Who are New Zealand’s rich and powerful? Some recent news stories – especially on Government appointments and Queens Birthday honours – give an indication of the make-up of this country’s elite.
Judges are renowned for being out of touch and living in their own elite worlds. Yet it was still astounding to hear Justice Lowell Goddard - one of New Zealand's top High Court judges - pronounce recently to a British enquiry that New Zealand does not have an Establishment. The latest Metro magazine suggests otherwise, with its cover story "Who really runs this town?"
Metro's focus is only on Auckland, but it still provides a useful examination of power and influence in this country. The story is not online, apart from the overall Top 50 List of Influential Aucklanders.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the fact that the Prime Minister isn't at the top of the list. The top five is ordered: Stephen Tindall, Lorde, Nigel Morrison, John Key, and Steven Joyce. Other political figures on the list include Phil Goff, and "Jacinda Ardern, who is practically worshipped among the urban young. Alan Gibbs, the financial fingers controlling the David Seymour Act Party glove puppet. Winston Peters, expected to hold the balance of power after 2017". In contrast, Paula Bennett and Nikki Kaye are pronounced "Not so influential really".
In terms of media, Julie Christie is named as the most influential at MediaWorks (rather than CEO Mark Weldon). At TVNZ, it's Mike Hosking with the power (but board member Joan Withers is high on the list). In general, TVNZ and Fairfax newspapers are not seen as influential in the city. Also in the "Not so influential really" category are Paul Henry and Sky's John Fellet.
Instead, it's the New Zealand Herald, its owner (NZME) and editor Shayne Currie who are deemed highly influential. Metro states: "Currie is immensely powerful - what politician or business leader would not take his call?" But "gossipmonger" Rachel Glucina gets eviscerated (despite also being labelled the "the most formidably influential writer at the Herald").
In the Auckland blogosphere, Metro says the best way to keep up is to read Russell Brown (Public Address), Cameron Slater (Whaleoil) and Martyn Bradbury (The Daily Blog)", but it points out that "the political blog with the biggest clout could just be the Auckland TransportBlog: 90,000 visits a month isn't bad for policy wonkerism".
In PR, the lobbyists and commentators with most influence are deemed by Metro to be Bernard Orsman at the Herald; Matthew Hooton (everywhere else), Sudhvir Singh at Generation Zero ("the boldest voice of the millennial generation"), Patrick Reynolds ("has become so influential in transport circles"), and Carrick Graham "has the ear of many in government". In addition, Fran O'Sullivan is judged to be "supremely well-informed and insightful about the intersection of business and politics".
For more on Metro's list see also Sarah Dunn's The Warehouse's Stephen Tindall is more influential than the Prime Minister.
Incidentally Simon Wilson - the very influential editor of Metro - announced yesterday that he is stepping down from the role, but will continue as a "Contributing Editor".
Queens honours for the elite
Last week the Government awarded an array of Queen's honours to dignitaries. A large number of the recipients appeared to have strong links to the Government itself, with many business leaders and former politicians being rewarded.
Were there too many politicians on the list? The Dominion Post thought so, publishing a thoughtful editorial pointing out that their inclusion creates controversy: "critics will see the awards as service to the government or the ruling party while supporters will see justified merit" - see: Honours should be based on merit.
The newspaper points out that the "Order of Merit" - the highest honour available - contains too many former MPs: ""There are also too many politicians belonging to the order, and not even the most distinguished names among the political elite at that". The Dominion Post calls for reform of the honours system: "This is a tiny country, and there are too many honours awarded. The list should be shorter, shorn of all but the most clearly outstanding politicians, and it should be given only once a year instead of twice".
Many have argued that recent honours recipients have really been rewarded for their "services to National". There is a strong argument to be made for this in terms of the awarding of knighthoods to former coalition partner Pita Sharples, John Key's science adviser Peter Gluckman, and particularly former National Party leader Jim McLay.
Rob Hosking's article (above) details that McLay is very close to the Prime Minister: "Prime Minister John Key has identified Sir Jim as a political mentor: the two met when their sons went to the same Auckland school and Mr McLay was one of several National Party old hands who smoothed Mr Key's way into Parliament". And Audrey Young points out that McLay continues in highly influential roles, including "special envoy for Prime Minister John Key" - see: Sir Jim's focus on 3 new jobs.
There were plenty of businesspeople rewarded in last week's honours - and a look at the roles played by Doug McKay shows just how much some of the elite have overlapping and interlocking positions of influence.
But it was the awarding of a knighthood to businessman Peter Talley that was most controversial. There were two arguments against his knighthood. The CTU had a problem with Talley's business practices and treatment of workers, with Helen Kelly arguing that "this is not a man that we should be calling sir in this country" and that "This is an award that values money over principle" - see TVNZ's 2-minute news report, 'We should not be calling him sir' - businessman's knighthood questioned.
The Talley family are worth an estimated $300 million, and Peter Talley and his family have a long history of donating money to the National Party, which is why blogger No Right Turn also asked whether his knighthood amounted to Cash for honours?. Drawing attention to his various donations to National Party election candidates, the blogger says, "Its an amazing coincidence that someone knighted for 'philanthropy' just happens to be a big donor to the National Party".
Cronyism in government appointments?
All governments have the right to make appointments to thousands of positions on state and quasi-state boards, agencies and SOEs. Their choices often reflect who has power in New Zealand. And sometimes there are questions of whether such appointments amount to patronage or "cronyism", whereby those close to a political party are rewarded for their allegiances and services. For this reason, Claire Trevett's article (from April) on such appointments was very important and deserves a wider audience - see: National Party rewards loyalty - former MPs appointed to boards.
The long list of various National Party-aligned appointments in this article should invite greater scrutiny. Since then, more controversial appointments have been made - the latest being Kate Wilkinson's appointment to the Environment Court. According to Labour, this was an inappropriate appointment, as Wilkinson has only just departed from this National Government and is a former Conservation Minister - see Chris Hutching's Wilkinson's judicial appointment under fire.
Labour's David Parker is particularly strident in his condemnation, saying "This appointment undermines the separation of powers and undermines the reputation of our independent judiciary". In apparent agreement is blogger No Right Turn, who says "putting cronies on the bench corrupts the judiciary and undermines its independence. It invites people to think that decisions of the court are made on political grounds rather than on the merits, bringing the entire system into disrepute" - see: Corrupting the judiciary.
The blogger has also condemned the appointment of Tariana Turia to the Families Commission board - see: Taking care of their friends (http://bit.ly/1GqmCzP). Referring to this (and her earlier "crony knighthood"), the blogger says "the sight of National rewarding their parliamentary cronies with public money is obscene".
Some other major political appointments appear to be coming up. According to the iPredict website, there is an 83% chance of David Carter to be next High Commissioner from New Zealand to the United Kingdom, and a 94% chance of Tim Groser to be next NZ Ambassador to USA.
Ex-National Party leaders Don Brash and Jenny Shipley have received a number of appointments (and some honours) from the current Government, but they're also on many private sector boards, including for Chinese banks - see Richard Meadows' Shipley v Brash: Who earns more Chinese bank cash?.
But not all is going well for Shipley "who is facing legal action from the liquidators of collapsed property group Mainzeal" - see the Herald's Financial Services Council replaces Shipley.
Focus on the wealthy
The truly wealthy will be in focus next year when TVNZ screens a new drama called "Filthy Rich". According to one of the writers, it's based on the concept of "what would happen when the 99 per cent met the 1 per cent, and then moved in?" - see Andrea O'Neill and Steve Kilgallon's Filthy Rich TV show inspired by Ponytailgate.
According to this article, Herald columnist Deborah Hill-Cone has been brought in as a co-writer based on "her knowledge of the top end of town". The article details the current fashions and consumptions of the elite, including the news that "Luxury cars have been flying off the showroom floors in the past 18 months, and are as popular again as before the great financial crisis of 2008".
The New Zealand public doesn't always display a deferential attitude towards the rich and powerful - evidenced by John Weekes' article, 'Claps and cheers' as Bob Jones ejected from Air NZ flight.
Also in aviation, the elite have been offered a new exclusive airport lounge service by the national carrier - see John Anthony's Air New Zealand offers secret invite only Elite Priority One lounge. According to the article, this secret service, which started last year, has its lounges hidden away and membership for the super rich is by invitation only.
It's not just separate travel lounges that benefit the rich. According to Rosemary McLeod, it's the legal system too: "The justice system is stacked on the side of the rich because it's only the rich who can afford the luxury of using it. That unpleasant truth was highlighted in John Banks's recent acquittal on a charge of filing a false electoral return. If he'd been poor it's unlikely he'd have succeeded. Dotcom and his wife gave evidence against him that was finally rebutted, ultimately thanks to Banks's money" - see: Being wealthy isn't everything, but it helps.
Of course some of the rich elite are now supposedly sharing their wealth, with a growth in philanthropy - see Nikki Mandow's Philanthropy, politics and the power of giving. This in-depth feature explores some of New Zealand's biggest givers such as Owen Glenn, who says he "wants to be the biggest donor in New Zealand", but also ponders why he's hated so much. An ANZ banker is reported as saying "it's time to start celebrating wealthy people trying to do something positive".
Glenn is also calling on "the Government to change the way philanthropic donations are taxed to encourage more people to 'invest in their own country'." - see Patrice Dougan's Owen Glenn gives uni $5m boost, calls for philanthrophic donation tax changes.
The New Establishment
New Zealand's Establishment is assumed to be made up of an "Old Boys Club", but there are some signs this is changing. Modernisation means that the "old boys network" is expanding to include different genders, ethnicities and styles. Epitomising the new influence is, of course, Helen Clark on the global stage - and she has just been ranked at number 23 amongst powerful women - see the Herald's Helen Clark makes world's most powerful women list for another year.
In terms of business, the types of industries with influence are changing too. For example, although Aucklander Graham Hart is the richest person in the country, he doesn't make the Metro list. Instead, it's the Warehouse's Stephen Tindall who is at the very top. The magazine says this is because his work with the Tindall Foundation and "as a venture capitalist, angel investor and straight-out benefactor, he's put $250 million into start-ups".
Other fashionable capitalists on the list are in the IT industries, such as Derek Handley, or fashion, such as Karen Walker. But at the more radical end, brothel owner Jennifer Souness is highlighted. Her Bon Ton business was recently named by a BBC programme as the "best brothel in the world", which is profiled in Jess McAllen's Behind the red lights of New Zealand's brothels.
Maoridom is also becoming a much more important player in governance and the business world. And in this regard, it is Morgan Godfery's contribution to Metro (on powerful Auckland Maori) that is possibly the most interesting. He writes about the shifting influence in Maoridom, with the decline of union and protest politics, "now, influence has shifted from the picket line to business boardrooms, council committees and statutory boards".
Godfery argues that "If you want to wield influence in Auckland, it helps to have an iwi behind you" - and he highlights the power of people like Paul Majurey and Ngarimu Blair. Godfery says that these two "belong to the new group of iwi leaders who exercise enormous public and bureaucratic power". But in addition, Joe Hawke and family are powerful: "Not many public decisions get made in Auckland politics without some recourse to the Hawkes".
Elsewhere in the Metro feature, the influence of Maori broadcaster Stacey Morrison is highlighted - she "turns out for Maori TV and TVNZ. She is a political commentator, te reo advocate and educator". But it's Maori TV's Mihingarangi Forbes who is highlighted by Godfery as someone who is actually "unafraid to hold the powerful figures in Maori society to account: just ask the Kohanga Reo National Trust".
However, it seems that changes in Maori TV have recently made Forbes style untenable - see David Fisher: Star Maori TV broadcaster Mihingarangi Forbes quits.
Another important departure - but in the business world - is that of lobbyist Phil O'Reilly - see John Anthony's Phil O'Reilly resigns as head of BusinessNZ.
Finally, the death of Peter Williams QC is a strong reminder that not all of those in New Zealand who rise to the top are automatically part of the Establishment, and in fact they often battle strongly against it - see TVNZ's Tributes flow for criminal lawyer who took on the Establishment.