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

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: Fallout from SkyCity deal

An artist's impression of the proposed convention centre for Auckland. Photo / Supplied
An artist's impression of the proposed convention centre for Auckland. Photo / Supplied

'Corrupt' is a term not traditionally used in New Zealand politics, but it's certainly being thrown around now, not only by opponents of the National Government, but also by commentators and newspaper editorials. The best example is Vernon Small's SkyCity stench demands restart - probably the best analysis to date. Small makes the case for due process in government deals, saying the rules that the Key Government has been ignoring or flouting exist 'to protect against the risk of corruption and inappropriate influence'. He suggests that confidence in the public sector and the way government works has been damaged by the SkyCity deal: 'No corruption but a corrupted process'.

Allegations of corruption are the theme of Jane Clifton's latest Listener column - see: Winner takes it all (paywalled). Clifton says, 'There have always been whispers that various politicians are in the pocket of the booze, racing, tobacco, fisheries or some other sector.

But it was rather disarming when National climbed right into Sky City's pocket in plain sight, and openly waved a white hanky at us from within it'. She also expresses amazement that the Auditor-General could find so much wrong with the SkyCity deal process, but then be 'agnostic about whether the outcome was proper'. Clifton is less surprised that the PM thinks he can get away with such unconventional deal-making: 'He has form, having overtly buddied up to Hollywood execs, who also got legislation - and money - for letting New Zealand retain the Hobbit production, the cost-benefit ratio of which is also still mysterious'.

Writing in the NBR, Rob Hosking argues that the allegations of 'cronyism', 'dodgy deals' and corruption are 'overheated accusations' that are 'not borne out by the facts'. He suggests that the 'storm in a teacup' (or 'zephyr in a demi-tasse') is actually more the result of 'political games' by Opposition parties - see his (paywalled) column, SkyCity row: the sloppiness continues. The increased use of terms like corruption, cronyism and hypocrisy is largely due to a new campaigning fashion amongst politicians, using rhetoric as their main form of negative campaigning. An escalating war of words has developed over political integrity, with all parties seeking to damage the reputation of opponents, knowing that the public is highly-receptive to charges of political dishonesty. That may not always be the case as there is a danger of the boy who cried wolf syndrome where real instances of serious corruption are portrayed in the same language as normal political discourse.

Much is also being made of the threat the deal poses to New Zealand's corruption-free status internationally - at least by opposition politicians. For the best example of this, see David Cunliffe's blogpost, Today the house must not win.

It isn't, however, all just opposition outrage. The Dominion Post's Disregard for the rules is alarming is scathing of the Government's process, saying such rules are vitally important because 'adherence to proper process helps to ensure that public moneys are spent wisely and that New Zealand remains relatively free of corruption'. It concludes powerfully against the way that John Key has been doing deals: 'That is the way politics operates in Russia, China, India, Africa and other parts of the world in which corruption is endemic. It is not the way it should operate in New Zealand'.

Other important coverage of the SkyCity scandal includes David Fisher and Claire Trevett's Key retreats from TVNZ land deal statements, Toby Manhire's Move along! Nothing to see here!, and Patrick Gower's Casino chases taxpayer-funded marketing.

While the SkyCity issue can only be bad news for National, the effect of the shock news that Solid Energy is in crisis is less clear. The best account of the issue is Pattrick Smellie's report, Govt won't let Solid Energy fail, looks to banks to wear their share. National will also hope that the issue shows the need for the state to reduce its ownership of SOEs. And today, David Farrar pushes this line in his blogpost, So why do we own a mining company?. This view is parodied by Scott Yorke in Sell them all. But one of the bigger impacts of the story will be to re-focus public debate on the rocketing management salaries and bonuses of companies. The Standard makes the case that Solid Energy has suffered from a culture of excess: 'In a decade, the board's pay rose from $200,000 to $360,000 - a 80% increase, twice the increase in household incomes over the period. The CEO is worse: with pay rising from $380,000 in 2002 to $1,350,000 in 2012 - a 255% increase. The number of Solid Energy employees earning more than a Cabinet Minister rose from 6 in 2002 to 39 in 2012 (a further 250 were paid more than an ordinary MP). Just those 39 and the board were paid $15.5m a year - the equivalent of 310 average wages' - see: Nats' fossil fuel bet & culture of excess bankrupted Solid Energy. Some good questions are also asked about the company's performance in Grant Bradley's Hero to zero in two years, and the kitty's empty.

Other recent important or interesting items include the following:

* Labour's upcoming caucus reshuffle has been described by commentators as difficult for David Shearer because of the fraught issue of dealing with David Cunliffe and his supporters. But David Farrar has blogged on The Labour reshuffle and suggests that the problems are more about identity politics - i.e. can Shearer really demote two underperforming female MPs, and can he afford to have a Pakeha-dominated line-up? See also, Chris Trotter's Charge of the limp brigade which deals with the departure of Charles Chauvel and the apparent defeat of David Cunliffe, and asks, that 'With Champagne Charlie gone, can the talented Mr Cunliffe be far behind?

* New Zealand's head of state still can't be a Catholic, even if current constitutional reforms are passed - see Brian Rudman's It's a charade of heirs and graces.

* State education in New Zealand is supposed to be secular, but a loophole called the Nelson Clause 'allows schools to close for bible classes during school hours', which the Secular Education Network is fighting to close, apparently with little support from political parties keen not to offend religious groups - see: Pressure on Government over bible lessons.

* Why do state agencies have such a poor record of protecting highly sensitive privacy material? The latest scandal shows how the Police are putting people at risk - see Fred Tulett's 'Lives at stake' in files botch-up. There also appear to be reforms to the way that the Police Complaints Authority works - see both Blair Ensor's Police complaints going more public and Simon Bradwell's IPCA boss wants power to investigate.

* The Government has launched another round of punitive welfare reforms, this time receiving some support from the Beneficiary Advocacy Federation, which agrees with the decision to target the partners of benefit fraudsters - see Shane Cowlishaw's Fraud investigation measures raise concerns. But the logic of the reforms is countered by Gordon Campbell, who points out that mistakes by the bureaucracy and underclaiming of welfare benefits are much more of a problem than wilful fraud - see: On the latest spasm of welfare bashing. See also, Steven Cowan's Persecuting the poor. Interestingly, the Green Party has come out with harsh criticism of the reforms, but say that nonetheless they may still vote for the legislation - see Newswire's Benefit fraud crackdown 'unfair'. No Right Turn blogs with severe criticism of the move, but also implicating Labour - see: National spins the wheel again.

* Is the Government's announcement of a 'legacy commitment' to Afghanistan a U-turn? The Waikato Times suggest it is, and says to suggest otherwise is to fall for or push the 'spin' - see: Staying on in Afghanistan. This type of allegation is a 'cheap shot' according to Greer Berry writing in the Manawatu Standard - see: Afghanistan service serves our needs too.

* New Zealanders like to think our war-time record and defence forces are pretty clean but there was a clear violation of the Geneva Convention in the 1943 'wartime "massacre" of Japanese prisoners by New Zealand soldiers' in Featherston - see Seamus Boyer's Lecturer urges massacre apology.

* The new host for TVNZ's Q+A politics show has been announced - see: Susan Wood 'absolutely delighted' to host Q+A. The show restarts on March 10. Other current affairs and politics shows have the following restart/launch schedules: Native Affairs (11 March), The Nation (23 March) and The Vote (end of March). Also, TV3's new current affairs show, 3rd Degree starts on 6 March - watch the 30-second promo. Meanwhile Seven Sharp is still losing huge numbers of One News viewers but, interestingly, Campbell Live isn't continuing to gain from Seven Sharp's losses - see: Let's not talk about the ratings slump for Campbell Live last night.

- 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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