Dr Bryce Edwards
Issues of corruption, transparency, public service integrity, dodgy deals, and breaches of the constitution are all related to each other – they all help or hinder how well democracy works. Here are 15 stories about this important aspect of politics.
1) The Police are getting better at communicating with the media and public. But is this good for democracy? Chris Morris of the Otago Daily Times investigates how the new Police Media Centre in Wellington is working out, and asks is “the public’s right to know under attack?” – see: Communication breakdown? See also, Case of the missing media update.
2) How well do government departments respond to criticism? Nicky Hager suggests that they could do much better in engaging with their critics and dealing with controversies – see John Gibb’s ODT report on a recent speech by Hager: Inclusion, transparency urged.
3) New Zealand is now tightening up the rules around foreign trust funds – but what about money laundering? Fran O'Sullivan discusses “New Zealand's lax approach to money-laundering rules”, and complains that in dealing with this, “the Government rolls along at snail's pace” – see: Time for action on money-laundering. See also Gareth Vaughan’s Strewth mate! Why New Zealand should embark down the Australian anti-money laundering regulatory path rather than the British one.
4) The infamous Bill Liu has been connected with all sorts of allegations in the political sphere in recent years, and now he’s just made a deal with the New Zealand Police to pay a large amount of money, while avoiding further judicial action – see Jared Savage’s Citizen Yan strikes deal with police over $40m of assets.
5) Does the Bill Liu deal amount to Justice for sale?, asks Barry Soper. Similarly, see Martyn Bradbury’s blog post, Ummm, did Bill Liu/William Yan just buy his own justice? And note that the international media is also reporting highly critical judgements about the case – see Associated Press’ Man sought by China settles case in New Zealand for $31M. Meanwhile, a New Zealand Herald editorial states: Yan settlement little comfort to most Kiwis.
6) This week the Government has launched its new “Policy Project”, which is intended to “lift the quality and consistency of public policy-making” – see Pattrick Smellie’s PM sets ground rules for ministers' treatment of public servants. John Key has given a speech (Launch of Policy Project frameworks) in which he strongly reiterates the important place of public servants and the need for them to provide “"free and frank advice" to ministers, including “at times, unwelcome advice”. He also reinforced the need for that advice to be in writing (and therefore not circumventing the OIA).
7) The State Services Commission has come under a lot of criticism in recent years for the way it has carried out – or, indeed, failed to carry out – its constitutional obligations. Questions have been raised about its independence from government. This has led Victoria University of Wellington’s Chris Eichbaum to tentatively propose an additional “Public Service Commissioner” to overlook the public servants – see: Two watchdogs better than one.
8) Has Labour’s Grant Robertson harmed the public service and constitution in his alleged attacks on the Chief Statistician for massaging the unemployment figures? The NBR’s Rob Hosking thinks so, saying that not everything is “a matter for partisan politics. You do not rip up that pyramid of political discourse just to make a cheap political point. That is what Mr Robertson and Ms Ardern did this week. It was nasty, unscrupulous and dumb” – see: Irresponsible politics and statistics (paywalled).
9) Will the new GCSB reforms make for less open government? No Right Turn suggests that some features of the law are essentially about Resurrecting the Official Secrets Act. But more importantly, he says the new legislation has “another unwelcome feature: an anti-whistleblower provision. The proposed new section 78AA of the Crimes Act would impose a five-year jail term for passing on, retaining, or refusing to return "classified information". And it would apply this penalty not just to government agents who hold that classified information in the course of their jobs - but to anyone who has ever held a security clearance, and over all classified information whether or not they've ever seen it before” – see: Against anti-whistleblower laws.
10) Although New Zealand is often thought of as being relatively corruption-free, Patrick Gower reports that “Government officials have warned that "corruption" and "organised crime" have infiltrated the system granting student visas from India” – see: Immigration scam: 'Corruption, organised crime' with student visas.
11) The Saudi sheep saga rolls on while we all await the Auditor-General’s report on Murray McCully. The latest news is that the “controversial taxpayer-funded farm project in the Middle East remains stalled with the Saudi Government yet to sign-off an abattoir” – see Nicholas Jones’ Saudi farm project stalls over abattoir sign-off.
12) The SkyCity convention centre is being built, but questions are now being asked about whether TVNZ sold the land for the site cheaply with the “payoff” from the Government being permission to refurbish it’s headquarters – see Richard Harman’s Did the Government pay off TVNZ over the Auckland convention centre site. Harman says “The Treasury documents reinforce the suggestion that TVNZ was compensated for the land sale by getting approval for its refurbishment at the same time as it was allowed to withhold the dividends.”
13) According to scientist and academic, Shaun Hendy, “The public is demanding greater transparency from the science community”, but too often scientists are being discouraged or prohibited from speaking out – see his article, The high public cost of muzzling scientists. Hendy has a book out, “Silencing Science”, and is calling “for New Zealand to establish a Parliamentary Commission for Science”.
14) Media academic Gavin Ellis has a new book out about threats to public information. To read an excerpt from the book, “Complacent Nation” – see: Gavin Ellis on the slow deterioration of New Zealand’s freedom of speech. Ellis says you will find in his book “numerous instances of limits being placed on both the information we may receive and what we may freely write and say. Some are legitimate, others are self-serving and some are little short of scandalous.” Ellis’ book is also explored in a nine-minute interview with Corin Dann on Q+A: "Complacent Nation" - The right to know what our politicians are up to. According to Ellis, the Official Information Act and other important parts of the constitution can be too easily overridden by politicians – see: NZ lacks safeguards against a disproportionate response to an act of terror.
15) 87 ideas have been proposed for how the New Zealand Government could become more open, transparent, and accountable – you can see these on the State Services Commission project website: Suggest an action. The No Right Turn blogger comments: “there's some good ideas in there. There's also some clear favourites: increased whistleblower protections, regulation of lobbyists (also here), improved OIA compliance, improved proactive release of official information and increased funding for the Ombudsman” – see: Open Government: A flood of ideas. These proposals will be discussed tomorrow at a workshop in Wellington which is open to the public.
Herald Editorial: Online school plan invests in the future but needs careful oversight
Malborough Express Editorial: Beginning of the end of our schools?
No Right Turn: Not COOL
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): National’s contempt for Teachers finally outed with talk of on-line education
Danyl Mclauchlan (Dim Post): Electrons!
Conan Young (RNZ): Housing handover 'not privatisation' – council
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): The Wellington dirty deal
Aaron Leaman (Stuff): Mayoral hopefuls clash over the Hamilton City Council's finances
Mihingarangi Forbes (RNZ): Māori Party to work more closely with Kīngitanga
Audrey Young (Herald): Maori Party and Kingitanga agree to closer working relationship
Martyn Bradbury (Waatea News): A King speaks, corridors of power shudder.
Dita De Boni (TVNZ): Admission: I'd be happy if the value of my house dropped
Tarek Bazley (Al Jazeera): New Zealand's homeless: Living in cars and garages
Chris Bramwell (RNZ): 'Insidious' land banking boom – Labour
Nicholas Jones (Herald): Land banking real estate ads attacked as 'shameless' by Labour leader Andrew Little
Anne Gibson (Herald): Foreigners buying 29pc of homes, not 3pc - lawyer
Chris Holden (Newshub): 5 reasons not to buy a house in Auckland right now
Peter Cresswell (Not PC): A little sense from Greens, a lot of nonsense from Little
Nicholas Jones (Herald): Protests likely after failure of petition to stop Mangere housing development
NZ Wars commemoration
Dom Post Editorial: Bring NZ Wars out of the shadows
Graham Cameron (First we take Manhattan): Our ghosts have never slept: a response to Chris Trotter on the NZ Wars
Immigration and employment
Lloyd Burr (Newshub): Peters: Go Bus 'brown table' failing unemployed Māori
Jenna Lynch (Newshub): Amnesty offer for exploited students
Jane Patterson (RNZ): Eight percent of work visas on skills shortage lists
Richard Harman (Politik): Dunne's about turn
Anne Salmond (Herald):Abusing water, part of our lucrative pure image, is crazy
Gareth Morgan (Morgan Foundation): Freshwater – How do we share?
Patrick O’Sullivan (Hawke’s Bay Today): Hard line urged on grazing practices
Sam Sachdeva (Stuff): Government agencies to share more information about offenders' identities under new law
Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): An open letter to the people of Britain
Simon Wong (Newshub): Smoking banned on Parliament grounds
Rachel Clayton (Stuff): Tobacco plain packaging law takes another step towards reality
Martin Johnston (Herald): New Zealanders want drug companies and government to spend more on health research
Nicholas Jones (Herald): Surgical mesh registry to be considered by Ministry of Health after petition
Governor General farewell
Vernon Small (Stuff): Concerns over Mateparae's appointment dispelled by his fine service in the role
Audrey Young (Herald): Governor-General and wife given state farewell after five years' service
Raybon Kan (Herald): A man with enough names for a relay team
Chris Morris (ODT): Communication breakdown?
Chris Morris (ODT): Case of the missing media update
Kelsey Wilkie (Stuff): Chiefs' muzzle memo 'disturbing' - Dr Gavin Ellis
Beith Atkinson (Integrity talking points): Seeing what we want to see?
Sarah Illingworth: A changing media: Crisis or opportunity
The Civilian: Labour, Greens & National on the cannabis debate
Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): Parliament the problem stopping social reform
Richard Harman (Politik): US blocks McCully's showpiece
Karen Brown (RNZ): Appeal for 'brave' decision on voluntary euthanasia
Pattrick Smellie (Stuff): A hacker’s guide to monetary policy
Rosanna Price (Stuff): Minister will apologise to anyone abused in state care
Jane Patterson (RNZ): Assault weapons 'relatively easy' to get, MPs warned
Claire Trevett (Herald): New Zealand brought new perspective to UN Security Council but no major breakthrough
Barry Soper: Cannabis law reform unlikely with current crop
Kevin Hackwell (Waikato Times): Predator-free New Zealand – today’s dream can be tomorrow’s reality
Rosanna Price (Stuff): Complaint over prison rape joke involving PM is upheld
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