Dirty Politics could have the unintended consequence of harming all New Zealand politicians... and the Prime Minister's terrible stand-up

It's been a high stakes day in New Zealand politics. Nicky Hager, an occassional contributor to this site, has put his reputation on the line by choosing to use hacked emails to write Dirty Politics and John Key has matched him as he stood by his controversial staffer and denied some of the seemingly well-made claims in the book.

Hager's book has been a bombshell and while most voters won't go near it and National's well-constructed lines about him being "left-wing conspiracy theorist" and on the wrong side of the law, it will influence this campaign. It will damage #teamkey, not least because going by Key's comments today he has chosen to brazen it out.

Key at the start of the day had the option to cut loose Jason Ede - "Dark Ops" - the man in his office who, emails in the book suggest, has worked so closely with Cameron Slater on a series of unethical and distasteful stories or blogs. Instead, Key has stood by him, presumably because letting him go would look like an admission he was not in control of his own team and in the confidence that the public's trust in him will remain hold firm. It's a gamble.

National has spent the day playing the man, not the ball in the hope that when it comes down to it voters will trust the Prime Minister they know and like over a "left wing conspiracy theorist" who received and is profiting from hacked emails. That is the attack line used by numerous National MPs today. But Key has looked uncomfortable and unconvincing. Get down to some of the specific claims and there is certainly material to harm National.

The Prime Minister has long been considered by many as a man different from a 'typical poltician'. The polls tells us that clearly. For some of them, as this story plays out he will lose that magic.

And while many on the left are whooping in joy at this development, but they should be careful about what they wish for. Because Key was the politician many trusted above others, the one who was straighter than most. The sad reality is that if voters turn against Key, they will turn against politics as a whole.

The reaction will be "they're all doing it". Some will defend him and not believe the man they trusted could know about such things; and it's fair to say that there are all sorts of things political staffers don't tell their bosses to protect them. But others will simply conclude "he's no better than the rest, then".

The challenge after all this dies down will be to ask whether our leaders are willing and able to play the game in a more decent and honorable fashion, because ultimately it's on them. 

The broad allegations about dirt in politics don't get us very far. Claims, for example, that David Farrar is less than fullsome with his public disclosures are nonsense. When we have him on The Nation we call him 'blogger and pollster for National', for example.

But the specific allegations are the ones to watch. For example, the claims Judith Collins transfered a prisoner at Slater's request. If any of that sticks, she's toast. The book however merely claims that Slater asked and a few days later the prisoner was moved. There's no positive link between the two actions; maybe the prisoner asking Slater for help was also asking guards for help and they intervened. At this stage there's no proof.

Second, National helping itself to Labour's donor data. To call it hacking is incorrect. As I understand it, Labour left its electronic back door unlocked and, allegedly, Slater and Ede just walked in. The book claims both men downloaded the data they found there, but that's not proved either. Key said today "National was nowhere near Labour's website", something his party president Peter Goodfellow has contradicted as long ago as 2011, when he admitted a National Party staffer went into the site.

There may be some debate about the legality, but you'd think if it was actionable Labour would have done something back when the story broke. Still, voters might find it distasteful that one of the PM's team would download personal credit card data that had nothing to do with him.

Then there's the story of Simon Pleasants. And Brownwyn Pullar. Did Collins leak their names to Slater, prompting attacks by him on his website? Collins says no, Hager claims yes, Key says he'll have to look into that. We'll have to wait to see if lawyers get to decide who's right.

Two observations to conclude. Politics has always had a grubby element. Journalists and politicians do deals on stories. There are grey areas where compromises are made.

But when Key says National's dealings with Slater are no different from how he and other MPs talk to other media, well, if the book is accurate that's not true. PM staffer don't write OIAs for other journalists and don't plan attacks on opponents with other journalists. Journalists filter and balance and double-check - all the things Slater doesn't do. 

Second, watch this. It's Key's stand-up today. I've never seen him look so uncomfortable and ill-prepared. He is usually very good at giving himself a way out, but in this he contradicts his own president, wildly claims Hager is "making stuff up" when challenged on the veracity of the emails, claims he has no idea about the prisoner transfer claim 20 hours after the book came out (yeah right), and categorically says National staff hanve't fed OIAs to Slater. On several fronts, either Hager has invented some emails or Key has got it wrong.

It's a remarkable bit of interviewing and kudos to Brook Sabin, Michael Parkin and Lloyd Burr.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Comments (34)

by Kat on August 14, 2014
Kat

"Because Key was the politician many trusted above others, the one who was straighter than most. The sad reality is that if voters turn against Key, they will turn against politics as a whole".

You mean the 47% that voted for him?

Some have always considered him a fake and no straighter than a dogs hind leg. What you will most likely find Tim is that the specific percentage of 'swing' voters who call ever election will certainly turn against Key.

Nothing actually to do with Key, of course!

by Nick Gibbs on August 14, 2014
Nick Gibbs

I can imagine that every morning Steven Joyce gets up and thinks "How can I stick it to labour today? I wonder if Cam Slater can help?".

I also bet their are those in Labour who wake up every morning and wonder "How can I stick it to David Cunliffe today? I wonder if Cam Slater could help?".

Slater is the nasty side of politics, but he has his uses and I don't think either left or right shirk from using his talents when necessary.

 

by Alan Johnstone on August 14, 2014
Alan Johnstone

Can one of our many lawyers here interpret article 252 of the Crimes Act in relation to this ?

"Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years who intentionally accesses, directly or indirectly, any computer system without authorisation, knowing that he or she is not authorised to access that computer system, or being reckless as to whether or not he or she is authorised to access that computer system."

 

by Lee Churchman on August 14, 2014
Lee Churchman

The sad reality is that if voters turn against Key, they will turn against politics as a whole.

That seems a stretch. I don't see the parties of the left and NZF engaging in anything like what's in Hager's book. The most virulent attack blogger the NZ left has is probably Martyn Bradbury – a man who reminds one of a panda. 

You also missed the worst passage for Key in the whole book (it's at the end). With regard to the mother of the "feral" man whose death he gloated over, Slater is quoted as saying in an email:

"John Key rang me" and told him that the dead man's mother "was the same feral fucking bitch who screams at him when he goes to Pike River meetings". 

Now, as Hager notes, it is unlikely that the PM used such colourful phrasing, but what kind of person not only rings up to commiserate with someome who posts such an awful piece, but puts the boot in to the dead man's mother, because the grief stricken woman crossed him?

The rule for all polticians is: if a recently bereaved mother has a go at you, even if it is unfair, you take it and keep schtum.

by stuart munro on August 14, 2014
stuart munro

Sorry to be a grammar Nazi - but fullsome (sic) properly refers to a distasteful excess

candid would have served your meaning better.

by MJ on August 14, 2014
MJ

One of the main things about the book is the inherent contradiction between 'the smiley man' and the way his department, his office and his appointed ministers are involved in all this. 

The revealing of what is going on behind the veneer of the smile and the joke and the drink is surely a major point of the book?

If you are interested in  politics because Key is a nice guy who never does anything dirty you're getting duped. 

by Katharine Moody on August 14, 2014
Katharine Moody

My mother used to say, you are judged by the company you keep.

When John Key cheerfully admitted he spoke to Slater regularly in this interview;

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/9723130/Looks-like-Slater-is-Ke...

I thought, yuck.

by Tim Watkin on August 14, 2014
Tim Watkin

Katherine... the other one tha's kept going through my mind today is 'you lie down with dogs, you get fleas'.

Alan, interesting question. Would love an answer from those lawyers. Is your concern Hager's use of hacked emails (in the public interest) or Ede and Slater's alleged accessing of and downloading from the Labour Party site (for political gain)?

by Tim Watkin on August 14, 2014
Tim Watkin

Lee, I've talked to a few people today not in the political world and heard another couple on radio (terrible sample size I know), but what struck me was the takeaway point that 'it sounds terrible, but I guess they all do it. It's no worse than the other lots'.

I'm not endorsing Key and certainly not criticising anyone for trying to reveal the truth behind the mask and spin of any politician (it's what I try to do in my own humble way week in, week out in my job). My point is simply that Key has, for whatever reason, earnt a reputation as a non-political politician, more so than any PM since Lange and maybe even more than him. Many voters (maybe only 47% Kat, but name any other leader who's got close to his popularity and trust ratings over six years) have seen him as something different. If they see otherwise, it won't be just them saying 'Key's let me down' it'll be 'so he's no better than the rest. Bugger the lot of them'.

As for the that quote re the mother, Key has denied that outright, the foul language seems almost cetainly to be Slater's not Key's, and I had one of my team check in with Bernie Monk today and he says there's never been screaming at Key at meetings and relationships are still cordial. So the only really questionable thing is that he (supposedly) rang Slater after that hideous post not to tell him how appalled he was and severe ties, but for a chat.

by Katharine Moody on August 15, 2014
Katharine Moody

Yes, Tim, and then there is 'bird's of a feather flock together' as well.

Which made me think back to Nicky Hager's last book, Hollow Men. Was Steven Joyce actually confirmed to be the man behind the Don Brash-Exclusive Brethren hook up as alleged in that book? I googled it and found this by Colin Espiner;

http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/552871/Controversial-figure-gets-top-Na...

Has Joyce ever denied that claim? Seems odd that given he is fronting alot of the news media on this issue and trying to discredit Hager .. you'd think someone would say, but hey, Steven, he was pretty much on the money in Hollow Men (unless he wasn't, that is). 

 

by Danyl Mclauchlan on August 15, 2014
Danyl Mclauchlan

Claims, for example, that David Farrar is less than fullsome with his public disclosures are nonsense. When we have him on The Nation we call him 'blogger and pollster for National', for example.

That is a new phenomenon though. Something that drove me nuts during the 2011 election campaign is that DPF wrote for Fairfax and the Herald and routinely commented in mainstream media outlets and his links to National were never disclosed. He was always a 'blogger and political commentator'. And DPF is still evasive about this. On Radio New Zealand yesterday he cheerfully admitted that he was a National Party member 'No secret about that, ha ha ha,' but it had to be painfully dragged out of him that he was National's pollster, they were his primary revenue stream and he played a key role in their election campaign. 

by Alan Johnstone on August 15, 2014
Alan Johnstone

Tim, both. Although it would appear that Hager didn't directly access a computer system.

What this story does is make John Key just another dirty politico. His greatest strength is that he was somehow different.

by Andrew Geddis on August 15, 2014
Andrew Geddis

Can one of our many lawyers here interpret article 252 of the Crimes Act...

It's not really my area, but the NBR interviewed Lowdnes Jordan partner Rick Shera on this back in 2011:

"According to some reports, the information was wide open on the Labour site. I don’t know if it was generally accessible or it required a little bit of ingenuity or even 'cracking'. However, that is not the issue. The issue is whether Cameron Slater was authorised to access the material for any purpose. If he wasn’t, or if there was doubt and he just did it anyway without caring - that is, recklessly, then he may be liable.

"In my view, authorisation carries with it the idea of an intention to allow access and not just an implicit authority through a lack of security, but the issue has never been tested," Mr Shera said.

He added: "I’ll say one thing for Mr Slater though, he is certainly doing a service to internet legal precedent, whether he wins or loses this time."

by Alex Coleman on August 15, 2014
Alex Coleman

As for the that quote re the mother, Key has denied that outright, the foul language seems almost cetainly to be Slater's not Key's, and I had one of my team check in with Bernie Monk today and he says there's never been screaming at Key at meetings and relationships are still cordial. So the only really questionable thing is that he (supposedly) rang Slater after that hideous post not to tell him how appalled he was and severe ties, but for a chat

Hmm. NOt sure I follow this. The quote might be WO embellishing, but the idea that Key doesn't swear is fairly new. Garner recently reported how concerned Key was about his language on the Teapot tapes.

 

And even if we assume the swearing is a fabrication of Whales, why also assume that Key didn't commiserate in that sense of putting down the woman as someone who also attacks Key? Key only really denied that foul language the quote was phrased in, not the sense of it, not the commiseration.

 

 

 

 

by Siena Denton on August 15, 2014
Siena Denton

Reply to Tim

"Alan, interesting question. Would love an answer from those lawyers. Is your concern Hager's use of hacked emails (in the public interest) or Ede and Slater's alleged accessing of and downloading from the Labour Party site (for political gain)"?

As they say in cyberworld speak...2 Black-hat's doth not make 1 White-hat...maybe a Grey-hat eh lol

White-hat (hacking for the enjoyment of exploration) 

Black-hat (hacking to find exploits and system weaknesses, see cracker

and Grey-hat (someone who is a little of both)


by Richard Aston on August 15, 2014
Richard Aston

Tim re the Judith Collin allegation.

You say "maybe the prisoner asking Slater for help was also asking guards for help and they intervened. "

No it way worse than helping prisoner who wants a transfer ,

" When she was Minister of Corrections Collins appears to have had a prisoner transferred at Slater’s request, because a friend of Slater’s didn’t want her daughter visiting her imprisoned ex-partner and Slater arranged to have the man transferred to a more remote prison"

 

by Brent Jackson on August 15, 2014
Brent Jackson

You wrote :

There's no positive link between the two actions; maybe the prisoner asking Slater for help was also asking guards for help and they intervened.

This supposition appears inaccurate.  Danyl McLaughlan at The Dim-Post wrote :

When she was Minister of Corrections Collins appears to have had a prisoner transferred at Slater’s request, because a friend of Slater’s didn’t want her daughter visiting her imprisoned ex-partner and Slater arranged to have the man transferred to a more remote prison. The prisoner later attempted suicide.

So it wasn't the prisoner who wanted to be transferred.

Also, you refer to "hacked emails" and the "veracity of the emails", but they were not emails.  They were facebook chat sessions.  If journalists ask Slater, Key, or Ede about emails then they can definitely deny it, because the communication between Slater and Ede was via facebook chat.

But otherwise, good stuff.  I hope some Police complaints have been lodged already.

 

by Richard Aston on August 15, 2014
Richard Aston

Tim  "The sad reality is that if voters turn against Key, they will turn against politics as a whole" . Yes that concerns me above all . Yes a few swinging but motivated voters may swing away from National but how many will just be turned off by the whole nasty circus. I could understand that fully as a impulse reaction.

Vivian Hutchinson expressed it well on his facebook page.
"As National Party strategist Simon Lusk is quoted in the book, "“There are a few basic propositions with negative campaigning that are worth knowing about. It lowers turnout, favours right more than left as the right continues to turn out, and drives away the independents."" . This is a strategy that thoroughly corrupts our democracy ... and it also means that the next generation of our best and brightest are just as thoroughly discouraged from putting themselves forward for public service"

The second point is pertanent, not only will dirty politics build cynicism amongst voters and turn away the sort of people we really need in politics.

As I see it the challenge now is to keep the debate alive so we can all get a clearer picture of the extent of dirty politics in NZ , is it all parties or just the Nats ? 
People have forgotten the Closed Bretheren deal - negotiated by Steven Joyce - forgotten Muldoons nasty little games, so maybe some dirty politics history is in order.

Who can we trust in politics and how do we know we can trust them or not ?

Their are implications for the media in all this as well. How complicit are main stream media in feeding govt PR releases - via govt or a tame blogger - direct to the public?
Have the media been gamed in all this and who in the media can we trust to be,  like you know , a real journalist digging out the truth. Clearly not Mike Hoskings or Paul Henry.

 


by Lee Churchman on August 15, 2014
Lee Churchman

As for the that quote re the mother, Key has denied that outright, the foul language seems almost cetainly to be Slater's not Key's, and I had one of my team check in with Bernie Monk today and he says there's never been screaming at Key at meetings and relationships are still cordial. So the only really questionable thing is that he (supposedly) rang Slater after that hideous post not to tell him how appalled he was and severe ties, but for a chat.

Thanks Tim. I would point out that Hager himself says that the language is almost certainly Slater's. Perhaps Slater fabricated this, or the PM said something about how he was fed up of meeting with the Pike families or something like that, which has been spun by Slater.

However, you say:

The reaction will be "they're all doing it". Some will defend him and not believe the man they trusted could know about such things; and it's fair to say that there are all sorts of things political staffers don't tell their bosses to protect them. But others will simply conclude "he's no better than the rest, then".

Can you explain why so many professional journalists spend their time talking about what people will or do think? Don't you think that the public would be better served by just reporting the facts and opinion pieces, and a ban on telling us what we will or might think? 

by Alan Johnstone on August 15, 2014
Alan Johnstone

I haven't read the book but the comment about the jail transfer would appear to be easy enough to check.

Surely an OIA request would cover off the background for the decision? If the transfer happened 4 days after the request then it badly fails the sniff test.

Is the person named?

 

by Richard Aston on August 15, 2014
Richard Aston

Lee , "Don't you think that the public would be better served by just reporting the facts and opinion pieces, and a ban on telling us what we will or might think? "

On the surface you are right but what's been happening for a while now is a series of orchestrated PR campaigns run by political parties, and govt, to change and massage our opinions, to change the way we think about the world.  This alongside the general flood of mass marketing aimed to change the way we think about products and brands.

People are trying to think while swimming in a sea of manipulated information where “facts” can be contextualised, sliced and diced to mean anything.  

So I for one see the speculation on what people may think about this or that as a valid debate.

I am very interested in what is behind the so called facts, what’s the source, what’s the context, why should we be interested in these facts over those and what will people think.

In other words I am interested in debate on how effective – or not – a particular piece has been on changing public opinion. Like it or not public opinions inform voting and voting give us governments.

Democracy it’s a wonderful ideal but so fragile in the face of organised spin.

by Andrew Geddis on August 15, 2014
Andrew Geddis

@Alan,

<blockquote>Surely an OIA request would cover off the background for the decision? If the transfer happened 4 days after the request then it badly fails the sniff test.</blockquote>

Not so sure about that - I suspect a question like "tell me when and where a particular prisoner was transferred, and why" would be knowcked back on privacy grounds.

by Lee Churchman on August 15, 2014
Lee Churchman

So I for one see the speculation on what people may think about this or that as a valid debate.

If it's a debate, it's probably not part of journalism.

I set a logic exercise in my course last semester where the students had to reconstruct an argument from a newspaper. The argument had two parts: one was that there was no reason to think that Kim Dotcom was doing anything wrong in owning Hitler's book, and the second was that he shouldn't own it anyway because ignorant people might think bad things about him because of it. 

There's an oddness about this argument owing to the fact that the person writing is doing so in NZ's most popular newspaper – a platform through which he or she actually has some hope of affecting public opinion and dispelling ignorance. 

by Lee Churchman on August 15, 2014
Lee Churchman

People are trying to think while swimming in a sea of manipulated information where “facts” can be contextualised, sliced and diced to mean anything.  

It's the job of journalists to correct for this and to present what they consider to be accurate information. That's all you can really demand of them: professionalism and honesty. That stuff about contextualisation and suchlike is not new. Even Plato complains about it and people think that giving it new names somehow changes what it is (news: it doesn't). It's pretty easy to train people to cut through misdirection and rhetoric – I should know, I get paid to do it. 

by Katharine Moody on August 15, 2014
Katharine Moody

So on the mother whose son died in a car accident on the West Coast, Key has confirmed that he did indeed discuss this matter with Slater;

Key said he had told Slater he "recognised the woman".

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/10386840/Hagers-claims-dissolvi...

To me it really doesn't matter what was said - just the fact that he is discussing personal details about private citizen with someone like Cameron Slater is beyond belief. Is there no one in the National caucus or party membership that finds the 'mateship' with Cameron Slater extremely repulsive?   

by BeShakey on August 15, 2014
BeShakey

Haven't read the book so this may be totally off track, but from the commentary the prisoner was moved to his disadvantage, rather than at his request. Therefore, he might make an OIA request for the file and waive his privacy rights, or make a privacy act request for his file, or complain to the ombudsman about how he was managed (if the only reason they were transferred was the request from the Minister, then the transfer would have been inconsistent with the corrections act [it might be inconsistent in other circumstances, but if there is no other reason it'd be absolutely clearcut]).

Finally, the Minister of Corrections doesn't have the power to transfer prisoners. That can only be done by the Chief Executive of Corrections [well, Inspectors of Corrections can do it as well but only in limited circumstances, and Collins would go to the CE to get a prisoner moved]. If I was a journalist I'd be piling the pressure on him, he would be more likely to be the weak link than Collins (although, if this is true is career is over).

by Lee Churchman on August 15, 2014
Lee Churchman

What do you think would happen if an email came to light between a Standard blogger and Russell Brown that talked about publicizing David Farrar's whereabouts in order to put Farrar in danger of physical attack?

How many major media figures would be calling for Cunliffe to resign? You can count in all those who said he should go over the bottle of wine he didn't buy. Their depravity is unbounded.

by Anne on August 15, 2014
Anne

@ Lee churchman:

Not only was the $2000 (or whatever it was) bottle of wine a work of fiction, but so was the $15,000 book and the $100,000 donation. Yet the principle media political commentators continued to call for Cunliffe's resignation. I've heard nobody call for Key's resignation in the light of the Hager revelations. Indeed we've been subjected to a barrage of hate against Nicky Hager by a number of them for daring to raise his head above the political parapet and reveal the truth. 

 

 

by Andrew Osborn on August 15, 2014
Andrew Osborn

I can see the headline now:

Author accuses blogger of stealing information... based on information which was stolen.


Just a pity the media aren't interested in the debating various policies these parties are proposing.

by Tim Watkin on August 16, 2014
Tim Watkin

A note on the prisoner transfer line. Collins has denied it and Hager says that part of the book has been misinterpreted. It was never meant to suggest that Collins facilitated the transfer as a favour.

by Andrew Osborn on August 16, 2014
Andrew Osborn

Correction: Just looked at Whaleoil - there is a detailed description of how he accessed Labour data: They left it open for all to see! Including the credit card details of all who contributed to that party...What a bunch of clowns!

So I was wrong, Slater has done nothing illegal - it seems the only crooks are Hager and his source.

Listening to the interviews by Radiolive and 1ZB, Hager came off really badly and I think this may yet backfire.

Time will tell.

by Ian MacKay on August 16, 2014
Ian MacKay

Tim. Helen Kelly was booked to be on the Nation Panel today. Last Thursday she was dropped.

There had better be a pretty good reason for this. Why?

by Kat on August 16, 2014
Kat

(maybe only 47% Kat, but name any other leader who's got close to his popularity and trust ratings over six years).........!!!!

That is exactly the 'con' being exposed here. 

 

by Tim Watkin on August 18, 2014
Tim Watkin

Ian, people are moved around all the time to get the balance and expertise a programme wants, depending on the rest of the programme. Don't worry, she was only postponed.

Anne, follow the link on this page to that stand-up on Thursday. I'm not sure what on what grounds you'd demand Key's resignation; to demand the resignation of a PM you'd want to be certain of your proof. But you'll see in that clip some very challenging questioning from the gallery which shows how seriously the claims were being taken.

Andrew, hopefully you've gone to my later post since to read about whether it may have been illegal or not. We knew in 2011 that the site was left open – a technical accident – but that isn't on its own enough to be certain it's not illegal. I've heard mixed legal advice.

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