Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

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

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: ACC scandal gets nastier

ACC Minister Judith Collins.  Photo / Sarah Ivey
ACC Minister Judith Collins. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Leaks, wild allegations, privacy breaches, questions in the House, denials, urgent meetings, resignations, inquiries and now defamation action - the ACC scandal has it all, with the promise of more to come.

This morning, TV3 reported that Judith Collins is starting defamation action against two Labour MPs - Trevor Mallard and Andrew Little - as well as against Radio New Zealand for comments made outside of Parliament - see: Collins eyes ACC defamation action. Collins has also welcomed the Privacy Commissioner's inquiry into the leak of Bronwyn Pullar's email - even if it includes 'forensic examination' of her office computers - see: Collins 'happy' for computer to be checked in ACC probe. The investigation may be complicated by Collins' admission to RadioLive that her office had printed and/or 'copied' the email - although Collins would not elaborate - see: ACC Minister printed leaked email.

Today's revelation by investigative reporter Phil Kitchin - who broke the original ACC privacy breach story - adds fuel to the fire. In his article, ACC worker re-viewed leaked Smith letter, he reports that Jo Parker-Dennis - Pullar's ACC case manager who was taken off Pullar's case six months ago - repeatedly viewed the email containing Smith's letter just a few days before the Herald broke the story. Pullar knew this because she apparently embedded objects in her emails to ACC that allowed her to monitor each time the email was opened and possibly who opened them. The advantage - or disadvantage, depending on your viewpoint - of electronic communications is that they are easily tracked. It is much harder to track the movements of a physical copy and to prove how, when or by whom they were passed from one person to another.

Collins' emphatic denials and welcoming of the inquiry suggest an unusual degree of confidence and certainty that her office didn't leak the email according to Danyl Mclauchlan at the Dim-Post. In his post, The epistemology of political denials, Mclauchlan says: 'she can't know for sure whether one of her staffers leaked Pullar's name and then lied to her about it, unless she knows exactly who did leak it. If you follow me'.

Irrespective of who leaked what to whom, it's pretty clear there is a fairly bitter internal faction fight going on inside the National Party. The Standard is loving it of course, and their post - They eat their own - is an intriguing account of what they believe has happened, speculating in some detail on the motivations and machinations going on behind the scandal. This blog post will be controversial and will, no doubt, draw the ire of National. In fact Cameron Slater has already responded strongly to the blog post, and is now posting numerous allegations about the personal lives of Labour MPs.

These kinds of kind of tit-for-tat revelations are part of an escalating war between the parliamentary parties, and it's due to get a lot nastier. In recent years, New Zealand politics has become characterised by fluctuating battles over 'scandal politics' in which each side attempts to challenge their opponents' political and ethical integrity. Traditionally in New Zealand, politicians have been highly reluctant to go into such fraught territory for fear of incurring counter-strikes. This mutually-assured destruction scenario has now broken down, leading to multiple political casualties.

iPredict is now taking bets on the whole NZ ACC scandal - about whether the police will investigate (currently the market says there's a 81% probability), whether Collins will be gone by June (21% chance), and who leaked the Boag email. The leading iPredict contracts for the leaker's identity are: a Beehive staffer (65%), a lower-level ACC official (55%), Collins (30%), Pullar (24%), and Cameron Slater (23%).

In other news, the Mfat diplomats are clearly now winning the publicity battle over proposed cuts, with headlines such as Tracy Watkin's MFAT spends $9m to cut $25m and Audrey Young's All but four diplomats condemn cuts to Mfat. This all goes to show the dangers of trying to implement cost-cutting for diplomats who are 'the elite, well educated, masters of the art of the loaded and the clandestine exchange' - as suggested by Rosemary McLeod in today's Dominion Post. MPs have avoided cost-cutting in dealing with reforming their own travel perks - see: Audrey Young's Ex-MPs' travel perks set to be revealed annually. Meanwhile, a new report reveals that illiteracy costs New Zealand $3b a year. And Rob Salmond makes the case that New Zealand's tax system is strongly weighted against the poor - see his blog post, Low tax for me, high tax for thee.

Finally, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has just published his views on politics in New Zealand and Australia - see: Elephants Down Under. His main claim about New Zealand is that our political spectrum is so moderate and left-leaning that it 'could almost fit inside the US Democratic Party'. Toby Manhire replies here: Thomas Friedman sizes up New Zealand, and Eric Crampton - a North American economist resident in New Zealand - has a very interesting blog post that argues New Zealand's politics are in fact far more progressive and intelligent than that of the Democrats - see: Antipodean Dreaming.

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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