Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: All eyes on Nick Smith

Local Government Minister Nick Smith during question time in Parliament, Wellington. Photo / NZ Herald
Local Government Minister Nick Smith during question time in Parliament, Wellington. Photo / NZ Herald

This afternoon Nick Smith told Parliament that he resigned all of his ministerial portfolios this morning following two errors of judgement regarding Bronwyn Pullar's ACC case.

In delaying Smith's resignation, did John Key risk making the same mistake with Nick Smith that Phil Goff made with Darren Hughes? Only this morning, Adam Bennett reported that Key was backing Smith, although the Prime Minister had said 'that may change' - see: Key backing Nick Smith - for now.

Pressure was rapidly mounting on Smith over his reference for his friend Bronwyn Pullar and Tracy Watkins argued that Key's continued backing of Smith would come back to haunt him, particularly as there is the possibility of further revelations - see: Nick Smith's letter a step too far.

The issue had taken on all the ingredients of a classic political scandal which, as Vernon Small reports, Winston Peters was taking full advantage of.

In parliament yesterday Peters described it as 'a shabby little case, involving blackmail, sex, a minister with a conflict of interest' - see: Calls for Nick Smith's head over ACC. That prompted media to further question Smith on the exact nature of his relationship with Bronwyn Pullar, which he has so far refused to elaborate on.

Smith's mistakes are bad enough, but the involvement of Pullar - a former National party official - and high-profile ex-party president Michelle Boag, add to the perception that the National Party is involved in cronyism or even corruption. This is the word that John Armstrong uses when he suggests that Smith should have at least offered to resign yesterday - see: Nats left wide open on ACC fiasco.

The chorus calling for Smith to resign, or at least be stood down pending an investigation, extended beyond the usual suspects on the Opposition benches. The Herald editorial (see: Apology not enough for Smith's folly) points out that a minister was suspended during the first term for charging two bottles of wine to a ministerial credit card.

Duncan Garner argues the 20-year veteran minister should have known better and advised Key to Sack Smith Now. Right-wing blogger Cathy Odgers knows Pullar personally and has a very sympathetic analysis of the situation but is nevertheless adamant that Smith had to go. She said that with Winston Peters having so much ammunition 'something has to give' - see: Another Reason To Privatise ACC.

The task of defending Smith and Key seems to fall solely on David Farrar (see: The ACC), who also praised David Shearer for not immediately demanding Smith's resignation. Patrick Gower, however, has a different take, saying that Shearer mistakenly allowed other Opposition spokespeople, including other Labour MPs, to make the running in the twelve hours after the Herald broke the story. Gower argues that, despite Shearer trying to cultivate an anti-politician image, sometimes being Opposition leader 'means putting a bullet in the gun. And firing it. Or someone else - one of the other Opposition leaders - will do the job' - see: Shearer's shocker on Nick Smith scandal.

Scandals like this not only impact on those directly involved, but can tarnish a party's image and, as Phil Goff found last year, dent a leader's credibility if they are seen as indecisive and only responding to political fallout, rather than doing the right thing in the first place.

The verdicts in the Urewera case have enabled some commentary and analysis to be published. Marika Hill has a well-written piece looking at Tame Iti's place in the Maori revolution. Ian Steward looks at the difficulty the police had in using the Terrorism Suppression Act or even the Crimes Act and thinks it will be an ongoing problem despite law changes - see: Complicated terrorism act lacks firepower.

While the prosecution is not ruling out a retrial on the criminal conspiracy charges, and says cost should not be the major factor in the decision, Amelia Wade reports the trial is the most expensive in New Zealand history with the Law Society estimating the total bill at around $2.5 million.

The Greens, Mana, and the Maori Party have all criticised the prosecution, particularly the impact of the police raids in Ruatoki and on the Tuhoe people. Stuff has an interesting Tuhoe struggle timeline (which looks at the tribe's relationship with authorities over the last 140 years - something which Maori commentators have said is essential to understanding the impact of the case.

Russell Brown takes a balanced look at the actions of the accused, the police and the media. He concludes that those running the training camps 'weren't heroes and they weren't terrorists. They were dickheads'. He wonders what happened to evidence of napalm bombs and assassination plans that the media - particularly the Dominion Post - were fed by police sources in 2007 - see: Time to move on.

Questions are already being asked about the real impact of local body reforms, announced only a few days ago. (Former) Local Government Minister Nick Smith has acknowledged that councils would still be allowed to provide 'the things their community wanted' - see: Local government reforms being watered down. The Auckland Council will continue to be involved in social issues, despite the proposed reforms aiming to cut back much of that activity. Bernard Orsman reports that Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is not planning to axe the Auckland Social Policy forum that she, herself, chairs and which was set up by the Government - see: Council keeps 'social' interests.

The Timaru Herald sums up the quandary the Government will face in trying to define exactly which services and events councils will be allowed to provide (see: Questions, questions, although the Taranaki Daily News (see: Timely move on rates by Smith and Key) and the Press (see: Council renovation) both back the need for changes. Some councils feel (off the record) that without resorting to detailed central government monitoring, the reforms will change very little - see: TVNZ's New council rules will be ignored - insider.

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Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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