Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

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

Bryce Edwards: Is there 'cash for access' in NZ politics?

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Prime Minister John Key. Photo / AP
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / AP

'Do not go there'. That was the warning given by Prime Minister John Key to Labour MP Chris Hipkins in response to no fewer than four questions from the Opposition over allegations of impropriety in what is increasingly being dubbed 'cash for access'. Andrea Vance summarises the claims and counter-claims, which involve the National, Labour and Green parties - see: 'Cash for access' claims fly.

The latest MP to be the subject of allegations is Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse - watch the interview with him on TV1's Breakfast programme - see: Immigration Minister discussed policy with Chinese businessman. The allegations are also summarised in Herald journalist Isaac Davison's piece, MP confirms meeting with Donghua Liu.

I'll be interviewing Michael Woodhouse at 1pm on Friday in Vote Chat, which is being held as part of the Otago Elections Project. A livestream of the interview will be available on the Herald website here. If you want to ask a question, feel free to submit a question in the comments section below, or join us on Twitter (@OUVoteChat) and use the hashtag #VoteChat14.

Patrick Gower looked at the evolving nature of the 'cash for access' claims today in his Week in Politics discussion on TV3's Firstline programme.

It is also worth watching the video of Hipkins' question to Key from Parliament TV or reading the Hansard transcript of the exchange in Questions for oral answer: compliance with Cabinet Manual.

Key was responding to the 'Cabinet Club' allegations that access to ministers is being purchased by wealthy party supporters. Key's response was effectively a classic Realpolitik rejoinder - 'you do it too'. It's worth quoting him at length on this: 'Political parties right across Parliament attend events that are fund-raising events. People always have interests-of course they do; that is the real world. In the same way, the Labour Party accepted $60,000 from Phillip Mills-Labour and the Greens accepted $60,000 and $65,000 respectively-and very soon afterwards the Labour Party started promoting green growth. We know that Shane Jones, for instance, had his leadership bid funded in part by the oil and gas sector and, again, very soon came out and started talking about that. I have quite a long list. If Labour members really want to invite me to table all of those, they are welcome to do that, but I just make one little warning to them: do not go there. But if you want me to, I am more than happy to'.

The defence that all parties are guilty of dodgy practices, at a minimum, is forcefully rejected by leftwing blogger No Right Turn: 'if other parties have similar arrangements, then they're guilty as well, and we need to get rid of them too. There is no place in our democracy for politicians who corruptly sell access. It is that simple' - see: Government for sale. No Right Turn believes the 'solution is greater transparency: make [them] disclose every meeting and every dollar, and make it a crime punishable by jail time to keep it secret'. Meanwhile, new 'fact-check' blog NZfactcheck attempts to answer the question Do National Ministers Attend Cabinet Club Meetings in their Ministerial Capacity? and comes to the conclusion 'maybe'. For a partisan view of the widening allegations, see Labour MP Louisa Wall's blog post, When does corruption start damaging National?.

How are other political parties handling money? The newest political party, Kim Dotcom's Internet Party - which polled 1.5% in Wednesday's Roy Morgan poll - is in the news after placing a newspaper advertisement looking for candidates who 'will put the welfare of New Zealanders before corporate interests, foreign powers or former school chums' - see Felix Marwick's 'Prime Minister Wanted'. Dotcom is promising to pay candidates a full MP's salary just for standing - something which National supporter and Kiwiblog author David Farrar is strongly against: 'This will be a first. It seems every single person involved in the Internet Party is being paid to be involved. Candidates will be effectively personally paid by Kim Dotcom. That means they must of course do whatever he says. This is not a genuine political party. It is a wholly owned company' - see: Even the candidates are on the payroll.

Meanwhile, New Zealand First is asking its election candidates to sign a contract forcing them to pay the party $300,000 in damages if they leave the party once in parliament but stay on as MPs, in light of the Brendan Horan situation. Radio New Zealand's Demelza Leslie reports that law professor Andrew Geddis believes 'the courts would throw the contract out on public policy grounds because it effectively amounts to New Zealand First twisting a member's arm to quit Parliament' - see: NZ First radically changes its rules and Michael Fox's NZ First penalty said to be unenforceable. See also Andrew Geddis' blog post, I'm right, Winston's not, so there and Gordon Campbell's On New Zealand First's loyalty pledge.

New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin is also in the news after receiving a $35,000 annual salary from 2011-2013 as a local council board member - see National supporter David Farrar's A bit misleading.

What has been the fallout from the resignation of Maurice Williamson and the revival of the Oravida affair? The latest Roy Morgan poll came out on Wednesday, the results of which are summarised in the NBR's Labour-Greens move ahead of National as scandal engulfs govt.

Left-leaning commentator Selwyn Manning believes the poll is evidence that the Opposition has 'sustained a turn around of fortunes after being seen as a credible government in waiting bloc'. He says: 'In one month, since the Roy Morgan April 17 poll, National has seen its lion's share of support collapse from what was then said to be National's (then on 48.5%) biggest lead over Labour/ Greens (then on 40%) since July 2013' - see: National's Support Collapses Over Collins+Williamson Scandals - Roy Morgan Poll.

Of course, it is worth being wary of taking a single poll too seriously, as Labour advisers Rob Salmond in The Morgan poll, today and later, and Greg Presland in Latest Roy Morgan are at pains to point out. Both Salmond and the NBR point to next week's Budget as the next key event, with the NBR saying that the government will be hoping it 'will act as a circuit-breaker' after the news of the last fortnight.

Finally, for some social media reaction to allegations of 'cash for access' in the National Party, see my blog post Top tweets about National's Cabinet Club and other political fundraising issues.

- 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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