Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

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

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: Has the GCSB scandal run out of steam?

Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Has the GCSB scandal run out of steam, or was it a media and partisan beatup from the start? That seems to be the view of veteran media and political commentator Brian Edwards in his contrarian blogpost, Of knuckleheads, long-running stories, media beat-ups and Judith Collins parting the waters. The crucial part is this: 'Will the GCSB affair do any permanent damage to John Key? I very much doubt it. This has been a saga of huge interest to the media but, so far as I can see, of precious little interest to anyone else.... On The Nation yesterday my colleague Bill Ralston described the GCSB saga as "one of the longest running stories I've ever seen." I suspect we may look back on it as one of the greatest media beat-ups'. Edwards, a staunch leftwinger, is very sympathetic towards the Prime Minister over the issue and sides with him about the need to be less up front with the media.

How has the media performed over the GCSB saga? Fairfax parliamentary gallery journalist, Andrea Vance, has taken the lead on the scandal, and produced some excellent news and analysis items.

Her work shows that investigative political journalism is far from dead in New Zealand, and the parliamentary gallery can play a strong role in holding the powers-that-be to account. Her latest three items are all well worth reading - see: Where's the evidence for GCSB law changes?, Green light to change law to spy on Kiwis, and Key dials back on memory loss over call. But, as security analyst and blogger Paul Buchanan points out, Vance has also made some serious errors - such as labelling him a 'former US spy' - see: Journalistic license.

For another example of excellent journalism, read Anthony Hubbard's Who is watching the watchers?. This is an in-depth examination of the scandal and an illuminating critique of the status quo. (Although on this topic of the health of the media, Chris Trotter asks today 'How far away are we from the collapse of news and current affairs journalism? - see: The Spin We're In).

The Opposition have also performed well in holding the Government to account on the GCSB scandal, although at times, Labour and the Greens seem to descend into pure partisan point scoring. John Armstrong makes this point very well today: 'The very real danger for Labour is that in building a case against Key it is thus seen to be fixated by relative trivia; that Labour is so obsessed with destroying Key as a political force that it can no longer see the wood for the trees' - see: John Key's ever-changing story. Armstrong is referring to parliamentary debate over Key's latest blunder in which he has dithered over the issue of how he came to have Ian Fletcher's phone number. United Future blogger, Pete George, also levels a charge against the Opposition of trivialising and pettiness over the issue - see: "No clue" and "lying by omission". Reflecting on the latest twists and turns, Patrick Gower says, 'So, the political spy games continue' - see: Key's weapons of mass 'distraction'. He could be referring to both sides of the House, of course. Games are clearly being played by all. And more than anything else, this apparent game playing by the Opposition will help take the steam out of the scandal.

The media, Opposition and blogosphere have also given the PM a hard time about his claims of 'weapons of mass destruction' as an attempt to justify the extension of powers for the GCSB - see Danyl Mclauchlan's Scaremongering for dummies, No Right Turn's Laughable, Adam Bennett's PM's hacking claims a distraction - Labour , and Andrea Vance, above. John Armstrong has also written about the significance of Key dangling 'two disturbing pieces of intelligence agency-obtained information' to help win us over - see: Information is power.

Could the PM be correct about the cyber threats? Professor Robert Ayson, director of Victoria University's Centre for Strategic Studies appears to give credence to Key's claims - see Dan Satherley's Hackers after 'dual-use' technology - expert. Similarly, Paul Buchanan has said that the 'PM's remarks that the threat of terrorism and cyber espionage is real are accurate' - see Chris Keall's (paywalled) NBR article, Analyst decodes the PM's proposed GCSB law changes. Buchanan cites 'Auckland's Rakon is an example of a defence-related firm' that could be under attack from hackers. Notably, Buchanan also lends some credence to the justification for proposed changes to the GCSB act, but stresses that the spy watchdog will still be subservient to the spies, and 'It is not the fully independent and autonomous agency that one might have expected'.

The news that the Government should have no problem passing its new GSCB legislation - see Adam Bennett's NZ First backs wider spying - suggests that the GSCB saga may soon run its course. Rightwing blogger David Farrar is painting the changes as merely a correction of 'what was basically a drafting error in the 2003 law' - see: GCSB Changes. Increasingly, this version might be the one that the public agrees with.

Other recent important or interesting items include the following:

After 9pm tonight New Zealand will have voted favour of gay marriage. As Isaac Davison writes today, this will be a significant milestone in New Zealand history - see: Parliament set to make history. Davison outlines how the parties are likely to be split on the historic vote, and how all party leaders - NZ First aside - will be supporting the change. The Herald also stresses how significant the vote is, noting how only a few years ago Helen Clark strongly opposed the introduction of gay marriage, but that these days 'No member of the House has become identified as a campaigner against it' - see: Marriage vote marks sea change in opinion.

Is it a case of 'Jobs for the girls?' The latest appointment of National MP Jackie Blue to the Human Rights Commission, as Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, is raising claims of cronyism - see Claire Trevett's Backlash over MP's new job and TV3's Judith Collins accused of cronyism.

It appears as if the public service is about to get its biggest revamp since 1980s (if you listen to what Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf says) - see Paul McBeth's Public service falling short on evaluating policy, Treasury boss says. One of the big changes coming might involve some sophisticated use of IT - see Tom Pullar-Strecker's Big data warehouse a way of the future.

Tomorrow Labour and the Greens will announce some major plans to reduce power prices, once in government. The Dominion Post have pre-empted that announcement with a hard-hitting accusation that Labour could have acted on power prices. Tova O'Brien reports National's view that Labour's power plan 'political posturing' - Govt, and David Farrar puts forward his own critique in The Labour and Greens power strategy.

The Greens will increasingly come under criticism as their role in a future Labour-led government looks more likely. But Bob Jones predicts that the party will stay out of a formal coalition - see It'll take more than baubles to tempt Greens.

Some good news on issues of ethnicity - Alex Fensome reports that Maori and Pakeha life expectancy gap closes. The gap is still significant, but it seems that every year shows an improvement.

Does Ngai Tahu have a conflict of interest in the rebuild of Christchurch? According to the NBR's Chris Hutching, a report just out points to the iwi having a role in the new resource consent commission and 'asks why Ngai Tahu is involved in the consent process when it is a potential competitor as a property developer, noting that 60% of tribal revenue is from property' - see the (paywalled) article, Ngai Tahu role questioned in Cera city centre rebuild.

Who is the notorious EQC Truths blogger? Another blogger, Andrew McMillan, investigates in The not so Glorious Crusade of #EQCTruths.

So far the Government's float of Mighty River Power appears to be going well. Except Toby Manhire points out a major communication gaffe with share purchases - see: That's not my %name%. He asks 'Would you buy shares from an outfit that doesn't know how to run a mail merge?'

Electoral finance issues have re-emerged, with one candidate being referred to the police - see Claire Trevett's Conservative candidates under scrutiny. The No Right Turn blog says It couldn't happen to a nicer guy, but doubts that the police will do anything about it, as usual.

Even when in debt, SOEs appear to be able to spend large quantities of money on public relations and communications advice - see Hamish Rutherford's Solid Energy spent 'like drunken sailors. Today the Dominion Post is incredibly critical of the expenditure of nearly $50,000 to pay for advice for Solid Energy's appearance at a select committee hearing - see: Labouring under a misapprehension.

Finally, John Key's trip to China seems to have been a success, although there's some intelligent dissent on this on The Standard (Diplomacy, you're doing it old school). What did the media get up to on the trip? Cameron Slater has some photographic evidence - see: Knucklehead Press Gallery journo offends China.

- 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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