Hot Topic Reporting season
Hot Topic Reporting season
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NZ POLITICS DAILY: Is NZ run by a power elite?

The latest attempts to besmirch Key's reputation seem rather tenuous.

Bryce Edwards
Thu, 28 Mar 2013

New Zealand is run by a power elite. There should be no doubt about this – some people have significantly more power than others, and they live and work together.

But is this dysfunctional or anti-democratic?

Certainly critics of Prime Minister routinely attempt to paint John Key as someone who, conspiratorially plots and operates with business leaders and the general Establishment to retain power and keep the masses under control.

Perhaps there’s some basis in that, but the latest attempts to besmirch Key’s reputation seem rather tenuous. Labour and the Greens are highlighting the PM’s personal connections with GCSB director Ian Fletcher, using the words ‘nepotism’ and ‘sinister’ in referring to Key’s apparent ‘conflict of interest’, and complaining about a lack of transparency – see Adam Bennett’s PM plays down friendship with GCSB boss.

The strongest criticisms are coming from the Greens – see Andrea Vance’s Green MP says spy boss link with Key 'sinister'. Green MP Steffan Browning has made some harsh allegations: ‘For them to have that sort of relationship, it's nepotism - it's more than that, it's something you might think [went on] in some sort of third world country where there aren't decent checks and balances’.

He bases these allegations on what appears to be third-hand information that seems to be verging on gossip or bragging: ‘Browning said he had been told by a friend who also knew Mr Fletcher that he and Mr Key continued to stay in touch after their school days’. Browning appears to descend into parody when alleging that while at Christchurch’s Burnside High School: ‘They all went to each other's places together, they all hung out together’.

Unsurprisingly, the Prime Minister is reported as hitting back ‘angrily’ calling the attacks ‘totally unfounded criticism and pretty low rent’ – see Andrea Vance’s Key: Green MP needs to pull his head in. Certainly when the micro-scandal arose, Key dismissed in Parliament the idea of the two being ‘mates’, saying that he only ‘vaguely’ knew Fletcher, but admitting their mothers had once been ‘best friends’. Key also claims to have advised the State Services Commission of the relationship.

So for Browning to continue to label the situation as ‘very, very disturbing’ seems somewhat hyperbolic. While there is certainly room for investigations and questions about New Zealand’s Establishment (the interlocking company directorships, relationships between politicians and bureaucrats, business power, and social connections), it seems underwhelming to use examples emanating from Burnside High School. What’s more, the Labour-Green attack has allowed various rightwing blogs to say what most of the public are already thinking: ‘this is getting silly’ and the Opposition are grasping at straws – see, for example, David Farrar’s Scandal – their mothers were friends and Keeping Stock’s Grasping at straws.

Other complaints about politician impropriety are also topical, due to the appearance yesterday of the deputy Auditor-General at a select committee, where she answered questions about the recent SkyCity and Shane Jones reports – which are well covered in Newswire’s PM contradicted on SkyCity 'vindication' and Hamish Rutherford’s Auditor General hearing on Shane Jones. It appears that scandalmongering is an activity that MPs can’t quite help themselves from doing.

This is also partly the cause of current heat occurring in the parliamentary debating chamber, with the debate over Key’s alleged friendships eventually leading to expulsion – see Isaac Davison’s David Carter ejects Labour MPs from the House and Jane Clifton’s Speaker's ruling sets stage for hostilities of biblical proportions. Again, hyperbole is evident in responses to the event, with MP Chris Hipkins (@chrishipkins) saying on Twitter, ‘Today is a sad day for Parliamentary democracy’.

But clearly there is a rising anger in the Debating Chamber, especially over the role of new Speaker David Carter. According to one blogger, blame lies on all sides – see Pete George’s Speaker troubles – Key’s and Shearer’s responsibility. For Labour, the issue is, according to Scott Yorke, What to do about Question Time?. He evaluates various possibilities, and concludes that the Opposition just needs to harden up and work harder: ‘It demands that MPs don't ask quite so many dumb questions, and that questions be directed to the weaker ministers. It requires humour. Above all it requires Labour's leader to lift his game’.

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Bryce Edwards
Thu, 28 Mar 2013
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NZ POLITICS DAILY: Is NZ run by a power elite?