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Mr English: Where are National’s secret coalition negotiation papers?

8 December 2017 5 comments

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Bill English has been kicking up a shit-storm, demanding that Labour release what they have been describing as a “secret coalition agreement” between Labour and NZ First.

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English complained;

“This is a government that said it would be more transparent and more open. The document is clearly there somewhere, it must be important because it’s 38 pages and it’s come out of the agreement – people deserve to see it.

It sounds like there might be quite a lot more in this other piece of paper. If it’s at the core of how the Government’s going to run, it’s in the public interest.”

English defended his insistence that the coalition notes be made public by comparing the Coalition with his own previous administration “transparency”;

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“By any international standard the last government was open and transparent, and this government, as with many other things, has expressed these high-minded intentions and then fails to follow through.”

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Which is a patently dishonest claim considering that the last nine years of National governance has been one of secrecy; obstructing OIA requests; increased state surveillance; and misleading the public.

Former Dear Leader, “Sir” John Key was brazenly open only in one respect of the OIA. He openly conceded that his administration regularly and willfully delayed releasing OIA requested information for purely political purposes;

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“Sometimes we wait the 20 days because, in the end, Government might take the view that’s in our best interest to do that.”

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To which  Chief Ombudsman, Dame Beverley Wakem, responded by reminding Key and his cronies colleagues they were were not permitted to flout the OIA legislation by deliberately delaying up to the  twenty-day deadline;

“It’s pretty clear. It couldn’t be much clearer than that… As soon as you have made a decision as to whether you’re going to respond to the request or how you’re going to respond to it, you ought to convey that.”

During it’s nine years in office, National has widened the powers of the GCSB to permit it to spy on all New Zealanders; mis-used GCSB surveillance to secure leadership of the World Trade Organisation; spied on our Pacific neighbours; and unlawfully harassed National’s critics such as Nicky Hager and Martyn Bradbury.

But when challenged on whether the GCSB was conducting mass surveillance on New Zealanders, Key simply point-blank refused to comment.

Who can forget National’s obstruction and prevarication – including contradictory statements – over the SAS-led attack on two villages in the Tirgiran Valley in 2010 which caused fifteen injuries and the tragic deaths of six innocent Afghan civilians, including a young child;

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Lest we forget: Fatima, aged 3

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Just recently, it was revealed that an OIA request by Radio NZ, for details regarding the business case for a proposed new multi-million dollar Auckland City rail-line, was met with deliberate stone-walling from then-Minister, Simon Bridge’s “office“;

Transport Minister Simon Bridges has been caught trying to block an official information request for details about a proposed new $50 million Auckland railway line.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters tabled an email trail in Parliament yesterday showing that Mr Bridges’ office repeatedly urged KiwiRail last week not to release a business case on Auckland’s proposed third main railway track.

Initially, his officials opposed the document being released, saying it was part of an unsuccessful budget bid, but were told by KiwiRail on Thursday that the law was clear it should be released.

After consulting its legal team, KiwiRail told Mr Bridge’s office it would struggle to justify not releasing it.

But on Friday Mr Bridges’ office again urged KiwiRail not to release the business plan.

This time it used a scatter-gun approach – arguing the report was only a draft, was on a misleading template and that its proposed release was making them “extremely uncomfortable”.

Writer Harriet Gale…

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… said KiwiRail made it clear the business case did not need to be kept secret and that the minister’s behaviour was worrying.

Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, was obviously frustrated and disturbed by National’s attempt to suppress the Kiwirail Report and their continual flouting of the OIA;

“It’s so important that we get this Act flowing better than it has been and it hasn’t necessarily flowed that well.

And that’s why I’ve used this as an opportunity to exhort the Prime Minister to help me and support me in getting the roles crystal clear.

We are coming down increasingly heavier where we see instances where the Act is not being compiled with – and in some cases, where it’s been flouted.

I think there’s an understanding that we mean business.”

Hardly the hallmarks of an “open and transparent” government when a Minister’s “office” is prepared to conspire to break the law by circumventing the Official Information Act. Also not helped when the ombudsman’s office has to write a scathing letter to the Prime Minister demanding they obey the law.

As if to underscore National’s mania for secrecy, in 2011/12, New Zealand’s ranking in media freedom by Reporters Without Borders fell from eighth place  in 2010, to  thirteenth, in the world.

The Herald’s senior reporter, Matthew Backhouse, wrote at the time;

The report did not say what was behind the fall – but it comes after a year in which newsrooms were searched by police, the New Zealand Herald was temporarily banned from the parliamentary press gallery and a proposed new law sought to give police greater powers to enter newsrooms.

Another story by Fairfax media’s Susan Edmunds, in May this year, also reported on New Zealand’s fall in World Press Freedom Index, citing Government secrecy;

The report said journalists were struggling with the Official Information Act, which gives government agencies long periods of time to respond to requests. Sometimes journalists were asked to pay for information.

“In August 2016, the government revealed a grim future for whistleblowers, announcing a bill that would criminalise leaking government information to the media and would dramatically increase the surveillance powers of the intelligence services. Journalists, bloggers, and civil society representatives would be among the potential targets of the proposed law, which could be adopted in 2017.”

Catherine Strong, from Massey University’s School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, said;

“Our lower standing is due to the growing list of government agencies trying to hide information by thwarting the Official Information Act, and these agencies are ruining our reputation.”

What is even more grimly ironic is that having been thrown out of office, National persists in refusing to disclose information to the public.

Remember that National Party leader, Bill English, recently demanded;

“This is a government that said it would be more transparent and more open. The document is clearly there somewhere, it must be important because it’s 38 pages and it’s come out of the agreement – people deserve to see it.

It sounds like there might be quite a lot more in this other piece of paper. If it’s at the core of how the Government’s going to run, it’s in the public interest.”

Following coalition negotiations,  and Peters’s subsequent  announcement on 19 October that NZ First would coalesce with Labour and the Greens, Radio NZ’s Susie Ferguson spoke with National’s Bill English on Morning Report.

On at least two occassions, Ms Ferguson asked Bill English if he would be releasing the text of coalitions negotiations with NZ First. English first replied;

@1:57

“Well again, I’m not going to be discussing that. It was part of the negotiations and New Zealand First actually required, rightly, confidentiality about those negotiations.”

When pressed, English was adamant that there would be no public disclosure;

@2:28

“I’m honour bound to stick with the confidentiality agreement. As are the other parties.”

Note English’s reference to “the other parties“.

That would be Labour. No one else was in the room with Peters and NZ First. So when it suited English, he was more than willing to point to “the other parties” to validate his refusal to release National’s own coalition discussion papers.

A month later, on 28 November, TVNZ’s talented Jack Tame interviewed Bill English on Breakfast TV. After English repeated his demands that Labour publish all coalition documents, Tame pointed out  the apparent hypocrisy of demanding Labour make public their coalition papers whilst English refused to disclose National’s;

@1:13

TAME: “So are you prepared to release what your coalition negotiations with NZ First if the government does the same?”

ENGLISH: “Well, look, I don’t know if it’s a record of negotiations. We conducted ours under a confidentiality agreement. That was very clear right at the start.

So according to English, National operated under a “confidentiality agreement“.  He failed to explain how that differed from Labour’s confidentiality agreement with NZ First. As English insisted on 19 October, Labour was “honour bound to stick with the[ir] confidentiality agreement.”

Tame put the story on Twitter;

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Kudos to Jack Tame for being the only journalist (to my knowledge) to recognise and point out English’s double standard on this issue.

English’s refusal to come clean with the New Zealand public whilst demanding “transparency and openess” from Labour is a stark reminder of National’s toxic track record of paranoia, secrecy, and do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do arrogance. Every time English or one of his National Party parliamentary colleagues opens their mouths, we are reminded of their own hypocrisy.

They are political charlatans not to be trusted.

For the first time in our political history, it has become the role of the Government to hold the Opposition to account.

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And now…

Introducing the first (but not the last!) Paula Bennett Award for Hypocrisy. Named for the National party politician who used the Training Incentive Allowance to gain a free, tax-payer funded university education when she was a young mother on the domestic purposes benefit. Later, in 2009, as Minister for Social Welfare, one of her first actions was to  scrap that Allowance, thereby denying other solo-parents the same opportunity for advancing their lives.

The first Award goes to Bill English, for saying one thing and doing another. Congratulations, Mr English!

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Acknowledgement

My thanks to a Radio NZ producer for locating specific audio that provided much-needed information for the completion of this story. I am indebted for the significant time and effort it took to assist me on this project.

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References

TVNZ News:  ‘It’s in the public interest’ – Bill English calls for release of coalition document

Radio NZ:  New govt has ‘no follow through’ – National

NZ Herald: John Key, mass surveillance and what really happened when Edward Snowden accused him of spying

Radio NZ:  Spy agencies come under scrutiny

Fairfax media: Killed girl’s parents demand NZ Government inquiry

Radio NZ:  Transport Minister tries to block official information request

Radio NZ:  Ombudsman urges ministers to follow OIA rules

NZ Herald:  NZ slips out of top 10 for freedom in the media

Fairfax media:  Press freedoms stifled by cynical use of Official Information Act – Report

Fairfax media: Labour finally retakes power after Winston Peters gives Jacinda Ardern his support

Radio NZ: Bill English faces first caucus since defeat (alt. link)

Twitter: Jame Tame – 28 November

NZ Herald: Bennett rejects ‘hypocrite’ claims

Additional

NZ Herald: OIA tension raises questions over minister’s request for information

Other Blogs

The Standard:  Key and Mass Surveillance – Was this the reason for the Golriz distraction?

TDB:  Now we know Key lied about mass surveillance – let’s remind everyone what our msm said at the time

Previous related blogposts

Once upon a time there was a solo-mum

“Fool me once”

Judith Collins owes an explanation to voters

National whines about Cullen’s appointment – they should know about cronyism

National’s $11.7 billion hole is right where they left it

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 3 December 2017.

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Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett revealed

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70 percent pure NZ

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TVNZ’s Q+A on Sunday 24 April featured an interview with Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett. Her responses were further evidence that  National was  increasingly  unable (or unwilling) to cope with the growing threat of climate change.

Posing a series of surprisingly incisive questions and follow-ups, the ever-youthful-looking Jack Tame held Minister Bennett to account in a way that few other interviewers have done;

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paula bennett - climate change - Q+A - 24 april 2016

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Up untill now, Jack Tame’s presence in the US focused mainly on the theatrics of the  Hollywood entertainment industry or the equally-theatric Presidential primaries. They were for the most part light, breezy stories – even with the increasingly bizarre and somewhat menacing nature of the rise and rise of  Lex Luthor Donald Trump, as the potential Republican candidate.

However, on this occassion,   Tame’s Q+A interview was a masterful deconstruction of Minister Bennett’s waffle, revealing  how woefully unprepared for Tame’s skillful probing she really was.

As the thirteen minute segment progressed, it rapidly became apparent that, aside from platitudes and rhetoric,  Bennett had no real answers or  any actual, meaningful commitment to addressing New Zealand’s increasing emissions of  greenhouse-gas pollution of our atmosphere. It was as it she were still Social Welfare Minister, patiently explaining how National would be “helping” solo-mums with contraception, all the while sounding like an overly-concerned, benevolent, tough-loving  nana.

In fact, not since 2 May 2015 – when Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga was interviewed and demolished by seasoned interviewer, Lisa Owen, on TV3’s The Nation – has a government minister had their ineptitude so publicly paraded for the entire country to witness (if they so decided to tune in on a Sunday morning, at 9am.

Unfortunately, we should not be surprised that National is luke-warm on the looming crisis of climate change. Despite making very clear promises, National has broken one of it’s prime committments to the Emissions Trading Scheme – to eventually  include agriculture.

The time-line to this act of duplicity clearly illustrates National’s early promises and then reneging;

13 May 2007

In a speech by  then Opposition-leader, John Key;

In particular I’m going to speak about the biggest environmental challenge of our time: global climate change.

The National Party will ensure that New Zealand acts decisively to confront this challenge.

The scientific consensus is clear: human-induced climate change is real and it’s threatening the planet. There are some armchair sceptics out there, but I’m not one of them…

… National is committed to growing our economy. Confronting climate change will be a vital part of the policy mix for fuelling that growth…

… In the decades ahead, peoples’ perceptions around climate change will affect the brand image of New Zealand and its exports. New Zealand must take credible steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or risk becoming a trading pariah…

… National will have policies that reflect the fact that living on a diet of carbon will be increasingly bad – bad for the world and bad for our economy. We will have policy that encourages ‘climate friendly’ choices like windmills, hydro power and tree planting, and reduces the desire for ‘climate unfriendly’ behaviours, like burning coal…

… National will bring all Kiwis – industry, energy producers, farmers, mums and dads – closer to a shared and well-understood goal. We need to be united in our pursuit of a ’50 by 50′ target.

8 April 2010

Prime Minister John Key rejects demands  to amend the  Emissions Trading Scheme before it takes effect on the energy and transport sectors in July despite calls from business groups, farmers, and ACT.

Key tells reporters at the launch of the Global Research Alliance’s inaugural meeting on agricultural greenhouse gas emissions,

I’d say it’s unlikely it would be amended.”

6 June 2010

Climate Change Minister Nick Smith announces that whether or not agriculture comes into the emissions trading scheme  in 2015  will depend on technological advances and what other countries do.

9 November 2011

Environment Minister Nick Smith announces,

… It is not in New Zealand’s interests to include agricultural emissions in the ETS yet.“

2 July 2012

Then-Climate Change Minister, Tim Groser,  announces four amendments to the Emissions Trading Scheme;

  • Keeping the ‘one-for-two’ obligation in place until after this year. This means participants in the scheme will continue to surrender units for half the carbon they emit;
  • Maintaining the $25 ‘fixed-price option’ until at least 2015, which caps the price firms will face if carbon prices begin to rise internationally;
  • Introducing off-setting for pre-1990 forest land owners, and allocating the full second tranche of compensation where off-setting is not taken; and
  • Leaving agricultural emissions out of the ETS until at least 2015.

20 August 2012

National introduces  “Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2012”, which will remove agricultural emissions indefinitely, and will,

remove a specified entry date for surrender obligations on biological emissions from agriculture”.

National’s repudiation of it’s 2007 committment to include agriculture was complete. Despite a clear promise by our esteemed Dear Leader, agriculture was permanently omitted from the ETS.

As I pointed out in October 2012;

During National’s four years in office, they have broken several promises and the weakening of the ETS is simply one more on the list. It also further highlights  John Key’s ability to say one thing – whilst knowing full well that he has no intention of fulfilling committments, or will do completely the opposite.

An editorial in the Dominion Post, on 20 April, was no less scathing in it’s condemnation of National’s inertia;

The Government’s climate change policy has been a failure and will have to be rebuilt. There needs to be a fundamental change in the Emissions Trading Scheme, the subject this week of a damning report by the Gareth Morgan Foundation.  But other changes are also needed.

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Bennett concedes, however, that the ETS was “not perfect”, and is now being reviewed. In fact the ETS has been a fiasco. What’s more, it continues to cast its dirty shadow. 

The Government has banned the purchase of  foreign credits, but it could still use the bad credits to meet its climate change targets up to 2020.

It must not do so. Instead, it needs to revamp the whole scheme, starting by ending the subsidies it gives to polluters such as the oil industry. The “one for two” scheme introduced in 2009 allows businesses to pay only half the cost of their greenhouse gas emissions.

It also needs to reverse its decision to keep agriculture, which produces half the country’s emissions, out of the ETS. National argues that making farming pay for its pollution would be unfair because there is no workable way yet of reducing animal emissions and our export industry should not be penalised. 

Farmers, however, are not exempt from the country’s global environmental duties, and will also respond to economic signals – even if this is a pledge to bring agriculture into the scheme within, say, five years

Jack Tame’s superb interview on 24 April merely confirms pathetic National’s track record on this issue and it now appears that  Minister Bennett will simply follow in the footsteps of her do-nothing-predecessors, Ministers Smith, Groser, et al.

Bennett certainly has no intention of adopting any of the bold, radical – but much-needed – policies as advocated by Professor Jim Skea, co-chairperson of the IPCC Working Group III, and interviewed by Radio NZ’s Kathryn Ryan on 27 April;

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How do we wean ourselves off fossil fuel - Radio NZ - Kathryn Ryan - Prof Jim Skea - IPCC

(alt. link)

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Listen to the two interviews and judge for yourself which person is seriously committed to combating climate change – and which person is a politician who has plenty of empty platitudes to offer, but little else.

In her previous role as Social Welfare Minister, Paula Bennett had much to say about welfare-fraud.

Her empty words on  addressing climate change is a fraud on a much grander, and ultimately vastly more destructive,  scale.

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Postscript1: Memo to TVNZ

Jame Tame’s interview with Minister Bennett reveals a young man with considerable journalistic skills. He should be given every opportunity to make full use of his under-utilised talents.

TVNZ (and TV3) should maximise the talents of their journalistic and production staff by shifting Q+A and The Nation to prime time viewing slots during the early evening.

Why hide excellence early on weekend mornings, where it is not easily appreciated and valued by the general public?

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Postscript2: Memo to Paula Bennett

Ms Bennett, your performance on 24 April was a dismal failure. You are either unwilling to seriously confront the challenges of climate change or, apparently, you are in way over your head on this issue.

Either way, you should resign your Climate Change portfolio. This job is too important to be left to your glib inanities.

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References

TVNZ: Q+A – Climate Change Paris Agreement signed

NZ Herald: NZ’s greenhouse gas emissions soar

Fairfax media: Beneficiary contraception plan ‘intrusive’

Scoop media: John Key Speech – Climate Change Target

NZ Herald: ETS changes ‘unlikely’ despite pleas

NBR: ETS may exclude agriculture – Climate Change Minister

Interest.co.nz: National would phase in ETS obligations for transport, electricity, industrial sectors; Will review Agriculture in 2014

Beehive.co.nz: Government announces ETS amendments

Parliament: Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2012

Dominion Post: Editorial – Big changes are needed in the Government’s climate change plan

Radio NZ: How do we wean ourselves off fossil fuel ? (alt. link) (audio)

Previous related blogposts

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment y/e 2012 – environment

John Key – more pledges, more broken promises?

As predicted: National abandons climate-change responsibilities

National ditches environmental policies

ETS – National continues to fart around

Dear Leader – fibbing again?!

National – what else can possibly go wrong?!

National’s moving goalposts on climate change targets

“The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 April 2016.

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