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Posts Tagged ‘Paula Bennett Hypocrisy Award’

Gerry Brownlee, David Farrar, and Brett Hudson win Hypocrisy Awards

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Minister Clare Curran’s recent demotion was announced in a surprise press conference at Prime Minister Ardern’s electorate office, just before 4pm on a Friday afternoon. A government statement outlined her sin-of-omission;

In February this year Minister Curran met with Mr Derek Handley at her Beehive office in her capacity as Minister of Government Digital Services to discuss Mr Handley’s interest in the vacant Chief Technology Officer (CTO) role. This meeting took place after the first unsuccessful recruitment round for the CTO. As with approaches from other interested parties, the Minister directed Mr Handley to register his interest with MBIE officials. Applications reopened for the CTO role in May.

The meeting was not recorded in the Minister’s diary and neither the Minister’s staff nor officials were made aware of it.

The demotion and removal from Cabinet comes on top of Ms Curran’s unrecorded “secret” meeting at Astoria Cafe with former Radio NZ executive, Carol Hirschfeld, which hit the headlines in March this year.

Ms Curran’s gaffs have sparked the usual and tedious pious pontification from the National Opposition benches. Former Christchurch Re-build Minister, and airline security hazard, Gerry Brownlee, climbed the rarified heights of Mount Moral Highground to demand Ms Curran’s sacking;

But not everyone agrees. National Party MP and shadow House leader Gerry Brownlee said it was the “most limp-wristed, wet bus ticket thing” Ms Ardern could do.

He wants her stripped of the broadcasting portfolio as well.

“It’s undergoing a huge amount of change at the moment, and you need a minister that’s pretty active and onto it to make sure that broadcasting legislation is going to be the best for the sort of information and entertainment services that New Zealanders expect.”

Relatively unknown National Party List MP, Brett Hudson, devoted an entire press release excoriating the hapless Minister*;

“The decision to allow Clare Curran to retain any of her Ministerial portfolios after being dumped from Cabinet is a sign of weakness in the Government…

It’s almost comical that Ms Curran, who until today held the Associate State Services (Open Government) portfolio has failed not once but twice to answer Written Parliamentary Questions accurately.

Her punishment is a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket. She keeps her Ministerial salary and the all the perks that come with that despite demonstrating that she’s not capable of being a Minister.

It’s not good enough that it took Ms Curran five and a half months to correct her answer to a written question and to finally acknowledge she met with Derek Handley, who had expressed interest in the Chief Technology Officer role created by the Minister.”

Rightwing blogger and National Party activist, David Farrar, was equally scathing;

So covering up secret meetings is okay for a Minister outside Cabinet, just not inside Cabinet. That’s mighty low standards. A meaningful sanction would be removal from the Ministry.

The undisclosed meeting was just as improper as the Hirschfeld one, namely:

  • It was a conflict of interest as Derek Handley was an applicant for the CTO job that the Minister appoints
  • The meeting was not in the Minister’s diary
  • The meeting was kept a secret from the Minister’s own staff and officials
  • The meeting was not disclosed to a written parliamentary question

If that is not enough to be removed from the ministry, what is?

Good question, Mr Farrar: “If that is not enough to be removed from the ministry, what is?

Let’s try to answer that question. What would merit removal from office for unofficial, unrecorded meetings?

Here are three possible answers;

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But in answer to parliamentary written questions, the Prime Minister said he had “no meetings” with representatives of Mediaworks to discuss the deal.

Two days later that answer was corrected, saying he “ran into” Brent Impey at a “social event” in Auckland where the issue was “briefly raised” and he “passed his comments on” to the responsible minister.

Was Key’s “social event” where he “ran into” Brent Impey held at Astoria Cafe by any chance?

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Earlier this week, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said Mr Key’s diary showed no scheduled meetings with Sky City representatives since July last year.

“Having said that, the Prime Minister attends numerous functions and is quite likely to have come across Sky City representatives at some stage.”

Mr Key was asked last July in a question for written answer from Green MP Sue Kedgley whether he or any of his ministers had met representatives from the casino to discuss changes to the Gambling Act.

He replied: “I attended a dinner with the Sky City board 4 November 2009 where we discussed a possible national convention centre and they raised issues relating to the Gambling Act 2003”.

So the former PM’s “diary showed no scheduled meetings with Sky City representatives” – but he did have dinner with the entire “Sky City board 4 November 2009 where we discussed a possible national convention centre and they raised issues relating to the Gambling Act 2003“.

Also held at Astoria Cafe, by any chance?

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Prime Minister John Key had breakfast with Ian Fletcher just days after he selected a panel to interview candidates for the country’s top spy job.

The pair ate together at Auckland’s Stamford Plaza Hotel on June 17, 2011. Mr Key says the vacancy, as head of the Government Communications Security Bureau, was not discussed.

Three days earlier, Mr Key had signed off on an interview panel for the job, which included then Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet boss Maarten Wevers. Mr Fletcher was the only person to be interviewed for the post, after a shortlist of four other candidates was rejected.

Not held at the Astoria Cafe.

But Mr Fletcher did get the job.

As for Mr Farrar’s question – would the former Prime Minister’s unofficial and unrecorded meetings with Brent Impey, Ian Fletcher, and the entire Board of Skycity Casino quality to be “enough to be removed from the ministry”?

Herein lies a lesson for Ms Curran and other government ministers. If you’re going to have “secret” meetings, follow the National Party’s handbook. They do it much more effectively.

And they get away with it.

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*  Note

National Party pages are removed regularly from their website. Brett Hudson’s page/statement has been saved for future reference.

References

NZ Herald: Clare Curran sacked from Cabinet, PM Jacinda Ardern announces

Scoop media: Clare Curran removed from Cabinet

ODT: Carol Hirschfeld resigns over Clare Curran meeting

Mediaworks/TV3: Why wasn’t Clare Curran stripped of all her portfolios?

Fairfax media: Gerry Brownlee fined for airport security breach

National Party: Curran token demotion a sign of weakness

Kiwiblog: Disclosure State

Kiwiblog: Curran demoted after a further secret meeting

TVNZ:  Prime Minister defends loan to MediaWorks

NZ Herald:  SkyCity deal was PM’s own offer

Fairfax Media:  Key met spy candidate for breakfast

Other Blogs

The Standard: Clare Curran demoted

Previous related blogposts

Dear Leader caught telling porkies (again)?! (part rua)

Blogger threatened with lawsuit over questions of conflict-of-interest regarding Mediaworks

National Party Corporate welfare vs real welfare

Doing ‘the business’ with John Key – Here’s How

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

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Disclosure: This blogger had a date with his current partner at the Astoria Cafe. It was very nice.
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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 August 2018.

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Judith Collins wins a Hypocrisy Award

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On 8 June, Coalition government minister, Phil Twyford announced the formation of a new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. In a media statement, Minister Twyford said;

Addressing the national housing crisis is one of the biggest challenges our Government faces. The new Ministry will provide the focus and capability in the public service to deliver our reform agenda,” Phil Twyford said.

Too many New Zealanders are hurting because of their housing situation. Many are locked out of the Kiwi dream of home ownership. Others are homeless or suffering the health effects of poor-quality housing.

The new Ministry will be the Government’s lead advisor on housing and urban development. It will provide across-the-board advice on housing issues, including responding to homelessness, ensuring affordable, warm, safe and dry rental housing in the private and public market, and the appropriate support for first home buyers.

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The Ministry will be set up by moving functions across from existing agencies, and look at utilising funding from their existing operational budgets.”

The new Ministry would have a small budget of $8 million and employ around two hundred people from existing agencies;

  • From the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment: the housing and urban policy functions, the KiwiBuild Unit and the Community
  • Housing Regulatory Authority.
  • From the Ministry of Social Development: policy for emergency, transitional and public housing.
  • From the Treasury: monitoring of Housing New Zealand (HNZ) and Tāmaki Redevelopment Company

Unfortunately, it does not appear that the new Ministry will be a re-creation of the former Ministry of Works and Development. The now-defunct MoWD was a hands-on government body that actually built much of the infrastructure that New Zealanders now take for granted, and which small government neo-liberalists conveniently ignore.

Amongst it’s many projects were;

– Waitaki Dam (Completed 1935)
– Roxburgh Dam
– Tekapo A (Completed 1951)
– Benmore Power Station (1965)
– Aviemore Dam (1968)
– Tekapo B
– Ohau A, B and C.
– Lake Ruataniwha
– Clyde Dam (Completed 1989)
– Tongariro Power Scheme (Completed between 1964 and 1983)
– Raurimu Spiral (1898)
– North Island Main Trunk Railway (Completed 1908)
– Otira Tunnel (Completed 1923)
– East Coast Main Trunk Railway (Completed 1928)
– Westfield deviation (Completed 1929)
– Auckland railway station (1930)
– Stratford–Okahukura Line (Completed 1932)
– Tawa Flat deviation (Completed 1935)
– Kaimai Railway Tunnel (Completed 1978)

By contrast, free enterprise – often touted as more efficient that state-owned enterprises – finds it difficult to build water-tight houses; keep up with housing demand; or even build a hotel.

The Ministry of Works and Development was split up into a consultancy group  (Works Consultancy Services) and civil construction (Works Civil Construction) and  privatised in November 1996 by the National government at the time.

National – which denied the existence of a housing crisis until it was forced to earlier this year – responded to Minister Twyford’s announcement with a jaw-dropping, eyebrow-raising statement of  naked hypocrisy.

National’s Housing and Urban Development spokeswoman and unofficial Chinese dairy liaison,  Judith Collins, lambasted the new Ministry as “really it’s a bit of a dud“. Ms Collins added;

“We’ve got a minister who’s desperate to look like he’s doing something. A new logo, and a new ministry is not going to build one more new house.”

Which is ironic, to say the least.

In July 2012, the then-National government  merged  the Department of Building and Housing, the Department of Labour, the Ministry of Economic Development, and the Ministry of Science and Innovation into one super-ministry – Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MoBIE).

According to Budget 2013, the cost of Establishment of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment was $119,993,000 – or $111,993,000 more than Minister Twyford’s $8 million Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.

When it comes to establishing new Ministeries, National goes for the deluxe, no-expense spared model.

This included a few optional extras;

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Despite throwing  $119,993,000 of taxpayers’ money at the new “super ministry”, a December 2014 report by the State Services Commission was damning of it’s inefficiencies and poor performance.  Jamie Tahana from Radio NZ summed up the report;

But quietly published on the State Services Commission website last Tuesday, was a 65-page report completed in February that said the ministry had significant and external problems.

Out of 32 areas of review, the report highlighted 22 that needed development, and five that were weak.

Only five areas were considered well placed for future performance, and none achieved the top rating of strong.

MBIE rated weak on leadership and governance; workforce development; improving efficiency and effectiveness, and financial and risk management.

Aspects that needed development ranged from leading economic growth – the core reason MBIE was established – to engagement with ministers.

This was the same MoBie that – according to the SSC report – was tasked with;

… tackling housing affordability and social housing reform, including through the Housing Accords and special Housing Areas, particularly in Auckland.

Even while the National government at the time stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the gravity of the housing housing confronting the country, the SSC report was matter-of-factly pointing it out to anyone who cared to read the document;

It is estimated that 20,000 to 23,000 new houses are required across the country over the next five years to keep pace with demographic changes. The current level of new housing construction is 17,000 per year.

As far back as 2014, the State Services Commission was ringing alarm bells.

Unsurprisingly, it pointed out  that “the housing and construction sector is the lowest productivity sector in New Zealand, while also being a major determinant of growth in the economy”.

$119,993,000 spent on a new super-ministry that was failing to meet the challenges of a shortage of housing – and Judith Collins has the colossal cheek to complain of an eight million dollar investment in a new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development?

Playing politics with social issues is nothing new. National has perfected the art with it’s “tough on crime” rhetoric. It has also demonised solo-mothers; the unemployed; young people, and Housing NZ tenants with it’s meth-testing/contamination moral-panic.

Now National has added housing to it’s list.

It is clear that Ms Collins’ fear is not that the new Ministry will fail. She is frightened it will succeed.

Playing politics with poverty-stricken homeless families and middle class young New Zealanders unable to afford their own homes is gutter-level politics. It reminds us yet again of the depths to which some politicians will go to claw victory as the expense of others.

For outstanding hypocrisy in criticising an eight million dollar new Ministry devoted to solving our housing crisis, whilst National did only the absolute minimum for nine years, including squandering $119,993,000 on a super-ministry that hoovered up cash even as Kiwi families lived and slept in cars, Ms Judith Collins is awarded the Paula Bennett Certificate of Hypocrisy.

Enjoy.

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References

Radio NZ: Stand-alone ministry will help fix housing crisis – Twyford

Beehive: New Housing and Urban Development Ministry

Wikipedia: Ministry of Works and Development

Fairfax media: Housing ministry to advise on house prices and homelessness will be ‘frugal’

Wikipedia: Ministry of Works and Development – Major projects

NZ Herald: Repaired leaky homes worth 1/4 less

Newsroom: Why Auckland can’t build enough houses

Treasury: Income from State Asset Sales as at May 2014

Radio NZ: New National leader says there is a housing crisis in NZ

NZ Herald: National gets $50k donation from Oravida founder

NZ Herald: New Ministry of Housing and Urban Development a ‘dud’, says National

Beehive: MBIE to proceed from 1 July

Treasury NZ: Budget 2013 (p78)

Fairfax media: MBIE admits stone sign cost $24,000 more than it originally claimed

Fairfax media: Ministry spends $140,000 on screen, installs hair straightener

State Services Commission: Review of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)

Radio NZ: Super-ministry problems ‘inevitable’

NZ Herald: National, Act to get tough on violent crime

Fairfax media: Bill English describes some Kiwis looking for work as ‘pretty damned hopeless’

Additional

TVNZ: Opinion – Government’s handling of housing crisis lurches from chaotic to shambolic

Werewolf: The Myth of Steven Joyce

Other Blogposts

The Standard: Key finally admits there is a housing crisis but says it is all Labour’s fault

Previous related blogposts

National recycles Housing Policy and produces good manure!

Our growing housing problem

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Tahi)

Another ‘Claytons’ Solution to our Housing Problem? When will NZers ever learn?

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

National’s blatant lies on Housing NZ dividends – The truth uncovered!

The “free” market can’t even build a bloody hotel?!

National’s housing spokesperson Michael Woodhouse – delusional or outright fibber?

The Mendacities of Ms Amy Adams – 2,000 more state houses?!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 12 June 2018.

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The Mendacities of Ms Amy Adams – “hidden borrowing”?!

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National is at it again;  indulging in rank hypocrisy by criticising the Labour-NZ First- Green Coalition Government of policies that they themselves carried out.

This time, the National Party’s finance spokesperson, Amy Adams, has accused the Coalition Government of “hiding away debt” in SOEs. Speaking to Mediawork’s Newshub, she protested;

“…If you actually look at where Grant Robertson has hidden another six billion dollars of borrowing in Crown entities, total borrowing has actually gone up almost $17 billion. And if you look at it in that way, it’s going to take up our debt-to-GDP ratio to above the 20% target in 2022. So I think he’s being very tricky in fudging the numbers and hiding $6 billion more debt in that Crown entity space.”

Ms Adams has apparently “forgotten” that the previous National government did precisely what she is now alleging that the Coalition is doing.

By  2009, the Global Financial Crisis began to heavily impact on the National Government’s tax revenue. Except for GST, company, individual, duties, and other revenue were down;

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Despite the fall in taxation and other revenue, National proceeded  with it’s first tranche of tax cuts in April 2009. According to then-Finance Minister, Bill English, the 2009 tax cut represented a $1 billion loss of revenue to the National government;

“About 1.5 million workers will receive a personal tax cut, injecting an extra $1 billion into the economy in the coming year.”

This presented a serious problem for National, as it was borrowing $450 million per week, by December 2009, according to BNZ Capital economist, Craig Ebert.

This left National in dire straits. Government revenue was collapsing; borrowing was ballooning – and worse was to come. National had tax cuts planned for the following year. They would be estimated to cost government at least $2 billion in lost revenue.

National’s Cabinet came up with a novel ‘solution’: State-owned enterprises would be treated as ‘cash cows’. Each SOE would be instructed to borrow to their maximum limit and “… release all surplus capital to the shareholder as special dividends“.

In May 2009, then-SOE Minister, Simon Power, issued this letter to all relevant state owned enterprises. Note the red-highlighted portions;

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(Please note that the above version differs slights from the text provided in the NZ Herald version. Some of the redactions above re-appear in the NZ Herald version.)

By November 2011, a Treasuring scoping-study revealed that Solid Energy was experiencing severe financial problems. National’s Ministers were officially advised of Solid Energy’s precarious financial state, but this would not become public knowledge until two years later, in February 2013.

By August 2015, Solid Energy was placed into voluntary administration. By March this year, the liquidation process was near to completion.

Interestingly, the Herald story announcing the final stages stages of liquidation stated only;

Solid Energy first started its downward spiral in 2013 when global coal costs plummeted, exposing its commercial error in carrying substantial debt on its balance sheet.

There was no mentioned of the tens of millions of dollars expropriated by the National government after it’s letter-of-demand from Simon Power in 2009.

Neither was there a mention of the debt levels forced upon Solid Energy;

Solid Energy’s gearing ratio [borrowings] was 13.8 per cent in 2009, but that rose to 34.4 per cent in 2010 and 41.7 per cent last year [2012].

In fact, Solid Energy was bankrupted not only because of it’s high debt levels (four times higher than in 2008/09), but because National demanded 65% of cash reserves to be paid to the government as “special dividends”, as the CCMAU document below shows;

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Solid Energy had meagre cash reserves remaining when the international price of coal fell, reducing it’s income.

Neither did it help when  National abruptly reneged on it’s subsidy to Solid Energy to  generate bio-fuels. National implemented it’s subsidy in 2008 – and scrapped it in 2012.

That decision left Solid Energy with a bio-fuels subsidiary (Biodiesel New Zealand) that was suddenly uneconomical to produce.

Adding insult to injury, and perhaps one of former Dear Leader  John Key’s worst case of misdirected blame-gaming, he lamented the collapse of Solid Energy;

“The causes of the financial crisis at Solid Energy are the usual suspects in failing businesses – too much debt, unsuccessful investments and no reserves to weather a slump in coal prices.

Prime Minister John Key’s comments yesterday indicated these problems and pointed the finger at an imprudent amount of debt and investments that have not returned any cash yet.

Key said the debt had climbed to $389 million when “typically coal companies do not have a lot of debt on their balance sheets”.

Through incompetence;  election year tax bribes that sent sovereign debt soaring and government deficits ballooning; SOE management that failed to assert independence from Ministerial interference; a willingness to strip SOEs of their cash; and demanding that they ramp up their “gearing” (borrowing/indebtedness) – like a fiscal vampire, National sucked Solid Energy dry.

So that combined with the removal of biofuels subsidies and a collapse in international coal prices, the final ‘leg’ of the three-legged stool – unsustainable debt and depleted cash reserves – was enough to send Solid Energy spiralling down into bankruptcy.

It is against this backdrop of “hidden borrowing” by National, that undermined and destroyed one SOE, that Ms Adams is now accusing the Coalition government of the same thing.

National has a distinctly predictable habit of blaming it’s political opponents for behaviour that it itself is guilty off.

Accordingly, Ms Adams wins this dubious “merit award”…

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Postscript: Amy Adams was elected into Parliament on 8 November 2008. She therefore shares collective responsibility for the  demise of Solid Energy, along with her colleagues, Bill English, John Key, Tony Ryall, and Simon Power.

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References

Mediaworks/Newshub: Govt not honest about debt in new Budget – Amy Adams

IRD: Revenue collected 2008 to 2017

Scoop media: Rankin -Tax Cuts 2009-2011

Scoop media: Government delivers April 1 tax cuts, SME changes

Otago Daily Times: Government now borrowing $450 million a week – claim

NBR: Key again defends tax cuts

Scoop media: Govt’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting

NZ Herald: Simon Power letter to SOEs, May 2009

Treasury NZ:  Treasury Report T2011/2373: Solid Energy New Zealand Scoping Study Report

Fairfax media: Solid Energy in debt crisis talks

Fairfax media: Solid Energy announces voluntary administration ahead of sale

NZ Herald: Solid Energy enters final stages of liquidation process

Fairfax media: Ministers pressured Solid Energy, Parliament told

Treasury: Solid Energy Information Release March 2013 (Document 1875419)

Fairfax media: Biodiesel loses subsidy, prices to rise

NZ Herald: Solid Energy half year profit down as coal export price falls

Fairfax media: State miner to return to coalface

Additional

Other Blogs

The Standard: The real reason Solid Energy is failing

The Standard: Has John Key jumped the shark?

Previous related blogposts

Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys

Solid Energy and LandCorp – debt and doom, courtesy of a “fiscally responsible” National Govt

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 May 2018.

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Mark Mitchell – Flights of fancy?!

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Former Defence Minister; failed National Party leader aspirant;  one-time mercenary-for-hire, and current (for the moment) National defence spokesman, Mark Mitchell, may have opened a 44-gallon drum-of-worms with his assertion that Coalition Defence Minister, Ron Mark, has been “using the Air Force as a personal taxi service“.

Mitchell kept repeating a common meme;

“This is an incredibly inappropriate use of Defence resources, and I am sure the public would be interested to know why the Minister is opting to use already stretched Defence assets rather than the Ministerial Crown Cars that are available to him.”

And;

“Mr Mark has even used an NH90 to travel from Masterton to Waiouru and back in the same day – a three hour trip each way by car.

Why did he not save the taxpayer the cost and the NZDF the time and use a much cheaper Crown car instead? It’s happening so regularly locals are asking questions about it.”

Ron Mark refuted Mitchell’s undocumented claims, stating;

“Each of the flights was taken to an official engagement.

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“I wish to emphasise that none of these flights was for personal use. Please note that on a number of these flights I have been accompanied by NZDF officials, MPs from other parties, and/or media representatives. If at any point the Defence Force advises me that such travel is inappropriate or outside policy then I would naturally comply.”

Minister Ron Mark replied;

“What I will do is run a benchmark across all use of military aircraft over the last 10 years, and I’m already receiving messages that actually there’s some interesting stuff in there.

Let’s put it out in the media, and let’s hope Mr Mitchell isn’t embarrassed.”

Ron mark was correct. There appears to be solid evidence that ministers from the previous National-led government  have indeed used Air Force helicopters as their own private taxi service.

In May 2013, TV3 reported;

The Prime Minister, his MPs and ministers – including the leaders of ACT and United Future – have travelled to Tolaga Bay for the tangi of Parekura Horomia.

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Today was the final day of the tangi – John Key flew in on one of the Defence Force’s new $100 million helicopters, with ministers in tow.

A screenshot image showed one of Key’s ministers – former ACT-leader John Banks – alighting from said $100 million helicopter;

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The same helicopter contained former Dear Leader John Key and “his MPs and ministers – including the leaders of ACT and United Future”.

Fairfax media reported at the time;

Key arrived by helicopter at the Tolaga Bay Area School and was welcomed onto Hauiti Marae with 15 Government MPs and the Speaker of the house David Carter.

National MPs seem to be acutely susceptible to shooting themselves in their own foot (in Mitchell’s case, as an ex-mercenary, that may be the literal truth).

Simon Bridges, Michael WoodhouseBill English, Steven Joyce, Judith Collins, and others, have all attempted to fling mud at Coalition ministers – only to have the fan blow it straight back into their own faces.

National’s members of parliament  have apparently forgotten a simple, salient fact: after nine years in government they each have plenty of skeletons in their own closets. Every time they point an accusatory finger at a Coalition minister – those same National MPs will be held to account for their own shortcomings, mistakes, abuses of ministerial power, and downright incompetance.

As I pointed out in November last year;

It may be the National Opposition that is held to account.

Meanwhile, we award National MP Mark Mitchell with this dubious distinction:

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Well done, champ. Hope the bullet-hole in your foot heels soon.

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Postscript

Latest info on former National politicians using RNZAF aircraft as a personal “Uber” service;

While the V8 Supercars were screaming around the streets of Hamilton, it was helicopters – such as one ferrying the Prime Minister – that were revving up residents.

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The three helicopters hovering above Hamilton skies were unrelated to the event – a police helicopter on a pursuit, a Defence Force helicopter transporting Prime Minister John Key and his son to and from Auckland  and a random helicopter passing over.

The Prime Minister was  criticised by some at the time for using the air force Iriquois to transport him from  Waikato Stadium back to Auckland in time for a swanky Royal Auckland Golf Club dinner on April 16.

Hat-tip: “Roy“.

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References

Fairfax media:  Dear Mark Mitchell – New Zealand deserves answers, not insults, on war for profit

Mediaworks:  Ron Mark refutes claims he made personal use of military aircraft

NewstalkZB:  Defence Minister Ron Mark accused of using the Air Force as taxi service

TVNZ:  Defence Minister Ron Mark defends using military aircraft to get to and from home

Mediaworks: PM arrives on eve of funeral

Fairfax media:  Thousands gather for Horomia’s tangi

Fairfax media: Helicopters too noisy?

Additional

Mediaworks: Pansy Wong’s political future in jeopardy

Other Blogs

My Thinks:  Severe and extreme outrage expressed over Ron Mark’s use of a helicopter

The Daily Blog:  National’s Anti-Aircraft Fire At Ron Mark Proves To Be Blanks

Previous related blogposts

“Fool me once”…

11 May: End of the Week Bouquets, Brickbats, & Epic Fails

Nats, Lies, and Videotape

So who’s a “conspiracy theorist” now?!

National’s Ohariu candidate admits contact by Simon Lusk

National MP Mark Mitchell and his breath-taking display of arrogance

Key on Banks; Staunch, stupid, or stuck?

But will he remember this helicopter flight in one year’s time?

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 18 March 2018.

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Professor Bill English lectures young New Zealanders on free education

25 January 2018 4 comments

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The new Labour-led Coalition is preparing to implement it’s election promise of one year free tertiary education, planned to start this year.  By 2024, Labour plans to increase free tertiary education to three years. As their website points out;

Government investment in tertiary education and training has fallen and so has participation. In 2010, 40 per cent of 18-24 year olds were in tertiary education or training, but by 2015 (the latest data) that had dropped to 35 per cent.

Despite Labour’s interest-free loans, cost remains a major barrier to post-school education. 65 per cent of parents list cost as a reason young people do not go into post-school learning, and 44 per cent of students report they do not have enough money to meet their basic needs. The cost barrier comprises both fees, which are up over 40 per cent since 2008, and rising living costs such as rent.

Study debt holds people back for years after they leave education. On average, people take eight years to clear their debt. Repayments make it harder to save and this is a contributing factor in plummeting home ownership among under 40s.

Education minister, Chris Hipkins has stated that apprentices and industry trainees will receive two years of fees-free training as their courses are not fulltime.

User-pays (even partially) in tertiary education has been  one of the cornerstones of neo-liberalism. Prior to 1990, tertiary education was mostly free. After 1990, Universities began charging fees for tuition. In 1992, the Student Loan Scheme was enacted.

Fees have even been rising in secondary school education – traditionally considered free for users –  under the guise of “donations”.  Under-funding of the education system has been so bad that schools have been “caught masking voluntary donations as school fees“. As  Palmerston North Boys’ High School rector, David Bovey, revealed in September 2016;

“We could not exist in our current form on the Ministry of Education Operation Grant. Thus, we really do rely on the goodwill of parents to support what we do.”

Between 2000 and 2015 “voluntary donations” to state schools amounted to more than  $1 billion.  Some schools  drew more than $2 million in so-called “voluntary donations” in a year.

The notion of free education in this country has become like our “clean and green” environment and “100% Pure” rivers: a fiction. New Zealanders are deluding themselves if they believe education is still free.

The Labour-led coalition’s policy of gradually increasing free tertiary education will be the un-picking of twentyeight years of neo-liberal user-pays in the education sector.

The Right are not happy.

Bill English – currently filling in his duties as Leader of the Opposition until he is rolled – was scathing and irrational in his condemnation of the Coalition’s free first year plans. On 17 January, on Radio NZ’s Summer Report, he responded to questioning regarding the Coalition’s planned education reforms, saying;

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@ 6.01:

“ The free first year of tertiary education that’s free was explained to us as, um, y’know being paid for by getting rid of what was the tax cuts that were on the books, was explained to us in Parliament as MPs didn’t need the thousand dollars a year. Well, in my case they’ve handed my household now six thousand dollars a year! Because we have someone eligible for the first year of free education. So it’s a very expensive, very poorly targetted policy that will have the effect of getting maybe a few thousand, a couple of thousand more people into tertiary education. I think that’s what the officials have said. So it would’ve been better if they didn’t implement it. ’cause it’s a hugely expensive way to get a few more people into polytech.”

“Poorly targetted”?

How can free tertiary education be “poorly targetted” when it will be focused on New Zealanders wanting further education; on-going training; to be better equipped for the rapidly evolving needs of the 21st Century?

How can it be any more “poorly targetted” than the tax cuts of 2009 and 2010 – and National’s planned tax cuts for this year – that gave massive windfalls of cash to the highest income earners? As Audrey Young reported in the NZ Herald in February 2010;

Herald calculations on the basis of one of the scenarios in the tax working group report (cutting personal tax rates to 30c, 19c and 10.5c) would see someone on $50,000 get about $12 a week net, taking into account higher prices with the GST increase.

A person on $90,000 would get about $50 more a week.

Mr Key has defended his plan against accusations it is skewed to the rich and is light on boldness.

On top of which, the tax-cuts for the wealthy and high-income earners was funded partly by raising GST from 12.5 to 15% – a move impacting on low-income earners the most. Increases in user-pays such as increased prescription charges in January 2013 (from $3 to $5) also hit low-income families and individuals the hardest.

According to research carried out by the Parliamentary Library, the 2010 tax cuts alone cost the country $2 billion.

But according to Bill English, helping young people to achieve academic and training goals is “poorly targetted”.

Bill English is the same politician who, in the last few years, has consistently  denigrated young people and workers in this country.

In 2016;

“ A lot of the Kiwis that are meant to be available [for farm work] are pretty damned hopeless. They won’t show up. You can’t rely on them and that is one of the reasons why immigration’s a bit permissive, to fill that gap… a cohort of Kiwis who now can’t get a license because they can’t read and write properly and don’t look to be employable, you know, basically young males.”

Last year;

“ One of the hurdles these days is just passing a drug test. Under workplace safety you can’t have people on your premises under the influence of drugs and a lot of our younger people can’t pass that test.”

And again in December year;

Government’s fees-free policy will ‘soak up staff out of McDonald’s’...”

English’s contemptuous disdain for workers and young New Zealanders is apparent for all to see.

It should be remembered though, that (according to Wikipedia) Bill English undertook his tertiary education prior to 1987. Student fees/loans did not start until 1991/92.

[Bill] English went on to study commerce at the University of Otago, where he was a resident at Selwyn College, and then completed an honours degree in English literature at Victoria University of Wellington.

After finishing his studies, English returned to Dipton and farmed for a few years. From 1987 to 1989, he worked in Wellington as a policy analyst for the New Zealand Treasury…

Bill English graduated with his Commerce and English Lit degrees without having to pay fees or take  out massive loans. His tertiary education was (near-)free.

This blogger wondered if his (near-)free tertiary education was “poorly targetted”? So I wrote to Mr English, seeking his clarification on matters that have arisen from his interview and comments;

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Bill English <bill.english@parliament.govt.nz>
date: 18 January 2018
subject: Radio NZ interview – some follow-up questions

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Bill English
Leader of the Opposition
Parliament
Wellington

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Kia Ora Mr English,

On 17 January, on Radio NZ’s Summer Report, you criticised the Coalition government’s programme to implement one year free university for students and two years free trades courses for apprentices, and industry trainees as “poorly targetted”.

You were highly disparaging of the policy, complaining that;

“ …Well, in my case they’ve handed my household now six thousand dollars a year! Because we have someone eligible for the first year of free education. So it’s a very expensive, very poorly targetted policy that will have the effect of getting maybe a few thousand, a couple of thousand more people into tertiary education. I think that’s what the officials have said. So it would’ve been better if they didn’t implement it. ’cause it’s a hugely expensive way to get a few more people into polytech.”

Can you confirm the following points relating to this issue:

1. That you yourself received a near-free university education whilst studying commerce at the University of Otago, and then completed an honours degree in English literature at Victoria University of Wellington?

2. That you received a student allowance whilst studying?

3. That subsequent to the economic “reforms” of the 1980s and 1990s, that you paid less and less tax through subsequent tax cuts in those decades as well as 2009 and 2010?

4. That the (near-)free university education you yourself enjoyed was poorly targetted?

5. That you have benefitted doubly by next-to-nothing university fees as well as increased income through multiple tax cuts? And no student debt to pay off?

6. That young New Zealanders have not enjoyed the same benefits of a (near-)free tertiary education that you yourself had in the 1980s?

I look forward to any response you may have to shed light on this issue.

Regards,
-Frank Macskasy

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Any response from Mr English will be reported in an up-date on this story.

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References

NZ Herald:  About 80,000 expected to get fees-free study in 2018

NZ Labour Party:  Making tertiary education and training affordable for all

Productivity Commission: History of tertiary education reforms in New Zealand (p3)

Fairfax media:  Under-pressure schools get dodgy with donations

Radio NZ:  Live – Opposition leader Bill English (alt.link)

NZ Herald:  Tax cuts – High earners set to benefit most

Fairfax media:  Prescription price rise hits vulnerable

Scoop media:  Govt’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting

NZ Herald:  Unions demand Bill English apologise for describing jobseekers as ‘pretty damned hopeless’

Fairfax media:  Bill English says employers are regularly telling him that Kiwis can’t pass drug tests

Twitter: Newshub – Bill English “soak up staff out of McDonalds”

Wikipedia:  Bill English

Previous related blogposts

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

2017: Parting shots from the Right: tantrums, bloated entitlements, and low, low expectations for our Youth – rua

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 20 January 2018.

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

8 December 2017 5 comments

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

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English complained;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lest we forget: Fatima, aged 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writer Harriet Gale…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@1:57

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

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

@2:28

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

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

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

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

@1:13

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

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

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

Tame put the story on Twitter;

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

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

They are political charlatans not to be trusted.

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

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And now…

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

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

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Acknowledgement

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

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References

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

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

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

Radio NZ:  Spy agencies come under scrutiny

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

Radio NZ:  Transport Minister tries to block official information request

Radio NZ:  Ombudsman urges ministers to follow OIA rules

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

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

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

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

Twitter: Jame Tame – 28 November

NZ Herald: Bennett rejects ‘hypocrite’ claims

Additional

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

Other Blogs

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

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

Previous related blogposts

Once upon a time there was a solo-mum

“Fool me once”

Judith Collins owes an explanation to voters

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

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

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

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