Claims the Prime Minister must have known about dirty politics around him ignore the reality of his CEO style and the Law Commission has more work to do on new media

 

Two weeks ago I suggested this could turn into New Zealand's first policy-free election; my instinct seems to have been proven correct. While policy debates are still occuring around the fringes, there is no way now that with just two weeks to go that the Opposition parties are going to let the fallout from Dirty Politics go. And there is still the Dotcom revelation to come.

All of the media commentators, whether left or right, are now obsessed with the issue, and have their own prescriptions of what should happen. They have become players as much as they are commentators. As much as the parties, they are not going to let the issue go.

One thing is clear; they cannot believe that John Key does not know everything that happens in his government and in his ministers' Offices. In many respects that is how Prime Ministers have operated in the past, with extremely tight controls.

John Key has a different style than the traditional style of New Zealand political management. He delegates in the manner of a chief executive, and lets ministers get on with their jobs.

The most successful chief executives take a strategic approach to their roles. And this is the experience that Key has brought to the role of the Prime Minister. But it is a different approach to the micro-management that is the typical expectation of the world of politics.

Both Simon Power and myself remarked this on in our valedictory addresses. Major things could happen in our portfolios and it was our discretion as to whether we thought it was necessary to advise the Prime Minister. Each of our portfolios had particularly sensitive issues. Not all of them required the attention of the Prime Minister, particularly given the challenges he was dealing with arising from the GFC and the Christchurch earthquakes.

So I am not the least surprised that the Prime Minister did not personally approve the release of specific OIA’s. Staff in his office were trusted with responsibility for such things.

However, I suspect that voters will want some clarity on the facts behind these issues. They will want to have some inkling from the investigation by the Inspector General of Security as to what has actually happened.

In my item, I referred to the blogosphere as being as ungoverned as the Wild West. But the revelation that the subject on an SFO Inquiry would allegedly pay a group of bloggers to besmirch the investigating office is surely a new low. Readers of Whaleoil were certainly aware of many posts questioning the SFO and also the Financial Markets Authority. That just seemed to conform to the general style of Whaleoil. But in fact seems it it was a paid for hit-job.

The Law Commission’s report into new media did not envisage that this could happen, but now has, or at least the released emails point to that. One of the strengths of the MSM is that readers can reasonably assume that hard-hitting investigative journalists are not being paid for by one of the protagonists in the issue. While the journalists may have a clearly understood political perspective, this is usually apparent on the face of the news item. This is part of the trust the society has in the idea of a free and independent media.

Can society really afford to have the blogosphere limited only by the criminal law and the law of defamation? 

The Law Commission’s report into new media is increasingly looking like unfinished business.

Comments (33)

by Kat on September 02, 2014
Kat

"So I am not the least surprised that the Prime Minister did not personally approve the release of specific OIA’s. Staff in his office were trusted with responsibility for such things".

Wayne, are you saying its ok in your opinion that John Key as minister in charge of security and the SIS doesn't need to know what is going on with his own ministerial portfolio because he has delegated to someone else?  

by Ian MacKay on September 02, 2014
Ian MacKay

Me too Kat. We are told that the PM has our interests at heart by being informed on all and every significant action of the NZSIS. A powerful important function we think. But wait. Mr Mapp would like us to believe that a paid staffer can carry out this function even when an important issue regarding the integrity of the Leader of the Opposition is at stake.

Is that derelection of Ministerial responsibility, or just ordinary customary practice? Mmmm.

by Lee Churchman on September 02, 2014
Lee Churchman

One thing is clear; they cannot believe that John Key does not know everything that happens in his government and in his ministers' Offices.

Nice sleight of hand. No reasonable person would expect Key to know everything that happens in his government, but he would be expected to know all significant happenings, such as the release of SIS documents to embarrass the leader of the opposition. That is unless he had left instructions to be kept out of the loop on such things, which would make him culpable as well. 

by Chris Webster on September 02, 2014
Chris Webster

Kia ora Wayne:

'All of the media commentators, whether left or right, are now obsessed with the issue'

Are you not so obsessed? Do you not think that the ordinary citizen is not concerned?

'They have become players as much as they are commentators. As much as the parties, they are not going to let the issue go.

Why should the 'issue be let go'?  this iresulting behaviour of the named individuals is questionable to say the least .. potentially a constitutional issue .. it keeps growing .. it is huge .. we need as many eyes & minds on it as possible & as much public debate exposure .. as possible ..patting it down & judging media commentators & others (us) ain't going to make it go away ..

Like Kat & Ian .. I too share their concerns .. & also ask .. do you sanction the delegation of an issue of this nature to a staffer? 

You were a minister .. would you have not urged the PM to handle an issue of this seriousness .. given that is the portfolio HE holds & not a staff?

by Renee Habluetzel on September 02, 2014
Renee Habluetzel

I've always had the impression that Key and many in the National Party do not understand what the democratic process is. Key thinks he is running a business rather than heading up a democratic state hence delegation of his SIS role to his staff.  

by Katharine Moody on September 02, 2014
Katharine Moody

And then let's not forget that Key insists that until the eve of the police raid on Dotcom's Coatesville mansion he did not know of Dotcom, let alone that Dotcom was living in his Helensville electorate, or that Dotcom was the subject of a FBI investigation even though the intelligence agencies for which Key has ministerial responsibility had known for at least 15 months before the raid that was the case.

I find that one even harder to believe than the OIA release one.

Time will tell.

by Richard on September 02, 2014
Richard

So I am not the least surprised that the Prime Minister did not personally approve the release of specific OIA’s

Sure, but this specifc OIA concerned material that Key had been talking about in the media. This wasn't just a random OIA that hit the SIS. Key even says that he went to talk to Tucker to confirm that this information existed before he started talking about it.

Even if it was only a staffer that was involved, Key's been busy claiming recently that the "PM's office" and "the PM" are interchangable terms. That claim cuts both ways. If the "PM's office" knew, the "PM" knew. If the "PM's office" did something, the "PM" is responsible.

 

by Nick Gibbs on September 02, 2014
Nick Gibbs

I'm sure if Helen could sit in a cop car as it roared at high speed thruogh a built up area and claim she never knew. Then John Key can equally claim to have never seen these OIA releases either.

by Ian MacKay on September 02, 2014
Ian MacKay

So Nick, you equate a ride in a speeding car with the lack of supervision of the SiS on sensitive matters. You are kidding if that the best you can come up with? Really!

by Pete Sime on September 02, 2014
Pete Sime

Nobody expected Wyatt Creech to know the kind of bolts that were used to construct the Cave Creek viewing platform, either, but he took responsibility for it. This is Her Majesty's Government, not a Fortune 500 company. And Key was either involved in the SIS OIA release or was negligent in discharging his responsibilities.

 

by Nick Gibbs on September 02, 2014
Nick Gibbs

No, its the lack of awareness I draw attention to. Hard to miss the fact that your in a speeding car in a built up area, especially in board daylight. Yet that excuse was accepted by many back then. John Key claims not to have checked up on some OIA responses due on a certain day. And the same people demand he could not have been that unaware. Believe what you want to believe I guess.

Besides one instance of not checking OIAs doesn't make a case for the charge of not supervising the SIS.

by Pete Sime on September 02, 2014
Pete Sime

I beg your pardon. Denis Marshall, not Wyatt Creech.

by insider on September 02, 2014
insider

I suspect most of those demanding that key should have inserted him in this process would generally decry ministerial interference in responses to departmental OIAs. No minister should be 'approving' whether a department obeys the law.  

the OIA is our act as citizens. It is where we can demand information from departments which is not filtered. I think you should be very Careful what you wish for when you push the line that Key should have known, in an attempt to score a cheap political point. you are just furthering the politicisation of the process, which is also out of step with the ombudsman's recent views. 

 

by Richard on September 03, 2014
Richard

@insider

The issue is not whether Key should have interferred in the process, but whether he knew about it.

Section 8.41 of the Cabinet Manual says that "[a] department should advise its Minister if it intends to release any information that is particularly sensitive or potentially controversial."

@insider "No minister should be 'approving' whether a department obeys the law." 

You clearly haven't read the OIA; Section 15.5 of the Act makes it quite clear that it is entirely legal for a Minister to be consulted when an OIA decision is being made. Part of the legal process for OIA decisions is to consult the Minister. Then Section 8.41 in the Cabinet Manual, makes it explicit that in the case of an OIA like the one in question, the minister should have been consulted.

Furthermore, section 8.42 of the Cabinet Manual makes it clear that a result of this consultation can be the Minister taking over the decision process (doesn't matter whether Key did or did not take over the decision process in this case).

by insider on September 03, 2014
insider

Richard

there is no issue - key was informed through his office. An entirely usual process. It's the corrosive consequences of people expecting ministers to personally know absolutely everything that worries me.

and thanks for the oia lecture but clearly you've missed a key principle of the act, the cabinet manual and the ssc guidelines for CEOs - decisions about consultation and release are a matter of judgement for a CEO, who is required to follow the law.

by Richard on September 03, 2014
Richard

insider: "...decisions about consultation and release are a matter of judgement for a CEO, who is required to follow the law."

And the law is that it is entirely appropriate to consult with the Minister, to whom the request can be entirely legally transfered, so that the Minister can entirely legally take the decision around release. Of course, the Minister's subsequent decision around release also has to follow the law, and can be challenged via the usual means, and it would be politically risky/dumb for the Minister to make a dubious decision. 

So, your concern trolling that we should be afraid of creating an expectation that Ministers can choose to insert themselves into the OIA decision process, is the actual legal process at this time.

by Paul Williams on September 03, 2014
Paul Williams

I sort of read this with as much attention as, I'm guessing, Wayne gave to its writing. if this is his earnestly held opinion, I'm glad he's out of parliament.

I know a fair number of 'CEOs' of large organisations and none, in my experience, take such a narrow view of their role. Yes it's about strategy, but the success of any strategy is attention to some important detail. In fact, many are periodically micro-managers, worried to ensure their 'vision' is translating into coherent action.

The best you could argue is that Key's only interested in a narrow range of issues that are in fact his responsibility. However, ignoring those that he is exclusively responsible for and not caring about the lawful functioning of his Ministry; that's indefensable (Jeasus Wayne, try again).

by onsos on September 03, 2014
onsos
You are describing a prime minister who is derelict in his responsibilites.
by Katharine Moody on September 03, 2014
Katharine Moody

I believe there could be something to Wayne's observations. Key has embedded a culture which has corporatised those reporting to him. They fail to think about the governance context of public service - they seem not to know (or care about?) the very legislation and protocols that govern the jobs they do.

Just as Key has abused executive powers in relation to Parliamentary process, so his office and departmental managers and staff also see themselves as having that type of "absolute power", as Dame Anne referred to, that comes with being part of the executive under John Key. We have come to see so many cases where they (the public servants) just go for it - i.e., make big calls - forgetting not only to seek direction from the PM, but even forgetting to brief him once they make those calls.  

The Henry inquiry mishap by DPMC and Parliamentary Services being another example;

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10908657

And of course as a result of all that, the media became incensed;

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=109...

And their attack blogger responds by attacking the mainstream media for crying foul.

I'd be really interested to know from Wayne whether he and his office similarly had occasion to contact Cameron Slater as did Key, Collins and their offices. We've already seen that a public servant in Brownlee's office posted on CS's blog from his Parliamentary office computer under a nom de plume - so the question for me is just how widespread such contacts and covert actions were. I'm guessing very.

 

 

 

by insider on September 03, 2014
insider

@ Richard

so it's "concern trolling" to want less ministerial involvement in decisions around OIAs? Interesting standard you have there. Perhaps you could give that expert opinion to Beverly Wakem. I'm sure she'd appreciate you setting her right. It'll probably save her alot of work.

 

by Wayne Mapp on September 03, 2014
Wayne Mapp

Katherine, since you have asked, 

As an MP and as a Minister, I would see Cam Slater at NP conferences and would chat to him. The syle of his blog, especially back then, was just too negative for me to want to engage. And that would have been true for lots of Nats. The commenters on the site were particularly extreme. I note for the last few months they have been moderated.

I tended to talk to David Farrar much more on political issues, because his style was much more appropriate. And you will have noted in my item two weeks ago that I thought he was quite unfairly targetted by Nicky Hagar in his book.

I have also quite frequently commented on The Standard, but not during the election campaign (the extended version). As I anticipated, it has really become part of the Labour/Green/Mana campaign and the commenters are now only the partisans in favour of their various causes (parties). Commenters with an alternative view have essentially deserted The Standard.

One of the great advantages of the Pundit is the civil nature of the discourse. 

by Katharine Moody on September 03, 2014
Katharine Moody

@Wayne, thanks for the response. Yes, there are partisan political blogs (Kiwiblog and The Standard) and then their are attack political blogs (Whailoil). They are to my mind very different animals. Point is, I guess, that The Standard (i.e., the Labour "left") hasn't got a Whailoil-type equivalent. It must be very hard for those in the National Party who dislike the Whaleoil style of attack politics to be tainted by the same brush as those who encouraged/fed it.  

by Tim Watkin on September 03, 2014
Tim Watkin

Wayne, I was interested by the questions from Kat and Ian at the top about whether such delegation by Key, when applied to SIS matters, was appropriate or normal. Would love to hear your views.

by Richard on September 03, 2014
Richard

@ insider: "so it's "concern trolling" to want less ministerial involvement in decisions around OIAs?"

Yes, when it is raised (like you apparently are) as a reason why we should actually be perfectly happy if Key's claimed lack of knowledge is true. Especially, when you seem to (falsely) suggest that ministerial involvement would somehow be against either the letter or spirit of the existing law.

In general, sure, it is perfectly reasonable to question whether the current law should be changed. However, the issue seems to be not whether the minister can be involved, but increased transparency around when the minister is involved, and intolerance for bullshit about whether "the PM" sometimes means "the PM's office".

by Wayne Mapp on September 03, 2014
Wayne Mapp

Tim,

You have to remember that in this instance it was the Director's OIA, not the Minister's (or in this case the Prime Minister's).

So advising the Office of the PM, especially to the relevant person, (who would not have been a low level operator in the Office - and I do have a sense of this) would have been seen as sufficient. Especially when it was about a matter that as I recall was already in the public domain.

I can recall a number of occassions in my office when a OIA that was directed to the departmental head was discussed with the relevant person in my office without my direct knowledge. I would be subsequently advised that an OIA had gone out from the head of the relevant department. And note that I had a portfolio where sensitive things were occurring overseas. Now obviously I trusted the person in my office who dealt with such things to get it right.

Of course if it was an OIA that I was personally signing (ie a Minister's OIA), I was always fuly briefed and personally carefully checked the contents of the letter, especially if it was a sensitive matter.

by Paul Williams on September 03, 2014
Paul Williams

One of the great advantages of the Pundit is the civil nature of the discourse.

I probably failed that.

Wayne, I'm curious, broadly speaking, what CEOs and/or organisations have you worked with that support your view that Prime Minister Key operates "...a different style than the traditional style... in the manner of a chief executive"? Was John Hood in this mould? He didn't appear to be a delittante to me. Most of the CEOs I've had dealings with are across critical detail, detail that's germane to delivering the vision.

by Richard on September 03, 2014
Richard

Wayne,

"Especially when it was about a matter that as I recall was already in the public domain."

Of course, if you "recall", the reason that the matter was in the public domain, was that Key (as he tells us) had previously checked with Tucker that this information actually existed and then told everyone about its existence.

It wasn't just an OIA to discover random SIS content. The OIA was about SIS content that Key himself had been claiming existed.

by Katharine Moody on September 04, 2014
Katharine Moody

Nothing to do with Wayne's point about management styles, but everything to do with further concerns about another Whailoil/Ministry link referred to in Hager's book very briefly and expanded upon here;

http://networkonnet.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/the-ministry-of-education-a...

This is all just getting worse. I never read that blog and therefore had no idea just how normal, everyday average New Zealanders were being slandered on it. This just isn't New Zealand as I know it.  

 

by Paul Williams on September 04, 2014
Paul Williams

This is all just getting worse. I never read that blog and therefore had no idea just how normal, everyday average New Zealanders were being slandered on it. This just isn't New Zealand as I know it.  

Katherine, I read the linked blog. The allegations are hugely worrying, that Ministerial staff facilitated a campaign targetting school principals. I find it hard to believe that this pattern wasn't sanctioned and assuming it was, it is vital that it is exposed. Wayne Mapp would have us believe that this is not the responsibility of the Prime Minister. I am firmly of the view that any Prime Minister that explicitly or implicitly allows this kind of behaviour is derelict. 

 

by Andin on September 04, 2014
Andin

"my instinct seems to have been proven correct"

Patting yourself on the back is not a good look. 

"So I am not the least surprised that the Prime Minister did not personally approve the release of specific OIA’s. Staff in his office were trusted with responsibility for such things.So I am not the least surprised that the Prime Minister did not personally approve the release of specific OIA’s. Staff in his office were trusted with responsibility for such things."

And underlings can always be blamed cant they...

by Wayne Mapp on September 04, 2014
Wayne Mapp

Andin, fair cop.

by Tim Watkin on September 04, 2014
Tim Watkin

Wayne, that's an interesting distinction. Yes, Key had already revealed that Goff was indeed briefed (on Q+A when I was producing there), so it was public pre-OIA release. And I can accept Tucker had every reason to want to rush it out given that it was his word against Goff's. But it's telling that a lot of people better informed about such things than me see the SIS as different. First, PM's tend to love knowing those secrets that no-one else does and keep a very tight rein on that info. But second, there seems to be an almost constitutional convention that everything security-related – and especially something that is being used to criticise the leader of the opposition in an election year and so is politically controversial – would and should be seen by the PM. Is that over-stating it? And even if it was a CEO's OIA release, would you have been happy if something exposing the leader of the opposition had come through your office without you seeing it? That seems to make it something you'd not want to delegate.

by Paul Williams on September 05, 2014
Paul Williams

Andin, fair cop.

I'm still curious to know the CEOs you've worked who are above the detail Wayne (detail like foreknowledge of advertising campaigns by private companies)?

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