EXCLUSIVE: The Donghua Liu Affair – how the NZ Herald played their part in #dirtypolitics




composite header - donghua Liu Affair - v2


– Special investigation by Frank Macskasy & ‘Hercules

Speculation that the Beehive office of Immigration Minister, Michael Woodhouse, was behind the release of a letter linking Labour leader, David Cunliffe, with controversial Chinese businessman, Donghua Liu, is supported by Twitter chatter linking Herald editor, Shayne Currie, with Cameron Slater’s Whale Oil blog.

Nothing to see here” Currie’s boss, Tim Murphy, tweeted on 19 June in response to questions about Immigration NZ’s speedy release the previous day of the now infamous  Cunliffe-Donghua Liu 2003 letter to his investigations editor, Jared Savage.

“We seek info, public service tells govt and denies us info. We refine request and get letters. We publish. Pretty standard.”

But there was nothing “standard” about the handling of this OIA request. Made at lunchtime on Monday June 16 it produced a response — which usually takes at least 20 working days —  within 48 hours. Plucked from a file and previously withheld on privacy grounds, the 11-year-old letter was immediately put to use by National’s frontbenchers in the debating  chamber and by the Parliamentary press gallery in the corridors to discredit Cunliffe and undermine his leadership of Labour’s caucus.

TDB Recommends NewzEngine.com

Although just a routine check on progress being made on  Donghua Liu’s residency application, signed by Cunliffe as New Lynn MP in March 2003, the letter was touted as evidence of support and advocacy for the controversial Chinese businessman.

[Full Background]

For the Herald, it lent credibility to its investigation into allegations that Liu had made big donations to the Labour Party.

Jared Savage’s investigation had included a request on May 8 for all information that Immigration NZ held on Donghua Liu. After taking three weeks to decide to withhold everything on his file on privacy grounds, the ministry sat on that decision for another three weeks before suddenly agreeing to  release it to Mr Savage at 8.59AM on Monday 16 June.

Although no explanation was given for the sudden u-turn it is most likely that the potential for extracting maximum political advantage from releasing the Cunliffe/Donghua Liu letter became apparent over the preceding weekend.

The resignation of ACT leader John Banks as an MP had taken effect on the Friday (13 June). The filling of the vacancy created in Epsom required a special debate on whether to hold a by- election or wait for the general election on September 20. Gerry Brownlee decided to get it over with, scheduling it for Wednesday afternoon following the weekly General Debate. That meant National faced a torrid afternoon on Wednesday 18 June as Opposition parties combined to hang the Government’s dirty washing all around the debating chamber.

A  diversion would be handy.

First, the response to Mr Savage’s May 8 OIA request had to be cleared away and replaced by a fresh request targeted more precisely at the Cunliffe/Donghua Liu letter. Mr Savage obliged with an email seeking “any correspondence, including emails, letters or queries, from an Members of Parliament in regards to Donghua Liu’s immigration status prior to 2005.” The email was sent at 1.04pm on the Monday and asked for the request to be treated urgently because of “the public interest in this case.”

Just over an hour later, at 2.11pm, a remarkably similar request arrived from TV3’s political reporter, Brook Sabin;

“We’d like to know if any Labour MPs lobbied for Donghua Liu’s residency back in 2005 . . . Cheers.”

A growing army of managers, business advisors, comms people and consultants went straight to work on co-ordinating responses to the two requests. Ironically, although TV3 lodged their request sixty seven minutes after the Herald, Sabin was to scoop Savage by three minutes when the 2003 Cunliffe letter was released just under forty eight hours later at 12.49PM on Wednesday 18 June.

Twitter chatter in the hour leading up to the letter’s release reveals a small network of journalists and right-wing bloggers who knew it was coming. They had their stories already written and were waiting impatiently to hit “send”.

12.10pm: Herald editor, Shayne Currie, starts the count down on Twitter: “Tick, tick, tick . . . keep an eye on @nzherald #scoop.”


Shayne Curry - 12.10 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ


The 2003 Cunliffe-Liu letter has not yet been released at this point. No one outside of  Immigration NZ and Minister Woodhouse are supposedly aware of it’s existence. It would not be released for another thirty nine minutes.

At exactly the same moment, an unidentified staff member in the Immigration Minister’s Beehive office in Wellington emails across the Parliamentary complex to Cunliffe’s office with a heads-up. Two documents, Cunliffe’s 2003 letter and a similar one sent five months earlier from Labour’s Te Atatu MP, Chris Carter, are to be released to the media “around 1pm”.

12.12pm: Meanwhile, “Pete” is getting impatient. Described in his Twitter profile as “a fluffer, researcher, reporter, journalist, moderator and deputy editor” for Whale Oil Beef Hooked, “Pete” tweets back at Currie: “We’ve been waiting. Get on with it. #bloodyembargoes.”


Peter  - 12.12 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ


12.23pm “Pete” is missing lunch. He asks @Inventory2 [Wanganui right-wing blogger and National Party member, Tony Stuart] and Currie if he has enough time to make himself a sandwich;


Peter - 12.23 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ


12.28pm: Currie tells sandwich-seeking “Pete” to “Take your Herald mobile app.


Shayne Curry - 12.28 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ


12.30pm: Back in Wellington, ministry staff are racing to get the  letters to the minister’s office. An area manager in Visa Services emails 10 colleagues with the news that a copy of the OIA response to Sabin’s request has been sent to the minister’s office.

12.39pm: The Visa Services area manager reports that he’s “just been advised that the Ministerial consultation has been completed so we will proceed to release.”

12.42pm: The same area manager then emails 10 colleagues to report that the consultation process has been completed and the letters are being released. “I have also asked . . . when we can release the Brook Sabin OIA.”

12.49pm: A business advisor in the ministry’s “Operations Support” team emails scans of the signed response and the two letters to Jared Savage at the Herald. At this point the 2003 Cunliffe and 2002 Carter letters ‘officially’ become public.

12.53pm: Sabin posts a scan of the Cunliffe letter on TV3’s website with a story quoting extensively from it. His story appear four minutes after ImmigrationNZ release the 2003 Cunliffe and 2002 Carter letters to Savage.

12.55pm: “Pete” checks in. He’s had lunch and he’s hot to post the story he’s already written after hearing from Whale Oil. Currie gets the green light and, obviously unaware that the Herald has already been scooped by TV3, tweetsBig political story breaking now . . . what David Cunliffe knew and said about Donghua Liu.”


Pete - 12.55 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ


Shayne Curry - 12.55 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ


12.57pm: Cameron Slater posts excerpts from Savage’s story on his Whale Oil blog along with a transcript from a media briefing the previous day on Labour’s KiwiSaver policy when Sabin’s TV3 colleague, Tova O’Brien, asked Cunliffe four questions about Donghua Liu.

12.59pm: Blogger Keith Ng posts the Question and Answer transcript on Twitter, describing it as a “wicked sick burn.”

1.00pm: The Herald’s veteran political correspondent, John Armstrong, posts a comment on the Herald’s website saying Cunliffe “is in deep political trouble. So deep that his resignation  as Labour’s leader may now be very much in order”. Armstrong’s column is written and published on-line eleven minutes after Savage is emailed the 2003 Cunliffe and 2002 Carter letters.

1.46pm: Parliamentary Press Gallery accuse Cunliffe of lying and and being a hypocrite in 8-minute “stand-up” on his way into the debating chamber.

2.00pm: Cunliffe arrives in chamber, met by jeering from National benches. Ministers use the 2003 Cunliffe-Liu letter to attack the Labour leader’s credibility. Two of them (English and Woodhouse) quote directly from TV3’s Question and Answer transcript from the previous day.

On the following day, Thursday 19 June . . .

8.04pm: Herald political editor, Audrey Young, in New York with the prime minister, reports that Key admitted knowledge of the Cunliffe/Donghua Liu letter for some weeks. She says Cunliffe’s denials that he wrote “any such letter” has “thrown his leadership into crisis.”

5.14pm: Herald deputy political editor, Claire Trevett, and political reporter, Adam Bennett, report that Woodhouse had confirmed that his office had informed the prime minister’s office of the letter’s existence within a few days of learning of it on 9 May, the day after Savage lodged his first OIA request — the first of three conflicting accounts from Woodhouse.

Four conclusions

1. This was no ordinary scoop. This was a political dirty trick with journalists as willing participants when they should have been exposing it for what it was. Links between political operatives, bloggers and journalists are inevitable and revealed. Ultimately the credibility of mainstream news depends on  its objectivity, independence and accuracy.

2. While the last-minute scramble to publish the letter before 1pm on the Wednesday depended on its release to the Herald’s  investigations editor at 12.49pm, there is no record of its  release to TV3’s political reporter. There is no paper trail, except a few references in internal emails. If it didn’t come from the ministry, it must have come from the minister.

3. The production and circulation of the Question and Answer transcript, required to support the — false — claim that Cunliffe had lied or suffered serious memory loss, remains a mystery. Blogger Keith Ng’s instant judgment on it as a “wicked sick burn” is more than just a smart turn of phrase.

4. Nicky Hager’s chapter on the Cunliffe/Donghua letter in ‘Dirty Politics’ refers to a blogger called “Barnsley Bill”, who – on the day before the Cunliffe-Liu story “broke” on 18 June in the Herald –  made this cryptic remark on Danyl McLauchlan’s blog, “The Dim Post;

Within 24 hours the poll are going to be the least of David Cunliffes problems.
Keep an eye on the herald website, we are about to see pledge card theft relegated to second place as the biggest labour funding scandal.

Comment by Barnsley Bill — June 17, 2014 @ 10:21 am

Followed the next day with this;

Pascals Bookie..
There ya go. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11276510
Now wait for the 100k bottle of wine to drop

Comment by Barnsley Bill — June 18, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

“Barnsley Bill’s” reference to “the 100k bottle of wine” was made before the Herald published allegations of Liu spending $100,000 on a bottle of wine to the Labour Party. (Allegations which have since been re-tracted by the Herald.)

Subsequent questions put to  “Barnsley Bill” have yielded no sensible answers, and his/her responses have been evasive. (Ref.)(Ref.)(Ref.)(Ref.)

Maintaining his cryptic game-playing,  “Barnsley Bill” referred on “The Daily Blog” to “look to Kerikeri for the leak” – which he pointedly repeated. Kerikeri is in the Northland Electorate. Northland is National MP, Mike Sabin’s electorate.

Mike Sabin is TV3 journalist, Brook Sabin’s father.

These are the people who knew about the 2003 Cunliffe letter before it was made public under  OIA requests on 18 June. Those OIA requests were ‘smoke-screens’ as TV3, NZ Herald, and Whaleoil already had the documents, or had been informed of their content.

Those letters were provided by the Office of the Minister for Immigration.

Under Savage’s OIA request there was a deliberate, pointed paper-trail trail by Ministry officials. No doubt the civil servants involved had an idea what their Minister was up to, and wanted plausible deniability in case any investigation resulted. By contrast, no such paper trail exists to explain how Brook Sabin obtained his copy of the 2003 Cunliffe letter. Minister Woodhouse was clumsy.

This could have come directly from the Minister’s office.

As the Twitter discussion and “Barnsley Bill’s” cryptic, prescient, comments  indicate, there were several people “in the loop” to what was clearly a calculated, planned, – if rushed – political trap and public smear campaign. Clearly, these people did not expect anyone to notice their public conversation.

Organised from a  Minister’s office; with involvement by Cameron Slater,  and with TV3 and NZ Herald complicity, David Cunliffe walked into that trap.

The truth is only now coming out.

Put the whole Twitter conversation together, and it is abundantly obvious that those involved knew that the story was coming out  prior to the Ministry releasing the 2003 Cunliffe and 2002 Carter letters.

Herald Editor, Shane Currie certainly had fore-warning.


Shayne Curry - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ







Appreciation to ‘Hercules‘ for providing  information and filling in the gaps. Without your in-put, this story would never have come it.





Wikipedia: Shayne Curry

Document Cloud: David Cunliffe-Liu-Immigration NZ 2003 letter

Document Cache: Jared Savage OIA request 16 June 2014

Document Cache: Jared Savage OIA request declined 8 May 2014

Parliament Hansards: Daily debates – Volume 699, Week 75 – Wednesday, 18 June 2014

TV3: Cunliffe’s links to Liu (see video)

NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party

Document Cache: Jared Savage OIA request extension-approved 16 June 2014 8.59AM

Radio NZ: John Banks to resign from Parliament

Document Cache: Jared Savage – Immigration NZ – new OIA request – 16 June 1.04PM

Document Cache: Brook Sabin – TV3 – Immigration NZ – OIA request –  16 June 2.11PM

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

Document Cache:  Release of OIA to Jared Savage – covering email – 18 June 2014 – 12.49PM

Document Cache: Chris Carter – letter – 3 October 2002

Twitter: Pete – 12.12PM

Twitter: Pete – 12.23PM

Twitter: Shayne Currie – 12.28PM

Wanganui Chronicle: Wanganui man outed in Hager’s book

Document Cache: ImmigrationNZ Area Manager to 10 colleagues – 12.30PM

Document Cache: Immigration NZ – 18 June – 12.39PM

Document Cache: Immigration NZ – 18 June – 12.42PM

Twitter: Pete – 12.55PM

Twitter: Shayne Curry – 12.55PM

Twitter: Shayne Currie @ShayneCurrieNZH

Whaleoil: BREAKING – David Cunliffe’s career, such as it was, is over [ UPDATED ]

TV3: Tova O’Brien’s four questions to David Cunliffe, 17 June

Twitter: Keith Ng –

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

NZ Herald: Key on Liu-Labour Link – More to come

NZ Herald:  National denies dirty tricks campaign against Cunliffe

The Dim Post: June Polls – Barnsley Bill

The Dim Post: Entities – Barnsley Bill

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

The Daily Blog: EXCLUSIVE: Was the Donghua Liu Affair another example of Dirty Politics?

Mike Sabin

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?

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

The Donghua Liu Affair: the Press Council’s decision

The Donghua Liu Affair: The OIA Gambit





Vote and be the change


Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes


= fs =


      • +1.
        There are very few ‘journalists’ left in this country though, and even those that there are, I’m becoming increasingly disappointed with. (Some exceptions of course, and sometimes the spin doctors drop the ball and ekshully do a bit of work – temporarily forgetting their desire for ‘stardom status’). Toby Manhire is one such I’m thinking of, but he’s becoming a bit of a dick really.
        Btw …. has anybody noticed Tova Obe’s teeth seem to be getting whiter than white (no need Dearest Dear Dear [the ultimate in paternalistic, mysogenistic, control-freak accusations you can throw at me with a Peddy Gear, Dunc G, breath of collegial support thrown in – including from Deddy). Tovey – you’ve won the battle over that upstart bitch Sammy Hayes and PeddyGear’s Garner mentoring has achieved the ultimate in puppetry elasticity, but he must have been watching Auntie Beeb to get a few extra clues from Andrew Marr). GOTCHA! C.V and showreel eart there hev ya darl? You could do well being ez suphusticaiterd ez yare, en ez esprayshnull. I js lerv seeing ya darl et evry tunety.

        I know people have mortgages to pay though, and they come up with excuse after excuse as to why they shouldn’t martyr themselves (the usual shit – I paid my dues, etc, etc, etc – or even just that they’re so fucking gorgeous they needn’t even TRY performing), but when they find themselves having to rationalise because being part of the enterprise requires it – they really should consider another line of work. It seems to me that prostitution would be more of an upfront & honest occupation for a good number.
        Superficiality and bias just don’t begin to describe it all (Of course Media Studies students – of which a crop seem to be dominating the MSM these days) will have been coached already that bias is Norman Normal; If it bleeds it leads; and all the other ‘clitches’ the likes of Jum Mora and the ultimate work-life-balanced-regular-Gal-expert on all-I paid-me dues-in-the-Press-gallery Keth Roin), but it still hasn’t occurred to them that it is their duty to challenge the StaceKwo.

        “What I would say”, “going forward”, Ez MetaFek Ekshully is that till we get a return to a decent sort of electronic Public Sphere, not a lot will change (unless of course the rabble get so pissed off, there’s a rebellion). I’d prefer the less violent and obvious option whereas it seems to me most are simply involved in considering options that concern self-preservation and preserving their options to “Go Forwud”

        Christ! – you know (as a forer MS tutor), I encountered students that coundn’t even give me an adequate definition of the PS – the basics of Habermas’ ideas, and who I KNEW (from being a neighbour, and from various acquaintances) ……. had not even written the Assignements they’d written (left it to [probly Facebook] frend.. Their Letchreer ensured a good review and that all the various boxes required were tikd.

        So be it
        The harder these cnuts ( and to be universally bigoted – ‘softcocks’) rise – the very very very harder they fall.

        Fear not folks though, Vote positive and Left, BUT even IF we lose, it’s not exactly a gubbamint that can survive – OR – if they do, achiever an agenda. (But then of course, if they do win – I’m off to a BRICS, or a third world where at least they have a passion to discover and support democracy). I trust Frank Mc, a few others like John C, etc. love their country. (Me too btw – it’s just that I’m getting dicrepit and various promises, spin, trends et all a fast becoming irrelevant to me)

  1. Now THAT is some kick-ass investigative journalism right there. Incredible work Frank – respect for the truth!!

  2. They leave sick pups dont they? Doug Graham. John Slater and now Mike Sabin. Has anyone thought to ask if Max Key’s love for and skill at golf might be any indication of an intention to run NZ? Pots of money, the right connections and golf…..should be a shoo in.

  3. Thanks Frank….

    Mind Blowing investigative journalism …..NZHerald think they are untouchable and impartial…NOT!!!!

  4. It’s great to see this stuff available for the general public to read but how many of the general public read it? How many hits are you getting on theses articles. What needs to happen in NZ to get this kind of information out there is to publish a free newspaper. Where I live now the SN&R is online and a free paper published every Thursday. It’s all underground politics and left wing local news. Some very interesting stuff comes out. And lots of advertising to pay for it. But hey if you people can change the rot that has set in in NZ politics in the past several years by writing what you do here, keep up the good work is all I can say really. Thanks a lot.

  5. Well done Frank. It is disgraceful behaviour by those involved. All that effort for an attempted stitch-up, over nothing. To quote Macbeth, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The Herald editorial staff should HANG THEIR HEADS IN SHAME.

    • +1 (which of course is better than a ‘LIKE” – if only because there are at LEAST two Natzi trolls – permanently on duty (after their morning prayers with jamie Lee) to his the ‘DISLIKE’ button.
      Infused springs to mind but then I consider most of them as I do taking the kids to the pool – which because of their age, I need to push the FULL FLush option. Then,. (and if I ever got time – watching their progress out at Moa Point)

  6. In relation to this matter should National get back in then the major intentional step they took to reelection was the smear campaign on David Cunliffe.

    Realising the polls were up on Labour and that post the leadership campaign within Labour would see them out of office they started with the John Key led “tricky” campaign smearing Cunliffe as tricky and untrustworthy, ironically based on nothing and worse supported by the media.

    Then the NZ Herald backed Donghua Liu $100 K bottle of wine front pager in the Sunday edition that had nothing in the paper to back up the outrageous headlines. Then of course the usual suspect columnists posing as either political or business journalists who added their contempt for Cunliffe and it was all over rover.

    Nothing National have done since has done more for their chances.

    An election won off smear campaigns with no substance to them. The Great Election Robbery.

  7. Superb investigative journalism, thank you Frank and Hercules. However, I despair of your evidence being presented to the public through our inept/corrupt msm. Although I read TDB every day (because of the fantastic articles, such as this one), I used to be a true swinging voter, having not much faith in partys. Now I both loathe and fear the current Government and their control of the msm.
    Earlier this year, Damon Wyman and I laid a complaint with the Press Council about Peter Griffin’s piece in the Listener ‘Something in The Air.’ Damon provided proof that Griffin was Tweeting Paul Brislen (ex Vodafone CEO) about Te Horo School’s decision to remove WiFi minutes after the trustees made the decision. The Tweets show Griffin decided to make Damon Wyman out to be an hysterical father in the first thoes of grief (also a tin hatter and anti-fluoride to boot), who had just lost his son and blamed the school’s WiFi. Griffin refused to aknowledge that Ethan Wyman had died 2 years previously and the school hadn’t had WiFi when he attended. Because of Griffin, Damon was ridiculed in the media and Whaleoil and Farrar led the pack. Even though we presented clear evidence and abundant peer-revied medical research to prove the legitimacy of Te Horo’s parents and trustees concerns, the Press Council did not uphold our complaints.
    Over the last 6 years, the integrity of the Fourth Estate has eroded to a terrifying low. I grieve for the loss of my country through our Government’s actions, but they would not have got away with it, without the help of the traitors at the Herald.

  8. Thanks Frank and Hercules – you have both done a fantastic job and I can now show my unbelieving friends just how much they are being conned by the NZ media. The thing that worries me is what are these people getting out of this. Are they doing it for fun, for power or for a discreet brown envelope. This reminds me very much of when I lived in Queensland in the early 80s.

    • It reminds me of living in Queensland in 2014. The main difference is that Joh was man-sized, whereas Newman is miniaturised.

  9. Will any of this come out in either of the 2 enquires? Not if Key gets back in, but if Labour leads the next govt the please make all this far more available to the public than just this blog. The whole lot stinks and shows us exactly how Key can appear so wholesome, acting like the bloke next door. In reality it is straight out of Julius Ceasar and the only tablets they had were clay ones.

  10. Great work….where are the rest of nzs journalists and why are they not following up on these revelations? Ok….rhetorical question….we know most of them are just spouting press handouts. If we dont get these self indulgent con artists out then we need to get out on the streets and demonstrate until the rest of nzers know what goes on in this govt…power to the people!

  11. As thorough and as meticulous an autopsy of yet another National Party / MSM / social-media / compromised-public- service joint operation. Thank you Frank and Hercules; take a bow. As if the details here are not bad enough, what causes me greater concern is the sheer slickness displayed in the rolling out of this sophisticated distraction-by-smear. Such a deft application of dirty politics seems to provide real evidence of just how practised the players are. I wonder also what it says about our society that there has been so little outrage at this demonstration of systemic malfeasance by those required to deal in truth. At what stage will the people shout ENOUGH?

  12. Something about the Lui thing never rand true for me. I mean, finding an 11 year old letter? Really? And two days later it’s in the Herald? What next – a plague of frogs and the Waikato turns to blood?

    Thanks Frank and Hercules. This is about blogs and the msm should be.

    As for the Herald and TV3 – they should hang their heads in shame. They have been outed as stooges of this shabby government.

    • TV3’s a funny one. On the one hand, Campbell, on the other, Henry. What do they say to each other when they pass in the corridors? I guess Campbell’s such a gentleman that he’s civil, but it’s hard to imagine anything more.

Comments are closed.