Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

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

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: Shearer's baggage gets heavier

On his journey towards the Beehive’s 9th floor David Shearer, the 'non-politician' elected with no political baggage, is quickly getting weighed down. Photo / Andrew Warner
On his journey towards the Beehive’s 9th floor David Shearer, the 'non-politician' elected with no political baggage, is quickly getting weighed down. Photo / Andrew Warner

Quickly accumulating unwanted baggage is a reality for most travellers. On his journey towards the Beehive's 9th floor David Shearer, the "non-politician" elected with no political baggage, is quickly getting weighed down.

Shearer's office, along with Government politicians, are no doubt poring over the Labour Leader's previous statements about political corruption in light of the daily revelations about Shane Jones' involvement with William Yan (aka Bill Liu), currently on trial in Auckland. Revelations in court yesterday show the link goes further than just Jones, as Shane Phillips (also known as Shane Te Pou), a professional Labour Party fundraiser, had close links with Mr Yan, taking Yan on a trip to Hawke's Bay which included a visit with then Labour Internal Affairs minister Rick Barker. His brother also worked in Shane Jones' office.

Phillips claims to have filled in a citizenship form on behalf of Mr Yan, the accuracy of which is central to the prosecution - see: Edward Gay's Millionaire knew immigration statements were untrue, court told.

The article, along with others - such as Jared Savage's Labour links to Yan emerge in court - illustrate how well-connected Yan was to the Labour Party.

Comparisons are, of course, being drawn with Kim Dotcom and John Banks, and certainly the mix of politicians, wealthy migrants and political donations prominently feature in both cases. John Key has been quick to call Labour leader David Shearer a hypocrite for demanding John Banks resignation yet not relieving Jones of his spokesperson roles - see: Patrick Gower's PM labels Shearer a hypocrite).

There are two crucial differences. First, Banks was a private citizen when he was dealing with Kim Dotcom and had no direct decision making power, whereas Jones did have such power and used it in a way which raised quite a few eyebrows. The other difference is there is no doubt that Banks received a large donation from Dotcom whereas William Yan gave donations to both Labour and National politicians but, to date, there is no direct link of any donations to Shane Jones. If someone was able to 'follow the money' and prove a link, Jones would be toast.

The issue presents two problems for Labour. First it's a distraction from both National's internal problems and from the Budget debate in which Labour needs to be seen leading the charge against the Government. Second, as Phil Goff discovered, how a leader is seen to deal with scandals is crucial. It's not enough to stay quiet and try and distance yourself from a problematic MP. John Armstrong says today that Shearer, while not taking action immediately, is keeping his options open for future investigation such as an Auditor General's inquiry - see: A nasty smell that needs cleaning.

Shane Jones' troubled political history is well reviewed by blogger Tim Selwyn - see: Jones caught on Liu. Selwyn says the problem goes beyond Jones and Yan's current court case, recalling Labour list candidate Steven Ching being forced to stand down over claims of undisclosed convictions and demanding financial favours for influence. Mike Williams' (the then Labour Party President) resistance to dumping Ching, along with Labour's refusal to condemn Philip Field, 'paints an unflattering picture of executive and party malfeasance; one quite at odds with the popular self-belief New Zealanders have of corruption-free politics and government.'

The Dominion Post's editorial wants some answers in Please explain, Mr Jones and TVNZ's Heather du Plessis-Allan (@hdpaONENEWS) has also sent some interesting tweets while she's been covering the story - such as: 'What's going on in Labour? David Shearer says Shane Jones will answer questions but Shane's changed his mind and won't' and '"Ching Chong Ming" On the phone, how Shane Jones referred to the Chinese millionaire on fraud charges. (aka Yong Ming Yan)'.

There are various theories being put forward in the blogosphere as to why Shearer won't or can't sack Jones: Both Cameron Slater (The Beaumont effect is why Shearer wont act) and Martyn Bradbury (Why Shearer can't sack Jones but might) say Jones is very clearly a member of the ABC club (Anyone but Cunliffe) and potentially losing him from the caucus would weaken Shearer's position. Meanwhile, according to blogger Will de Cleene, Labour will continue to suffer as long as their caucus 'continues to show all the discipline and budgetary skills of a free form jazz collective and not a government in waiting'.

There's clearly a wider parliamentary war being played out at the moment around ethics, honesty, and unfashionable links to wealthy individuals. Every political leader wants to cast their opponent as being less than serious about political impropriety and there is huge public demand for 'clean politics'. We can expect a greater focus than ever on elite linkages with political parties, the money that flows between them and the alleged promises made in return. That's why Shearer is likely to continue playing the muck-raking 'Gotcha' politics that he famously declared he would forgo. And that's why discussion over Holly Walker's proposed bill on lobbying is going to be important, and for more on this, see Rob Stock's Paying to sit with PM worry for Greens.

The issue of financial elite linkages to political parties crosses over with another other big issue of the moment - race relations, especially in light of the infamous comments made about Maori by Act Party benefactor Louis Crimp. You can watch the latest instalment of Crimp's views in this bizarre 6-minute item by Jane Luscombe on Campbell Live. Also see: Act backer Crimp: 'I'll get a gun'.

So should the Act Party be accepting the money of such a person? The Herald says 'no' in its editorial, Money talks, but we don't need to listen. But unlike others who have called on Act to forego the money because of the potential ideological contamination from such donors, the Herald make the interesting argument that they shouldn't take it because 'Political parties ought not to take large amounts from people whose hopes they know they are not going to meet', pointing out that Act has not for some time actually pushed anything like the sort of race relations concerns that Crimp has. So, 'By rights, he should ask for his money back'. Such infamous donations have actually shown, the Herald says, 'how little a donation can buy'.

Chris Trotter also deals with the issue of Louis Crimp and race relations in what will be a highly controversial column (especially on the liberal-left) - see: Redneck views may not be too far from the centre. Trotter's column is a leftwing critique of biculturalism, arguing that the New Zealand state has gone down a route of race relations that is not very progressive, and that we shouldn't be surprised that the majority of the population still isn't convinced by bicultural political ideas such as separate Maori representation. Trotter's key point is expressed in the following question: 'What if the dream of biculturalism, now so deeply embedded in the social policy agenda of the political class, is most emphatically not the dream of those who live outside the magic circles of elite policy formation and its unmandated bureaucratic implementation?' With special mention of Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres, Trotter worries that New Zealand's liberal intelligentsia will simply respond that biculturalism must therefore be 'imposed from above' by elites.

In contrast to Trotter's criticism of Race Relations Concillator, Joris de Bres, Morgan Godfery has written a defence and celebration: A toast to Joris De Bres. He argues that De Bres' increasing pronouncements on race relations and Maori representation are to be welcomed because of the equally 'increasing amount of anti-Maori sentiment' that is around, together with the fact that 'there aren't enough Maori with the ability, position and willingness to comment on these issues'. Meanwhile Radio New Zealand is reporting, De Bres defends call for Maori council wards. Also on the 'race relations' issue of shop signs that are not in English, see further commentary from bloggers Giovanni Tiso and Tim Selwyn.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

* David Shearer has 'delivered his strongest speech yet as leader of the Labour Party' says Dene Mackenzie writing in the ODT: Best showing yet by Shearer with 'zero Budget' censure.

* The Greens' orientation to Budget issues seems increasingly respectable going on the report of Brian Fallow (Greens and Labour get stuck into National's record). This reinforces the argument made by Matthew Hooton (Greens eagerly eye finance portfolio) that Russell Norman is pushing a mainstream/centrist message to position himself as a future Minister of Finance.

* Corrections Minister Anne Tolley is suddenly appearing liberal on prison policy, and is being rewarded with positive reactions from those who normally criticise penal policy - see Isaac Davison's Budget 2012: Prison reformers praise funding plan.

* The Affco industrial dispute is over, and the breakthrough is being attributed to an unusual source - the Iwi Leadeship Group. Morgan Godfery comments on the increasing political power and economic leverage of iwi leaders - see: Iwi leaders force AFFCO's hand.

* Finally, television coverage of politics changes this week on TVNZ and TV3. Stuff reports that Corin Dann has commenced his job as TVNZ Political Editor, and that TV3's 'political editor Duncan Garner has quit current-affairs show The Nation over differences with executive producer Richard Harman' - see: Today in politics: Tuesday, May 22.

- NZ Herald

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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