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

Political Roundup: 15 recent stories about democracy and integrity in New Zealand

Issues of corruption, transparency, public service integrity, dodgy deals, and breaches of the constitution are all related to each other – they all help or hinder how well democracy works. Here are 15 stories about this important aspect of politics.
The infamous Bill Liu has been connected with all sorts of allegations in the political sphere in recent years. Photo / Greg Bowker
The infamous Bill Liu has been connected with all sorts of allegations in the political sphere in recent years. Photo / Greg Bowker

1) The Police are getting better at communicating with the media and public. But is this good for democracy? Chris Morris of the Otago Daily Times investigates how the new Police Media Centre in Wellington is working out, and asks is "the public's right to know under attack?" - see: Communication breakdown? See also, Case of the missing media update.

2) How well do government departments respond to criticism? Nicky Hager suggests that they could do much better in engaging with their critics and dealing with controversies - see John Gibb's ODT report on a recent speech by Hager: Inclusion, transparency urged.

3) New Zealand is now tightening up the rules around foreign trust funds - but what about money laundering? Fran O'Sullivan discusses "New Zealand's lax approach to money-laundering rules", and complains that in dealing with this, "the Government rolls along at snail's pace" - see: Time for action on money-laundering. See also Gareth Vaughan's Strewth mate! Why New Zealand should embark down the Australian anti-money laundering regulatory path rather than the British one.

4) The infamous Bill Liu has been connected with all sorts of allegations in the political sphere in recent years, and now he's just made a deal with the New Zealand Police to pay a large amount of money, while avoiding further judicial action - see Jared Savage's Citizen Yan strikes deal with police over $40m of assets.

5) Does the Bill Liu deal amount to Justice for sale?, asks Barry Soper.

Similarly, see Martyn Bradbury's blog post, Ummm, did Bill Liu/William Yan just buy his own justice? And note that the international media is also reporting highly critical judgements about the case - see Associated Press' Man sought by China settles case in New Zealand for $31M. Meanwhile, a New Zealand Herald editorial states: Yan settlement little comfort to most Kiwis.

6) This week the Government has launched its new "Policy Project", which is intended to "lift the quality and consistency of public policy-making" - see Pattrick Smellie's PM sets ground rules for ministers' treatment of public servants. John Key has given a speech Launch of Policy Project frameworks; in which he strongly reiterates the important place of public servants and the need for them to provide ""free and frank advice" to ministers, including "at times, unwelcome advice". He also reinforced the need for that advice to be in writing (and therefore not circumventing the OIA).

7) The State Services Commission has come under a lot of criticism in recent years for the way it has carried out - or, indeed, failed to carry out - its constitutional obligations. Questions have been raised about its independence from government. This has led Victoria University of Wellington's Chris Eichbaum to tentatively propose an additional "Public Service Commissioner" to overlook the public servants - see: Two watchdogs better than one.

8) Has Labour's Grant Robertson harmed the public service and constitution in his alleged attacks on the Chief Statistician for massaging the unemployment figures? The NBR's Rob Hosking thinks so, saying that not everything is "a matter for partisan politics. You do not rip up that pyramid of political discourse just to make a cheap political point. That is what Mr Robertson and Ms Ardern did this week. It was nasty, unscrupulous and dumb" - see: Irresponsible politics and statistics (paywalled).

9) Will the new GCSB reforms make for less open government? No Right Turn suggests that some features of the law are essentially about Resurrecting the Official Secrets Act. But more importantly, he says the new legislation has "another unwelcome feature: an anti-whistleblower provision. The proposed new section 78AA of the Crimes Act would impose a five-year jail term for passing on, retaining, or refusing to return "classified information". And it would apply this penalty not just to government agents who hold that classified information in the course of their jobs - but to anyone who has ever held a security clearance, and over all classified information whether or not they've ever seen it before" - see: Against anti-whistleblower laws.

10) Although New Zealand is often thought of as being relatively corruption-free, Patrick Gower reports that "Government officials have warned that "corruption" and "organised crime" have infiltrated the system granting student visas from India" - see: Immigration scam: 'Corruption, organised crime' with student visas.

11) The Saudi sheep saga rolls on while we all await the Auditor-General's report on Murray McCully. The latest news is that the "controversial taxpayer-funded farm project in the Middle East remains stalled with the Saudi Government yet to sign-off an abattoir" - see Nicholas Jones' Saudi farm project stalls over abattoir sign-off.

12) The SkyCity convention centre is being built, but questions are now being asked about whether TVNZ sold the land for the site cheaply with the "payoff" from the Government being permission to refurbish it's headquarters - see Richard Harman's Did the Government pay off TVNZ over the Auckland convention centre site. Harman says "The Treasury documents reinforce the suggestion that TVNZ was compensated for the land sale by getting approval for its refurbishment at the same time as it was allowed to withhold the dividends."

13) According to scientist and academic, Shaun Hendy, "The public is demanding greater transparency from the science community", but too often scientists are being discouraged or prohibited from speaking out - see his article, The high public cost of muzzling scientists. Hendy has a book out, "Silencing Science", and is calling "for New Zealand to establish a Parliamentary Commission for Science".

14) Media academic Gavin Ellis has a new book out about threats to public information. To read an excerpt from the book, "Complacent Nation" - see: Gavin Ellis on the slow deterioration of New Zealand's freedom of speech. Ellis says you will find in his book "numerous instances of limits being placed on both the information we may receive and what we may freely write and say. Some are legitimate, others are self-serving and some are little short of scandalous." Ellis' book is also explored in a nine-minute interview with Corin Dann on Q+A: "Complacent Nation" - The right to know what our politicians are up to. According to Ellis, the Official Information Act and other important parts of the constitution can be too easily overridden by politicians - see: NZ lacks safeguards against a disproportionate response to an act of terror.

15) 87 ideas have been proposed for how the New Zealand Government could become more open, transparent, and accountable - you can see these on the State Services Commission project website: Suggest an action. The No Right Turn blogger comments: "there's some good ideas in there. There's also some clear favourites: increased whistleblower protections, regulation of lobbyists (also here), improved OIA compliance, improved proactive release of official information and increased funding for the Ombudsman" - see: Open Government: A flood of ideas. These proposals will be discussed tomorrow at a workshop in Wellington which is open to the public.

- NZ Herald

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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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