Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

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

Political round-up: March 26: Political theatre

Nick Smith announcing his decision to resign as cabinet minister. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Nick Smith announcing his decision to resign as cabinet minister. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

After last week's political theatre featuring Nick Smith, the weekend reviews are in, and the consensus seems to be that the scandal was real and that National and John Key have taken a big hit. Tracy Watkins has excellent coverage and analysis of the ACC-Smith scandal (Key saved by Smith's swift exit and suggests that it could directly impact on National's re-election chances. She says that only an inquiry will show the extent of the impropriety involved.

'Scandal' was the appropriate word to use, according to John Armstrong, who argues it is a huge blow: 'National has suffered its biggest psychological hit since Key became leader more than five years ago'. Armstrong looks at the possibility of an inquiry but points out that it would be a 'lose-lose' for Key, who needs to put the matter behind him. He also speculates that Smith could be partially rehabilitated in a few months as a Minister outside of cabinet - see: Luck runs out, and Key gets a scandal.

Michelle Boag's involvement receives some withering criticism from Fran O'Sullivan, given her previous history in managing conflicts of interest - see: Boag picked wrong target in Crusher. O'Sullivan says that Boag met her match in minister Judith 'Crusher' Collins, but Danyl Mclauchlan at the Dim-Post uses an amusing graph to make the point that it's Collins' ministerial colleagues who have the most to fear from her - see: Chart of the day, Eumenides edition.

The possibility of using the scandal to undermine ACC and push for privatisation is raised by Dave Armstrong in Accident-prone ACC might face a red card too. He identifies the real issue as being one of 'old-fashioned, Tory privilege. There's little fuss when a poor person gets no help from ACC, but when a National Party apparatchik is treated shabbily, the heavy artillery is rolled out'. He is highly critical of John Key's performance on the issue: 'In a brilliant display of obfuscation, he patiently explained to the waiting hack pack how the damning first letter did not constitute grounds for Smith to resign but the innocuous second letter did'.

David Farrar, who has known Smith personally for many years, pays tribute to his friend in The rise and fall of Nick Smith and invokes the 'he cared too much' explanation for Smith's lapse in judgement.

Michael Laws' Sunday Star Times column, Why Nick Smith did not have to resign goes further, saying the breaches of the cabinet manual were 'technical' and Smith should simply have been suspended pending a quick inquiry which would have cleared him. Laws contends that Smith's letters would have had no effect in any case as politicians have less power than bureaucrats in the public sector. This is the real lesson of the affair, says Laws: the government bureaucracy really runs the show, and the politicians are just there to provide the circus entertainment.

New Zealand's image as largely corruption free is challenged by Anthony Hubbard in his Sunday Star Times article Corruption has many faces (not currently online, but an important commentary on the wider issues of political corruption in New Zealand.) Hubbard suggests that politicians fail to take corruption seriously enough, pointing in particular to the Government's refusal so far to ratify the United Nations Convention against Corruption, and its decision to exempt local politicians and judges from existing anti-corruption legislation.

The spotlight that results from a high-profile scandal, will often expose other issues that would normally not make news on their own. Kirsty Johnston, in ACC tries to plug another breach , reports that ACC is scrambling to shut down another privacy breach at the very same time as it faces an external audit on its handling of client files by the Privacy Commissioner.

There is some irony that Bronwyn Pullar's own actions have probably caused the largest privacy breach of all - that of her own personal information. The Herald reports that Pullar had already received a $1m-plus insurance payout at the same time she was fighting ACC for additional compensation. The Dom Post also has the Full list of Bronwyn Pullar's complaints against ACC.

Former Police Minister Annette King, has broken her - and Labour's - silence over the Urewera raids, which happened under her watch. King has gone public on TVNZ's Q+A (transcript here;) to claim that ministers were given less than a days notice of the raid, and were assured that the use of the Terrorism Suppression Act was appropriate. You can watch the Q+A interview here. Current Attorney General Chris Finlayson has attacked King for making any statements because sentencing, and the possibility of appeal and retrial are still before the courts - see: Urewera inquiry remarks slammed.

As police actions come under increasing criticism it is obviously in the interest of Labour's old guard to distance themselves from any responsibility. However, one political and national security expert has responded in amazement to King's claims - see: Kiwipolitico's Labour's new Tui Ad. This blog post argues it's not credible for King to suggest that such a significant and multi-agency government operation involving highly politically sensitive issues could have been mounted without the Clark Labour Government being informed and involved.

The must-read article on the Urewera issue today is Geoff Cumming and Catherine Masters' A nation divided: Inside the Urewera Four trial which has an in depth examination of the case for and against the proposition that the accused were preparing for violent political activity. The Ureweras affair shows us the two New Zealands , according to Tapu Misa, who says the trial has exposed a gulf between Maori and Pakeha world views.

The authorities and the law have come out of the fiasco very poorly. The Herald on Sunday editorial (Police owe us some answers;) compares the disintegration of the initial police prosecution to Monty Python's Black Knight 'who demanded to fight on even as his limbs were removed one by one and only when he was reduced to a limbless torso conceded that "we'll call it a draw". This is far from a draw. It is a comprehensive rout for the police, made the more humiliating because it is largely self-inflicted'. Furthermore, despite scathing criticism of the Terrorism Suppression Act over the last four years, and admissions by the Attorney General that it was unusable, Geoff Cumming and Jared Savage report that the Government has no plans to fix or even review the legislation - see: Govt turns its back on terror law.

In other articles of interest, TVNZ has been leaked an email foreshadowing the replacement of MAF-employed observers on fishing boats by private contractors - see: Govt fishery observers told to get ready to pack up . As these observers are now supposed to monitor, not just fishing quotas, but also employment and even human rights conditions aboard the ships, there is concern that the observers' independence will be compromised. What's curious is that the move will not save the Government any money, as the cost is recovered in full from the fishing industry, who have been pushing to have the work contracted out for some years. Despite the emails, Minister David Carter says no decision has been made, no doubt conscious that the Government has been repeatedly criticised for changing rules just to suit commercial interests.

A leap in the number of hospital admissions for infectious diseases in New Zealand has taken medical researchers by surprise. The huge study found that diseases usually associated with poverty and overcrowding have increased dramatically over the last 20 years, particularly for Maori and Pacific Islanders. Now the editors of the prestigious Lancet medicine journal have called on New Zealand to address the inequalities - see: NZ health policy questioned. The trend, which is in contrast with other western countries, is clearly linked to growing inequality in New Zealand, according to Dr Nikki Turner from the University of Auckland - see: Infectious disease admissions leap . But taking a different stance, this week's Listener editorial says the problem is clear and we don't need any more taskforces or committees on child poverty - see: Enough talk, more action on child poverty.

With most of the state sector facing wage freezes and mass redundancies, it has been revealed that some public CEOs have enjoyed massive pay hikes - particularly those in charge of the soon-to-be-privatised power generators - see: Public CEOs enjoy big pay hikes. The full PDF document can be read here.

Finally, Gerry Brownlee will not be expecting a diplomatic post upon political retirement as he takes a swing at Labour's use of Finland as role model but lands a direct hit on New Zealand-Finnish relations. Bronwlee suggested in Parliament that the Finns are 'uneducated, unemployed murderers who don't respect women' - see: John Weekes's Finns fuming at Brownlee's comments. Elina Vaisanen from the New Zealand Scandinavia Business Association had a good comeback, observing that 'You get a hell of a lot more money selling a Nokia than a couple of sheep'. For more, see Toby Manhire's aggregation of responses.

- 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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