Situation Normal – All Fucked Up

By   /   June 12, 2013  /   12 Comments

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If Labour and the Greens can’t make a better fist of defending press freedom and the citizens’ right to privacy than the National Party, then some very serious questions need to be asked about their competency.


WHAT A CURIOUS INVERSION of the conventional political playbook. A conservative prime minister defending the rights of the news media. The same Green Party that barred media representatives from just about every session of its annual general meeting championing a journalist damsel in distress. The leader of a populist party which owes its very existence to the successful exploitation of leaks exposing scandals, demanding the head of a political rival for (allegedly) leaking information and exposing a scandal. And, not to be outdone, a Labour Party hell-bent on making public the private communications between a journalist and her source.

If there’s a common principle linking these actions, then it’s extremely well hidden!

In yesterday’s snap parliamentary debate on Peter Dunne’s resignation, Greens co-leader Metiria Turei made a special point of displaying her sororial solidarity with Press Gallery journalist, Andrea Vance. At best, this was diversionary. Ms Vance, a veteran of the Murdoch press, has almost certainly been in tighter spots, and with the full backing of her Fairfax editors has no need of additional champions. The journalist’s situation did, however, afford Ms Turei the opportunity of talking about something other than John Key’s need to keep the disgraced Mr Dunne inside an “unstable” and “unethical” government which “relies on the votes of disgraced men”.

Progressive voters tuning in to the debate would probably have preferred the Greens’ co-leader to re-focus Parliament’s attention on the document Mr Dunne is accused of leaking: the Kitteridge Report. They might also have expected her to indicate what a Green Party would have done if supplied with a report revealing more than 80 instances of illegal surveillance of New Zealand citizens.

If the Greens had a representative on the Security and Intelligence Committee , and he or she had been made aware of such violations, what would the party expect that person to do? Make contact with a trusted journalist? Leak the report before the Government contrived a way of spinning its contents to safety? Or, would it expect its representative to keep the report confidential – thereby demonstrating the Greens’ reliability, and confirming their suitability for a seat at the Cabinet Table?

What’s that? The Greens did have a representative on the Security and Intelligence Committee? Russel Norman? Oh, well, I guess we already know which choice the Greens would make – don’t we?

Labour’s performance was equally demoralising. Listening to David Shearer’s opening speech, it soon became clear that he had requested the snap debate not for the purposes of elucidation, but solely for the purposes of persecution. Peter Dunne’s career is in tatters and his reputation is shot, but that is not enough for the Labour Party. Apparently, the party of the workers will not be content until Mr Dunne, like the traitors of old, is subjected to a prolonged, painful and very public execution.

“The public deserves answers, and this House should be left in no doubt that this is an issue that is as serious as it gets. It involves one of the Government’s support parties and one of John Key’s most senior and trusted members. The report was considered so sensitive that it was held in a highly restricted electronic system within the Government Communications Security Bureau. No electronic copies were distributed; just 35 copies of the report were circulated. The report was a matter of our national security—the most sensitive information we have. Two months ago—just 2 months ago—John Key agreed. Two months ago, leaking the report was so serious it demanded an inquiry. Two months ago John Key said that these leaks “undermine the integrity of the entire Public Service.” Two months ago he said that he had a responsibility to get to the bottom of it if he could.”

Perhaps Mr Shearer’s hard-line approach is the long-delayed pay-back for Mr Dunne’s defection from the Labour Party in 1994. Perhaps Helen Clark’s use of the United Future Party’s votes following the 2002 and 2005 general elections was inspired by nothing more than realpolitik. Whatever its inspiration, Labour’s strategy clearly anticipates the complete political destruction of Mr Dunne. The Prime Minister is to be deprived of an ally – and his crucial vote – thereby stalling the Government’s legislative programme until after the by-election Labour clearly intends to precipitate.

This cannot be achieved without revealing to the world the full contents of the e-mails exchanged between Mr Dunne and Ms Vance. That will not be easy. Fairfax Media has warned Parliament’s Privilege Committee that any attempt to subpoena their journalist’s correspondence, or compel her to divulge the identity of her source, will be resisted to the fullest extent of its powers.

If the Privileges Committee proceeds down that path they will be doing exactly what the American humourist, Mark Twain, warned politicians against. “Never pick a fight”, said Twain, “with people who buy ink by the barrel.”

The National Party’s Deputy-Leader, Bill English, could hardly conceal his delight at the prospect of Labour getting involved in such a fight. Responding to Shearer’s speech, the Finance Minister declared:

“Peter Dunne is a member of Parliament. OK. So this is the proposition of the Labour Party to the media now: any journalist who corresponds with any Minister in any Labour Government needs to know that their emails and voice messages will be open to scrutiny by the Prime Minister whenever they feel like it. That is the Labour Party proposition to the media. Well, let us just watch over the next couple of weeks. Those members might shout it in here, but out there they are going to be working very hard to get off that hook, because their relationship with the media is now at stake, and when you are in Opposition you need to be able to communicate with the media. You need to have free flow of information. You do in Government too, actually.”

Mr English’s boss put it more succinctly. Addressing the Press Gallery, The Prime Minister asked: “Do you guys seriously want me going out there foraging through your correspondence with my MPs and my ministers and other ministers and support parties? … I think that’s a step you would ferociously repel and be extremely vocal in your opposition to.”

Mr Key’s grammar is as tortured as ever, but it’s hard to disagree with what he is saying. Which really leads me to wonder what the hell is going on with Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. If Labour and the Greens can’t make a better fist of defending press freedom and the citizens’ right to privacy than the National Party, then some very serious questions need to be asked about their competency.

During World War II soldiers became so used to the Army getting things wrong that they coined the acronym “SNAFU” to describe its routine incompetence. I would hate to think that things were now so bad – particularly in Labour – that the party’s strategy for dealing with Mr Dunne could simply be written off as SNAFU:

Situation Normal – All Fucked Up.

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  1. Patti Poa says:

    Labour is FUBAR

  2. david says:

    Agreed. Labour is asleep at the wheel these days. Brings to mind another army acronym: SAMFU Self Adjusting Military F**k Up (only this case replace the M with L for Labour.)

  3. Kevin M says:

    There are more than 35 copies. Good view in this article & well placed.

  4. Afewknowthetruth says:

    ‘some very serious questions need to be asked about their competency.’

    The truth sometimes takes a long time to be revealed.

    The fact is, they’re all incompetent. It’s just that some are more incompetent than others. (All very Animal Farmish.)

  5. 100% Pure NZ says:

    Goff did not step aside prior to the last election – we all know the result.

    You’d hope someone in the Labour party had worked out what to do this time around.

    Don-Key and his regime must be laughing all the way to the bank.

  6. adam white says:

    Ah labour – the party of desperation. Once voice of the working man, now slave to “the man”. I will be happy when your dead, as I hope it will stop Harry turning in his grave down there in Bolton street.

  7. BurntOutTeacher says:

    I am inclined to think mutual correspondence should only ever be published or distributed with the consent of both primary parties in a situation where neither is under duress. I mean, I’m curious about the content of their emails, but I wouldn’t want MY emails published, so we need to ensure our politicians have the same rights. They are people, after all.

  8. Tom says:

    If the Privileges Committee proceeds down that path they will be doing exactly what the American humourist, Mark Twain, warned politicians against. “Never pick a fight”, said Twain, “with people who buy ink by the barrel.”

    This is no longer true. I’m not sure how aware professional journalists are of the fact that they are disliked and mistrusted by the public. There are plenty of New Zealanders who would rather see a journalist put to the sword than a politician. Most of the kerfuffle about freedom of the press is self serving bullshit put about by the press.

    The internet means that we have alternatives, and that politicians have alternative means of getting their message out. With every new day the traditional press becomes less relevant and more parasitic.

    The Glenn Greenwald’s of this world are the exception than proves the rule.

    • MARC says:

      “Most of the kerfuffle about freedom of the press is self serving bullshit put about by the press.”

      Tom – I totally agree with what you say! And I also support your last sentence of your comment.

      “The media” as we have it now is either largely “corporate” private media, focused on earning advertising revenue and delivering much “infotainment” style crap for “news”, avoiding to upset governments and always mindful of the expectations of business (their paymasters), or it is the remnants of public broadcasting funded by the state, which is increasingly forced to follow the “trend setting” private media.

      We have media showing more and more bias and offering almost no investigative journalism, rather reporting on selected press releases of parties, organisations and companies.

      They do not report much about law changes that affect the ordinary people, and certainly nothing what affects the people on the fringe of society, or at the bottom of the social pyramid, that is for instance beneficiaries and working poor.

      It was a disgusting ignorance the media showed when it came to the recently pushed through welfare reforms in the form of the ‘Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Act’. Close to 60 thousand sickness beneficiaries will be turned into “job seekers” in a changeover to occur on 15 July, and virtually all beneficiaries, including seriously ill and disabled, will at some times be re-assessed for work capacity, separate and in addition to the previously used medical examinations, which were used to decide whether a beneficiary with health issues had some capacity to work.

      There are other radical changes coming in, but the mainstream media reported stuff all about what the reforms were about. All the public ever heard was the news that the bill was introduced in mid September last year, and in March, I believe, it was only briefly mentioned that the reforms had passed Parliament in the 3rd reading.

      The public only heard mention of “drug testing” of beneficiaries (if a job offered or applied for required this), of “social obligations” for beneficiary parents and of stopping the benefits for people against whom a warrant for arrest had been issued.

      All we usually get from the media about beneficiaries is about “fraud” and “cheating”, which comes in the form of front page stories. There are also stories about Housing NZ houses valued at a million or more, and why they should be sold and beneficiaries rehoused on “more affordable” (poor area) housing.

      That is the MSM to me and others. They have the cheek to go on about freedom of the press, while they do not even do their job as the supposed 4th estate. They are lackeys of the powerful lobby and business groups, and nothing else.

      I also supplied some sensitive and highly revealing info to some media outlets at some time back, but they never bothered writing about it, yes usually did not even bother to contact and ask questions. To me the media are made up of self serving journalists who want to appear professional and important, who claim to be journalists, and wanting to reveal the true stories, but who mostly do anything but. It is a bunch of over-rated egotists, not worthy the respect they are given by some.

      So only blogs of quality have a great future, I feel, also being an alternative source where one finds topics and information that MSM do not deliver us.

    • Draco T Bastard says:

      Was thinking along similar lines myself. In fact, I think it’s time for political parties and the government to start to communicate directly with the people and bypass the middle people.

  9. Grant Michael McKenna says:

    Funny thing is, the US’s NSA probably has the emails now. Perhaps we should just wait for the next disaffected geek to release them…

  10. MARC says:

    Well, well, well, I agree with some that Chris writes, but not with all. Yes, I feel indeed, that Labour and to some degree also the Greens are following an agenda in this discrediting of Dunne – and with that John Key and his government – which is problematic and not properly thought through.

    To the public this must seem like a desperate opposition desperately struggling to use anything they can lay their hands on, to attack and discredit the government and support parties.

    Naturally there is justification in criticising Dunne for his conduct and hypocrisy as MP and government minister, but I feel they are taking it too far. They would be advised to leave most of this digging and exposing to Winston Peters, who is an expert in these matters, while he himself could though be accused of sitting in a glass house and throwing rocks around.

    Nevertheless just leaving all the attacks to Peters would on the other hand make Labour and Greens look incompetent and not being up to it. So they have to join in to some degree.

    I remember Grant Robertson correcting and clarifying Labour’s position, when speaking in Parliament, that Labour is not wanting the media to deliver the emails in question. So he must have realised that including a journalist in subpoena would turn out to be problematic. It seems then, that they want Dunne forced to disclose all.

    As for the media themselves, I see them not bothering to give too much time and support to the opposition anyway, the mainstream media that is. One has to accept, that most media does not write and report all that much about what the opposition says and does, and many press releases by Labour are not even mentioned, it seems. Shearer himself does not help the media exposure of Labour, with his unconvincing, slack appearance and talk, whenever the media bother speaking with him. So what would Labour lose by upsetting a Fairfax journalist and the MSM then?

    Where Labour and also the Greens are making serious miscalculations is the fact, that the wider public will not be all too much interested in the fate of Dunne, in that endlessly debated “leak” of a report that was to be released anyway. The public does after all these efforts by Labour and the Greens to discredit Key also not substantially change their perception of Key and his image, it seems. While some of the gloss has come off Key, he is still leading well ahead as favoured PM and rated much better in his and his government’s performance as the opposition.

    This over-focus on Key is not going to get the opposition enough votes and support. The constant criticism, although justified in many ways, of various government failings, of personalities, of some policies, that is in itself not going to convince the public that Labour and Greens would be a worthwhile alternative government.

    We are half way through another year. This year Labour wanted to develop and announce more policies, but all we have had so far was the joint announcement of NZ Power for wholesale electricity purchasing by a state agency, together with the Greens. Shearer left the country after that, so did not do his “selling job” on this.

    There is nothing else we learn, and Kiwi Build is no longer much talked about. Last year was a wasted year of golden opportunity for Labour, with an unconvincing Shearer stuffing around while the Nat led government went from disaster and embarrassment to the next disaster and embarrassment. We face another wasted year with no policies of substance presented by Labour.

    So how are they going to get votes, with a useless “leader”, an under-performing, also split caucus, and with no policies of substance? I see Labour sink into insignificance unless a radical change happens in the next few weeks or months, certainly not likely to win enough votes in 2014.

    Labour, and lesser so the Greens, you are betraying existing and potential voters and their despair for a competent, convincing alternative to the present rotten government caring only for the upper percentages of New Zealanders. Get off your arses and bring us policy and more, thanks!