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The Donghua Liu Affair – the impending final act and curtain-fall in this smear-campaign

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Heraldmobile

 

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Preface

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As the the final acts  in the smear campaign that was the Donghua Liu Affair are about to unfold, and the curtain soon to fall, it is worthwhile re-assessing what has occurred; what has been learned; and the fall-out for certain individuals.

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1. The NZ Herald

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The NZ Herald does not emerge from this Affair very well.

From 18 June, when Cunliffe’s eleven year old letter was “discovered” and made public; to 21 June, when Donghua Liu’s first “signed statement” was reported by the Herald; to 25 June, when the Herald released a “new statement” from Liu – this has been either a cock-up of colossal proportions, or self-serving connivance,  in a carefully orchestrated smear campaign.

Where does one start to unravel the mess that the Herald and some of it’s staff and editor have created?

  • The sensationalist headlines that were splashed across the paper with damaging allegations, with no evidence, and based purely on one man’s “signed statement” was trash “journalism” at it’s worst.

Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party

Liu’s $100k wine news to Rick Barker

Labour looks in serious disarray

Labour must cling to the wreckage

Oh David – it’s come down to a question of trust

Cunliffe’s denial has done party no favours

Cunliffe working 9 to 5 to save his job

Poisoned chalice may be leader’s saviour

etc, etc, et-bloody-cetera…

  • Liu’s “signed statement” was not even in the nature of an affidavit – the latter carrying more legal weight under the Evidence Act 2006. Which means that Liu could make any wild claim he fancied, with minimal repercussions. (Not unless someone with deep pockets, and plenty of time, bothers to take a defamation case against the trouble-prone migrant businessman.)

This should have made the Herald and it’s supposedly professional, experienced staff of journalists and columnists, more cautious.

Instead we read outrageous claims of a “$100,000 bottle of wine” (or “four bottles of wine” depending on which account you read); “$15,000 books”, and “$60,000 dinners on the Yangtze River” – all without a jot of evidence or witnesses. (The Yangtze boat trip/party turned out to be a staff party that then-Labour minister, Rick Barker, had been invited to attend.)

In short, we witnessed  an appalling standard of sloppy “journalism” and “trial by media” based on no evidence, and judged guilty-by-innuendo.

  • This shameful style of media reporting was made worse by the likes of Jared Savage who wrote uncritical pieces on this story, repeating in a parrot-like fashion any fanciful claim that Liu could come up with. When only one of Liu’s claims was substantiated – his $2,000 donation to a boating club – it was trumpeted as “proof” that all of Liu’s claims had been confirmed,

“The confirmation comes after Labour has denied other allegations in the signed statement from Liu, including the claim he paid “close to $100,000″ for wine at fundraising auctions.”

Rick Barker had his own views on the rowing club donation, which seemed a whole lot more credible than Liu’s “$100,000 bottle of wine”. (‘Cold Duck’ anyone?)

  •  Or  Herald Editor, Tim Murphy, on Radio NZ’s “Morning Report“  on 23 June, where he was evasive in his answers and gave no explanation as to why Liu’s “signed statement” had not been published verbatim. Murphy said on the interview that he  stood by the Liu story, confidently asserting;

“Well, what’s not to stand by?”

We now know that Liu’s claims were either misleading, fanciful, or over-exaggerated and most likely, defamatory.

That is the most likely reason why the Herald did not publish, verbatim, Liu’s “signed statement” It would have made them a party to a defamation lawsuit.

  • But perhaps the worst offender was Herald Columnist, John Armstrong, who on 18 June, penned one of the most scurrilous pieces of “journalistic” rubbish  in recent media  history. Armstrong’s piece was written on the same day that the Herald published Cunliffe’s eleven year old letter to Immigration NZ. Amazingly, as Armstrong vilified Cunliffe for “a lapse of memory”, and demanded his resignation as Labour leader – he omitted to mentioned that the letter had been written some eleven years ago.

Armstrong’s piece was written and published at 1pm on 18 June – one hour twentynine minutes before Jared Savage broke the story detailing Cunliffe’s 2003 letter to Immigration NZ, on behalf of Donghua Liu.

Which suggests Armstrong’s haste and eagerness  in putting the journalistic ‘knife’ between Cunliffe’s ribs.

It was not until three days later that the Herald’s other right-leaning columnist, Fran O’Sullivan, attempted to inject some degree of sanity into her colleagues with her more thoughtful, restrained  opinion piece on 21 June,

Memo: David Cunliffe. Don’t let your political enemies (that includes your frenemies) push you out of the Labour leadership ahead of the election.

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There is already a media-fuelled expectation that Cunliffe should either step down or be rolled so that Labour’s fourth leader in one parliamentary term can lead the party into the September 20 election.

This would leave precious little time for a replacement – be it Grant Robertson or Andrew Little – to bed their own leadership in place before going head-to-head with Key in the election campaign. It would almost certainly result in electoral defeat.

Similarly, the resignation calls Cunliffe faced after the Herald broke the story that the Labour leader had signed off a letter on behalf of Liu bordered on risible.

That letter was clearly a pro forma note written by his staffers. There was no element of special pleading. It’s no wonder he had forgotten it. It should not have sparked a Gotcha call from political journalists.

Well, I’m not so charitable.

The behaviour of the Herald (with some notable exceptions) has been nothing short of disgraceful. It has with-held information from the public. It has published defamatory claims from a vengeful businessman with no evidence to support his claims regarding Labour (rowing boat club aside). It has engaged in tabloid-style, “gotcha” political-journalism. It has demonstrated  a particularly virulent style of biased, partisan reporting.   It has not undertaken the most basic journalistic  requirements of confirming a story before going public. It has not bothered to investigate (as far as anyone can tell) who was behind Liu’s claims and why. It has abused it’s position as a major media organisation, with it’s considerable influence in New Zealand society.

As such, to take a page from John Armstrong’s 18 June opinion piece, I  issue the following;

Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy must apologise to David Cunliffe and to the NZ Labour Party promptly,  fully, and unreservedly. That apology should be placed on the front page of the Herald. It  is the very least that he should do as a matter of justice.

After which, Mr Murphy should re-consider his own position and decide whether  his role as the Herald’s editor is now tenable after this shameful fiasco.

(See Appendix B)

John Armstrong

There is no question – John Armstrong must resign immediately. His behaviour has been shocking and  inexcusable. Any notion of Armstrong as an impartial  journalist was swept away with his intemperate and openly partisan column on 18 June.

To para-phrase  Mr Armstrong, “he has called for [David Cunliffe’s] head to roll for the equivalent or less. Having set the standard required of others, it is incumbent on him to himself follow suit“.

When a supposedly well-educated person writes such a travesty of journalism, there is only one course of action open.

Go, John.

Just, go.

(See Appendix B)

Jared Savage

Jared was the author of many of the pieces reporting (more like cutting and  re-pasting) Donghua Liu’s claims. There was no evidence to support Donghua Liu’s claims – but they were published and given prominence nevertheless.

Jared does not appear to have given any serious thought to questioning Liu’s claims, nor the motivations for them. This style of reporting is grossly irresponsible and undermines his profession.

Unlike his colleagues, Murphy and Armstrong, Jared is young and still learning his craft. The Liu Affair has not been to Jared’s credit, but hopefully he has learned from the experience. I encourage Jared to under-go a refresher course in journalistic ethics so that future reporting can be more balanced and accurate.

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2. A more measured p.o.v.?

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With the dust settling on the Liu Affair, and the hysteria from more ‘excitable’  media columnists and commentators dying away, I refer to the reader a more measured, thoughtful p.o.v. from Dominion Post columnist, Vernon Small, who wrote that the Liu saga hits harder when Labour’s down.

Small’s column wasn’t just a breath of fresh air, it was a full tank of oxygen in an otherwise murky atmosphere of political muck-raking, innuendo, lies,  and media histrionics.

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3. The Labour Party

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Legal Action

Without a doubt, Labour – and specifically, David Cunliffe – have no choice. They must take legal action for defamation against the Herald. The kind of shabby, tabloid-style “journalism” shown since June 18 has further undermined the Fourth Estate’s credibility (whether Herald staff and management realise this or not, is irrelevant) and must not be allowed to become the new default standard by which editors and journalists operate in this country.

For these reasons, Labour must sue for three good reasons;

  • It runs the risk that the public ‘memory’ on this incident will be fixed at the point of “revelations” about a “$100,000 bottle of wine” – not that Liu changed his story. Nor that no evidence was forthcoming.
  • If the Liu Affair goes to Court, the process of discovery may reveal who was behind this smear campaign.
  • If the phone tapping/”News of the World” scandal in Britain has shown us anything, it is that the  tabloid journalism road, where irresponsible reporting becomes an  acceptable ‘norm’, leads to unpleasant (and often illegal) consequences.

However, my advice to Cunliffe and the Labour Party is to defer legal action until after 20 September.  The Labour Party cannot afford distractions this close to an election.

Rapid Response Team

Unless Labour already has one, I suggest that they create a media “rapid response group” which can  ‘kick in’ when the next smear campaign rears it’s ugly head. (Mark my words, the next dirty trick is probably already in the works.)

Such a group could comprise of senior party members, MPs, legals, media minders, etc, and could ‘swing into action’ at the first hint of another event like the Liu Affair.

Every Labour candidate should have an easy-to-contact  “rapid response group” team-member on their phone’s speed-dial.

Potential Allies

If the Liu Affair has shown anything, it is the old maxim,

“United we Stand, Divided we Fall”

The smear campaign was notable for one thing; Labour stood alone against the NZ Herald, other media, and various lunatic right-wing bloggers.  It had few allies.

Perhaps this incident should serve as a wake-up call to Labour that it needs allies – potential coalition partners who can come to the aid of an embattled Labour Party. And vice versa.

God knows the Left has many enemies in the media, political sphere, business world, rant-back radio, and rabid-right blogs.

A more collegial and co-operative relationship between Labour, the Greens, Mana-Internet, trade unions, and other progressive organisations will be needed if future dirty tricks and smear campaigns are to be successfully resisted.

“United we stand, divided we fall” is not just a catchy catch-phrase. It actually means something.

 The GCSB

Last year, John Key and the National government, with support from ACT and Peter Dunne, changed legislation to allow the GCSB to carry out domestic surveillance and spy on New Zealanders.

Of course, this does not mean that I am suggesting that when Labour becomes government, that they should use the GCSB to spy on the Herald, Donghua Liu, his lawyers, Cameron Slater, Jason Ede, David Farrar, and anyone else who might be connected with this Affair, to find out who was responsible.

I am not suggesting that at all.

That would be morally wrong.

But quite legal.

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4. John Key

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It was clear from Day One, that John Key  had been fully briefed on David Cunliffe’s 2003 letter to Immigration NZ. On 19 June, John Key said he had previously known about the  letter;

“Can’t exactly recall, I think it was a few weeks ago.”

But far more interesting is that Key seems to have been aware of Liu’s “signed statement” prior to  the Herald aquiring a copy of it.

Note the following article from the Herald, written by Audrey Young, when she was in New York, covering Key’s visit to the United States . Specifically, note the date; Thursday 19 June;

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NZ Herald - Key on Liu-Labour link - More to come - $15 000 book

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Note the opening paragraph;

Prime Minister John Key believes the Labour [sic] has a lot more than $15,000 in donations from wealthy Chinese political donor Donghua Liu.

Key is quoted in Young’s article,

“I’ve heard the rumours and we’ll see what actually comes out but I’d be very, very amazed if the amount is $15,000,” he told New Zealand reporters.

But according to Herald on Sunday editor, Miriyana Alexander, revelations of Donghua Liu’s claims for other donations did not come to their attention until Saturday, 21 June;

But Herald on Sunday editor Miriyana Alexander said it only got a copy of the statement on Saturday and called the party within an hour of receiving it.

The date of when the NZ Herald came into possession of   Liu’s   “signed statement” was  also confirmed as  “on Saturday” [21 June], by Herald editor,  Tim Murphy, who was  interviewed on Radio NZ’s “Morning Report“, two days later (Monday  23 June). In the same interview, Murphy refused to say how the Herald acquired the statement.

When asked by Morning Report co-presenter, Susie Ferguson, why a copy of Liu’s statement had not been supplied to Labour, Murphy’s response was,

“There’s still more to be done. And there’s issues of sensitivities around it, for us. All these these things don’t get passed over […] I imagine it’ll come out but it just a matter of us working through some things first.”

Timeline:

19 June (Thursday): Key  stated that he  believed  Labour had a lot more than $15,000 in donations from wealthy Chinese political donor Donghua Liu.

21 June (Saturday): NZ Herald came into possession of Liu’s “signed statement”. The Herald does not publish the “statement” verbatim, nor does it pass a copy on to the Labour Party. (A point raised by Morning Report co-presenter, Susie Ferguson in her interview with Tim Murphy.)

23 June (Monday): NZ Herald editor, Tim Murphy confirms that his paper did not acquire a copy of Liu’s “signed statement” until two days ago (21 June).

So John Key knew the contents of Liu’s “signed statement”  two days in advance of the Herald.

In my previous blogpost (The Donghua Liu Affair threatens to unravel – PM and NZ Herald caught up in a dirty trick campaign?) I posed these questions;

  1. Who had access to the Prime Minister in such a way that he could be briefed, with such detail,  in advance, on Cunliffe’s letter and Liu’s “signed statement”?
  2. Who was involved in encouraging Donghua Liu to make his statement?
  3. How did a copy of Liu’s “signed statement” get to the NZ Herald?
  4. What was the motivation in briefing the Prime Minister?
  5. Who else in the PM’s office was involved? Was it Jason Ede?

Without much doubt, Key, his  ministers,  and some of his closest advisors, were fully aware of Cunliffe’s 2003 letter and Donghua Liu’s “signed statement”.

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5. Conclusions

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1.

The Herald’s editor, Tim Murphy and  political columnist John Armstrong behaved disgracefully throughout this entire event. Either through ineptitude or complicity, they allowed the NZ Herald to become a tool for a carefully planned and executed smear campaign against David Cunliffe.

In an email to Tim Murphy (see Appendix B), I call for a full-page apology to be published in the Herald.

I also call for Tim Murphy’s and John Armstrong’s resignations.

As such, after my email to Tim Murphy, and depending on his response, I will be considering a complaint to the NZ Press Council on the matter.

I may also look at other avenues such as contacting the Herald’s main advertisers.

2.

David Liu was not the instigator or author of his “signed statement”.  Without doubt, it was a dirty trick of the sort that Nicky Hager warned us about in his brilliant exposé on corruption in the National Party, “The Hollow Men”. 

The date on Liu’s “signed statement” – 3 May – was only two days after Maurice Williamson’s enforced resignation after being found out attempting to influence a police investigation into Liu’s assault on two women.

The close timing of Williamson’s resignation and the date on Liu’s “signed statement” was a critical mistake on the part of those responsible for this smear campaign. It ties the two events together. I believe Key’s senior media strategist, Jason Ede, and right-wing blogger, Cameron Slater were probably involved.

The motive for the smear campaign was an act of utu, in retaliation for Labour prosecuting revelations against Maurice Williamson.

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Labour must sue the NZ Herald for defamation. Whilst smear campaigns are, unfortunately part-and-parcel of politics (because partisan voters seem not to care, as long as it is done to the “other side”), complicit or incompetant actions by media reporting such stories cannot – must not – be allowed to stand.

Unless we want to see this country’s media  become a South Pacific mirror of “News of the World“, with associated phone hacking, bribery, police corruption, and god knows what else, the kind of sensationalist, headline-driven, misleading “journalism” shown by the Herald from June 18 cannot be allowed to become the new standard of media behaviour.

Even media companies have responsibilities and obligations to behave in a responsible manner.

If not, we must look to legal remedies to ensure responsible behaviour.

 

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Appendix A

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from:     Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:          John Key <john.key@parliament.govt.nz>
date:      Thu, Jun 26, 2014 at 1:06 PM
subject: OIA Request – Reminder!

Kia ora Mr Key,

On 19 June – now one week ago – I lodged an OIA request with you and your office.

My request was as follows,

Kia ora Mr Key.

This is a request lodged under the Official Information Act.

Please provide me with copies of all correspondence, minutes, notes, reports, and any other written or otherwise recording, relating to any and all activities surrounding the procurement; storage; and planned circumstances of the release of the letter between David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu dated 11 April 2003.

This includes a request for all communications relating to the letter between David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu dated 11 April 2003, which may have occurred between yourself; any and all staffmembers in your office; any member of the National Party; any blogger; any media person; and any other group or individual who was contacted on this issue.

Information may be emailed to me, or, if the file is too large, I can supply a postal address for hard copies.

Regards,

-Frank Macskasy

Blogger

Since then, I have not received any acknowledgement to my lodged application and require you to do so, under the Act.

If I do not receive acknowledgement to my request, I will have no option but to pursue the matter with the Office of the Ombudsman.

Regards,

-Frank Macskasy

An hour later, I received an emailed acknowledgement to my OIA request.

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Appendix B

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from:         Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:              Tim Murphy <editor@herald.co.nz>
date:         Thu, Jun 26, 2014 at 10:34 PM
subject:    The Donghua Liu Affair & Consequence

 

Tim Murphy
Editor,
The New Zealand Herald

 

Kia ora Mr Murphy,

After recent revelations, it has become patently obvious and apparent to all that Mr Donghua Liu is no longer a credible witness to any alleged wrong-doing or alleged inappropriate behaviour by David Cunliffe, Rick Barker, or the NZ Labour Party.

Mr Liu has;

1. Failed to provide evidence for his allegations of hefty donations to the Labour Party. The closest he has come has been  a $2,000 cheque he gave to the Hawke’s Bay Rowing Club, on his own volition.

2. Mis-represented Rick Barker’s invitation and  attendance at a staff party, on a river-boat,  in China.

3. Made no verifiable Affidavit, and provided only a “signed statement”.

4. Issued a second statement on 25 June, changing his initial allegations.

5. Offered no evidence for his second, 25 June, “signed statement”.

Since 18 June, when your reporter, Jared Savage, broke this story in a piece entitled “David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid“, the Herald has;

* published unsubstantiated allegations;

* failed to provide subsequent evidence to back up those allegations;

* published stories damaging to the reputations of David Cunliffe and Rick Barker;

* published allegations damaging to the Labour Party (during an election year!);

* published a column calling for David Cunliffe to resign (“John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order“), based on incomplete information, and omitting a crititical fact, namely  that Cunliffe’s letter to NZ Immigration had been written  in 2003, and was a legitimate reason why the MP may have forgotten the letter;

* resisted calls to publish, verbatim,  Mr Liu’s first signed statement, or his subsequent version, thereby acting as a gate-keeper/censor of information that the public had a right to see;

* resisted calls to publish, verbatim,  Mr Liu’s first signed statement, or his subsequent version, despite having no hesitation in publishing David Cunliffe’s 2003 letter to NZ Immigration (“David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid“)

* made little or no discernible attempt to investigate the background to Liu’s allegations; his motives; and who else might have been involved.

Under your watch, the tenor of stories relating to the Cunliffe-Liu issue has been one-sided and predicated on baseless allegations.

This has been a tabloid-style, highly-emotive, unjustified witch-hunt which collapsed only because Donghua Liu’s story changed and it became apparent he was no longer a credible witness.

The Liu Affair has seriously damaged your paper’s reputation and also further eroded public confidence in the ability of the Fourth Estate to report fairly, accurately, and without bias.

Accordingly, I submit that  it behoves you to put this matter right. I therefore call upon you;

1. The NZ Herald should immediately publish a full page apology on the front page of your paper.

2. It may also be appropriate for you to  re-consider your  position and decide whether your role as the Herald’s editor is now tenable after this shameful fiasco.

3. On 18 June, in a highly biased, unreasonable column, John Armstrong called for David Cullen’s resignation,  (“John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order“). I submit that Mr Armstrong’s own position as a senior Herald staffer is no longer tenable and must take his own advice and resign.

These three steps are the basis upon which the New Zealand Herald can regain it’s reputation that has been severely dented since 18 June.

Regards,

– Frank Macskasy

 

Note: this letter will be made public on “The Daily Blog”, and subsequently, on “Frankly Speaking” (my own personal blog). Any response you care to make will also be disclosed and made public.

 

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References

NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations

Legislation:  Evidence Act 2006

Radio NZ: Newspaper stands by donation claims

NZ Herald: John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order

NZ Herald:  Liu donation to rowing club confirmed

Radio NZ: Morning Report – New Zealand Herald stands by its story

NZ Herald/Hawkes Bay Today: Saga returns to bite Rick Barker

NZ Herald: David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid

NZ Herald: John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order

NZ Herald: Fran O’Sullivan: Unfounded resignation calls should be far from Cunliffe’s mind

Auckland University of Technology: Journalism Major – Bachelor of Communication Studies

Dominion Post:  Liu saga hits harder when Labour’s down

Wilson Harle: Overhaul of New Zealand’s Discovery Rules

Radio NZ: Cunliffe accuses Govt of smear campaign

Radio NZ: Newspaper stands by donation claims

Fairfax media: Labour fights new Liu donation claims

TV3: Maurice Williamson resigns as minister

Additional

Twitter: Jared Savage

NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations

NZ Herald: Liu: $100k not just for wine

Previous related blogposts

The Donghua Liu timeline – Damn lies, dirty tricks, and a docile media

The Donghua Liu Affair threatens to unravel – PM and NZ Herald caught up in a dirty trick campaign?

 


 

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NZ Herald

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 June 2014.

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The Donghua Liu Affair – Damn lies, dirty tricks, and a docile media

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Dirt Unit

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Preface

The style of political journalism is an important issue as increasing political resources go into controlling news and there are fewer news media resources  available to cut through the spin. Such a situation plays into the hands of the Croby/Textor political manipulators. Their aim is not to create interested, intelligent and engaged citizens, because that is not in their clients’ short-term interests. Their job is easier if the public is ‘sick’ of politics, ‘bored’ by the election and not thinking hard about the issues – and not challenged by a strong, independent  media. Vote winning can then be the science of winning people over via vague feelings of self-interest, indignation, fear or jealousy.” – Nicky Hager, p262,  “The Hollow Men

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Timeline

11 April 2003:  David Cunliffe writes to Immigration NZ, on behalf on his constituent, Donghua Liu;

“I have been approached by my constituent Donghua Lui [sic] who is concerned at the time it is taking to process his Investment Category application.

Mr Liu’s [sic] application was accepted for processing by the Business Migration Branch on 13 August 2002.

Mr Lui [sic] wishes to set up a joint venture including Well Lee Ltd, Equus Hawk o8 ltd and Tan Long Property Development Co Ltd who will export large quantities of agricultural and horticultural products to China.

It is hope that products from the company will be available to the market in July 2003.

I am aware of the difficulties facing the Business Migration Branch of New Zealand Immigration Services in coping with the overwhelming numbers of applicants that have applied for consideration under these categories and the time taken to verify documents. However it would be very helpful to Mr Liu to be advised of an estimated period of time period [sic] in which he could expect a decision on his case.

Your assistance in this matter is appreciated.

Yours sincerely

David Cunliffe
MP for New Lynn”

2004: Donghua Liu granted permanent residency by then-immigration minister Damien O’Connor, against  official advice.

2006: Donghua Liu claims that he;

…visited Barker in Hawke’s Bay… having dinner with him at an exclusive lodge and then meeting for breakfast the next morning. Liu said he made a donation to Hawke’s Bay Rowing, which Barker was associated with.

(The claim is made eight years later.)

3 June 2007: Donghua Liu claims that he  supposedly won  a $15,000 signed book at a Labour Party fundraising auction.

In the same year, he also claims to have paid “close to $100,000” for four bottles of wine [‘Cold Duck’? – Blogger] at a 2007 Labour Party fundraiser.

(These claims are made seven years later, and the Labour Party says it cannot find any record of the alleged donations/payments. The date, 3 June 2007, is contained in a NZ Herald story, on 22 June 2014.)

Liu also claims;

That he spent $50-60,000 hosting then-labour minister Rick Barker on a cruise on the Yangtze River in China.

(This claim, also, is made seven years later.)

2010: Donghua Liu given NZ citizenship, by Immigration Minister Nathan Guy,  against official advice, and after lobbying by Maurice Williamson, then Minister for Building and Construction, and John Banks, then Mayor of Auckland. Maurice Williamson performs the citizenship ceremony the day after it is granted, in his electorate offices.

2 September 2011: The first stage of a proposed $70 million hotel project is opened by Donghua Liu, with Prime Minister John Key attending;

The project, which is the brainchild of Remuera businessman Donghua Liu, will involve the development of open spaces, high-value residential apartments, education facilities and a new five-star hotel.

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Opening of Boulevard hotel project - john Key - Donghua Liu.

Opening of Boulevard hotel project - john Key - Donghua Liu - (2)jpg

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“My vision is to create buildings and open spaces that fit with Newmarket’s already proud heritage and community and help promote New Zealand tourism to visitors from China and elsewhere,” Mr Liu, a New Zealand resident since 2004, said today.

2012: A business, owned by Donghua Liu, donates $22,000 to the National party.

April, 2013: Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse meets  with Chinese businessman Donghua Liu (which the Herald will report on 7 May 2014).

13 March 2014: John Key denies anything “untoward” in Donghua Liu receiving a ministerial waiver (from Guy Nathan) to become a NZ Citizen, which was followed later by a $22,000 donation to the National Party;

“I just don’t accept the proposition there’s anything untoward there.”

Key said a minister advocating a person for citizenship was “not at all unusual”.

Liu was a substantial investor in New Zealand and “lots of people get ministerial waivers”.

14 March: Donghua Liu arrested and charged with domestic violence assault on two women.

22 March: NZ Herald reports that Donghua Lui’s $70 million four-star hotel project has failed to materialise;

Liu also told Chinese media at the ribbon-cutting ceremony that his plans for the $70 million redevelopment of the former Carlton Bowling Club site was unlikely to go beyond the design stage unless the Government cut the $10 million threshold.

“Like many developers throughout the construction, our group is constrained by a lack of access to capital. An improvement to business migrant rules would allow the group to source the equity capital it needs from overseas, particularly from China,” Liu told a Chinese newspaper at the launch.

“Without that improvement, it is likely that stages two and three will be stalled indefinitely.”

The same Herald article refers to right-wing commentator; National Party apparatchik, and professional lobbyist, Matthew Hooton, being hired by Donghua Liu, to change business migration laws in this country;

Liu hired consultancy group Exceltium, run by political consultant Matthew Hooton, to lobby the Government over the business immigration rules.

1 May: National Minister, Maurice Williamson forced to resign after attempts by him to influence a police investigation into Donghua Liu’s alleged assault case, becomes public knowledge.

3 May: Donghua Liu signs statement claiming donations amounting to $150,000 were made to the Labour Party, which the NZ Herald will report on 22 June.

7 May: NZ Herald reports;

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse has confirmed that he met with Chinese businessman Donghua Liu, and heard his requests for a change in immigration policy. 

Mr Woodhouse said Mr Liu – who was involved in National MP Maurice Williamson’s resignation – lobbied him in April or May at the businessman’s Newmarket hotel.

The minister said Mr Liu lobbied him to change the rules of the business migrant scheme.

“We traversed a range of … issues about how the investor category could be improved, and I took on board those issues.”

Mr Liu was seeking a new immigration category in which non-English speakers could pay less than the $10 million threshold.

May 8*: Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse is questioned in the House and by media about his meetings and any National Party association with Donghua Liu. Mr Woodhouse requests information on the file to see if there is anything relevant that he needs to know about.

The Herald [also] requests Liu’s residency file under the Official Information Act (OIA)

May 9*: In response to file review, Mr Woodhouse is verbally advised – among other things – of the existence of two Parliamentary advocacy letters regarding Donghua Liu, one from Mr Cunliffe and another from the office of Chris Carter.

Weekend of 10-11 May*: Mr Woodhouse informs Prime Minister John Key’s Office of the existence of the letters.

Week 12-16 May*: Mr Woodhouse’s office receives hard copy of letters.

Mid-late May*: Mr Woodhouse’s office provides copy of letters to the Prime Minister’s office.

16 June*: The Herald run story on Labour donations and connections. The Herald’s OIA request is declined on privacy grounds. The Herald puts in a refined OIA request for MP representations for Donghua Liu to Immigration NZ.

17 June: David Cunliffe denies ever having advocated for Donghua Liu.

18 June*: Immigration NZ release Mr Cunliffe’s 2003 Donghua Liu letter to the Herald

19 June: John Key says he had previously known about the 2003 letter;

“Can’t exactly recall, I think it was a few weeks ago.”

A Radio NZ report quoted Deputy PM, Bill English;

19 June morning:

But hours later on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report programme on Thursday, Bill English had a different story, saying no one in Government knew about it until Wednesday. “As I understand it, it’s a response to an OIA (Official Information Act request) to the Immigration Service and we wouldn’t know a lot about what’s on their files,” he said.

19 June afternoon:

However in the afternoon, Mr English told reporters the letter had been sent to Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse some time ago as part of information he received from the Immigration Service after Mr Williamson’s resignation.

“For a number of weeks there were questions in the House about Mr Donghua Liu and you would expect a competent minister to get together the relevant information.”

June 19*:

• 2pm Mr Woodhouse denies telling Mr Key about the letters

• 3pm Mr Woodhouse says officials from his office briefed Mr Key’s office on the letters.

• 7pm Mr Woodhouse’s office says the minister himself told Mr Key’s office about the letters and his office also gave copies of the letters to Mr Key’s office.

19 June: Shane Jones denies he is the source of  revelations regarding David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu.

19 June: Key confirms he knows more about the revelations;

“I’ve heard the rumours and in the end we’ll see what actually comes out but I’ll be very very amazed if the amount is $15,000.”

Asked if it was hundreds of thousands of dollars, Key said: “We’ll see … that’s for the Labour Party to make clear to the New Zealand public.”

20 June: Blogger lodges formal OIA request to John Key, Bill English, and Michael Woodhouse;

This is a request lodged under the Official Information Act.

Please provide me with copies of all correspondence, minutes, notes, reports, and any other written or otherwise recording, relating to any and all activities surrounding the procurement; storage; and planned circumstances of the release of the letter between David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu dated 11 April 2003.

This includes a request for all communications relating to the letter between David Cunliffe and Donghua Liu dated 11 April 2003, which may have occurred between yourself; any and all staffmembers in your office; any member of the National Party; any blogger; any media person; and any other group or individual who was contacted on this issue.

Information may be emailed to me, or, if the file is too large, I can supply a postal address for hard copies.

Regards,
-Frank Macskasy
Blogger

21 June: Donghua Liu claims that  he has donated money “equally to Governments of both colours”.

22 June: NZ Herald publishes claim that Donghua Liu has contributed $150,000 to Labour Party. The claim is made in a signed statement by Liu. The Herald report states that Liu paid $100,000 for a bottle of wine;

Millionaire businessman Donghua Liu spent more than $150,000 on the previous Labour government, including $100,000 on a bottle of wine signed by former prime minister Helen Clark at a party fundraiser.

However, a Radio NZ report on the same day states that the money was paid for four bottles;

General secretary of the Labour Party Tim Barnett said the newspaper told him it was $100,000 for four bottles, not one, but even so, he does not have record of such a transaction.

23 June:

7.32am: NZ Herald editor, Tim Murphy, interviewed in Radio NZ’s “Morning Report“, and says that the Herald received a copy of Donghua Liu’s  3 May signed statement “on Saturday”. Murphy confirms that the document was a statement, not an affidavit. Murphy refuses to say how the Herald acquired the statement.

11.05am: Mike Williams, past-President of Labour Party,  states on Radio NZ’s “Nine To Noon” politics panel, that he is  not aware of any donation from Donghua Liu, nor any fund-raising event of Liu’s description, on the date Liu asserts.

“This, this,  supposedly happened on my watch.  And I’ve got a lot of problems with that. I think if anyone had paid $100,000 for a bottle of wine, I would know about it.”

Williams says that he and Party General Secretary, Mike Smith, were assiduous in record keeping and a donation of that magnitude could not be over-looked.

Williams also referred to Liu claiming that he donated “equally to Governments of both colours“, and suggested that if that was correct, that National had failed to properly report and account for $130,000 in donations.

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Questions

1.

If, as Mr Liu claims, he donated $150,000 to the Labour Party in 2007, why has no one come forward to confirm this event? $150,000 is a large sum of money and very difficult to forget. Even John Key, with the best of his brain-fades, could not help but recall such an event.

2.

Mr Liu has signed only a statement, not an affidavit. There is a great deal of difference between the two forms of documents. A signed statement has very  little legal standing.

But a signed and witnessed affidavit is a legal document, as outlined in Section 197 of the Evidence Act 2006, to whit;

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197 Solicitor may take affidavit or declaration

  • (1) It is lawful for any solicitor of the High Court to take the affidavit or declaration of any person in relation to any criminal proceedings that are certified in accordance with this section to be pending in any overseas court.

    (2) An affidavit or declaration referred to in subsection (1) must be intituled In the matter of section 197 of the Evidence Act 2006, and a declaration referred to in subsection (1) may be expressed to be made under the provisions of this section.

    (3) No affidavit or declaration referred to in subsection (1) may be taken unless the solicitor taking it has received a written certificate—

    • (a) from the overseas court that the affidavit or declaration is required for the purpose of criminal proceedings pending in the court; or

    • (b) from an overseas representative of the country in which the overseas court exercises jurisdiction that he or she believes the affidavit or declaration to be required for the purpose of criminal proceedings pending in the overseas court.

    (4) A certificate for the purposes of subsection (3)(a) may be given by any Judge or judicial officer of the overseas court, or by any Registrar or other officer of that court.

    (5) If a certificate is given under subsection (3)(b), the jurat or attestation of the affidavit or declaration must state the name and official designation of the overseas representative on whose certificate the affidavit or declaration has been taken.

    (6) In this section—

    affidavit means any affidavit or affirmation made before a solicitor of the High Court

    declaration means any written statement declared by the maker of the statement to be true in the presence of a solicitor of the High Court.

    Compare: 1908 No 56 s 48F(1)–(6)

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Making a false declaration under the Act, is covered under Section 198;

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198 False affidavit or declaration

  • (1) Every affidavit or declaration taken under section 197 is deemed to have been made in a judicial proceeding within the meaning of the Crimes Act 1961, and any person who falsely makes an affidavit or declaration of that kind is guilty of perjury or of making a false declaration accordingly.

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Which infers that the signed statement which Liu made, and which the Herald claims to have in it’s possession, does not have the same weight as an affidavit.

If it can be proven that Liu was lying, he will suffer no legal consequences.

It may explain why Liu refuses, point blank, to swear an affidavit. Why has Liu not made an actual affidavit?

3.

On 19 June, Bill English, John Key, and Michael Woodhouse, offered varying accounts when and how long, they had been in possession of the 2003 letter between Cunliffe and Immigration NZ.

It was not until some hours later that they amended their public statements.

Can they explain their discrepancies in the varying times they gave?

4.

On 21 June,  Donghua Liu claimed that  he has donated moneyequally to Governments of both colours“.

But according to him, he gave $150,000 to Labour, and only $22,000 to National. That is not “equally to Governments of both colours” by any measure or definition. He (supposedly) gave $128,000 more to Labour than to National.

Can he explain that discrepancy in his statement?

5.

On 22 June, NZ Herald journalist, Bevan Hurley, wrote that Liu paid $100,000 for a bottle of wine;

Millionaire businessman Donghua Liu spent more than $150,000 on the previous Labour government, including $100,000 on a bottle of wine signed by former prime minister Helen Clark at a party fundraiser.

However, this was contradicted by a  Radio NZ report on the same day, stating that the money was paid for four bottles;

General secretary of the Labour Party Tim Barnett said the newspaper [NZ Herald]  told him it was $100,000 for four bottles, not one, but even so, he does not have record of such a transaction.

Can Hurley, or any other person working for the Herald, explain that discrepancy?

6.

If, as a 22 March NZ Herald story stated, that Donghua Lui’s $70 million four-star hotel project has failed to materialise, what action has this government taken on what appears to have been a breech of the business migration visa conditions (?)  of Liu’s residency and subsequent citizenship?

What guarantee can there be, that migrants given residency and citizenship, under the Investor Plus (Investor 1 Category), and Investor (Investor 2 Category), who promise to undertake specific developments,  will carry out their obligations?

What sanctions and remedies are available, should migrants given residency and citizenship, under the Investor Plus (Investor 1 Category), and Investor (Investor 2 Category), who promise to undertake specific developments, fail to do so?

7.

On 22 June 2014, Labour Party president, Moira Coatsworth categorically stated;

No-one has provided any documentary evidence to us that contradicts our records.

We continue to call on Donghua Liu and any third parties who might have information about these allegations, including the Prime Minister, to place what they know into the public domain or to refer to the regulators.

We have had no approaches from the Electoral Commission or any regulatory agency. We have always cooperated with regulators, and will always do so when required.

The same Herald story reveals that the Herald refuses to provide a copy of Liu’s signed statement to the Labour Party, which Coatsworth says,

“We consider this to be a denial of natural justice.”

7a. Why has the Herald refused to provide a copy of Liu’s signed statement to the Labour Party?

7b. Why has Liu refused to provide evidence of a $150,000 payment/donation to the Labour Party?

7c. How was Liu’s alleged payment made? Cheque? Bank transfer? A suitcase stuffed full of money? (Even a cash payment could be proven by showing when and where a withdrawal of that amount was made.)

7d. Can Liu provide witnesses to the event?

7e. Why has the Herald not made the statement public?

8.

Liu claims he signed a statement on 3 May 2014, to the effect that he “donated” $150,000 to the Labour Party.

8a. Why did he feel the need to make such a statement?

8b. Did someone else prompt or request for him to make such a state?

8c. Why did Liu not offer a copy to the Labour Party?

8d. Who else has a copy of the statement?

9.

9a. Who else knew about the 2003 letter, before it was published by the Herald?

9b. Was the Herald ‘tipped of’ about the letter before it lodged it’s OIA request?

9c. What was the involvement of John Key, Bill English, Michael Woodhouse, and Key’s chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, in this affair?

9d. What active role did  Mathew Hooton have, in this affair?

9e. What active role did  the head of Key’s media team, Jason Ede, have in this affair?

10.

How does Liu reconcile his claims for the date of the Labour Party fundraiser being held on 3 June 2007 (as reported in a NZ Herald story, on 22 June 2014) when the Labour Party can find no record of any such event occurring on that day?

11.

Will the Police proceed in their prosecution of Donghua Liu?

Or will charges for assaulting two women be dropped “for lack of evidence”?

12.

And perhaps the last question – the most important question – why hasn’t the media been asking these questions?

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Conclusions

  • Donations via Electoral Commission

If New Zealanders cannot stomach state funding for political parties, and the elimination of private donors to parties, then the next best thing – Plan ‘B’ – is that all donations,  or fund-raising over a certain amount ($1,000? $5,000?), be channelled through the Electoral Commission. The Commission would duly record each donation and donor’s details, and pass it on to the relevant party.

This might not be the solution to the problem of unrecorded donations, but it might  be a helpful tool. It would certainly give the Commission an opportunity to make immediate, further enquiries relating to a specific donation. Eg; a fund-raising dinner at Antoinette’s in 2010, which raised $105,000 from twentyone donors, but which was recorded only as a ‘lump sum’ donation from the restaurant – without naming all twentyone people who gave money.

This might offer an additional measure of transparency to the donations system.

Any party avoiding the system would do so at it’s peril, eventually being found out.

  • Cancel Investor Visa (Investors 1 & 2 Category)

It is perhaps time for the Investor Visa (Investors 1 & 2 Category) to be reviewed, and dumped.

The system appears to be open to rorting, with a residency-for-donations system in place that has been exploited by National (and Labour?).

But it is not just that Donghua Liu gave $22,000 to National, and was subsequently  granted citizenship.

We have also seen the case of Susan Chou, of Oravida Ltd, whose company  donated $200,000 in two amounts in 2010, and $156,600 to the National Party in three lots, throughout 2011 (31 May, 22 November,  and 30 November). A month later, on 27 January 2012,  National Government ministers approved Shanghai Pengxin’s application to purchase sixteen Crafar farms in receivership.

Oravida, as many will recall, was the dairy company at the center of a recent scandal involving Minister Judith Collins and her husband, David Tung. Tung also happens to be a company director of Oravida.

If this is not corruption, then it certainly has the perception of it.

Whether Labour has also exploited the business migration scheme is unknown. Liu’s claims may be real – or an utter fabrication and part of a very cunning smear campaign against Labour, during an election that promises to be close-run.

The only way to eliminate any possibility of inappropriate activities such as citizenship-for-donations, and other favours-for-donations, is to dump the business migration scheme once and for all.

It is simply too open to abuse.

  • Extreme caution  with relations with business people

If the Oravida scandal;  Kim Dotcom saga, and Donghua Liu mystery have shown anything, it is that ministers of the crown should exercise extreme caution when dealing with members of the business community. Especially businesspeople from cultures where “gifting” for political patronage is considered the norm.

After the wounds inflicted on Judith Collins and David Cunliffe, and the destruction of John Banks’ and Taito Phillip Fields‘ political careers, it would be a very, very foolish Member of Parliament or Minister of the Crown, to try his/her luck with secret dealings.

We are simply too small a country.

  • The C.R.E.E.P.** Team

It is my sincerest, honestly-held  belief, that the Donghua Liu Affair has been a carefully orchestrated dirty trick, designed to smear the leader of the Labour Party, David Cunliffe.

It is my sincerest, honestly-held  belief, that it was not orchestrated by anyone within the Labour Party, such as the ABC faction. Their careers would be gone by breakfast if it could be shown that any of them were responsible, in part, or whole.

It is my sincerest, honestly-held  belief, that this smear campaign was orchestrated deep within the National Party, and that at least two well known National Party apparatchiks were involved.

It is my sincerest, honestly-held  belief, that Donghua Liu was persuaded to participate in this scheme around early May, when he signed his statement. It is my sincerest, honestly-held  belief, that he was offered, in return, that charges against him for assaulting two women, would either be dropped, or “no evidence presented” at the Court case.

It is my sincerest, honestly-held  belief, that this smear campaign was designed as ‘utu’ for the forced resignation of Maurice Williamson. Donghua Liu signed his statement two days after Williamson’s resignation.

Therein lies the clue: Donghua Liu signed his statement two days after Williamson’s resignation. Because Williamson’s resignation left some very, very angry people who could barely wait to exact revenge.

It is my prediction that the truth will come out very quickly on this issue, and it will destroy National’s chances to win this election – much like “Corngate” nearly  destroyed Labour’s chances to win the 2002 general election.

This will end John Key’s career.

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* Timeline info  taken from NZ Herald story, Woodhouse ‘clarifies’ story on Cunliffe’s Liu letter. Hat-tip, Martyn Bradbury, from blogpost, Cunliffe can’t remember an 11 year old letter and has to resign but Woodhouse can’t remember a 6 week old letter he told Prime Minister about and isn’t resigning?

** CREEP – Committee to RE Elect the Prime minister (See: Watergate)


References

NZ Herald: David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid

Fairfax media: David Cunliffe advocated for Donghua Liu

NZ Herald: Businessman ‘donated to Governments of both colours’

NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party

Fairfax media: Key – ‘Nothing untoward’ in citizenship waiver

NZ Herald: Businessman in citizenship row up on violence charges

Radio NZ: Labour has no record of reported Liu donation

NZ Herald: Labour Party hits back at donation claims

Otago Daily Times: Losing patience with politicians

NZ Herald: Citizenship, then $22k for Nats

Scoop Auckland:Share PM to open first stage of Donghua Liu’s $70m Newmarket redevelopment project

NZ Herald: Weeds choke $70m dream

TV3: Maurice Williamson resigns as minister

NZ Herald: Labour Party hits back at donation claims

NZ Herald: MP confirms meeting with Donghua Liu

TV1 News: Cunliffe – ‘I did not tell a lie’ about Liu

Radio NZ: Cunliffe accuses Govt of smear campaign

NZ Herald: Woodhouse ‘clarifies’ story on Cunliffe’s Liu letter

Radio NZ: PM and deputy at odds over Cunliffe letter

TV3: Shane Jones denies he is Cunliffe source

Fairfax media: David Cunliffe digs in amid rumours, poll woe

NZ Herald: Businessman ‘donated to Governments of both colours’

Immigration NZ:  Migrant Investment categories

NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party

Radio NZ: Morning Report – New Zealand Herald stands by its story

Radio NZ: Nine To Noon politics panel

Legislation:  Evidence Act 2006

Radio NZ: Labour dismisses Liu donation claims

Immigration NZ:  Migrant Investment categories

TV3:  Key not talking about fundraising dinner

Interest.co.nz: Govt Ministers rubber stamp Overseas Investment Office approval of Shanghai Pengxin’s Crafar farms bid

Previous related blogposts

National’s fund-raising at Antoine’s – was GST paid?

Doing ‘the business’ with John Key – Here’s How (Part # Rua)

Other blogposts

The Standard: The middle of Queens birthday weekend? Yeah right!

The Daily Blog: Cunliffe can’t remember an 11 year old letter and has to resign but Woodhouse can’t remember a 6 week old letter he told Prime Minister about and isn’t resigning?


 

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Lorde wants you to vote

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 June 2014.

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