock report

Radio NZ: MFAT investigation waste of time and money: PSA

Dominion Post: Editorial: Leak inspired by greater good

The Press: Editorial: Undermining the system

Adam Bennett (Herald): MFAT leak: 'Person Z' hits back

Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Another day, another lie from Phil Goff

Adam Bennett (Herald): Rebstock report: No 'definitive evidence' of MFAT leaker

TVNZ: Mfat leak inquiry fails to identify source

Simon Wong (TV3): MFAT leak suspect former Labour researcher

Tova O’brien (TV3): Govt talks up mine safety improvements

No Right Turn: A $510,000 waste of money

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): The Rebstock report

Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Labour snitch implicated but not named in MFAT report


Paid parental leave

Dan Satherley (TV3): Moroney welcomes Govt's 'cynical' parental leave U-turn

TVNZ: Paid parental leave rethink due to surplus – English

NBR Staff (NBR): Labour could get its way on $450m parental leave bill

Lindsay Mitchell (Breaking Views): Paid Parental Leave extension unwarranted



Tahu Potiki (Stuff): NZ's delegation to wake was just about spot on

Jessica Mutch (TVNZ): A celebration of Mandela's life

TVNZ: Memorial services for Nelson Mandela

Andrew Austin (Herald): Sharples' serendipitous superstar sit-down

Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): Questions over cost of our MPs going to South Africa

Stuff: NZ honours Nelson Mandela

Peter Cresswell (Not PC): “Me, me, me” [updated]



Jody O’Callaghan (Stuff): School wins court costs fight

Gordon Campbell (Stuff): Charter schools not the answer

Radio NZ: Report says NZ should emulate overseas education systems

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): NZ Initiative on improving teacher quality

Catherine Delahunty (Frogblog):Ideas from Green education forum


Len Brown

Marika Hill (Stuff): Release Brown report: Councillors

NBR Staff (NBR): Hotel stays at heart of delays in releasing Len Brown report

Bernard Orsman (Herald): Len Brown silent on hotel bills

Brian Rudman (Herald): Like it or not, Brown can't be fired



Audrey Young (Herald): Inside the mind of Colin Craig

Audrey Young (Herald): Conservatives would seek repeal of anti-smacking law, says Craig

Tim Watkin (Pundit): The Colin Craig factor & the myth of religion


Child poverty and inequality

Matthew Backhouse (Herald): Food prices: Mums skip meals for kids

Michelle Duff (Stuff): Homes may be making children sick

Catherine Harris (Stuff): Survey shows salaries slow to increase

Kevin Hague (Frogblog): Reducing child poverty is the best investment

The Standard: How to: Pick an Excuse for Not doing Anything About Poverty

The Standard: Making sense of the (un)employment stats: Census 2013

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Making sense of the (un)employment stats: Census 2013



James Fyfe (TV3): Seized electronic gear proof of Customs' almost 'unlimited rights'

No Right Turn: Another abusive digital search


Maori politics

Radio NZ: Boxer could build Maori-Pacific bridge – Flavell

Wendy Murdoch (Stuff): Ruling to speak English a 'great offence'

Peter de Graaf (Herald): Money, mana row over Hole in the Rock

TVNZ: Tauranga iwi reach Treaty settlement milestone

No Right Turn: An open and shut case



Catherine Harris (Stuff): New high for median house price

Peter Cresswell (Not PC): The bad housing news just keeps coming

Glenn Linvgstone (Stuff): Housing issue has damaging impact



Stuff: Today in politics: Friday, December 13

Karl du Fresne (Stuff): As NZ changes, let's keep our democracy

Timaru Herald: Editorial: Taser use appropriate

TV3: First asset sales referendum results revealed today

Corazon Miller (Newstalk ZB): Labour blames Govt for long-term Defence Force damage

Michael Field (Stuff): Court martial for SAS soldier

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Trevett’s political awards

Radio NZ: Battery cage deadline extended

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Cutting reoffending

Aaron Gilmore (Mighty Rocket): Blogs and Media – the same but different

Newswire: Working party looks at online voting

Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Chorus report release likely next week

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Dotcom fighting against transparency

Newswire: Inquiry calls for ministry to improve disabled care

Radio NZ: NZ reputation at stake if unable to send troops overseas

Newswire: Employment law changes will soon pass

Herald: Taxi standoff resolved