As with the death of Princess Diana; Trump winning the Presidency, or (if you’re old enough) the assassination of JFK, you will recall where you were when you heard this sudden, unexpected and gob-smacking public announcement from John Key;
At 12.50pm, Radio NZ interrupted it’s international-segment – Worldwatch – to announce John Key’s resignation and crossed live to his press conference. Ironically, the Worldwatch segment featured an interview about the resignation of Italy’s own Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi.
Like 4.4 million other New Zealanders, this blogger was taken by surprise. (At first, I thought Radio NZ was reporting on Bill English stepping down.)
There are two aspects to Key’s resignation which have taken my attention.
Media personalities, pundits, and political opponants have all praised Key’s popularity.
In the NZ Herald, Audrey Young gushed;
“He is still immensely popular after eight years.
They will abound because what Key has done defies political gravity.”
Writing for Fairfax media, Tracy Watkins said;
“Nothing can be the same when a leader as popular, and as successful, as Key bows out.”
John Campbell on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint enthused;
“…And after eight years [Key] still sits at honeymoon levels of popularity in opinion polls.”
To Key he remarked;
“Your popularity has defied the laws of gravity.”
None of which is true.
The media and political pundits have been reading glowing “obituaries” for a man still very much alive and drawing breath.
In fact, Key’s popularity has been spiralling downward since a high of 55.8% in October 2009;
Oct/Nov 08: 36.4%
Feb 2009: 52.1%
April 2009: 51.1%
Aug 2009: 51.6%
Oct 2009: 55.8%
Feb 2010: 49.4%
April 2010: 49.0%
June 2010: 49.6%
Jul/Aug 2010: 48.7%
Sept/Oct 2010: 50.6%
Nov/Dec 2010: 54.1%
Feb 2011: 49.1%
April 2011: 52.4%
May 2011: 48.2%
Jun/Jul 2011: 50.5%
Aug 2011: 53.3%
Sept 2011: 54.5%
Oct 2011: 52.7%
1-8 Nov 2011: 50.0%
9-16 Nov 2011: 49.4%
16-23 Nov 2011: 48.9%
Feb 2012: 45.8%
April 2012: 44.2%
May/Jun 2012: 40.5%
Feb 2013: 41.0%
April 2013: 38.0%
May 2013: 41.0%
Jul 2013: 42.0%
Nov 2013: 40.9%
Jan 2014: 38.9%
Mar 2014: 42.6%
May 2014: 43.1%
Jun 2014: 46.7%
Jul 2014: 43.8%
5-3 Aug 2014: 44.1%
19-25 Aug 2014: 41.4%
26 Aug-1 Sept 2014: 45.1%
2-8 Sept 2014: 45.3%
9-15 Sept 2014: 44.1%
Jan 2015: 44.0%
May 2015: 39.4%
15-22 July 2015: 38.3%
8-16 Sept 2015: 39.5%
22 Nov 2015: 38.3%
24 May 2016: 36.7%
Only four months ago, Key’s Preferred Prime Minister rating had levelled;
8 Aug 2016: 36.7% (n/c)
By contrast, National’s most recent Party-poll ratings remained astronomically (and somewhat unfeasibly) high;
Roy Morgan: 49.5%
Colmar Brunton: 50%
Reid Research: 45.1%
As a party, National has been consistently out-polling it’s own supposedly “popular” Prime Minister. If Key’s personal polling had continued to drop further, it is conceivable that he would have become a Muldoonesque liability instead of the gilt-edged asset he has been for the last three elections.
Which would go some way to explaining why Key’s photo-ops with National Party candidate, Parmjeet Parmar, during the Mt Roskill by-election seems to have had zero positive effect on her election result;
When asked if he would attend Ms Parmar’s by-election campaign party, Key replied;
“I don’t go to any of the by-election ones. I haven’t historically and I won’t be going whether we win lose or draw.”
To which Jenna Lynch, writing for TV3 News, pointed out;
“That’s only partly true though – he didn’t attend the party of Mark Osborne in Northland – he lost. He also didn’t go to Melissa Lee’s failed campaign for the Mt Albert by-election.
But he did attend parties where it seemed he thought his candidate had a chance.”
“Reading the entrails”, Key understood that his days of surging popularity were drawing to an end. The media and pundits were simply slow to catch up with Key’s own realisation of his inevitable fate.
In the same interview yesterday (5 December) on Checkpoint, John Campbell tried to pin down the reason(s) for Key’s departure. With his usual boyish charming honesty, John Campbell asked Key;
“You sound buggered…
… Are you exhausted?”
Key soundly rejected Campbell’s suggestion that he was in any way “buggered” or “exhausted”.
But in May 2012, Key was already showing signs of wearying from the demands of political life;
The frustration continued to show yesterday when Mr Key did a radio show and was asked about the $350 million SkyCity convention centre.
“I’m out there trying to promote a convention centre which we don’t put any money in and all I get is grief. OK? That’s what I get is grief,” he complained.
“Sure I can sit around and do absolutely nothing for the next nine years and I might survive that long but it’s not going to take New Zealand anywhere.”
Four years ago, Key was already showing signs of becoming jaded.
More and more people were becoming disillusioned with his administration – a fact highlighed by his steady decline in the Preferred Prime Ministership polls (see above).
Whatever things Key may be, he is no fool and he was no doubt perceptive enough to recognise that his “chumminess” was no longer a facade he could use to mask growing social problems in New Zealand. Homelessness; child poverty; worsening home affordability; near-stagnant wages; declining environmental quality – coupled with constant scandals; ministerial cock-ups; and dubious dealings, were taking their toll.
Key was friendly with the corporate sector, but his administration showed unrelenting hostility to workers, unemployed and other other beneficiaries, and anyone else at the bottom of the economic heap. National’s decision to increase benefits was announced in May 2015 – but not set to start until a year later. This was a clever ploy to paint National as “caring” for those on benefits, with two publicity-bites from the “media-cherry”.
At the same time, beneficiaries were being forced of WINZ books; state housing was being sold off; and unemployment made to look “low” by Statistics NZ’s fudged figures [see: Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies – ** UPDATE **].
But there were social pressures building that National’s “hands off” (or reluctant intervention) could not hide with “massaged”, dubious statistics. Nowhere was this more apparent than in our current housing crisis, affecting both the poor (living in cars and garages) and the Middle Class (facing rising home unaffordability).
The crushing defeat of Key’s vanity-project, the flag referendum which cost taxpayers $29 million at a time when early child education, school operational funding, and many social services were being frozen/cut, was perhaps confirmation that his “popularity” was no longer sufficient to govern.
Key’s charming affability could no longer hide the real right-wing agenda being covertly implemented.
Key could see the writing on the wall.
It was time to go; the charade was over.
Fairfax media: Tracy Watkins – Key’s resignation changes election odds
Roy Morgan: National Party support up again in November
Colmar Brunton: Poll 12-13, 21-23 November 2016
Reid Research: TV3 Poll Results
Radio NZ: Mt Roskill by-election nears
Fairfax media: John Key’s midterm blues?
Radio NZ: Budget 2015 – Govt targets child poverty
Fairfax media: Government to sell 1000 – 2000 state houses – John Key
NZ Herald: ‘Frozen’ school funds heartbreaking
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 December 2016.
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In troubled times, we are community
On 14 October, eight hours after two massive 7.8 earthquakes simultaneously rocked the entire country, our Dear Leader John Key made an impassioned (for him, it was impassioned) appeal to the people of Aotearoa on Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report‘;
It was an appeal to a sense of community that is rarely made by right-wing governments or their leaders. It was a tacit acknowledgement that No Man or Woman is an Island that that only by acting collectively can human beings survive and improve their own circumstances and for their children.
Unfortunately, a week later, Key’s sense-of-community-spirit was returned to it’s hermetically-sealed casket and re-buried alongside cryo-capsules containing New Zealand’s Once-Egalitarian-Spirit and International-Independent-Leadership-On-Moral Issues.
National dangles the “carrot”
With a statement that was more convoluted than usual, Key said;
“We’ve identified from our own perspective if there was more money where would be the kinds of areas we want to go, not what is the make up … for instance, of a tax or family package, what is the make up of other expenditure we want?
Tax is one vehicle for doing that, it’s not always the most effective vehicle for doing that for particularly low income families.”
Tax could be effective higher up the income scale, but lower down it was not that effective because base rates were low or it was very expensive.
Over the fullness of time we’ll have to see whether we’ve got much capacity to move.
Making sure they can keep a little more of what they earn or get a little bit more back through a variety of mechanisms is always something we can consider. It could be a mix, yes.
In the end it’s about equity for New Zealanders and about .. having a rise in their standard of living, and there’s a number of ways you could deliver that.”
Key has once again dangled a billion-dollar carrot in front of New Zealanders as the country heads towards next year’s election.
National’s previous election “carrots”
During the 2008 General Election, as the Global Financial Crisis was impacting on our own economy, Key was promising tax cuts. In May 2008, he said;
“But in 2005 we promised tax cuts which ranged from about $10 to $92 a week, roughly $45 a week for someone on $50,000 a year.
“I described it as a credible programme of personal tax cuts and I’m committed to a credible programme of personal tax cuts,” he said.
Questioned on whether National’s tax cuts programme of 2005 was credible today given the different economic circumstances, Mr Key said: “Well, I think it is.”“I believe that an ongoing programme of personal tax cuts that delivers the sort of magnitude that we’ve had in the past is potentially possible.
At the time, then Labour’s Finance Minister, Michael Cullen described National’s tax-cut-bribe as ‘reckless‘.
By October 2008, as NZ Inc’s economic circumstances deteriorated, Treasury issued dire warnings that should have mitigated against any notions of affordable tax-cuts;
John Key has defended his party’s planned program of tax cuts, after Treasury numbers released today showed the economic outlook has deteriorated badly since the May budget. The numbers have seen Treasury reducing its revenue forecasts and increasing its predictions of costs such as benefits. Cash deficits – the bottom line after all infrastructure funding and payments to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund are made – is predicted to blow out from around $3 billion a year to around $6 billion a year.
Key’s government won the 2008 election and proceeded with tax-cuts in 2009 and 2010.
Predictably, government debt – which had been paid down by the Clark-Cullen government – ballooned as the recession hit New Zealand’s economy and tax revenue fell;
Key himself estimated tax cuts to be worth between $3 or $4 billion.
In 2008, New Zealand’s core government debt stood at nil (net)
Current government debt now stands at $62.272 billion (net).
Nature intervenes in National’s “cunning plan” for a Fourth Term
According to Dear Leader Key, estimates for the re-build of earthquake damage in and around Kaikoura; State Highway One, and the rest of the South Island is likely to be at least “a couple of billion dollars“.
Finance Minister Bill English has hinted the cost may be much more;
“The combination of significant infrastructure damage in Wellington, obvious damage in Kaikoura – all roading and rail issues – this is going to add up to something fairly significant. We also know that those estimates change over time.”
No wonder Labour leader Andrew Little was less than impressed at tax cuts being mooted. Echoing Michael Cullen from eight years ago, he condemned the irresponsible nature of Key’s proposal;
“Well this is crazy stuff, I mean in addition to a government having $63 billion worth of debt it is yet to start repaying, and you’ve got a billion dollars extra each year just in the cost of superannuation.
Now we have another major civic disaster that is going to cost in terms of repairs. I do not see how John Key can say tax cuts are justified in the present circumstances.”
National spends-up large on new prison beds
On top of which, English announced last month that National was planning to spend over $2.5 billion on new prison beds. He questioned whether tax cuts were affordable with such looming expenditure;
Finance Minister Bill English has warned an announcement today of plans for an extra 1,800 prison beds will reduce the room for the Government to consider tax cuts before next year’s election.
English told reporters in Parliament the extra beds would cost NZ$1 billion to build and an extra NZ$1.5 billion to run over the next five or six years.
“It will have an impact because it is a very large spend and, two or three years years ago, we probably thought this could be avoidable,” English said when asked if the extra spending would make it harder for the Government to unveil tax cuts and other spending before the next election.
“It’s all part of this rachetting up of tougher sentences, tighter remand conditions, less bail and taking less risk with people who commit serious offenses,” he added.
Asked if that meant there would be less room for tax cuts, he said: “I wouldn’t want to judge that because it is a bit early, but certainly spending this kind of money on prison capacity is going to reduce other options.”
The inevitable cost of tax-cuts
As billions more is wasted on prisons, money spent on health, education, housing, and other social services is being frozen; cut back, or not keeping pace with inflation.
This has resulted in appalling cuts to services such as recently experienced by 96-year-old Horowhenua woman, Trixie Cottingham;
Other social services have also been wound back – as previously reported by this blogger;
Cuts to the Health budget have resulted in wholly predictable – and preventable – negative outcomes;
A critic of National’s under-funding of the health system, Phil Bagshaw, pointed out the covert agenda behind the cuts;
New Zealand’s health budget has been declining for almost a decade and could signal health reforms akin to the sweeping changes of the 1990s, new research claims.
The accumulated “very conservative” shortfall over the five years to 2014-15 was estimated at $800 million, but could be double that, Canterbury Charity Hospital founder and editorial co-author Phil Bagshaw said.
Bagshaw believed the Government was moving away from publicly-funded healthcare, and beginning to favour a model that meant everyone had to pay for their own.
“It’s very dangerous. If this continues we will slide into an American-style healthcare system.”
As the public healthcare system faces reduction in funding – more and New Zealanders will be forced into taking up health insurance. In effect, National is covertly shifting the cost of healthcare from public to private, funding the public/private ‘switch’ through personal tax-cuts.
Tax dollars have previously been allocated to social services such as Education or Health. By implementing tax cuts, those “Health Dollars” become “Discretionary Dollars”; Public Services for Citizens becomes Private Choice for Consumers.
And we all know how “well” that model has worked out in the United States;
(Yet another) Broken promise by Key
But equally important is that, in promising to spend the government surplus on tax-cuts, Dear Leader Key has broken yet another of his promises to the people of New Zealand.
“The Government is committed to maintaining National Superannuation entitlements at 66 per cent of the average wage, to be paid from age 65.
The suspension of automatic contributions will remain until there are budget surpluses sufficient to fund contributions. Under current projections, the Government is not expected to have sufficient surpluses for the next 11 years.
Once surpluses sufficient to cover automatic contributions return, the Government intends to contribute the amount required by the Fund formula.”
“We’re managing government spending carefully, the economy is improving a bit faster than we expected, and that means it’s six years instead of 10 years until we start making contributions to the fund. If the economy picks up a bit faster again, we’ll get to that point sooner.”
In 2011, John Key said;
“Once we’re back to running healthy surpluses, we’ll be able to auto-enrol workers who are not members of KiwiSaver, pay down debt and resume contributions to the Super Fund.”
“The Government’s target is to return to surplus by 2014-15 so that we will then have choices about repaying debt, resuming contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, or targeting more investment in priority public services.”
“It remains our intention that contributions will resume once net debt has reduced to 20 percent of GDP, which is forecast for 2020.”
“… In this Budget we will have a paper-thin surplus , I mean we’ll just have a surplus but that’s the beginning of a series of surpluses and that means we have choices. And there’s a lot of choices. We’ve got the New Zealand Super Fund to resume contributions, an auto-enrolment for KiwiSaver, paying off debt more quickly, something for households to help them along. Those are choices that New Zealand fortunately will have if we have a growing economy and we stick to being pretty careful about our spending.”
In 2015, Key and English issued a joint statement saying;
“Through Budget 2015, the National-led Government will…
Reduce government debt to less than 20 per cent of GDP by 2020/21 when we can resume contributions to the NZ Super Fund.”
“There has not been any broken commitment regarding the Superannuation Fund. We have said for some time that when the Government returns to a sufficient budget surplus and can contribute genuine savings rather than borrowing, National will resume contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund. The straightforward issue is that even when the Government shows surpluses under the operating balance before gains and losses measure, it does not always have cash surpluses until those accounting surpluses get reasonably big.
I remember that Sunday in 2009 in vivid detail, in fact, and constantly go back to it. The Government has outlined its position many, many times since 2009, and when there are sufficient surpluses and when we have debt down to the levels we think are prudent, which is 20 percent of GDP by 2020, then we will resume contributions, which we would like to do.”
In every year since National ceased contributing to the NZ Super (“Cullen”) Fund, both Key and English have reiterated their committment to resume payments when government books returned to surplus.
By hinting at tax cuts instead, Key and English have broken their promises, made over a seven year period.
Even their “qualifyer” of resuming contributions “when we have debt down to the levels we think are prudent, which is 20 percent of GDP by 2020” becomes untenable with their hints of an election-year tax-cut bribe.
By cutting taxes instead of paying down debt, resuming contributions to the NZ Super Fund is pushed further out into the dim, distant future.
The very suggestion of tax cuts is another potential broken promise. What’s one more to add to his growing list of promises not kept?
After all, there is an election to be fought next year.
Since National has not thought twice at under-funding the Health Budget, it certainly does not seem troubled at using tax-cuts as an election bribe, and undermining this country’s future superannuation savings-fund for selfish political gain.
Muldoon did it in 1973 – and got away with it.
Beehive: National ignores inflation warning
NZ Herald: Key – $30b deficit won’t stop Nats tax cuts
Fairfax media: $4b in tax cuts coming
NZ Treasury: Fiscal Indicator Analysis – Debt as at 30 June 2008
Dominion Post: Women’s Refuge cuts may lead to waiting lists
NZ Super Fund: Contributions Suspension
Beehive: New Zealand Super Fund – fact sheet
Fairfax media: English signals earlier return to Super Fund payments
Parliament Today: Questions and Answers – November 7
TV3 News: $23 billion in NZ Super Fund
Beehive: Budget 2015
Fairfax media: Compulsory super ‘would be worth $278 billion’
The Standard: The great big list of John Key’s big fat lies (UPDATED)
The Standard: The eternal tax-cut mirage
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 Novembr 2016.
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Two days ago (28 October), FBI Director, James B. Comey, sent a letter to the US Congress disclosing that the Bureau was investigating newly-discovered emails from disgraced former US Congressman, Anthony Weiner.
The new material “appeared relevant” to the Hillary Clinton private-server/email case, according to Comey. In an explanatory email to FBI employees, Comey wrote;
“This morning I sent a letter to Congress in connection with the Secretary Clinton email investigation. Yesterday, the investigative team briefed me on their recommendation with respect to seeking access to emails that have recently been found in an unrelated case. Because those emails appear to be pertinent to our investigation, I agreed that we should take appropriate steps to obtain and review them.
Of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed. I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record. At the same time, however, given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don’t want to create a misleading impression. In trying to strike that balance, in a brief letter and in the middle of an election season, there is significant risk of being misunderstood, but I wanted you to hear directly from me about it.”
The political version of an atomic-bombshell came eleven days before the US Presidential Election (early voting in several states notwithstanding) on 8 November.
Interestingly, Comey himself admitted;
“Of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations…”
Comey tried to justify his disclosure to Congress;
“I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record…”
But in his rambling note, he then revealed;
“…however, given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails…”
And then pointed out the blindingly obvious;
“I don’t want to create a misleading impression…”
Director Comey had already created “a misleading impression“. By publicly announcing the “re-opening” of the investigation and referencing a “connection with the Secretary Clinton email investigation“, irreparable damage had been done to Clinton’s campaign and Trump’s presidential chances suddenly took on new life.
As former Attorney General, Eric Holder, pointed out;
“Justice Department officials are instructed to refrain from commenting publicly on the existence, let alone the substance, of pending investigative matters, except in exceptional circumstances and with explicit approval from the Department of Justice officials responsible for ultimate supervision of the matter,” the letter says.
They are also instructed to exercise heightened restraint near the time of a primary or general election because, as official guidance from the Department instructs, public comment on a pending investigative matter may affect the electoral process and create the appearance of political interference in the fair administration of justice.”
Current US Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, also opposed Comey’s decision to formally write to Congress;
Lynch expressed her preference that Comey follow the department’s longstanding practice of not commenting on ongoing investigations, and not taking any action that could influence the outcome of an election, but he said that he felt compelled to do otherwise.
The response from both Republicans and Democrats has been unrestrained anger. Senate minority leader Harry Reid was unequivocal in condemning Comey’s behaviour;
“Your actions in recent months have demonstrated a disturbing double standard for the treatment of sensitive information, with what appears to be a clear intent to aid one political party over another.
My office has determined that these actions may violate the Hatch Act, which bars FBI officials from using their official authority to influence an election. Through your partisan action, you may have broken the law.”
What is even more startling is that at the time that Comey made his disclosure to Congress (28 October), it was not until two days later that the FBI obtained a warrant to actually look at the emails on Weiner’s computer.
So on what basis did Comey feel the need to advise Congress?
When Comey sent that letter, he had no way of knowing what the emails contained. For all he knew, they could have been recipes for apple pie.
In which case, Comey has single-handedly interfered in an election process by using the power of his position.
Which would be an abuse of power.
Which would be a situation that we here in New Zealand would be intimately familiar with;
As the NBR reported over this incident in November 2014;
Security Intelligence Service director Rebecca Kitteridge has made a formal apology to former Labour leader Phil Goff for the way in which the SIS released “incomplete, misleading and inaccurate information” in response to an OIA request from Whale Oil Blogger Cameron Slater.
In 2011 Mr Goff said he hadn’t been briefed about alleged Israel spies being caught in the Christchurch earthquake earlier that year, a contention Prime Minister John Key and then-SIS director Warren Tucker disputed.
Dr Tucker’s briefing notes were declassified, then swiftly released to Mr Slater after he requested them under the Official Information Act.
The notes appeared to confirm Mr Goff had been briefed on the matter but Ms Gwyn’s investigation has established this was not the case.
The apology to Mr Goff is one of the recommendations in the report of inspector-general of intelligence and security Cheryl Gwyn, which stated “These errors resulted in the misplaced criticism of the then leader of the Opposition, Phil Goff. Phil Goff is owed a formal apology by the Service.”
Although Ms Gwyn found no evidence of political partisanship by the SIS, its actions did have a politically partisan effect and she found the agency had failed to take adequate steps to maintain political neutrality.
The NZ Herald reported;
Prime Minister John Key is “in denial” over a report which backs Dirty Politics allegations his staff used information from the SIS to orchestrate a smear campaign against former Labour leader Phil Goff, the Opposition says.
Inspector General of Security Intelligence Cheryl Gwyn’s report yesterday found primarily that former SIS director Warren Tucker was at fault for supplying “misleading” information about Mr Goff to the Prime Minister during a 2011 war of words between the pair.
Mr Goff claimed he had not been briefed by Dr Tucker about suspected Israeli agents in Christchurch at the time of the earthquakes earlier that year. However, based on the information supplied by Dr Tucker, Mr Key said he had been briefed.
The report found Mr Key’s former senior communications adviser Jason Ede helped attack blogger Cameron Slater obtain that misleading information from the SIS which Slater then used to embarrass Mr Goff in blog posts.
Ms Gwyn’s report said the information supplied by Dr Tucker about the briefing was “incomplete, inaccurate and misleading” and “resulted in misplaced criticism” of Mr Goff. It also found that after learning of the information, Mr Key’s deputy chief of staff and primary point of contact with the SIS, Phil de Joux, suggested to Mr Ede the information “might prompt an OIA request”.
Mr Ede then gave that information to Slater, discussed how an Official Information Act request should be worded, and provided Slater with draft blog posts attacking Mr Goff.
Ms Gwyn’s inquiry found Mr Ede was on the phone to Slater when Slater emailed his OIA request to the SIS.
Patrick Gower from TV3 was his usual ‘delicate’ self when he expressed his assessment of the politicisation of the NZSIS by the National government;
3 News understands the spy agency and Prime Minister John Key’s office were found to be in cahoots with Slater to get the information out.
It was sensitive information that embarrassed Mr Goff, pertaining to the issue of supposed Israeli spies Mr Goff said he didn’t know about, though he had been briefed about it.
The report deals with how the information got out, and that is through former SIS director Warren Tucker. Mr Tucker is found have been unfair and politically partisan in the way he dealt with the Prime Minister’s office to get it out, according to 3 News’ understanding of the report.
Then-head of the SIS, Warren Tucker, used his position to embarrass the Leader of the the Labour Party, just months out from the 2011 General Election. It was done with the full knowledge of members of John Key’s staff. Our esteemed Dear Leader was probably fully aware of the plot.
No wonder the Comey Affair seemed so hauntingly familiar when news of it broke.
Even though he has been a registered Republican for most of his adult life, FBI Director James Comey testified Thursday that he is no longer a registered member of the GOP.
“Although our politics are different — I gather you’re a Republican — that correct?” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) asked Comey in prefacing his remarks.
Comey responded, “I have been a registered Republican for most of my adult life, not registered any longer.”
The FBI director, who previously served as deputy attorney general in George W. Bush’s administration before President Barack Obama appointed him to his current position, donated to the presidential campaigns of John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.
Mr Comey – meet Mr Warren Tucker.
You two would appear to have a bit in common.
Wikipedia: Anthony Weiner
Politico: Polls show battleground map tightening
The Standard: Timeline – Key responsible for SIS release
Wheeler’s Corner: SIS Forced to Apologise to Phil Goff says leaked report
The Pundit: John Key – The buck doesn’t stop with me
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 November 2016.
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On Radio NZ’s Morning Report, on 5 September, NZ First leader Winston Peters, told Guyon Espiner that his party would be a force for major economic change. NZ First, he insisted, would spell an end to neo-liberalism;
“It’s no use having what we’ve had, perhaps you can call it tweedledum and tweedledummer, who have persisted with the neo-liberal experiment. Who have gone along with allowing the foreign banks to dominate New Zealand market for example. Allowed the overseas ownership of our share martket which went from 19% when this experiment started to beyond 70% now.
New Zealand First is not going to swap one side for the other side because they think it’s their turn so that they can carry on the same economic direction they’re going.
You’ve got a group on the Right, with a whole lot of cling-ons. You’ve got an unholy wedding or pre-nuptials on the Left, and we don’t want to be part of either of those things. We’re out for economic change and we intend to be successful.
We believe, if we’ve succeeded in getting our message away then economic and social direction change is a certainty.
And we’re not going to go around starting negotiating pre-election, with parties who have proven since the last 32 years, one started this economic disaster and the other one has continued it.”
Peters’ repudiation of the neo-liberal economic model had been made two months earlier on TVNZ’s Q+A, when he told Corin Dann;
Corin Dann: Do you think globalisation has failed?
Winston Peters: Of course it has. Because, see, it’s not so much about free trade, so to speak; it should be about fair trade, and there’s a world of difference.
Corin Dann: What is the alternative to globalisation if you believe that it’s failed? Is it a return to protectionism, nationalism?
Winston Peters: No, no, it’s not. It’s being like Norway; it’s being like Switzerland; it’s being like Taiwan. It’s being as smart about protecting the interests of the economy you’re trying to build rather than just going along with being told internationally what you must accept. There’s a world of difference, and right around the Western world, there is a coming now rejection of the neoliberal experiment after 30, 35 years. It is under serious challenge now.
Corin Dann: Mr Peters, globalisation has lifted millions and millions of people out of poverty. It’s brought New Zealand great diversity; it’s brought us all of the mod cons that we take for granted – our phones – everything like that. Hasn’t globalisation been great?
Winston Peters: You’re just confusing sound trade arrangements with globalisation. Globalisation in the UK consequence meant they were being told, out of the European Commission – unelected, in the UK Parliament – they were being told how their laws would be. 55% of the laws in the UK were being dominated out of Brussels. Now, no self-respecting country’s going to take that.
Peters’ comments roundly rejected globalisation, free trade, neo-liberalism. He inferred protectionism when he told Dann, “It’s being as smart about protecting the interests of the economy you’re trying to build rather than just going along with being told internationally what you must accept“.
However, in a speech made in 1997, when Peters was Treasurer in the National-NZ First Coalition Government, he told the NBR Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Government to Business Forum that he would be pursuing conservative fiscal management; supporting an “open, internationally competitive economy”; lower taxes; and a de-regulated market.
Peter’s speech is in the form of a hard-copy in this blogger’s possession. It is headed “Office of the Deputy Prime Minister & Treasurer” and is dated 11 February 1997. It was embargoed till 8.35am for that day, when Peters made his speech at Wellington’s up-market Park Royal Hotel.
Peters began by saying that there were “four core economic principles at the heart of the government’s strategy;
- “sound, stable government
- ensuring an economic climate conducive to sustainable development and growth, more employment opportunities, high quality education and social services, a strong commitment to low inflation, prudent and conservative fiscal management and over time, lower taxes and reduced public debt
- an open, internationally competitive economy, a strong export sector, and policies to stimulate private sector and individual performance
- planning for the country’s future, emphasising intergenerational fairness and increasing the nation’s saving”
Later in the speech, Peters reiterated the Coalition’s fiscal policy;
“That is why we are committed to low inflation, prudent and conservative fiscal management, lowering taxes and reducing public debt.”
Peters made clear that those were the core principles of the National-NZ First Coalition. They also happen to be core ideological tenets of neo-liberal doctrine.
Peters’ “core principles” are mirrored by the so-called “NZ Initiative” (formerly the Business Roundtable), a right-wing, neo-liberal think-tank;
We [NZ Initiative] are committed to developing policies that work for all New Zealanders, and we believe that promoting such policies will benefit all of our members as a matter of fact. But we are certainly an Initiative that usually prefers Adam Smith’s invisible hand to government’s visible fist.
Most of all, though, we believe that our goals and values are similar – if not identical – to what most New Zealanders want to see achieved:
- A good education system.
- Affordable housing.
- An open economy.
- A free and democratic society.
- The protection of our natural resources and heritage.
- Sound public finances.
- A stable currency.
The NZ Initiative/Business Roundtable also promotes lower taxes; a competitive, open economy; and prudent and conservative fiscal management – in short all the core principles expressed by Peters in February 1997.
In case his audience did not understand Peters’ commitment to “an open, internationally competitive economy” he repeated himself again, in his speech;
“The key to maintaining an open internationally competitive economy will be:
stable macroeconomic policies;
de-regulated, competitive and open market;
quality public services provided as efficiently as possible;
and the lowest possible taxes”
He went on;
“Another reform… removing restrictions on air services to and from New Zealand is important for reducing barriers to trade and tourism. To this end, the government remains committed to reciprocal liberalisation where possible…
To make the most of the opportunities a global economy provides…”
Not content to cement in an adherence to a neo-liberal agenda, Peters then attacked the social welfare system in this country – another prime target of the New Right;
“What distinguishes this government is the prominence given to the value of self-reliance… moving people away from State dependence to independence.”
Bear in mind that Peters was giving his speech only six years after Ruth Richardson’s notorious “Mother of All Budgets” in 1991. By the time Peters addressed the Government to Business Forum in 1997, 19% of households were already living below the poverty line and unemployment was at 6.8%. By June the following year it had ballooned to 7.9%.
Peters’ response was to attack and demean the welfare system that kept many of these people alive as the scourge of neo-liberalism ravaged the country.
Peters’ speech continued, parroting many of neo-liberal cliches that we are now so familiar with;
“We want to create an environment which encourages New Zealanders to move away from welfare dependency to employment. And for those who still need welfare support, we want a move away from a welfare mentality to a positive attitude and greater acceptance of social obligations.
It is also about people taking greater responsibility for their futures rather than simply relying on the state.”
Peters was promoting the Cult of Individualism and cutting back state support – another basic tenet of neo-liberalism.
Next, he took a swipe at families and their “reliance” on welfare;
“A prime area needing attention is the family… this government will create an environment which instils greater levels of parental responsibility.
Our destiny is ultimately in the hands of individual New Zealanders. Breaking the cycle of dependency means taking primary responsibility for our own welfare and the welfare of our families.
This government expects each and every New Zealander to… live up to their responsibilities…”
This speech and it’s conservative message sounds ominously as if the ACT Party might have given it;
“To alleviate poverty, reduce dependency and shift able-bodied people from welfare to work.”
“To put personal responsibility, self-reliance and work above welfare dependency.”
“Welfare must not put children at risk by undermining the two-parent family.”
“True compassion demands welfare that provides a hand up to work, independence and a better future.”
In a later speech by Peters, on 28 February 1997, to the American Chamber of Commerce in Auckland, Peters reiterated his commitment to a free market regime;
“…Maintaining an open, internationally competitive economy, supporting a strong export sector, particularly by managing cost structures downwards and continuing deregulation and policies to stimulate private sector and individual performance.
The government’s approach to fiscal management is orthodox and consistent…
Maintaining an open and competitive enterprise economy is essential because an open and competitive economy drives New Zealand firms to lift their game, and provide a more profitable investment base for our savings.
Let me be clear, this government is not opposed to foreign investment. When it is in the national interest we welcome all investment that boosts employment, productivity and growth.”
Peters was reassuring his capitalist audience; this man was not for ‘turning’.
There is little clear evidence that Peters is hostile to neo-liberalism, whether of the brutal Ruthenasia variety or the more insidious neo-liberalism-with-a-relaxed-face.
Instead, the evidence from his 1997 speeches is there for all to see. Peters may profess to have distanced himself from the neo-liberal experiment, but his own words betray him.
There is not one monolithic conservative/centre-right party in New Zealand, but two, distinct parties on the conservative spectrum. Just as Australia has the Liberal Party and it’s own rural-based National Party, we have National and NZ First. Like left-wing voters who have a choice between Labour or the Green Party, conservative voters in this country have a choice between National and NZ First.
As long as everyone is crystal-clear on this; NZ First’s leader remains committed to neo-liberalism.
The following are scanned images of Winston Peters’ 1997 speech to the Government to Business Forum;
The following are scanned images of Winston Peters speech, on 28 February 1997, to the American Chamber of Commerce in Auckland;
All media enquiries can be made to the author at email@example.com.
NZ Initiative: About Us
NZ Initiative: The Case for Lower Taxes
Business Roundtable (NZ Initiative): Submission to the Finance and Expenditure Committee on the 1997 Budget Policy Statement (March 1997)
Te Ara Encyclopedia: Mother of All Budgets
Ministry of Social Development: Assessing The Progress On Poverty Reduction
Statistics NZ: When times are tough, wage growth slows
ACT Party: Welfare and The Family
The Standard: Can We Trust Winston Peters?
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 September 2016.
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