NZ POLITICS DAILY: A nasty scandalmongering election campaign

Bryce Edwards

Get ready for a nasty election in which scandalmongering is the main campaigning weapon of politicians. The whole nature and feel of the 2014 general election campaign has abruptly changed over the last two weeks. Policy is out, and scandal is in. We might now expect that the next four months will descend into a bitter fight about the integrity of political opponents, with a large amount of mud being thrown around. The nature of electoral politics is that politicians are mostly reluctant to start throwinges directed back at them. But once the peace is broken, then a quick escalation in dirty warfare tends to occur.

For the best overview of this trend, seg around strong allegations for fear that they will then be subject to similar chare Anthony Hubbard's feature article The politics of 'sleaze'. Hubbard documents New Zealand's recent history of increasing electoral fights over scandal, detailing the downfalls and dishonour brought about by an increasing focus on politician wrongdoing. He points to the last election in which a similarly bitter fight over political finance emerged: 'The 2005 election exposed scandals on both sides: National's secretive dealings with the Exclusive Brethren, and Labour's use of taxpayer money to fund electioneering gimmicks such as its pledge card. Then National leader Don Brash accused Labour of being "the most corrupt government in New Zealand history". Labour leader Helen Clark accused Brash of being "corrosive" and "cancerous".'

For another excellent survey of the politics of scandal in New Zealand, see Josie Pagani's A taxonomy of scandal.

She sorts various scandals under categories such as the 'Bad Smell' scandal, the 'Slow Burner', and the 'Teetering' scandal. Pagani concludes by lamenting the distracting impact of scandals: 'Policy controversy is the engine of democratic politics. People are motivated to participate and support their sides because of their passionately held values and the way those values are expressed in policy. A scandal is an altogether less noble affair and belongs at the business end of politics'.

Today's Press editorial also condemns what it calls a 'manufactured' ruckus about political funding - see: Openness is the best policy. The newspaper argues that too much is being made of the recent allegations: '"Cash for access" is very far from "cash for favours", of which New Zealand is blessedly free. New Zealand politicians are undeniably the least corrupt in the world and to suggest scams where none exist is mudslinging for no useful purpose.'

Of course, although a focus on policy might seem more worthy, scandals in themselves are in fact highly political and in some cases do help the public understand important issues about how politics work and the relationship between the politically powerful and the economically powerful. Issues of political finance can be much more illuminating about politicians and their plans than policy discussions.

Expect more Opposition scandalmongering

Fights over political finance, with allegations of 'cronyism' and 'corruption', can be extremely damaging to those on the receiving end. As I pointed out in my column last week, Govt vulnerable on allegations of corruption and cronyism, National faces a significant threat to its survival in power. In the weekend, John Armstrong detailed just how much the tide is now turning: 'right now it feels as if the political gods are bored with the widely held assumption National will cruise to victory in September's general election. Someone or something has torn up National's script which was supposed to guarantee the party safe passage through to polling day' - see: Wheels falling off as National hits bumpy bits on road to election.

Labour is clearly onto a winner with this focus on scandal and it has given the party its best shot at corroding away the necessary few polling points which will ensure National is unable to govern. If questions about National's closeness to business and the wealthy drop National down to, say, 43% support, then Labour has every chance of leading the next government.

The huge potential for erosion can be seen in yesterday's Q+A opinion poll results - see TVNZ's Snap poll shows public divided over fate of Judith Collins. You can also watch Steven Joyce's response to this in his 11-minute Q+A interview: 'It wasn't a great couple of weeks' Steven Joyce. Watch also The Panel discuss the Steven Joyce interview.

Joyce's interpretation of the poll has been challenged by one pollster - see Grumpollie's Joyce gets it wrong, and all we see are the trees. And Rob Salmond explains why his party is happy with the poll in his post Q+A snap poll. It is clear why Labour has every interest in keeping these types of allegations flowing and so mud will continue to be thrown. Labour strategists will be highly cognisant of the fact that the last time Labour came to power - in 1999 - it was on the back of a campaign against the Shipley National Government 'sleaze'.

Other opposition parties, too, are asking some pointed questions and making serious allegations. Winston Peters, for example, is promising (as is his wont) that there is 'more to come'. Peters claimed during the weekend: 'Judith Collins will not survive next week, with what I know'.

The motives of parties making the 'cronyism' and 'corruption' allegations are questioned by Andrea Vance in her column, The price tag on rubbing shoulders. She points particularly at the Greens as having self-interested, ulterior motives in their campaign on political finance. Vance suggests that the Green Party stands to enrich itself from reform of political finance and that even when it comes to big money, the Greens 'might not like the donor system, but they'll sure as hell take the money'.

The latest Cabinet Club style revelation was in Phil Kitchen's Fundraising access to PM. Here's the key part: 'Some of Wellington's most recognisable names paid $3500 each to meet Prime Minister John Key at a National Party fundraising dinner also attended by his taxpayer-funded chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson'.

To see some more digging on the Cabinet Clubs, see The Standard's The politics of private dinners.

National's counter-attack

National's vulnerability on scandal means that the party is desperate to counter-attack. National is already returning the missiles relatively effectively, as explained by Tracy Watkins in her column, Does money talk in politics?. Watkins details Nationals' retaliatory allegations, essentially summarising them as 'they do it too'. Regardless of whether this logically gets National off the hook, it practice it works: 'Key's attacks are only partially driven by visceral dislike. He needs to spread the muck as far and as widely as possible to avoid the perception of National Party cronyism and corruption taking root. Since most punters adopt the plague-on-all-their-houses approach to politicians and money, he may have some success'.

Watkins also says: 'The average punter has no trouble believing money talks. They will have even less trouble believing it talks loudest to their elected representatives after the amount of muck sprayed around this week, plenty of which will stick. It is a poisonous perception that could have a corrosive effect on public confidence in both the institution of Parliament and elected government'.

The mutually assured destruction that will arise out of an all-out fight over political finance and corruption often leads politicians to want to pull back from hostilities is there's a chance that their opponent might also. This can be read in Gerry Brownlee's warning last week that the donations issue was getting 'out of hand' - see TVNZ's Govt tackled over dealings with wealthy Chinese businessman. Brownlee explains: 'I mean I think we could all get into sort of tit-for-tat discussions about who attended what for fundraising purposes. That's easily done'.

The reality is that just as there are questions about the fundraising of the National Government, there are plenty to be asked about fundraising by the opposition parties. This is well illustrated by Rodney Hide: 'Labour, too, has its problems. In chasing down Collins it has failed to confront the elephant in its caucus. We know who donated to National. We can spot the possible conflict. We can't say the same about Labour. That's because its leader resolutely refuses to name the donors to his leadership campaign. He has kept his donors secret. What has Cunliffe got to hide? What favours has he promised? Labour keeps insisting that money taints politics. Well, who has tainted Cunliffe? Will he ever tell us?' - see: Week of horror for National.

One of the latest National Cabinet Ministers in the firing line over political fundraising and lobbying, Michael Woodhouse, explained to me on Friday what he thought about the mud-throwing. You can watch my 45-minute interview from Friday: Vote Chat with Michael Woodhouse.

Return of electoral finance reform

A common theme in much of the commentary is the need for further electoral finance reform, with the possibility of taxpayer state funding of political parties raised often. But as Tracy Watkins points out, 'An environment in which allegations of corruption and cronyism are flying around with abandon seems similarly unlikely to foster a groundswell of support for boosting party coffers with taxpayer largesse'.

'Public funding' of parties is also mentioned in Anthony Hubbard's The politics of 'sleaze'. But perhaps more importantly, the suggestion is made that 'if the Official Information Act applied to Parliament, the public would be able to find out exactly what MPs spent their allowances on'.

Expect more focus on trying to work out where the money is coming from, with special attention to anonymous donations - such as in Danyl McLauchlan's Chart of the day, Everybody does it edition.

Further dissatisfaction with the current rules is also expressed in a Dominion Post editorial: 'Despite two rewrites of electoral finance law in the past decade, the rules are still too secretive' - see: Electoral finance rules shady.

More nastiness expected online

Much of the electoral nastiness will occur online over the next four month -some of it, no doubt, on Twitter. With this in mind, politicians should read Toby Manhire's Advice for tweeting MPs.

And of course much of it will be in the blogosphere, which can be a very nasty place, with dirt thrown around from all sides. With this in mind, it's worth reflecting on Cameron Slater's being given the best blog award on Friday night, as well as some of the reaction to this - see my own blost post, Top tweets about Cameron Slater's Whaleoil winning best blog at Canon Media Awards.

Finally, for another perspective on the person at the centre of most of the recent scandal, see Steve Braunias' The secret diary of Judith Collins.

Today’s links

‘Cabinet Club’

The Press: Editorial: Openness is the best policy

Dave Armstrong (Dominion Post): Bucks not talent a criterion for immigrants

Grumpollie: Joyce gets it wrong, and all we see are the trees

Andrea Vance (Stuff): The price tag on rubbing shoulders

Alex Mason (Newstalk ZB): Dr Norman takes a swipe at Key

Josie Pagani (Pundit): A taxonomy of scandal

Greg Presland (The Standard): The Herald is turning against the Government

John Minto (Daily Blog): Wow! – fancy that! – a Cabinet Minister who does house calls – but not if you are a poor Pasifika family!

Dominion Post: Editorial: Electoral finance rules shady

Laura McQuillan and Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): Cabinet Club must be sure of what it's selling

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Cabinet Club claims 'envy', says Henare

Dan Satherley (TV3): Winston Peters slams Govt as 'corrupt'

Chris Trotter (Stuff): Ministers take heed - the tribe has spoken

John Armstrong (Herald): Key treads carefully to keep caucus morale above water

Radio NZ: Key dismisses 'Cabinet Club' attack

Tracy Watkins (Stuff): PM lays waste to moral high ground

Rodney Hide (Herald): Week of horror for National

Gordon Campbell (Scoop): On the cash for access scandals

The Standard: The politics of private dinners

Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): Buying access

Danyl McLauchlan (Dim-Post): Chart of the day, Everybody does it edition

David Kennedy (Local Bodies): Cabinet Clubs and Singing Money

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Will John Armstrong, Claire Trevett & John Roughan need counselling if National lose? Why Cabinet Club and Oravida are so corrupt

Jan Logie (Frogblog): Immigration policy and the Cabinet Club

Samantha Anderson (Daily Blog): National has had 6 long years in power

Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock):If money taints politics . . .

Keeping Stock: Soper on the Kermits and Luigi...

Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): Greens camapign for state funding continues

Pete George (Your NZ): Joyce wrong on Collins poll

Rob Salmond (Polity): Q+A snap poll

Simon Prast (Daily Blog): The China Syndrome


Judith Collins

Newswire: NZ split over whether Collins should resign - poll

NBR: Snap poll finds voters split on whether Collins should step down as minister

Alan Papprill (The Irascible Curmudgeon): The Bellman tolls for Judith Collins... who will be next in the Nats' power struggle?

Steve Braunias (Stuff): The secret diary of . . . Judith Collins

TV3: Judith Collins and sex tapes

Duncan Garner (Stuff): Collins quarantined for good reason

Audrey Young (Herald): A big question hanging over Judith Collins

John Roughan (Herald): Hard to see conflict of interest

Toby Manhire (Herald): Advice for tweeting MPs

Michael Parkin (TVNZ): Nits rescue Nat's tough week

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Did Collins and Jones save Cunliffe?

The Standard: Moving Collins on


Maurice WIlliamson

Newstalk ZB Staff (Newstalk ZB): Williamson asked to explain loan of flash phone

Mai Chen (Herald): Media have a right to investigate corruption

Matthew Theunissen (Herald): Gift status of ex-Minister's phone disputed

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Disclosing loans


Budget 2014

Stuff: Government 'holding back' on quake costs

Karen Brown (Radio NZ): Call for review of GP funding method

RadioLIVE: Kiwis being squeezed tight by Govt – Greens

Matthew Beveridge: Nats, Nits and Twitter

Audrey Young (Herald): English to unveil surplus

Herald: Editorial: Australians must envy our Budget

Brian Fallow (Herald): Budget 2014: Goodies on the cards

Radio NZ: Nearly $1b new spending in Budget

Stuff: Health to receive biggest Budget boost

3 News Online Staff (TV3): Govt tax revenue up, but less than expected

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Govt 'on track' for small surplus

Fran O'Sullivan (Herald): Budget has more riding on it than economic management

TVNZ: Budget surplus on track as corporate tax starts catching up

Dene Mackenzie (ODT): Surplus still eludes English

Geordie Hooft (NBR): BUDGET 2014: Don’t forget the rebuild

Rob Salmond (Herald): Bill will show us the money

MTNZ: How should Govt ministers handle media interviews over the budget?


Canon Media Awards

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Canon Media Award Winners

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Why Whale Oil should win the Canon Media Blog of the Year

Keeping Stock: Congratulations Whaleoil

Stuff: Congratulations Cameron

Herald: Big haul for Herald at Canon Media Awards

Keeping Stock: Hate speech hypocrisy

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Far right hate speech merchant wins best NZ Blog

Jarrod Gilbert: Canon Media Awards Night. Bloody Hell.

Bryce Edwards (Liberation): Top tweets about Cameron Slater’s Whaleoil winning best blog at Canon Media Awards


Mana Dot .com

Adam Bennett (Herald): Dotcom's Internet Party unveils environmental policy

Laura McQuillan (Newstalk ZB): Mana-Dotcom partnership still a way off

Newswire: Still no decision on Dotcom-Mana deal

Laura McQuillan (Newstalk ZB): Dotcom back in Rotorua

TVNZ: Mana counting on Kim Dotcom to help win Waiariki seat

Neil Reid (Stuff): 'Family issue' keeps Dotcom from kapa haka champs

Tim Dower (Newstalk ZB): Kim Dotcom a no-show in Rotorua

Radio NZ: Sykes standing for Mana in Waiariki

Paul McBeth (NBR): Chinese National Party donor emerges as biggest shareholder in Dotcom’s Mega



Audrey Young (Herald): Act leader produces alternative budget

Newswire: ACT says sell assets to pay debt

Sophia Duckor-Jones (Newstalk ZB): ACT told 'hands off KiwiSaver'

Danyl McLauchlan (Dim-Post): A quick thought on media bias

Chris Keall (NBR): Slash company, personal tax rate to 17.5% — Jamie Whyte

Newswire: Call to cut top tax rate, slash spending

Jane Luscombe (TV3): ACT leader steals thunder in minor party debate

Tim Dower (Newstalk ZB): Big cuts under ACT's proposed Budget

RadioLIVE: Greens scoff ACT tax slash policy

Matt Nolan (TVHE): ACT’s alternative budget


Labour Party

RadioLIVE: Labour to release part of own budget

Glenn Conway (Stuff): Labour calls for flood relief urgency

Pete George (Your NZ): Labour’s internal poll differences

Matyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Perfect example of NZ mainstream media bias at work

Lynn Prentice (The Standard): Cunliffe interacts on monday evening

Mike Smith (The Standard): Ginny Andersen a rising star

Steffan Browning (Frogblog): Labour finally CoOL


National Party

Bevan Hurley (Herald): Prison guard quits job after ministerial probe

Herald: National's Wigram candidate revealed

3 News Online Staff (TV3): Carter won't stand in electorate



David Farrar (Kiwiblog): April 2014 polls

Rob Salmond (Polity): Trevett wrong on polls

Pete George (Your NZ): Mike Williams wrong on Ohariu


Stephanie Key

Stuff: John Key defends daughter's 'art'


Paid parental leave

Fiona Rotherham and Shabnam Dastgheib (Stuff): Support for means testing of parental leave

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Should paid parental leave be means tested?


Inequality and Economy

TVNZ: Time to raise low wage economy, top banker says

TVNZ: Convicted director wants wide inquiry into 2008 collapse

Deborah Russell: The fairness, or not, of secondary tax

Rob Salmond (Polity): The OECD's inclusive growth agenda

John Anthony (Stuff): Unite to mark worldwide strike

Brian Gaynor (Herald): Refining shareholder faces unequal battle

Grant Bryant (Stuff): Average worker to earn $62K – English

Tim Hunter (Stuff): Knighthoods cut profits – study

Latifa Daud (Daily Blog): Check Your Privilege Before Asserting Your Superiority


Drug policy

The Press: Editorial: No need to take risk with legal highs

Tom Hunt (Stuff): Synthetic highs in problem 'Big Four'

Newswire: Ministry rejects cannabis petition

RadioLIVE: Drug foundation wants to see more political will

Radio NZ: Medical cannabis policy urged

Ryan Steel (Stuff): Smokers don't know the risks



Susan St John (Herald): Private pensions for the lucky few

Rachel Smalley (Newstalk ZB): Aged care commissioner idea a positive one

Ellipsister: Death Duties

Radio NZ: Labour looks to protect elderly

Olivia Wannan (Stuff): Super for rich has $570m price tag

Danyl McLauchlan (Dim-Post): Probably worth it



Rob Stock (Stuff): NZ healthcare costs rising

Paul McDonald (Stuff): Consider a collective social approach to 'chronic diseases'

TV3: Are current levels of health spending sustainable?



Nicholas Jones (Herald): Parents fundraise $357m for 'free' schooling

Radio NZ: English test upheld for teaching

Radio NZ: NZ tumbles in education ranking



Radio NZ: Queenstown may enter Housing Accord

Jamie Morton (Herald): First-home hopefuls cautioned

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): A good example of why tenancies should be reviewed

Tom Hunt (Stuff): House plan may miss people on low income


Maori politics

Paul Little (Herald): Students viewed unequally

Radio NZ: Maori and Pacific people still poorest

Radio NZ: Maori Board chair defends pay levels

Radio NZ: Maori representation 'undemocratic'


Forestry deaths

Radio NZ: Forester's widow has message for Govt

RadioLIVE: Govt failed to protect forestry workers - Labour

Helen Kelly (The Standard): If it were someone you loved


Council debt

Geoff Cumming (Herald): Trouble brewing as council debt soars

Geoff Cumming (Herald): The tidal wave of debt



Stuff: Today in politics: Monday, May 12

Matthew Beveridge: Twitter Stats: A more detailed look

Wayne Hope (Daily Blog): Social media and indecency

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Are the Greens still investors in Windflow?

Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Overhaul of ACC processes put back

Radio NZ: Push for country of origin labels grows

Jade D’Hack (Salient): Politics

Newstalk ZB: NZ Govt needs to help in Nigeria – Labour

David Farrar (Kiwiblog):iPredict on electorates

Stephen Franks: Taking property by deceit (this is not a Treaty article)

Mike Williams (Herald): It's all down to a few key seats

Tim Selwyn (Daily Blog): Aotearoa Radio Television

Lynley Bilby (Herald): Concerns guard was muzzled

No Right Turn: More cronyism in the pipeline

The Press: Editorial: The police, of all people, need to play by the rules

Tim Dower (Newstalk ZB): Greens relieved at government mining decision

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Peters v Geddis

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