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

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: The bizarre and mysterious Peter Dunne scandal

United Future Party leader Peter Dunne. Photo / Mark Mitchell
United Future Party leader Peter Dunne. Photo / Mark Mitchell

So much of what goes on in politics is shrouded in mystery and intrigue and it's a constant struggle to lift the veil on what is actually happening. Journalists attempt to get scoops, MPs leak information, spin-doctors try to mold public opinion and keep embarrassing facts under wraps.

We still don't really know what caused Peter Dunne's downfall and it remains quite a bizarre mystery with many unanswered questions and issues arising from the situation.

One of the most insightful and interesting analyses comes from David Farrar in his blogpost Dunne winners and losers. Farrar writes 'Who would have picked that Kim Dotcom would indirectly claim Peter Dunne as a victim', and he proceeds to go through and systematically analyse the roles of the various players in the scandal. If you want a visual portrayal of Peter Dunne's fall from grace, see my own blogpost aggregating the various cartoons and photos: New images of the Peter Dunne scandal.

If you want to know why Dunne might possibly be leaking highly sensitive material to journalists, possibly the best account is Jane Clifton's online Listener column written immediately in the wake of Dunne's press conference. Clifton writes 'My best guess is that being a source can be quite ego-boosting, and it is part of a midlife crisis to seek ego-boosts from novel sources' - see: Peter Dunne's gobsmacking fall from grace.

What's most interesting about Clifton's account is her defence of, and praise for, individuals who leak material. Colin Espiner also argues this point of view in his column Captain Sensible got too near the flame. Espiner's excellent column praises the 'proud tradition of leaking', emphasising the extent of this practice, and explaining why it happens. He says that 'Peters is the king of leaks, although he doesn't betray a trace of irony in his demands for Dunne to face a police investigation', and that 'Helen Clark leaked like a sieve'. What's more, 'There are very senior people sitting around Key's Cabinet table who have leaked information to me in the past. And every other reporter in the press gallery I'm sure'.

Perhaps the most contentious issue to arise out of the Dunne scandal is how the Opposition parties have reacted to it. Generally their response can be characterised as fairly authoritarian and illiberal. New Zealand First, Labour and the Greens have taken a hardline approach to the leaking of the report, and are seeking the most severe punishment and condemnation of the leakage, and of Peter Dunne. In particular, the Opposition parties are attempting to force Dunne and Andrea Vance's communications to be made public, and have made calls for the police to step in and start criminal investigations.

This has drawn the wrath of blogger No Right Turn, who has written an extremely critical post about those seeking to punish leakers - see: The Greens should support leakers, not oppose them. His main point is that 'leaks are the lifeblood of democracy. And the more sensitive and embarrassing the leak, the greater the public interest in protecting the leaker. If Dunne leaked this report, he should be viewed as a hero, not a criminal'. Russel Norman is labeled an 'authoritarian' and called upon to resign. In another post, The Henry report, No Right Turn defends Dunne's right to keep his correspondence private: 'Dunne is the leader of a political party, and it is entirely normal for him to communicate with journalists. Given his previously expressed views on the GCSB and the fact that he is a critical swing vote in passing the government's spy bill, its even entirely natural for him to communicate with a journalist on GCSB issues. And it is entirely natural for him to regard those communications as none of the PM's business'.

In Opposition parties may look silly over Police complaints, David Farrar says 'talking of Police complaints is hysteria' and that the Labour Party appears to be hypocritical as it is currently engaged in trying to prevent another leaker's name from being released. Similarly, I've argued that calling for Police intervention in the political and media realm is a dangerous path for politicians to go down - see the NBR's Dunne affair: Labour, Greens draw flak over 'chilling' police inquiry call. Of course, it makes some difference whether Dunne - or anyone else - has actually broken any laws in leaking the GCSB report. The growing consensus, including that of the PM, is that no crime has been committed - see Felix Marwick's GCSB leak not criminal, says lawyer. And for a fulsome legal discussion and analysis of the issues, see Andrew Geddis' Peter Dunne - what happens next?.

Pro-Labour blogger, Scott Yorke has criticised David Shearer's aggressive approach to the issue, suggesting that he's making himself 'a huge target for accusations of hypocrisy' - see: A different strategy. He also asks a good question: 'Does it mean that the next time someone tries to leak to Labour something damaging to John Key's government, David Shearer will threaten to call the cops?' A similar argument is made by Tracy Watkins in her column, Dunne's a scalp that may weigh too heavy, in which she points out that Phil Goff has also been recently involved in leaking confidential reports: 'That moral high ground should last about as long as it takes to extend the logic to Labour MP Phil Goff, who was leaked sensitive Cabinet documents relating to Foreign Affairs. Labour would scream constitutional outrage if his emails were seized and he was made to name the leaker. Like journalists, MPs don't reveal their sources. But if leaking was criminal, half the National Government and its Labour predecessor would be locked up'.

Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance, who received the original leak, has been a target of rumour and speculation since Dunne's resignation. This reached a pinnacle on TVNZ's Q+A programme, when Vance was accused by National's Michelle Boag of actually leaking the story to Winston Peters. Boag said, 'Now, my question is, how does he know? There is only one other person that could have given him access to those emails - and that is Andrea Vance. There is no other way that he could get that information. And I have to ask what sort of game is she playing? I understand that she is also very close to Grant Robertson' - see: TVNZ's Dunne was 'leaking like a sieve', says Peters. Fairfax boss Paul Thompson has responded, saying 'That's ludicrous' - see Attempts to get reporter's emails 'will be fought'. He is also reported as saying that 'politicians should tread carefully before embarking on a witch hunt. That could have a chilling effect on how journalists covered politicians'.

So, what happens now? It all depends on what else emerges about Dunne's actions and emails. Matthew Hooton looks at some of the possible scenarios if things get worse for Dunne - see: Dunne affair: Key would win snap election. Also, see TV3's Where to now for Peter Dunne?, in which Hooton recommends various options for Dunne. But it all depends a lot on Winston Peters' next move. He claims to have copies of the email correspondence between Dunne and Vance, and therefore may continue to drip-feed information about the contents. But there's very good reason to question whether Peters is bluffing, and United Future blogger Pete George puts together the arguments for this being the case in his post, Winston Peters evades questions on evidence. But Danyl Mclaughlin says 'my guess is that Peters has the emails that were handed over to the Henry inquiry. If that's the case then Dunne was very wise not to hand over the rest of his correspondence' - see: What does Peters have?.

Finally, for the satirical takes on the Peter Dunne issue, see Steve Braunias' The secret diary of Peter Dunne and Ben Uffindell's Civilian blogpost, President Obama listening to Peter Dunne's phone conversations with amusement.

Other recent important or interesting items include the following:

Andrea Vance was recently a key journalistic player in another behind-the-scenes political story. She wrote a very important profile on National Party strategist and wannabe Svengali Simon Lusk - a must-read if you haven't already - see: Seriously happy to upset the status quo. The Standard provided some useful analysis of this in the blogpost, That Lusk article.

Soon after Vance's profile of Lusk was published, some of his internal documents were leaked to the media, providing further insight into what goes on behind the scenes on the National Party rightwing. This was best covered by David Fisher in National turns on hard right advisor and Ports and bloggers colluded: strategist. TV3's The Nation also had good coverage - watch: PM responds to plans to push the Nats to the right.

Do bloggers get paid behind the scenes by political parties? That's a question asked recently by David Farrar - see: A question. It turns out that Daily Blog editor Martyn Bradbury is on the parliamentary payroll of the Mana Party, and you can read his response here: Declaration - David Farrar's Darth Vader helmet is too big for me. The issue is also parodied by Scott Yorke in his post It's me.

Behind the scenes at the Green Party's recent conference there was also some important maneuvering. Isaac Davison reports on a leak from the party which shows that Greens accused of changing rules to stifle grassroots. John Armstrong has elaborated further on the issue, with a strong critique of how the party is evolving in Get-tough Greens preparing for battle. But for an even more trenchant analysis of the Green's pragmatism see an analysis from Massey University's Grant Duncan, Green Effluent. An ex-Alliance cabinet minister is also strongly criticising the Greens from the left - see his blog post, Now Dunne Is Done Let's Consider The Not So Grand Coalitions.

Russel Norman is also still being taken to task for his recent conference speech likening John Key to Robert Muldoon. Rodney Hide argues that in fact, it's more interesting to compare and contrast Norman to Muldoon - see: Norman so (un)like Muldoon too. Fran O'Sullivan uses a recent case study of Norman's attacks on an economist, to label him the real 'Muldoonist' - see: Politics of abuse: spot the real Muldoonist. Yet another rightwing commentator lines up for a shot, with Matthew Hooton saying that Russel's history lessons ring hollow. But Norman gets the last word in his blogpost, Muldoon and Key.

Hekia Parata was recently interviewed and profiled by Rachel Smalley on TV3's The Nation -well worth watching here: Hekia Parata: a minister out of her depth?. Controversial questions were put to the minister, as explained in Kate Shuttleworth's TV3 host to Parata: 'How Maori are you?'. Brian Edwards has come out in Smalley's defence with When Hekia met Rachel - a sometime interviewer's perspective. But Metiria Turei disagrees - see: Response to Brian Edwards concerning Hekia Parata.

Are the Maori seats falling out of favour with Maori voters? Certainly there are fewer switching over the Maori roll than might have been expected - see TVNZ's Maori Roll campaign fails to fire. Consequently there are fears that the number of seats could fall - see Newswire's Sharples: A Maori seat could be lost. David Farrar has a good analysis of the decline in growth of the Maori roll and suggests it's because 'Maori are no longer under-represented, but over-represented' in Parliament - see: The Maori option. Morgan Godfery responds by saying Enroll! (On the Maori roll).

Finally, if you're sick of the current parties on offer, you don't have to give up on politics and voting - there's a new option rising - see Ben Uffindell's The Civilian blogpost, Why we're registering a political party.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

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.

Read more by Bryce Edwards

Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 19 Jan 2017 14:40:49 Processing Time: 579ms