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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…

[…]

… 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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Hekia Parata breaks law – ignores Official Information Act – claims emails “not found” – and it gets worse!

30 January 2016 2 comments

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As first revealed on 1 December (Hekia Parata breaks law – ignores Official Information Act), Minister Hekia Parata’s office has apparently deliberately broken the law by ignoring requests for information lodged under the Official Information Act.

Intro

The story begins several months ago when this blogger wrote to the Minister’s office on  27 October last year,  requesting answers to the following questions regarding National’s Food in Schools programme;

1. How much has been spent on the programme since 28 May 2013?

2. Is the funding still set at $9.5 million, over a 5 year period from 2013 to 2018?

3. How many schools are part of the programme?

4. It was initially available in decile 1 to decile 4 schools. Higher decile schools would be able to opt in from 2014. How many other, higher decile schools have opted into the programme?

5. Are there any figures as to how many children are participating in the programme? If so, what is that data?

6. Is there a time limit as to the length of time a school can participate in the programme?

7. Have any schools been declined participation in the programme? How many? For what reason?

8. Are Sanitarium and dairy cooperative Fonterra still participating in the programme? Have any other companies joined in?

9. Does the KickStart programme in any way affect a schools allocated budget?

10. Have any Charter Schools requested to join the programme? If so, how does this affect their funding?

By 12 November, after no response nor even an acknowledgement, this blogger wrote again to Minister Parata;

On 27 October, I lodged this OIA request with your office. I have recieved no reply or even an acknowledgement.

Please advice whether or not you intend to respond to my OIA request. If not, I will proceed by laying a complaint with the Ombudsman’s Office.

As at 29 November, no response had been forthcoming from the Minister’s office, and a complaint was laid with the Ombudsman’s Office. As this blogger pointer out in the complaint;

I do not believe it is satisfactory that a Minister of the Crown wilfully ignores the law and fails to follow her obligations under the Official Information Act.

Up-date

On 10 December, a response was received from the Ombudsman’s office stating;

“We have made enquiries with the Minister’s Office about this matter and it appears that they did not receive your request. They have conducted an extensive internal search and have been unable to locate your emails of 27 October or 12 November.”

The Ombudsman’s letter went on to that that “the Minister’s Office advised that the information you are seeking is likely to be held by the Minister for Social Development” and suggested that I “may wish to put [my] request to the Minister for Social Development, Hon Anne Tolley, directly by emailing: a.tolley@ministers.govt.nz“.

I wrote back the following day to the Ombudsman, providing specific information of the email addresses used to lodged my OIA request with Parata’s office;

“I am in receipt of your letter dated 10 December where you state that the Education Minister’s office claims “that they did not receive [my] request”. (Emails dated 27 October and 12 November)

I am cutting and pasting the header of both emails into this email;

from:Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:Hekia Parata <hekia.parata@parliament.govt.nz>
date:Tue, Oct 27, 2015 at 12:57 AM
subject:KickStart breakfast in schools
mailed-by:gmail.com

from:Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:Hekia Parata <hekia.parata@parliament.govt.nz>
date:Thu, Nov 12, 2015 at 10:45 PM
subject:Fwd: KickStart breakfast in schools
mailed-by:gmail.com”

I pointed out;

“If the Minister’s email address is incorrect, my emails did not “bounce” back to me.”

I invited the Ombudsman’s office “to test the email address – (hekia.parata@parliament.govt.nz)  to ascertain it’s validity”.

The response from the Ombudsman’s Office, on 15 December, was less than inspiring;

“I note you emailed your original request for information to the following address: hekia.parata@parliament.govt.nz. The Minister of Education’s Office has confirmed that this email address is correct. However, as Mr Ilott explained in his letter of 10 December 2015, the Minister’s Office conducted an extensive internal search but was unable to locate your emails.

This Office has no reason to doubt either party’s account of what has happened. In situations like this where a dispute of facts exist, it is generally not the function of an Ombudsman to determine which version of events is the one that should be preferred.”

The Ombudsman’s response does not reassure this blogger that his Office is capable of holding Ministers to account to uphold the letter and spirit of the Official Information Act.

Specifically;

(A) “Losing” one email sent to a legitimate, active, email address is possible. An accidental deletion is not outside the realms of possibility.

But “losing” two emails seems unlikely and does not withstand the credibility “sniff” test.

(B) The Ombudsman stated that Minister Parata’s Office “conducted an extensive internal search and have been unable to locate your emails of 27 October or 12 November“.

How has the Ombudsman  arrived at the conclusion that Minister Parata’s Office “conducted an extensive internal search“?

It almost seems as if the Ombudsman has become an (unwitting?) apologist for Parata obvious willful refusal to answer a legitimate OIA request.

(C) Having established  Minister Parata “alibi” that they could not “locate” my emails,  why was her Office not advised to write to me directly to request copies of my emails?

In what manner is it the responsibility of the Ombudsman to act as a “go between” between a Minister and a Citizen to advise me to write to Minister Tolley’s Office?

Is Minister Parata refusing point-blank to deal with me solely because of past criticisms of her actions? (See ‘Previous related blogposts’ below)

The Ombudsman’s Report bears out this suspicion when she refers to “different and more risk averse treatment of requests by the media and interest groups” (p142).

(D)  In stating that “This Office has no reason to doubt either party’s account of what has happened. In situations like this where a dispute of facts exist, it is generally not the function of an Ombudsman to determine which version of events is the one that should be preferred” – it beggars belief  that the Ombudman’s Office appears to be abdicating any responsibility to hold a Minister of the Crown to account for what appears to be a breach of the Official Information Act.

If the Ombudsman’s role does not include “the function of an Ombudsman to determine which version of events is the one that should be preferred” – then what is the raison d’être for that Office?

This situation is simply not acceptable. The Minister’s Office has broken the law; offered an implausible excuse; and has drawn the Ombudsman into their sphere of chicanery. The Ombudsman appears to have naively permitted itself to be used as a puppet in this instance.

According to a 2013 dossier compiled by Labour, Parata’s record to responding to OIA requests is poor;

“Along with uncertainty whether the log is 100% accurate, it is also evident that she regularly responds to requests late with only just over half the total number of responses sent within the 20 day statutory period. “

Status of OIA Request

Following on from the suggestion from the Ombudsman’s office (10 December), I duly wrote to Minister Tolley the following day and put the same ten questions to her that I initially sent to Minister Parata.

That letter was acknowledged the same day (11 December) at 9.50AM.

At 11.36AM (11 December) I received a subsequent email from Minister Tolley’s office stating that my OIA “request has been transferred to Brendan Boyle, Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development in line with section 14 (b)(ii) of the Act“.

Since then – nothing.

A month and a half  passed. On 21 January I wrote back to Minister Tolley’s office, who subsequently contacted the Ministry of Social Development. The following day, I recieved this unsigned, anonymous response from the Ministry;

With regard to your Official information Act request, it was transferred to the Ministry of Social Development on 11 December 2015. While it has not been our standard practice to acknowledge transferred requests (as the transfer letter is effectively an acknowledgement), we realise it would have been helpful if we had brought to your attention at the time the fact that the days between 24 December 2015 and 15 Janaury 2016 do not count as ‘working days’ as defined in section 2 of the Official Information Act 1982 (http://www.ombudsman.parliament.nz). Due to this holiday period, your response is due on 1 February 2016. We apologise for not informing you of this at the time that your request was transferred to us.

Somewhat bizarrely, when the anonymous author from MSD stated that “the days between 24 December 2015 and 15 Janaury [sic] 2016 do not count as ‘working days’ as defined in section 2 of the Official Information Act 1982 “, s/he then posted a link – not to the OIA legislation referred to – but to the Ombudsman’s Office.

When this blogger checked  “Section” 2 (actually, Part 2) of the Official Information Act 1982,  no reference was found to “the days between 24 December 2015 and 15 Janaury [sic] 2016 do not count as ‘working days’ as defined in section 2 of the Official Information Act 1982 “.

The Act simply refers to twenty working days, which, from December 14 (the next working-day following my OIA lodgement) extends to 13 January.

Accordingly, I wrote back to the Ministry (22 January);

I am in receipt of your email to me, dated 22 January 2016, whereby you claim that “the days between 24 December 2015 and 15 Janaury 2016 do not count as ‘working days’ as defined in section 2 of the Official Information Act 1982”.

I have checked Part 2 of the Act and can find no reference to “the days between 24 December 2015 and 15 Janaury 2016”. Please feel free to enlighten me as to where that proviso exists within the legislation.

By my calculation, twenty working days extends from 14 December to 13 January 2016, inclusive.

If you do not intend to abide by the statute, please advise me and I will lay a complaint with the Ombudsman’s office.

I will keep readers of this blog appraised of this on-going situation.

The shenanigans being played out by Ministers, ministeries, and sundry government departments and other state bodies makes a joke out of the Official Information Act.

National obviously has little regard for the law when it is inconvenienced. Which is ironic, considering right-wing political parties portray themselves as champions of Law and Order.

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National hoarding staying strong on crime

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John Key admits to his government flouting the law

Whether by an unintended slip, or by some machiavellian plan, on 16 October 2014, our esteemed Dear Leader admitted that his government abused the Official Information Act for purely political self-interest;

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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."

“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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This disturbingly candid admission of the contempt held by National to the Act provoked condemnation from the Ombudsman, who a day later on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘, called it “cavalier and a disregard for the law“.

Even National’s allies within the  right-wing blogosphere at  Your NZ, Whaleoil, and  Kiwiblog were taken aback by Key’s dismissive hubris toward the Act.

Wakem said she would be ” having words with a few people, I suspect” – including Key.

Previous Criticisms of the Ombudsman

On 8 December 2015, the Ombudsman – Dame Beverley Wakem –  released a reporton an investigation into  the practices adopted by central government agencies for the  purpose of compliance with the  Official Information Act 1982“.

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eight_col_oiacomp

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In the Report’s conclusion, the Ombudsman stated;

“I commenced this investigation because of what I perceived to be growing concern
and criticism that government agencies were not complying with the requirements
of the OIA, nor acting in accordance with its principle and purposes when making
decisions about the accessibility of official information they held. Following a
comprehensive examination of how agencies have organised and resourced
themselves and currently operate in practice, I am satisfied that the OIA itself is
fundamentally sound, but it is not always working in practice.

On the positive side of the ledger, agencies are compliant with the OIA most of the
time and most government officials working within these agencies have a genuine
desire to ensure that they are compliant.” – p140

However, the report’s Conclusions also drew attention to Ministerial interference in responding to OIA requests;

“Where I have found that agencies are vulnerable to non-compliance with the OIA,
I have not found evidence of deliberate obstruction but rather the unintended
consequences of various attempts to:

[…]

try to meet the expectations of two masters ie, the public under the OIA and
the Minister under the ‘no surprises’ principle;

[…]

well-meaning practices that invite opportunities for ministerial/political
advisors to influence more than they ought to and sometimes on matters
where they have no legitimate place” – p141/142

The Ombudsman’s Conclusions then veered off onto a tanjeant shifting fault to the public, bloggers, and media. A  subsequent Dominion Post editorial was scathing;

What a shame, then, that retiring Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem is leaving office amid a cloud of justified controversy. Her recent remarks make her look less like a champion of freedom than a friend of the powerful.

It is truly extraordinary to hear her scolding journalists as “rottweilers on heat” and warning them not to annoy “innately conservative” officials who might then become “gun-shy”. These statements are what you would expect from a bad-tempered bureaucrat, not an ombudsman. 

It is not for the Chief Obudsman to tell anyone to be polite and humble when asking for information. It is most certainly not for her to suggest that officials can obstruct information – because that is all that being “gun-shy” can mean here – when they are irritated.

The Official Information Act requires the government to provide information unless there is good reason not to. The reasons for refusal are laid out in statute. The law must determine when the gate is open and when it is shut, not the manners of the applicant or the mood of the gatekeeper.

If Wakem had made these statements when first appointed, they would be good grounds for seeking her resignation. They show a fundamental misunderstanding of her role and an establishment mentality.

The Ombudsman also complained of a lack of public and media submissions to her Inquiry;

“I note that the public were less forthcoming in responding to the surveys, and I was
unable to determine precisely why that was. It could be interpreted many ways –
from a loss of confidence in the OIA and the work of my Office, to a demonstration
that a significant proportion of the public believed with so much official information
now being made available on a regular basis, the OIA was working for them…” – p143

Which is an astounding suggestion to make, considering that  for the 2013/14 financial year,  the number of complaints to the Ombudsman was the third-highest ever. The Ombudsman could easily have based it’s report – even partially – using information gleaned from complaints of  non-compliance and tardiness from Ministers and Ministries.

This blogger suggests that the a lack of public submissions could well be attributed to a perception that the Ombudsman’s office is powerless in the face of a government that has been unrelentingly secretive and autocratic.

Indeed, recall that in their 10 December statement to me, the  Ombudsman’s office suggested;

 “…the Minister’s Office advised that the information you are seeking is likely to be held by the Minister for Social Development. Accordingly you may wish to put your request to the Minister for Social Development, Hon Anne Tolley, directly by emailing: a.tolley@ministers.govt.nz”.

It is simply not the role of the Ombudsman’s Office to be adopting a “helpful” position for a government minister.

Otherwise, the perception – whether rightly or wrongly – is that the Office of the Ombudsman has been captured by ministers and agencies of this government.

As NZ Herald reporter, David Fisher, said on 15 October 2014;

“In the 25 years I have worked as a journalist, there have never been so many questions, or such a loss of faith, all at once.”

Dark Clouds Looming

Up to now, the two weapons-of-choice employed by National Ministers and our Esteemed Dear Leader has been Delay and Defer. For many journalists and bloggers, waiting  long periods for a response is not uncommon. By then, news stories have become ‘stale’ and public interest has moved on.

Recently, a new  weapon in government and bureaucratic armoury has been unveiled; charging for OIA requests.

On 18 January, the Dominion Post published an editorial describing how the Reserve Bank had begun to demand compensation for information;

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Editorial A tax on official information is a tax on democracy itself

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The editorial said, in part;

The Reserve Bank has started a very bad trend by deciding to charge for most Official Information Act responses. The bank says it made this decision last October, but the world only learned of it last week, when the bank invoiced a Fairfax reporter. This is not the right way to make or reveal such a momentous decision.

The bank’s move is in important ways an undemocratic act. The Act makes information available as of right to the country’s citizens; it reverses the previous legal assumption that the government’s information is secret. Information is power, and the act provides power to all.

Charging for researching and providing that information puts a barrier in the way and is an obstacle to the exercise of what is now a vital democratic right. No doubt the bank will point out that the act allows for some charging for costs. But the bank’s policy will institutionalise what has until now been a patchy thing.

This means that ordinary citizens could now face a hefty fee for information. The invoice sent to Fairfax business reporter Richard Meadows was for an estimated $651. A fee of that size would be a serious obstacle for an individual. If OIA requests routinely cost this much it would also be a problem even for large media outlets.

In the Ombudsman’s 2015 report,  “Not A Game Of Hide And Seek“, Wakem quoted an earlier  Law Commission Report from 2012, which stated;

“…access to official information is an important tool for opposition parties to be
able to scrutinise government policy, and that parliamentary research units should
not usually be charged for reasonable requests. However, there is no reason why
unreasonable political requests should be completely exempt. Voluminous and
unrefined requests from parliamentary research units can cause a great deal of
expenditure of resources. The charging mechanism should be available to agencies
as a defence mechanism in appropriate cases, regardless of the source of the request.
The public interest waiver should provide the flexibility for appropriate charging of
MPs and incentivise these requesters to ensure that requests have a sufficient public
interest basis in order to qualify for a waiver of charges.” – p96

Wakem agreed, saying;

“I agree with this approach and believe it should apply to all types of requesters.
The OIA does not provide for an outright exemption based on the identity of a requester
or their role in its charging provisions. Nor did I find many members of the media
who believed they ought to be exempt from charging, although some worked for
organisations that had a policy not to accept any charge for the provision of official
information. “

The Law Commission and Ombudsman’s Office ignore the cold hard political reality that politicians and and their bureaucratic minions will not recognise “niceties” of what constitutes “a sufficient public interest basis”.

To be be blunt; if politicians can get away with it – expect them to do it.

The Reserve Bank’s policy of charging for OIA requests is a thin-end of a wedge. It is a test to see if they can get away with it. Other government agencies, Ministries, and Minister’s will follow with predictable succession.

Only expensive legal action could over-turn a charging policy – and few individuals and organisations have pockets deep enough to take on the State.

In a pathetic defense of his organisation, Reserve Bank deputy governor, Geoff Bascand, said;

The Reserve Bank has established a policy on when it will charge for responses to Official Information Act (OIA) requests that has drawn the ire of some critics.

Far from it being an obstacle in the path of freedom that The Dominion Post editorial claimed (January 18), the policy is a common, fair and reasonable response to a marked growth of OIA requests.

I’d like to explain our rationale, and what the policy means for requesters – most of whom will likely not be charged.

Our approach is consistent with the Official Information Act and meets the bank’s commitment to transparency.

Garbage. This is a naked attempt by the RBNZ to stifle transparency, not promote it. Any assertion to the contrary is a ridiculous attempt at ‘spin’ from a not-very-clever spin-doctor working for the Bank.

The irony is that the RBNZ is attempting to charge for information that rightly belongs to us, the tax-payer. That information was gathered  using taxpayer-funded resources and by taxpayer-funded public servants.

It is not private information – it belongs to us, the taxpayer.

Politicians, bureaucrats,  the Ombudsman’s Office, and Mr Bascand, would do well to reflect on this salient fact.

Conclusion

This blogger will vigorously pursue the OIA lodgedment with  Minister Parata; who passed it on to Minister Tolley; who passed it on to the Ministry for Social Development, requesting answers to the following questions regarding National’s Food in Schools programme;

1. How much has been spent on the programme since 28 May 2013?

2. Is the funding still set at $9.5 million, over a 5 year period from 2013 to 2018?

3. How many schools are part of the programme?

4. It was initially available in decile 1 to decile 4 schools. Higher decile schools would be able to opt in from 2014. How many other, higher decile schools have opted into the programme?

5. Are there any figures as to how many children are participating in the programme? If so, what is that data?

6. Is there a time limit as to the length of time a school can participate in the programme?

7. Have any schools been declined participation in the programme? How many? For what reason?

8. Are Sanitarium and dairy cooperative Fonterra still participating in the programme? Have any other companies joined in?

9. Does the KickStart programme in any way affect a schools allocated budget?

10. Have any Charter Schools requested to join the programme? If so, how does this affect their funding?

More than ever, I am curious what the answer(s) will be.

And I do not intend paying a cent for it.

From Radio NZ’s Mediawatch

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Information watchdog’s probe into political meddling - Radio NZ - mediawatch(Alt.link)

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“Information is the currency of democracy and my Office will play its part in ensuring the OIA is not devalued.”

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References

Red Alert: The right to know – Hekia Parata

Parliament: Official Information Act 1982

Radio NZ: PM admits Govt uses delaying tactics

TV3 The Nation: Transcript – Beverley Wakem

YourNZ: Disgraceful Key admission on OIA delays

Whaleoil: Key and PM Office told to stop farting around with OIA requests

Kiwiblog: Chief Ombudsman to review OIA compliance

Ombudsman:  OIA Report Not A Game Of Hide And Seek

Dominion Post: Editorial – Chief Ombudsman shows how not to be an information watchdog

Radio NZ: PM’s admission concerns Ombudsman

NZ Herald: David Fisher – OIA a bizarre arms race

Dominion Post: Editorial – A tax on official information is a tax on democracy itself

Dominion Post: Reserve Bank – Charging for official information a ‘reasonable’ response

Additional

Radio NZ: The watchdog and the rottweilers

Radio NZ: Mediawatch – Information watchdog’s probe into political meddling (alt. link)

Other bloggers

The Jackal: Back to school for Hekia Parata

The Jackal: various

The Daily Blog: Hekia speaks with forked tongue

No Right Turn: An attack on our democracy

Previous related blogposts

Parata, Bennett, and Collins – what have they been up to?

Karma for Key?

Hekia Parata breaks law – ignores Official Information Act

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hekia-parata b

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 25 January 2016.

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Hekia Parata breaks law – ignores Official Information Act

7 December 2015 2 comments

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official-information-act-OIA-NZ

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A formal complaint has been laid with the Ombudsman’s Office after Education Minister, Hekia Parata, failed to comply with the Official Information Act.

A OIA request was lodged with the Minister’s Office by this blogger, seeking details of National’s Food In Schools programme, which was announced in May 2013. The limited programme, costed at $9.5 million, offered low decile 1-4 schools free milk and Weet-Bix throughout the school week. It would be run in conjunction with Fonterra, Sanitarium and children’s charity KidsCan.

The $9.5 million would be spread over a five year period, from 2013 to 2018.

More critically for National, the expanded “Kick Start” breakfast programme was promoted to directly counter Hone Harawira’s more comprehensive Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill which at the time was rapidly gaining traction throughout the country.

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food in schools

 

Acknowledgement: Radio NZ

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Mana Party leader and then-MP for Te Tai Tokerau, Hone Harawira, said on 24 January, 2013;

It’s a pretty simple bill really. Invest in making sure the 80,000 kids going to school hungry each week are fed and ready to learn and realise the benefits in better educated and healthier school leavers down the track”.

In Parliament, Harawira was clear on the benefits of his Food in Schools Bill;

It is nice to know that KidsCan feeds some 10,000 of them on most days, and that the KickStart Breakfast programme feeds about 12,000 a day, but the reality is that even with the Government’s announcement in last year’s Budget, nearly 80,000 children are still going to school hungry in Aotearoa every single day. Yes, schools around the country have started their own breakfast clubs with support from teachers, students, parents, local businesses, and the wider community, but they tell us that it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of goodwill to keep them going, and that having secure funding would be a godsend.

The really embarrassing thing is that nearly every country in the OECD, apart from us, already runs programmes to feed kids at school. Some countries like Finland and Sweden provide fully State-funded meals to every school student as part of a wider framework of child well-being. It is a commitment that sees them regularly top the international surveys in child health and educational achievement. Some countries provide free meals to kids with parents on low incomes, and others provide free meals to schools in areas of high deprivation. But although the approaches differ, they all share the same view, backed up by the same kind of research and information from teachers, doctors, nurses, and policy analysts that is available to us here: kids need a good feed every day if they are to develop into healthy and well-educated adults. New Zealand really needs to join the rest of the enlightened world and make a commitment to feeding our kids, starting with those in greatest need, to help them to grow well and learn well.

Harawira’s Bill was supported by a range of diverse groups and individuals ranging from Jamie Oliver’s Food Foundation, the NZ Educational Institute, as well as Child Poverty Action Group, Every Child Counts, Unicef NZ, Save the Children, IHC, Poverty Action Waikato, the Methodist and Anglican Churches (Methodist Public Issues and Anglican Action), Te Rōpū Wāhine Māori Toko i te Ora (Māori Women’s Welfare League), PPTA, NZ Principals’ Federation, CTU Rūnanga, the NZ Nurses’ Organisation, and Te Ora – the Māori Medical Practitioners’ Association.

Harawira’s Bill was estimated to cost upwards of $100 million.

This contrasts with the  Children Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, which reported in December 2012 that the total economic costs of child poverty ranged up to $8 billion;

Currently, the economic costs of child poverty are in the range of $6-8 billion per year
and considerable sums of public money are spent annually on remedial interventions. Failure
to alleviate child poverty now will damage the nation’s long-term prosperity. It will also
undermine the achievement of other important policy priorities, such as reducing child abuse,
lifting educational attainment and improving skill levels.

In July 2013, Herald journalist, Kate Shuttleworth, reported;

In December 2012 the Expert Advisory Group on solutions to Child Poverty – a group comprising policy, public health and law experts – recommended that a food programme starting with decile 1-to-4 primary and intermediate schools, be implemented as one of their six initial priorities for immediate release.

[…]

Figures show 270,000 children in New Zealand – one in four – live in poverty.

Dennis McKinlay, Chairman of ‘Every Child Counts‘,  stated that 169 countries had a food in schools programme.

Shockingly, the Bill was eventually defeated in a Parliamentary vote of 61 votes to 59, with ACT and Peter Dunne also voting against it. The New Zealand government spends billions on school infra-structure, but not to feed hungry school-children from poverty-stricken families.

On 27 October, this blogger lodged a OIA request with Education minister, Hekia Parata. The request sought answers to the following;

1. How much has been spent on the programme since 28 May 2013?

2. Is the funding still set at $9.5 million, over a 5 year period from 2013 to 2018?

3. How many schools are part of the programme?

4. It was initially available in decile 1 to decile 4 schools. Higher decile schools would be able to opt in from 2014. How many other, higher decile schools have opted into the programme?

5. Are there any figures as to how many children are participating in the programme? If so, what is that data?

6. Is there a time limit as to the length of time a school can participate in the programme?

7. Have any schools been declined participation in the programme? How many? For what reason?

8. Are Sanitarium and dairy cooperative Fonterra still participating in the programme? Have any other companies joined in?

9. Does the KickStart programme in any way affect a schools allocated budget?

10. Have any Charter Schools requested to join the programme? If so, how does this affect their funding?

By 12 November, after no response or even an acknowledgement, this blogger wrote again to Minister Parata;

On 27 October, I lodged this OIA request with your office. I have recieved no reply or even an acknowledgement.

Please advice whether or not you intend to respond to my OIA request. If not, I will proceed by laying a complaint with the Ombudsman’s Office.

As at 29 November, no response had been forthcoming from the Minister’s office, and a complaint was laid with the Ombudsman’s Office. As this blogger pointer out in the complaint;

I do not believe it is satisfactory that a Minister of the Crown wilfully ignores the law and fails to follow her obligations under the Official Information Act.

Readers of The Daily Blog will be kept updated as this issue progresses.

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Addendum1

Parata has apparently “gone to ground” on this issue. It is not the first time she failed failed to respond to media enquiries; requests for interviews; or fronted at events for which she has direct responsibility.

From a blogpost published on 18 January 2013;

Muppet #1 – Hekia Parata

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I actually think she’s a very effective communicator; in fact if you look at her history in politics, she’s been one of the smoothest communicators we’ve actually had.” – John Key, 18 January 2013

See: Parata safe in her job – Key

Prime Minister John Key says Education Minister Hekia Parata will be safe in an upcoming Cabinet reshuffle, … because she is hugely talented and one of National’s best communicators.

See: Parata’s job safe in shuffle

*snort!*

I’d be a happy chappy if the Nats DID have more like her in Cabinet!!

If she’s one of the Nat’s “best communicators”, I’d luv to know why she’s kept ducking calls for media interviews and instead sent Lesley Longstone to cover for Parata’s f**k-ups,

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2 October 2012

lesley longstone fronts instead of hekia parata (2)

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3 October 2012

Ministry of Education admits some errors in data

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4 October 2012

Education Minister avoids her critics

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26 October 2012

lesley longstone fronts instead of hekia parata (3)

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29 October 2013

Longstone challenged to find solutions

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14 November 2012

lesley longstone fronts instead of hekia parata (1)

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28 November 2012

lesley longstone Schools still beset by Novopay problems

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When Lesley Longstone’s resignation was announced last year on 19 December, Hekia Parata was still nowhere to be seen. The announcement was handled by State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie (see:  Education secretary quits),

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19 December 2012

lesley longstone Education secretary quits

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20 December 2012

lesley longstone Parata, Key refuse to front over education debacle

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Parata’s office explained why she couldn’t front,

Parata is currently on holiday and has refused to front on Longstone’s resignation, but in a statement released this afternoon she thanked Longstone for her efforts in leading the Ministry.

See: Education Ministry boss quits after ‘strained relationship’

Hmmmm, judging by Parata not fronting for most of last year, was she on holiday for most of 2012?!

“Smooth communicator…”!?

Ye gods, this deserves a Tui billboard.

Roll on 2013 – it’s going to be a great year.

Addendum2

In January 2013, Hekia Parata’s responsibilities surrounding Novopay were transferred to Minister For Everything, Steven Joyce. Joyce was not above publicly denouncing those responsible for the Novopay debacle;

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government-sticking-with-novopay-for-now

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References

Kickstart Breakfast Programme

Radio NZ: Food in schools ‘could get good results’

Feedthekids: Support grows for MANA’s Feed the Kids Bill

Parliament: Harawira, Hone: Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill — First Reading

Feedthekids: Feed the Kids Bill a “good initiative” – Jamie Oliver Food Foundation

NZEI: Food in schools bill will help children learn

NZ Herald: Food in schools bill delayed for second time

Commissioner for Children:  Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty

NZ Herald: Head boy disappointed in Dunne over food bill

ODT: Joyce to take on handling of Novopay

Every Child Counts

Radio NZ: Government sticking with Novopay for now

Previous related blogposts

Parata, Bennett, and Collins – what have they been up to?

Karma for Key?

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The hypocrisy from world leaders overCharlie begins to rattle observers. NZ's John Key's words of January 8 in particular raised many eyebrows amongst the'4th Estate'. Rod Emmerson 14/01/15

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 December 2015.

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The Donghua Liu Affair: Evidence of Collusion between the NZ Herald and Immigration NZ?

25 August 2014 13 comments

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composite header - donghua Liu Affair

1. Prologue

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The Donghua Liu Affair hit  the headlines on 18 June, with allegations that David Cunliffe wrote a letter in 2003,  on  behalf of  business migrant, Donghua Liu.

Four days later, on Sunday 22 June, the Herald ran stories alleging  massive donations to the Labour Party by Liu. Tabloid- style stories of  $100,000 paid for a bottle of wine and $15,000 for a book, along with a $50,000-$60,000 dinner party hosted for then Labour minister, Rick Barker, and a donation to a rowing club, raged for several days.

By Wednesday, on 25 June,  the Herald was forced to retract  Liu’s claims. The “new” story was that Liu’s  “donation” was,

… close to $100,000 and that is my closing comment in my statement…that is how much I believe I have donated in total to Labour and some of their MPs during their last term in Government.”

The so-called Yangtze River boat “dinner for Rick Barker” turned out to be some sort of staff function that Liu had invited the Labour minister to attend.

Only Liu’s donation – of $2,000 – to the Hawkes Bay Rowing Club, was confirmed.  Considering that any “link” between the NZ Labour Party and Hawkes Bay Rowing Club is tenuous at best (Barker’s daughter was a member of the club), the value of this aspect of the Liu Affair is dubious, to put it mildly.

Cunliffe’s 11 April 2003 letter was far from “avocating on Liu’s behalf”. Instead, the eleven year old letter turned out to be a stock-standard inquiry sent to Immigration NZ with the rather banal request ,

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.

Requesting “an estimated period of time period” seems a stretch to describe it as advocating.

Accordingly, this blogger lodged a formal complaint with the Herald’s editor-in-Chief, NZ Press Council; and OIAs lodged with Deputy PM,  Bill English; Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse, and the Office of the Prime Minister.

A letter seeking clarification was also emailed to Herald journalist, Jared Savage, which he has responded to.

The responses thus far, and the next steps taken…

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2. The NZ Herald – formal complaint to the Press Council

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On 28 June, I sent a formal complaint to  Tim Murphy, Editor of the Herald, regarding his paper’s handling of the Donghua Liu story. (See:  The Donghua Liu Affair: responses from NZ Herald and Prime Minister’s Office – Is the PM’s office fudging?)

On 4 July, Mr Murphy responded. I considered his formal response and explanations to be inadequate and in one instance (John Armstrong’s column calling for David Cunliffe’s resignation) no attempt was made to address the issue.

Accordingly, I lodged a formal  complaint to the Press Council  on 5 July.

Two days later, the Press Council referred the complaint to the Herald;

From: Mary Major [mailto:info@presscouncil.org.nz]
Sent: Monday, 7 July 2014 8:27 a.m.
To: Tim Murphy
Cc: Sarah Lawrence
Subject: FW: Online Complaint

Dear Tim and Sarah,

Please see below for a complaint from Frank MacSkasy.  Could we please have
your response within the next 10 working days.

Kind regards,
Mary

On 15 July, the Herald’s editor responded to the Press Council;

From: Sarah Lawrence [mailto:Sarah.Lawrence@nzherald.co.nz]
Sent: Tuesday, 15 July 2014 5:00 p.m.
To: Mary Major
Subject: FW: Press Council complaint – Frank Macskasy

Hello Mary

Please find below a response from Tim Murphy to the Frank Macskasy
complaint.  Also enclosed is the full record of Herald stories for the
Council’s information as mentioned by Tim below (I had to split them into
two parts, hope that’s OK), and also our responses to his initial
complaints.

Thanks so much.

Kind regards

SARAH LAWRENCE
PA to Editor in Chief of Herald Titles
[phones numbers redacted – FM]

—–Original Message—–
From: Tim Murphy
Sent: Thursday, 10 July 2014 10:55 a.m.
To: Sarah Lawrence
Subject: RE: Press Council complaint – Frank Macskasy

Dear Mary
We have corresponded with Fran [sic] Macskasy twice on this issue.  I have
enclosed our two replies, which I believe address his concerns.  The second
reply is to a complaint almost exactly the same as the one below forwarded
to the Press Council.  At this point we believe those responses should stand
as our submission to the Council.  We have included the full record of
Herald stories on the Donghua Liu-Labour donations issue for your reference.
Many thanks

Tim Murphy
Editor-in-chief, New Zealand Herald titles.

A day later, the Press Council contacted me with the Herald’s response;

from: Mary Major <info@presscouncil.org.nz>
to: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
date: Wed, Jul 16, 2014 at 9:51 AM
subject: FW: Press Council complaint – Frank Macskasy

Good morning Frank,

Please see below and attached for the response from the NZ Herald.

You now have the opportunity to make a brief final comment (around 150
words). We would be pleased to receive this comment within the next 10
working days. The complaint will be considered by the Press Council at the
next meeting, which is on August 4, and the decision will be released about
two weeks after that.

Kind regards,
Mary

My final comment (unfortunately, not so brief, because of the complexities of this issue), was made on 19 July;

from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Mary Major <info@presscouncil.org.nz>
date: Sat, Jul 19, 2014 at 3:01 PM
subject: Re: FW: Press Council complaint – Frank Macskasy

Kia ora Mary,

I have read Mr Murphy’s response to my complaint and I do not believe they are a satisfactory response to the issues I have raised in my complaint.

1. Many of the Herald stories relating to David Cunliffe’s letter to Immigration NZ, regarding Donghua Liu, did not refer to the actual date of the letter (11 April 2003). In several subsequent stories referring to this letter, the Herald omitted any reference to the date, thereby leaving an unknown number of readers with the impression that the letter was recently written. This is a salient, critical fact of the story and it’s omission may have created a mistaken perception in the minds of many readers.

There was simply no valid reason to with-hold that vital fact from subsequent stories.

2. Tim Murphy wrote on 4 July, ” We stand by our report that a book was purchased and expect further ‘evidence’ of this to be made public shortly”.

As of this date (19 July), over two weeks have passed and no ” further ‘evidence’ of this [has been] made public” to date.

The Herald has presented an unsubstantiated claim as fact, thereby mis-representing the truth and giving readers an impression that this claim was verified as true.

Promises of “further evidence” have not materialised. There is no indication when “further evidence” will ever materialise.

3. Regarding the Herald’s “clarification” of Donghua Liu’s claims for $100,000 spent on a bottle on wine.

(A) The “clarification” was inadequate because more coverage was given to the initial (false) claims than the clarification. This is bound to create a lasting impression in the minds of many readers that the initial (false) allegation was correct, being unaware of a subsequent “clarification”

(B) No apology was made to Labour leader, David Cunliffe.

The story was therefore false and only a cursory attempt made to rectify it.

4. I wrote in my complaint that “It is manifestly unfair, unreasonable, and unconscionable that the Herald has not released, in full and verbatim, Liu’s “signed statement” as it did with David Cunliffe’s 2003 letter.”

Mr Murphy replied, “We do not automatically make public documents which we obtain as part of ongoing journalistic inquiries. There are many reasons for this, including the conditions upon which they were obtained from whatever source and the need for us to pursue further matters contained within. While there seems to be an expectation that journalistic inquiry must be ‘open source’ this ignores these conditions and also the competitive nature of news gathering. The Cunliffe letter was obtained under the Official Information Act and was released to all media, so is thus automatically a public document.”

I maintain that Mr Murphy has not provided solid grounds for with-holding Mr Liu “signed statement” except reference to “the competitive nature of news gathering”. This is wholly inadequate and gives only a one-sided view to this story. The public are unable to determine for themselves precisely what is is that Mr Liu has stated.

Given that he has already been shown to be less than credible with his allegation (see Point 3 above), I maintain this is a salient aspect of the story.

It is also worth noting that the media rails against governments of various hues for restricting the flow of information under the guise of “commercial sensitivity” and it is supremely ironic that the Herald – a news media organisation – is now following suit and employing the same tactic.

5. Mr Murphy fails to respond in any way to my complaint regarding John Armstrong’s column on 18 June.

6.

(A) The Herald’s stories regarding former Labour MP, Rick Barker attending a river boat cruise in 2007 were not based on fact, and instead relied on nothing more than hear-say from Donghua Liu – who has already had to retract his allegations of a $100,000 bottle of wine. Mr Murphy stated, “You seem to have accepted without question MP Rick Barker’s claim he attended only a staff party in China. We do not accept this and expect further details of the hospitality for him and others in China to be revealed in due course.”

As Bervan Hurley wrote these allegations on 22 June, it is now one month later and no “further details of the hospitality for him and others in China [have been] revealed in due course”.

In effect, the Herald has made allegations on one man’s unproven assertions and is now promising to “reveal in due course further details”. Mr Murphy offers no hint of when “due course” will arrive.

(B) Mr Murphy writes on the issue of Liu’s $2,000 donation to the Hawkes Bay Rowing Club; “It would be wilfully naïve to assume that the donation to the rowing club associated with an MP, the day after that MP has hosted Liu in the region, is unconnected to that MP. The donation was made and Liu made it with the intent of it being in favour of the MP.”

It is simply astounding that Mr Murphy explains away the story regarding Liu’s donation as “Liu made it with the intent of it being in favour of the MP”. Since when can one man’s intent to “curry favour” be turned into a story implicating Rick Barker and the Labour Party of inappropriate activities? What Mr Liu “intended” cannot be laid at the feet of Mr Barker.

Conclusion.

It is obvious that the Herald relied on one man’s (Donghua Liu) unsubstantiated assertions – of which one has been retracted; one remains unproven; whilst others have been mis-represented.

This was a story predicated on very little, and which has caused untold damage to a main political party* in a critical juncture in election year.

As such, I maintain that the Press Council should act accordingly in fairness and to send a strong signal to the media that unfair and unbalanced stories based on hear-say are grossly irresponsible and unacceptable.

Regards,
-Frank Macskasy

* Note: I am not a Labour Party member or supporter.

Now we wait to 4 August for a decision from the Press Council.

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2. NZ Herald journalist Jared Savage – Clarifications sought

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On 19 June, I lodged an OIA request with Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse (to be reported in the next chapter of this story; The Donghua Liu Affair: OIA Responses from the PM; Deputy PM; the Immigration Minister, and next steps).

A response from the Minister’s office was received on 17 July.

Within that response were  various pieces of information that required clarification from Herald reporter, Jared Savage, who had been covering much of the Donghua Liu “story”. Accordingly, I wrote to Jared with my questions;

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From: fmacskasy@gmail.com
Sent: Thursday, 17 July 2014 8:52 p.m.
To: Jared Savage
Subject: OIA Request; Donghua Liu; clarification on your involvement

This message has been sent via the NZ Herald Website
——————————————————

Frank Macskasy
fmacskasy@gmail.com

Kia ora Jared,

I am in receipt of information from Minister Michael Woodhouse’s office released to me under an OIA request.

The information provided requires some clarification on your part.

1. You lodged an OIA request on 16 June 2014 with Minister Woodhouse’s office, seeking, “Any correspondence, including emails, letters or queries, from any Members of Parliament in regards to Donghua Liu’s immigration status prior to 2005”.

2. You received a response, with relevant information, two days later on 18 June 2014.

3. Can you explain why you specifically mentioned “Donghua Liu’s immigration status prior to 2005”? Why did you mention the specific year of 2005?

4. You received material from Minister Woodhouse’s office within 48 hours – an unusually rapid “turn-a-round” time for an OIA request, which normally take weeks, if not months, to complete. Can you shed any light on why you received the information (including the 11 April 2003 letter from David Cunliffe to Immigration NZ) so quickly?

5. Can you confirm that you received a “tip off” to make the OIA, and, specifically, that you were aware of the Cunliffe/Donghua Liu/Immigration NZ letter prior to receiving a copy of it from Minister Woodhouses’ OIA release?

These questions are part of an on-going story I am writing on the Liu Affair. There appears to be unanswered questions surrounding the Herald’s involvement in this issue and any assistance you can provide to clear up unresolved issues will be appreciated.

Regards,
-Frank Macskasy
Blogger

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Jared Savage replied later that day;

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from: Jared Savage <Jared.Savage@nzherald.co.nz>
to: “fmacskasy@gmail.com” <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
date: Thu, Jul 17, 2014 at 11:27 PM
subject: RE: OIA Request; Donghua Liu; clarification on your involvement
mailed-by: nzherald.co.nz

Hi Frank,

Happy to answer questions as I’ve previously answered these on Twitter.

You might recall that prior to writing about Donghua Liu’s links to Labour, I wrote extensively about his links to the Nats.

It all started with queries about his citizenship while the Nats were in power, against advice, specifically after Maurice Williamson writing an email in support in 2010…it eventually led to Mr Williamson’s resignation as a Minister for intervening in a police matter and the discovery that Liu was also lobbying Immigration Minister Woodhouse to change policy.

I’ve also previously written about another citizenship case, Bill Liu (no relation), which was also granted against advice, but this was when Labour was last in Government.

It got me thinking about Donghua Liu’s bid for residency in 2005, which was also granted by Labour against official advice by Damien O’Connor, and whether he was lobbied.

I initially asked for his entire residency file under the OIA on May 8. I note that the next day Minister Woodhouse asked for the file.

I was declined the entire file on privacy grounds on June 16. As I was really only interested in whether MPs were involved in his residency bid, I refined my request to ask for any correspondence from MPs because this is clearly in the public interest.

I specifically mentioned prior to 2005 because this is when Mr Liu was granted residency, against advice. There would not be any correspondence after he gained residency.

Unfortunately, it was clumsily worded because Immigration officials interpreted the word prior to exclude 2005 in the response. I then lodged a further OIA request which revealed Mr O’Connor intervened 3 times in the lead up to residency being granted – including waiving the English language criteria – the day before the 2005 election.

I also wrote that Mr Liu has spent considerable time with Labour Minister Rick Barker in 2007 – the Minister in charge of citizenship under Labour- including hosting him in China and the Hawke’s Bay.

Coming back to the June 16 request, two days later, I received the letters. I have no idea why Immigration released it so quickly. Probably because they had already processed my earlier request of June 16 so the file was available, but you’d have to ask Immigration.

The reason why I asked questions about the potential involvement of MPs in Liu’s residency bid was that I was suspicious in the same way I was suspicious about the involvement of MPs in the citizenship bid.

Does your OIA response focus on Minister Woodhouse’s OIA response to me, solely, or to all media outlets?

Because it was not a Herald reporter asking direct questions of Mr Cunliffe’s potential involvement the day before the release of the letters…

Hope that helps

Jared

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Awaiting information from several OIA requests and a Press Council complaint, I held off responding to Mr Savage. However, I have since received responses to OIA requests lodged with the offices of John Key, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse, and Deputy PM Bill English. A decision from the Press Council is due today (21 August).

Today (21 August), I wrote back to Jared Savage, asking for clarification on certain matters;

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from:      Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:           Jared Savage <Jared.Savage@nzherald.co.nz>
date:       Thu, Aug 21, 2014 at 9:34 AM
subject: Re: OIA Request; Donghua Liu; clarification on your involvement

Kia ora Jared,I am in receipt of your email dated  July 17, 2014 at 11:27 PM, in reply to my email dated earlier the same day. Your prompt response is appreciated. (My own apologies for taking so long to reply.)

I have some follow up questions which, I hope, may clarify the answers you have already provided. (I am still pursuing this story, as I believe there are facts yet to be uncovered, especially in the light of Nicky Hager’s book, “Dirty Politics”.)

1. You write; “Coming back to the June 16 request, two days later, I received the letters. I have no idea why Immigration released it so quickly.”

Question A: Have you, or any other NZ Herald staffer asked Immigration NZ why the letter was released so quickly?
Question B: Was this rapid turn-a-round for an OIA request discussed at NZ Herald, and if so, what was the outcome?

Question C: Do your happen to have a copy of the email from Minister Woodhouse/Immigration NZ and specifically,  the date-time on it?

I would appreciate a copy of the covering letter that accompanied the 2003 Cunliffe-Liu letter. I am assuming that will not break journalistic standards in protecting your sources, as the source of the letter is now public information.
Question D: What other correspondence have you had with Minister Woodhouse, Immigration NZ, or any other Third Party on this matter?

2. You write; “Does your OIA response focus on Minister Woodhouse’s OIA response to me, solely, or to all media outlets?  Because it was not a Herald reporter asking direct questions of Mr Cunliffe’s potential involvement the day before the release of the letters…”

I have searched the internet for prior references to David Cunliffe’s involvement with the  Donghua Liu Affair, and can find only two media reports that *appear* to precede your 18 June Herald story. One is from Interest.Co.Nz (http://www.interest.co.nz/news/70461/cunliffes-labour-leadership-under-pressure-letter-shows-he-advocated-donghua-liu-2003-des), and the other from TV3 (http://www.3news.co.nz/Controversial-Chinese-donor-also-gave-to-Labour/tabid/1607/articleID/348740/Default.aspx). However, they both refer to your newspaper as the source of the story.

The TV3 story does not refer to the Cunliffe 2003 letter.

The Interest.co.nz story by Bernard Hickey referring to  the Cunliffe 2003 letter was published at 1.45pm on 18 June – earlier than your story (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11276510) at 2.29 and yet still appears to link to your story, published 44 minutes later.
Question E: Can you suggest how Interest.co.nz came to have that information?
I understand that TV3 journalists were putting questions to David Cunliffe on 17 June (one day BEFORE you or anyone else had received the 2003 Cunliffe-Liu letter, via an OIA request)  regarding what contact he had with Mr Liu.Question F: Do you have any idea why they asked those very specific questions, and how they tied in with the 2003 Cunliffe-Liu letter?
 3. You wrote; “It got me thinking about Donghua Liu’s bid for residency in 2005, which was also granted by Labour against official advice by Damien O’Connor, and whether he was lobbied..”

Question G: Where did you first learn about this?

Question H: Were any of O’Connor’s letters already in the public arena? (I can’t locate any  prior to your Herald story.)

Your Editor, Tim Murphy, has stated that there is much more to come on the Donghua Liu Affair, with new evidence to confirm his allegations.Question I: Will there be follow up stories on this issue? Are any in the pipeline?

5. You wrote, “I also wrote that Mr Liu has spent considerable time with Labour Minister Rick Barker in 2007 – the Minister in charge of citizenship under Labour- including hosting him in China and the Hawke’s Bay.”

Question J: Have you had any contact with Simon Lusk (who also happens to  live in the Hawkes Bay area), or any of his associates with regards to this matter?

Question K: Did you recieve a tip-off on Rick Barker’s association with Mr Liu? (I won’t ask you for your sources, for obvious reasons.)

6. Question L: Are there any facts that I may have over-looked in this issue  that may have a bearing on clarifying the story?

Hopefully, you can assist me to clarify these outstanding questions – especially if you can supply me with a copy of  the covering email/letter from Immigration NZ/Michael Woodhouse, including email headers,  which pertains to receipt of the 2003 Cunliffe-Liu letter. I would be interested in receiving a copy of that, in conjunction with an OIA request I have lodged on the matter with relevant Ministeries.

Regards,

-Frank Macskasy

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3. Immigration NZ and NZ Herald – more questions and a suggestion of collusion

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Now, here’s the thing.

In Nicky Hager’s book, “Dirty Politics“, the author’s remarks on the rapid turnaround of OIA requests made by extremist right-wing blogger, Cameron Slater, to various government departments including the secretive SIS;

Documents like the SIS briefing notes are not usually released to the public, under the official information law [OIA]  or otherwise. Someone had overruled the usual practice and then fast-tracked  the release. The released documents were stamped as being declassified on 26 July 2011, the same day that Slater sent off his request.  Where was the time for decision-making and consultations?” – “Dirty Politics”, p40

And,

“[Jason] Ede recommended the wording that Slater use in his official information request: ‘Written and email communications within, to and from, Paula Bennett’s Ministerial office and its staff in relation to Ira Bailey from the beginning of last week til today’ and Slater sent the request that day, using exactly the same words, apart from inserting a bracketed date, ‘Mon 8 October 2012’, after ‘last week’. Slater received the information from Bennett by the following day and was able to publicise it with a government-friendly spin – “Bennett’s office in the clear’ less than two days after Ede wrote to him.” – “Dirty Politics”, p41/42

This blogger can testify to one immutable fact-of-life: OIA requests to Minister’s offices and governments departments can take several weeks, if not more than a month, to fulfill.

Case in point: I asked for a copy of the covering letter from Immigration NZ to NZ Herald’s journalist, Jared Savage, on 21 July this year,

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Kia ora Ms Hames/Minister Michael Woodhouse,

Thank you for providing the information I was requesting under the OIA.

I require some further items of information, which I am lodging as an OIA request;

1. The covering email/letter to Jared Savage, of the NZ Herald, pertaining to the release of David Cunliffe’s 11 April 2003 (pertaining to Donghua Liu, to Immigration NZ) letter  to that reporter (or any other person(s) at the NZ Herald or any other media outlet, on or about 18 June of this year.

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It took one month (20 August) for that simple response to be filled. A copy of the letter, from Immigration NZ to Jared Savage, is presented;

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Immigration NZ - letter to jarerd savage - nz herald - donghua liu - 18  June 2014

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Note the date that Mr Savage lodged the OIA request: 18 June 2014.

Note the date that Immigration NZ responded, supplying a copy of the 2003 Cunliffe-Liu letter: 20 June 2014.

Two days.

Yet it took Immigration NZ a month to send the covering Immigration NZ-Savage letter to me.

One cannot escape the conclusion that some form of collusion has taken place between Immigration NZ/Minister Woodhouse and the NZ Herald. Nicky Hager has uncovered how that sort of collusion has taken place between right-wing blogger and National Party-mouthpiece, Cameron Slater and the Prime Minister’s office.

The question now is – has the same collusion been occurring between the NZ Herald and the PM’s office?

Two days for an OIA request to be completed? The Herald has some questions to answer.

 

To be continued: The Donghua Liu Affair: the Press Council’s decision

To be continued: The Donghua Liu Affair: OIA Responses from the PM; Deputy PM; the Immigration Minister, and next steps

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References

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

Previous related blogposts

The Donghua Liu Affair – 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?

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

The Donghua Liu Affair: The first step to a complaint to the Press Council

The Donghua Liu Affair: responses from NZ Herald and Prime Minister’s Office – Is the PM’s office fudging?

 


 

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20 september 2014 VOTE

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 August 2014

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Let’s cast the net and see what rotten fish we catch…

25 June 2014 9 comments

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Dirt Unit
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Let’s cast the net and see what rotten garbage we dredge up.

No doubt a request like the ones below may result in two things;

  1. Furrowed brows in the Prime Minister’s Department, as  Jason Ede and other National Party apparatchiks work out how to fulfil their legal obligations under the Act – without disclosing how this little anti-Cunliffe campaign was orchestrated.
  2. Other MSM media following suit with their own requests.

National may well find that they have opened a can of worms with their dirty tricks ‘black ops’.

Here we go…

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: John Key <john.key@parliament.govt.nz>
date: Thu, Jun 19, 2014 at 9:35 PM
subject: Official Information Request
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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

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Michael Woodhouse <michael.woodhouse@parliament.govt.nz>
date: Thu, Jun 19, 2014 at 10:00 PM
subject: Official Information Request
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Kia ora Mr 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

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Bill English <bill.english@parliament.govt.nz>
date: Thu, Jun 19, 2014 at 9:36 PM
subject: Official Information Request
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Kia ora Mr English.
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
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Let’s see what the Nat’s reaction is?

And let’s see if anyone in the MSM has the intestinal fortitude to lodge their own applications or craven surrender to the National Party dirty-tricks machine..

My money is on craven surrender.
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References

NZ Herald:  National denies dirty tricks campaign against Cunliffe

Other blogs

The Standard: Good news, National are afraid of David Cunliffe

The Daily Blog: The Trap Is Sprung: Why David Cunliffe Must Not Resign

Recommended Reading (note the date)

The Dim Post: What the opposition are up against


 

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1496189_1409071792672271_1235209203_o

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 20 June 2014.

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Charter Schools – John Key’s re-assurances

2 November 2012 19 comments

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1. The Prime Minister’s ‘committments’

Three months ago, Dear Leader gave assurances that National would dump Charter Schools if they failed to “work”.  He said,

If they don’t work then the Government will close them down very quickly – if they do work then it will be great for the children involved.” – source

Key then added,

If you look at the US where they are the most prevalent – there are about 5,500. Not all of them are successful but many of them are.” – Ibid

Those two statements are unfortunate for two reasons;

2. The Prime Minister’s ‘credibility’

Without beating about the bush and indulging in ‘niceties‘, John Key’s credibility is shot to hell.

As detailed in  previous blogposts and elsewhere on other blogs and in the MSM, John Key has not always told the truth, nor fulfilled his committments.

Past pledges and promises have been broken. Promises such as,

There are also instances where statements made by Key which have stretched our credulity,

More here.

And often indulges in flatout bullshit such as this little gem  on the public ownership of natural resources,

… So if you accept that viewpoint, then I think you have to accept that elements like water and wind and the sun and air and fire and all these things, and the sea, along with natural resources like oil and gas, are there for the national interest of everyone. They’re there for the benefit of all New Zealanders, not one particular group over another. “

See: TVNZ Q+A Interview with Prime Minister John Key

Politicians have a poor reputation when it comes to telling the truth. In the case of our current Prime Minister, in this blogger’s opinion, he has made bending the truth; with-holding information; and outright lying into a whole new artform.

No wonder there is a joke floating around cyberspace, on Facebook, blogs, and elsewhere,

Q: How can to tell John Key is lying?
A: His lips are moving.

Which probably explains why politicians are viewed with such disdain; League Tables that really count!

3. The Prime Minister’s ‘truthfulness’

Key said,

If you look at the US where they are the most prevalent – there are about 5,500. Not all of them are successful but many of them are.”

As usual, Dear Leader’s comments can never be taken at face value.

The truth is that a Stanford University CREDO analysis of Charter Schools in the US revealed the disturbing fact that only 17% of American charter schools did better than non-charter schools.

See: Stanford University: Charter School Performance in 16 States (USA)

The rest achieved same, or worse results,

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Source: Wikipedia Charter Schools (based on CREDO study)

So who will trust John Key on this issue?

Who will trust Key’s committment when he says “if they [Charter Schools ] don’t work then the Government will close them down very quickly” – when he doesn’t even give us accurate information about the efficacy of Charter Schools?

Telling us that “not all of them are successful but many of them are” – is disingenuous. It is a deliberate ploy to mislead the public.

And proves yet again – if evidence was needed – that this man is the most untruthful Prime Minister we have had since —?

4. Furthermore…

John Key assures us, hand-on-heart, that “if they [Charter Schools ] don’t work then the Government will close them down very quickly“…

Which is all very nice (if he can be taken at his word, which is doubtful), but how will he know if Charter Schools “don’t work “?

Actually, we won’t know.

National intends to remove Charter Schools from all public scrutiny and will be exempt from Official Information Act requests. All information regarding Charter Schools will be kept secret by National,

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Full story

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To put it mildly, this is an extraordinary state of affairs. A radical new experiment in education will not be open to public scrutiny. According to John Banks, the architect of this crazy programme,

DEVELOPING AND IMPLEMENTING A NEW ZEALAND MODEL OF CHARTER SCHOOL

[…]

Ombudsmen Act and Official Information Act (OIA)

These acts would not apply to Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua because they are not Crown Entities. This is the same case for private schools.

This will help to ensure Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua are not susceptible to costly and vexatious requests. The contract will specify the information that must be provided to government, and this will be subject to the OIA.”

Source:  Office of the Associate Minister of Education (Hon John Banks) – Developing and Implementing a New Zealand Mode of Charter School

It’s interesting that a politician with the lowest reputation for honesty and openess in this country’s history – John Banks – has decided that Charter Schools will be exempt from OIA requests and Ombudsman oversight.

Banks’ attempted to justify this paranoid secrecy by suggesting that Charter Schools would be “susceptible to costly and vexatious requests“.

Laughable…

Extraordinary…

Worrying…

And scandalous.

5. Summing up…

So what do we have here?

  1. The  Prime Minister promises that  “if they [charter schools] don’t work then the Government will close them down very quickly “.
  2. Key assured the public that ” not all of them are successful but many of them are ” – ignoring the truth that only 17% of Charter schools in the US have been deemed “better” by a Stanford University CREDO study.
  3. There will be no public oversight of Charter schools.
  4. The Minister in charge of Charter Schools, John Banks, justified the removal of public oversight and secrecy on the flimsiest of excuses.
  5. The public will have to rely on the National Party for accurate and impartial reporting of Charter Schools progress. (Imagine Key’s reaction had Labour proposed such a thing! Imagine the cries of “nanny state” and “Helengrad”?!))
  6. Neither John Banks nor John Key are held in high regard in many parts of New Zealand society. Key is known for breaking promises; abandoning committments; and mis-representing the truth. John Banks was engaged in dishonest activities surrounding his mayoral campaign donations; lied about his activities; claimed “forgetfulness”; and was investigated by the police. He was not prosecuted – but only because his actions went beyond a statute of limitations. (Banks still refuses to publicly release a record of his police interview, despite his assertion of “nothing to hide, nothing to fear”.)

This blogger finds nothing reassuring in the utterances of John Key and John Banks.

An incoming Labour-Green-NZ First-Mana government has no option but to close down this dodgy programme, or at the very least, incorporate these schools into the state system.

Otherwise, Charter schools are a ‘time-bomb’ waiting to go off.

Does Shearer really, really want such a  legacy from John Banks?

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Previous related blogposts

Christchurch, choice, and charter schools

Charter Schools – Another lie from John Banks!

Dear Leader, GCSB, and Kiwis in Wonderland (Part Rua)

Sources

TV3: Key defends charter schools trial

Otago Daily Times: PM vows charter schools out the door if they fail

NZ Herald: Charter schools escape scrutiny

Radio NZ: Charter school group wants to register unqualified teachers

Additional

Many oppose proposed charter school

Charter schools: They’re not better for our kids

Other Blogs

Seemorerocks:  One video exposes Key, GCSB’s & Banks’ Dotcom lies

Not PC: John Key lies [updated]

Infonews:  National’s growing list of broken promises

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Treasury’s verdict on raising the Minimum Wage? – Part II

19 November 2011 3 comments

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Throughout this election, John Key has been criticising Labour’s policy to increase the minimum wage from $13 to $15 an hour, citing a Department of Labour (DoL) report that such a move would cost the country 6,000 jobs. Key even referred to this in his Leader’s Debates with Phil Goff.

Except… that Treasury has dismissed the DoL’s “claim” by stating that raising the minimum wage “has not been true in the past“.

John Key has been well aware of  Treasury’s debunking of DoL’s “claims”, according to a Official Information Act request made by TV3,

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Full Story

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Unless Treasury has become a  satrap of Socialist International, it seems pretty hard to dismiss their  conclusions. The DoL’s case is not helped by their own contradictions,

“…research from the United Kingdom suggests minimum wages may have no effect on employment, or that minimum wage effects may still exist, but they may be too difficult to detect and/or very small.” Ibid

I believe that the so-called  DoL “report” can be safely dismissed as not very intellectually rigorous.  And not even half clever.

The government claims that recent taxcuts, last year and in 2009, were “fiscally neutral”. But even this is not true.

National’s first round of tax-cuts, which took effect in April 2009, benefitted high income earners the most. Low income earners recieved very little,

The cuts are proportional to wages. Those earning $100,000 or more a year will get at least an extra $24 dollars a week. Anyone on the average income of $48,000 a year will get an extra $18 a week, and low income earners will get a $10 a week tax credit.

On a monthly basis, both tax cuts together will see those earning $100,000 pocketing an extra $225, and low income earners an extra $95 a month.” Source

The October 2010 round of tax cuts were just as bad for low income earners, and generous for high earners,

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Source

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Those on minimum wage recieved an extra $6.36.  Meanwhile someone earning $120,000 benefitted from between $46.08 to $89.04.

With growing inflation reaching a 21 year high, to 5.3%;  increasing ACC charges and rates; any gains made by low income earners and those on social welfare and superannuation were quickly eroded.

Little wonder that the end result was a transfer (“trickle up”) of wealth from the poor and middle classes, to the wealthy.

The report’s 2004 data – the latest available – reveals the richest 10 per cent collectively possess $128 billion in wealth, with median individual wealth of $255,000. In contrast, the poorest 10 per cent collectively possess $17.2b, with median individual wealth of $3200. While the richest 1 per cent held 16.4 per cent of the country’s net wealth, the poorest 50 per cent owned just 5.2 per cent. ” Source

Which, unsurpringly, means we are seeing more headlines like these in our media,

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Full Story

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The Dominion Post article goes on to state,

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows New Zealand’s income inequality climbed dramatically in the 1980s and 1990s after sweeping economic reforms and deregulation of labour markets.

Disparities have plateaued since 2000, largely thanks to Working for Families tax credits, bigger pay packets for middle and low-income earners and declining investment returns for the rich.

But the gap between rich and poor still ranked ninth worst in the developed world in 2008.” Ibid

How well have the top richest done in New Zealand?

About this well,

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Full Story

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The top 150 Rich Listers’ wealth grew by 20%.

That’s quite an achievement during one of the worst recessions in recent history. But even that increase in wealth isn’t sufficient for the Rich Listers. They wanted more,

Jeweller Sir Michael Hill, worth $245 million, told NBR: “Could not the Government give us a little freedom to be able to make common sense decisions for ourselves?”

John McVicar, managing director of a forestry group that puts his family’s worth at $70 million, said economic policy should be based on reducing costs for business and increasing productivity and revenue.

Construction company head Sir Patrick Higgins, worth $100 million, said: “The country needs to address excessive regulation if it is to improve wealth creation.”Ibid

Although at least one  United States think-tank and the “Wall Street Journal”  “rank New Zealand as already having the highest level of freedoms for business in the world.  The Heritage Foundation’s “index of economic freedom” puts New Zealand fourth overall, with a score of 99.9 for business freedom.

Clearly, tax cuts and increases in profits have shifted wealth upwards – not shared it around. Certainly the “trickle down” theory now applies only to meteorological services predicting upcoming rain falls.

This “gushing up” of wealth has been written about in the US “New York Times”. A very simple illustration showed where wealth has been accumulating – and who has been missing out,

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Source

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Interestingly, the great divergence of wealth, productivity, and incomes started around the late 1970s, early 1980s.  It was also about the time that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were elected into office, and began neo-liberal, “free market” policies commonly referred to as “Reaganomics” and “Thatcherism“.

The New Right were ascendent, and implemented their policies with ruthless efficiciency. Those policies benefitted the rich – to the detriment of the unemployed, low-paid, and middle classes (who were too busy fighting each other to notice what was happening to them them).

New Zealand’s turn for a dose of  New Right came only a few years later, when Rogernomics took effect in 1984.

As wealth is accumulated upward (as the NBR so vividly illustrated), the real reason for denying low-paid workers an increase in the minimum  wage becomes more apparent; the rich would be forced to share some of that wealth. Their profits would be a little less.

Of course, this doesn’t stop some from gaining some very substantial wage increases,

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Full Story

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How They’re Paid

PRIME MINISTER New salary (backdated to July 1): $411,510. Was: $400,500.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER New salary: $291,800. Was: $282,500.
CABINET MINISTER New salary: $257,800. Was: $249,100.
MINISTER OUTSIDE CABINET New salary: $217,200. Was: $209,100.
SPEAKER AND OPPOSITION LEADER New salary: $257,800. Was: $249,100.
BACKBENCHERS New salary: $141,800. Was: $134,800.

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So remind me again, why we can’t increase the minimum wage? I’ve heard all the nonsensical, reactionary reasons – but they seem more predicated on a pathological disdain for the poor,  from  uninformed  middle class aspirationists, rather than any clear logic.

If New Zealanders want to continue  down the road of increasing wealth for the rich; growing disparity in incomes;  worsening poverty – this is the correct way to go about it. Our current policies and inequalities will achieve a society where the 1% Haves control most of the wealth; the vast majority remain in poverty or near-poverty; and the middle classes stagnate, blaming those on social welfare (the worst victims of these wretched policies) for their lack of upward mobility.

But the middle classes are looking the wrong way.

This may all sound like extremist left-wing politics. Maybe it is. But I don’t think so. The information I’ve gathered is freely available and easy to gather. The realities are all around us and the media – despite it’s glaring faults and preoccupations with trivia and crime stories – does present us with a view of what’s happening around us.

Many of us just choose not to look.

It’s easier to blame the poor; the unemployed; those of welfare.  And yet, if the current economic situation was not as distorted as it currently is – we wouldn’t have so many poor, unemployed, or on welfare.

An increase of $2 an hour would be a step in the right direction. Just ask the Prime Minister – taxpayers are paying him an extra $11,000 a year.

I wonder if paying all our MPs  those wage increases will result in any job losses?

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