UPDATED: Leadership, Vision, and Combating a Machiavellian Culture – Is Todd Muller National’s Solution?

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New National Party leader Todd Muller has presented his party’s vision for New Zealand as it grapples with the economic cost of the Covid-19 pandemic. But Muller’s vision was unsurprisingly National while surprisingly short on economic detail. And, after a week where sordid privacy breaches plagued the party – leaving Muller exposed and scrambling to convince voters that National is credible, stable, honourable and ready to govern – Muller’s campaign vision was supposed to be a circuit-breaker. Instead, it left more questions than answers.

Last week private details of recently returned New Zealanders were leaked to a select grouping of media. The privacy breach was seen as the latest bungle by those charged with protecting New Zealanders against the Covid-19 virus.

National’s leader Muller was quick to apply election year politics to the breach and claim it as another example why voters should oust the Labour-led Government and vote for his National Party at the September elections.

But by Tuesday we learnt things were not as they seemed. After the Government had ordered a judicial inquiry into the matter, stating that the breach could potentially be deemed a criminal issue, a lone National MP put his hand up and admitted to have been the person who sent the private information to the media.

But how did the information come to be in MP Hamish Walker’s possession – information that named Kiwis who were in quarantine, detailed their health status, and indicated the location of their place of isolation?

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At that point, National’s Machiavellian politics turned a shade dirty.

It was revealed, Walker was sent the private information from former National Party president Michelle Boag (who was also heading the deputy leader’s re-election campaign team). Boag had apparently received the information as acting manager of a prominent rescue helicopter entity, but, according to Boag, it was received via her personal email account.

By Wednesday, Boag had resigned her acting manager’s role and stood down from the deputy leader’s election campaign team.

Muller insists he knew nothing of Walker and Boag’s tactics and moved to stand his MP down stripping him of his portfolios and hinting that he should be jettisoned from the party referring the matter to the National Party’s board (the board however decided only to remove Walker as a candidate at the next election).

UPDATE: By Friday (July 10, 2020), It was revealed Boag had also provided National MP and health spokesperson, Michael Woodhouse, with private health details of patients. Woodhouse insists that ‘he deleted the information and did not pass any information on to others. He confirmed the information given to him by Boag was not the source of allegations regarding [what was reported as] lax security measures at the New Zealand border‘. (Stuff.co.nz, July 10, 2020)

Stuff reported: ‘Boag said she had sent “several” emails to Woodhouse in June. She described the emails as “comprising notification of a small number of then new Covid19 cases”‘.

Michelle Boag has now resigned her National Party membership.

Woodhouse said Friday he would cooperate fully with the judicial inquiry into the privacy breaches, led by Michael Heron QC.

But Woodhouse is not without blemish either. Earlier this week he told media the leak of patients’ health details was “another serious failing” of the Labour-led Government.

Woodhouse said: “Reports coming in this morning of personal details being leaked which reveals the identity of New Zealand’s current active cases, is yet another serious failing from this incompetent Government.

This is unconscionable and unacceptable that those suffering from the incredibly dangerous virus now have to suffer further with their private details being leaked.

Woodhouse went on to say: “… it’s unfathomable that it couldn’t handle a simple task like this.

It is ‘unfathomable’ why Woodhouse did not come clean with the knowledge that he himself had received private information of patients’ health details from Michelle Boag.

Woodhouse’s reputation now risks being in tatters. He needs to explain himself further.

What is potentially more damaging are New Zealand Herald revelations that leader Todd Muller knew Woodhouse had received patients’ private health information from Michaelle Boag. This, the Herald reported, Muller knew on Tuesday evening (July 7, 2020).

NZ Herald: A party spokeswoman said today Woodhouse told Muller this on Tuesday night.

Muller was specifically asked by reporters “have you checked with Woodhouse, specifically, whether he received that same information from Boag”. “No,” replied Muller and a reporter asked “why not?”

“It’s very clear from our perspective there’s a conversation that’s occurred between Michelle Boag and Hamish Walker. We are confident from what we can see that the issue here relates to Michelle Boag and Hamish Walker.”

Asked again if he had spoken to Woodhouse and if Boag was a Woodhouse source, Muller said: “No, I don’t really understand where you’re going with this.

‘The spokeswoman said Muller didn’t say something yesterday because “we had to look at what that information was and the nature”.

“We needed to assess the information.”‘

The whole deceitful saga leaves one with a sense that National remains bereft of a moral compass, indifferent to legal rights to privacy, manipulative of the public discourse, and prepared to manufacture scandal so as to advance its ambition to retake the Treasury Benches in 2020.

This week’s revelations expose National to a reality that Machiavellianism remains, that factions within National are prepared to operate from the shadows, that the end game justifies the means – to win at all costs.

If Only It Was An Isolated Incident

With Todd Muller becoming leader, standing alongside his Deputy Nikki Kaye, many political observers considered National was sincere in removing dirty politics tactics from its 2020 election toolkit.

But since Todd Muller became leader of the National Party we have seen:

  • National’s new leadership team signal its MPs to go for it… that National has a moral obligation to win.
  • a culture of ‘politics placed before the public’s interest’ … gotcha politics designed to erode a public’s confidence in National’s opponents, placed ahead of serving the public interest.

Let’s look at a brief recap of previous happenings:

Clearly, the public deserved to know immediately so those who may have been in contact with the contagious women could self isolate and await to be tested.

But there’s more.

Also we have seen leaks from inside the National Party revealing how its private polling found it had been sinking in popularity after experiencing a short rise since Muller took the leadership. Its leader Todd Muller was disappointed in the leak having occurred. The leak indicates a lack of discipline inside National.

Is this an indisciplined party that is lacking in leadership, out of step with the New Zealand public’s expectations and interests? This whole saga raises the question: Is National fit to govern in 2020?

A Circuit-Breaker – A Vision – But Where’s The Plan?

After the revelations, and after National’s board failed to remove Hamish Walker from the party, Todd Muller needed a circuit-breaker to restore an impression of leadership. National’s Plan to get New Zealand working ought to have provided Muller with exactly that.

At the Christchurch Chamber of Commerce, on Thursday, Todd Muller indicated his Plan had five key pillars:

  • Responsible Economic Management
  • Delivering Infrastructure
  • Reskilling and Retraining our Workforce
  • A Greener, Smarter Future
  • Building Stronger Communities.

But beyond that, Muller gave little else away. He promised that “over the coming months, and into August, I will be releasing the lion’s share of our Plan in a series of major speeches and engagements.

He added: “Our vision, our Plan and our direction for New Zealand will place jobs at the centre and deliver the results Kiwis need. We have a track-record that shows we do as we say and get the job done.

He continued: “Over the next 72 days my team and I will be working hard to share our Plan with you.

He said: “National believes in: An open and competitive economy;
A broad-based, low-rate tax system; An independent central bank with the primary goal of price stability; The Fiscal Responsibility Act, now part of the Public Finance Act; and A flexible labour market, underpinned since 2000 by good faith.

Then came a glimpse of the real plan. Muller said:

Under Helen Clark, John Key, Bill English and Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand has spent, in 2020 dollars, $505 billion on social welfare, $302 billion on health, $260 billion on education, and $27 billion on corrections. That is well over a trillion dollars on those four areas alone just since the year 2000, or well over $200,000 for every single person living in New Zealand today.

When we see more than one in eight New Zealand children still living in material hardship; more than 310,000 Kiwis on a benefit even before Covid-19 (and now up to more than 350,000); more than a million food grants needed last year; and the state house waiting list having more than tripled since Labour was elected, then I don’t think anyone can believe we have achieved the best possible return on that trillion-dollar-plus investment.

So what is Todd Muller suggesting here? Are we to believe that under his leadership National would embark on an austerity plan that would abandon community-led social investment, education, tertiary and trades-training investment (a raw point of failed social investment of former prime minister John Key’s so called ‘rock star economy’ that was publicly criticised by the OECD)?

Is Todd Muller suggesting a return to small government ideology akin to last century? If so, is that out of step with globalised and developed western economies that have embarked on fiscal stimulus plans more aligned with Keynesian economics than that of Milton Friedman and George Stigler’s Chicago school of economics theories that New Zealand zealously embraced from 1987 through to 2017?

Surely in the post-Covid recovery period economies will require governments to intervene, to commit to broad-based and bold fiscal stimulus, plans that lead toward a rebalancing between export-led recovery and domestic self sufficiency and societal progress?

Is there a role for business to work with government? Yes, certainly, it is a necessity. But in the immediate post-Covid recovery period the business sector will not be ready to pick up the shovel and rebuild to scale on behalf of a government that does not have the willpower to lead the effort.

Muller said on Thursday:

Let me tell you what that means in practice. In 2020/21 and 2021/22, my Government will not be scared of investing more in retraining, if we are confident it will genuinely improve productivity, lower unemployment, increase the tax take, reduce the cost of welfare and improve wellbeing over the following decade.

Does this mean we would see an overhaul within a period of crisis where Government would constrain stimulus through targeted ‘investment’ to the private sector, relying on the latter to deliver once-government services and social programmes?

Will Todd Muller’s National Party outsource to the private sector its responsibility to deliver social welfare, health, education, corrections services?

Is this what Todd Muller’s key appointment, Matthew Hooton, has been working on since his appointment last month? Hooton’s political commentary is known to many and has contributed greatly to political discourse in New Zealand. Matthew Hooton is known as a proponent of small government, an advocate for the ideologies of right neo-liberal economics who earned his National Party stripes when the ideas of former minister of finance Ruth Richardson was all the rage. Hooton often criticised John Key and former finance minister Bill English for being too moderate and failing to deliver, while popular, reform that would further liberalise New Zealand economic environment.

If Todd Muller is to be regarded as a prime minister in waiting, then eliminating dirty politics from his party is only part of a necessary plan. Convincing a voting public that user-pays and the privatisation of essential social services – welfare, health, education, and corrections – may be truly testing.

But then, a real leader would demonstrate courage alongside convictions. And time, as they say, is not on his side.

 

Selwyn Manning is the editor of Evening Report.

 

 

24 COMMENTS

  1. The five pillars of Nationals plan.
    Every serious party has the same basic pillars and plan.
    Vague generalisations and overall visions are worthless without some specifics – what exactly will you do where, when and how much will it cost?
    That is what we need to know and National treat us as though we are a mass of ignoramuses.
    That may go down well with the sleepy hobbits but since COVID-19 a lot of the hobbits have woken up and realised the world is a different place now.
    National do not inspire any confidence for our future, they only remind us of what we had, that they intend to recreate it but won’t tell us how.
    Yesterday’s party with yesterday’s policies.
    We don’t need them in government.

  2. No surprises here. In accordance with Hootens instructions, Muller as demonstrated in his last job, will put paying the govts bills in a box labelled ignore for three months in order to manipulate the narrative to one of claimed reduced spending.

  3. Of late and in the early mornings I have watched a horror drama series called The Walking Dead on TV2.

    The Zombies i.e the Walking Dead; remind me of the NZ National Party, its MPs and of course its supporters.

    They shuffle along in an almost shambolic way and are only focused on one thing i.e obtaining for what they can find.

    The behaviour of their MPs and even former president shows to me how badly behaved they have become over the years. They will not stop at anything even if it means them showing to NZ voters they lack a conscience or any ounce of remorse for their actions.

    All they are obsessed with is gaining political brownie points by trying to name and shame anyone and everyone in the Coalition government. They JUST DON’T CARE about NZers when it comes to wanting to appear Chief Pig Trougher.

    Their level of stupidity and selfishness shows no boundaries let alone credibility.

    Lets look at the fact Hamish Walker who has only been in politics as an MP for 3 short years has been the ONLY one in the current National Party to resign due to all that has happened.

    To date Michael Woodhouse who has been a politician since 2008 has created as fictitious homeless guy masquerading as a COVID-19 person in managed isolation and still keeps his job.

    Todd Muller has been an MP since 2014 and still keeps his job.

    And Hamish Walker is the one booted out because he hasn’t been an MP all that long politically.

    Michelle Boag will probably get away with a mere slap on the hand with a wet bus ticket because of her ‘life long commitment’ to the all so perfect NZ National Party.

    National truly are not worth the piece of paper their names on the election voting forms are on. They know no boundaries when it comes to resorting to dirty and self serving political antics. They are a reflection of all that is bad in the world.

  4. No he is not, especially as he knew since Tuesday that Woodhouse had also received leaked personal information from Boag. Why was he not upfront to the media? Why did Muller tell the media he believed no other MPs were involved when he knew there was?
    It explains why Woodhouse has been quiet the past week. It also explains why the media stated that Woodhouse “Confessed”. Well he only confessed because Boag named him!
    Woodhouse must resign, he cannot be trusted and he sits in the corrupt basket.

  5. Poor old Toddy. It’s just not happening for him…
    Having already lost Chief Propagandist from media panels in Hooton, the Deputy Chief Propagandist for the Natz, Ms Boag, has now resigned from the Party so she will, if she has any sense of propriety left (and media have any sense of balance and ethics (which I won’t hold my breath for)), will also give up on such panels.
    And then there were none?! Don;’t bank on it!.
    You reap what you sow, Natz!

  6. ‘build stronger families, stronger communities and a better life for everyone.’

    The same old bullshit National have been spouting for over a decade.

    Remember “Better brighter future”? as National facilitated faster raiding of the commons and faster generation of pollutants, leading to more unswimmable rivers etc. and higher emissions that contribute even more to destruction of the future, whilst those with best access to the money trough gorged themselves.

    You are a fuckwit or a liar, or both, Todd.. Maybe we should change that to Toad (though that would be an insult to toads).

  7. Great article thanks, it also doesn’t help that the mainstream media are pro national party and an investigation should be held into these organisations especially NZ Herald and Media Works …it’s only my opinion

    • And I agree……90+% of the NZ media are so obviously a National party propaganda outlet. Pure and simple !!

  8. Let me shorten this whole article you wrote. In the words of Trotter:
    Muller and National are toast. Burnt toast in fact.
    Phew, now that I got that off my chest, I can go fishing.

  9. And now Yangs gone! Mullers rats are scurrying. Bridges must be wetting himself with laughter!
    So many dodgy people. As I have stated Woodhouse has constantly asked for David Clarkes head. We now have a person whom has been supported by his leader who has lied considerably and become the new face of dirty politics. Based on all the evidence Woodhouse must resign. One could never take anything Woodhouse says as the truth. And how many years has he been doing this, probably for as long as he has been a politician.

  10. If the seedy Woodhouse was going to cooperate with this enquiry then getting rid of the evidence via deletion of what he had been sent by Boag is exactly the polar opposite of cooperation. It suggests obstruction!

    Akin to a bonfire of incriminating documents like crooks do before the authorities catch up with them.

  11. “National believes in: An open and competitive economy;
    A broad-based, low-rate tax system; An independent central bank with the primary goal of price stability; The Fiscal Responsibility Act, now part of the Public Finance Act; and A flexible labour market, underpinned since 2000 by good faith.”

    ————————

    1/ An open and competitive economy.

    Code for: lax border controls, downwards pressure on wages and further destruction of unions, – esp by resuming import of cheap labour from India and China, more land, assets and resource sell offs, more sell offs of state housing and welfare cuts. And that is just a small list.

    2/ A broad based, low – rate tax system.

    Code for : Increasing GST which penalizes lower income workers and the unemployed disproportionately. Favours foreign corporate’s and local large industry’s in (again) paying less tax proportionately than PAYE workers who shoulder the bulk of taxation ( in yet again ) proportionately.

    3/ – An independent central bank with the primary goal of price stability.

    Code for : Meaning govt is held captive to market forces which in this post covid 19 world will be a complete ( and entirely predictable ) neo liberal disaster as the global economy dives, a govt cannot back up debt to borrow for needed social projects let alone relief for businesses and wages, – and afar from price stability,- will simply follow the rest of the herd to the bottom as prices plunge globally and mass unemployment kick starts off inflation ad rising interest rates as banks move to cover their losses.

    4/ The Fiscal Responsibility Act, now part of the Public Finance Act .

    Code for : The mechanism which has hamstrung every successive neo liberal govt in such things as infrastructure ie : health ,education regional development, – and welfare since the 4th Labour govt, – including this Labour led COL over its last 3 year term, and which will need to be struck off the legislature well before the coming harsh economic climes start to bite.

    5/ And A flexible labour market, underpinned since 2000 by good faith.”

    Code for : Low wages , casual labour contracts, flat rates regardless of hours worked, a large pool of the unemployed to keep wages low, draconian welfare measures due to this deliberate policy, tolerance of more crime this produces with the opportunity of using the ‘tough on crime’ stance.

    These are but just a few affects these regressive policy’s will produce.

    ——————————————–

    I don’t know about you dear reader, – but these measures have all been tried before for the last 36 years and have met with resounding failure. Except for the National party MP’s. And I will add Labour if I were to be honest. Labour started it and have never renounced it. But at least there are some signs ( faint ones I will add ) Labour is reconsidering…

    But to come on strong and present this cartload of stinking bullshit as some kind of realistic policy platform in a post covid19 world ??!! Seriously ??!! Really ??!!

    Has this man just crawled out of the Permian swamp and dusted off a few trilobites ???!!!

  12. Hee hee … I bet sometimes in a quiet moment of reflection when he’s having one of his many ‘cups of tea and lie downs,’ Muller wishes he hadn’t put his name forward for the poisoned chalice that is National’s leadership and left it all to Simon Bridges to carry on with.

  13. All this dirty politics factionalism is completely dysfunctional in terms of serving the country. NZ has its hands full atm, and the war on Covid, though successful thus far, won’t be over by Xmas. The Gnats need to generate some value for the punters, who are starting to wonder wtf we’ve been paying these screaming ninnies for. But what the Gnats need is less and less important – New Zealand is moving on.

  14. A carefully assembled evidence based analysis Selwyn Manning. When I move to speculate on the systematic nature of all National’s attempts to undermine Labour’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, the recent spate of detainees leaving their detention and doing a bit of shopping, seems part of a sinister plan to win the election. So I ask, are the escapes from detention instigated by National?

    Michelle Boag has sacrificed herself, taking the blame for leaks. Todd has distanced himself from any knowledge, but that has become his usual tactic. However, covering up himself is not working, as you point out. There will be cases in court and prison sentences arising from these nasty practices. Perhaps that will inspire one of the accused to name manipulator/s.

    If National carry on these dirty politics, they may achieve Melbourne in A/NZ. Their attempts to topple Labour will mean sacrificing our health.

  15. Dig deeper and what you might find is a seriously Ideological Bureaucracy serving each Ministry in providing the Grunt work that the Ministry’s create in Parliament. The Ceo’s, Consultants and their personal Management Teams that keep the wheels of Neoliberal Bureaucracy greased and somewhat functional are exactly where Michelle Boag gleened her dirty l’il secrets. She’s been around this Hog Trough for 40 years and picked up a lot of Allies along the way, happy to feed her information to defeat the incumbent, that they all Ideologically oppose, but are happy to take their overstuffed paychecks from.
    Our Ship of State is a Rat infested Barge floating on a Sea of Neoliberalist Greed and extreme self interest.
    How do you fix that without tearing the place apart every 3 years and bringing in a whole new batch of Worker Bee’s & Bumble Queens that have been vented and vested in a test of allegiance to their newly elected Boss’s??
    Unless we break the ties of Party politics and the Ideologies they individually serve in their self interested greed grab in the “Me First” game we are going to be stuck in the Mire until a Messiah comes along with a new Mouse Trap to replace the old Rat Trap.
    I think Robertson understands this but he’s too blinkered in Neoliberal Economic Management philosophy to have the balls to go rogue and get the new show on the road.
    I reckon we need to get rid of this Ideologically Driven Party Politic Machine because oit interferes in Democratic Governance for and by We the people”.

  16. Excellent comments Wild Katipo / Mike the Lefty & OBhave!Dig deeper and what you might find is a seriously Ideological Bureaucracy serving each Ministry in providing the Grunt work that the Ministry’s create in Parliament. The Ceo’s, Consultants and their personal Management Teams that keep the wheels of Neoliberal Bureaucracy greased and somewhat functional are exactly where Michelle Boag gleened her dirty l’il secrets. She’s been around this Hog Trough for 40 years and picked up a lot of Allies along the way, happy to feed her information to defeat the incumbent, that they all Ideologically oppose, but are happy to take their overstuffed paychecks from.
    Our Ship of State is a Rat infested Barge floating on a Sea of Neoliberalist Greed and extreme self interest.
    How do you fix that without tearing the place apart every 3 years and bringing in a whole new batch of Worker Bee’s & Bumble Queens that have been vented and vested in a test of allegiance to their newly elected Boss’s??
    Unless we break the ties of Party politics and the Ideologies they individually serve in their self interested greed grab in the “Me First” game we are going to be stuck in the Mire until a Messiah comes along with a new Mouse Trap to replace the old Rat Trap.
    I think Robertson understands this but he’s too blinkered in Neoliberal Economic Management philosophy to have the balls to go rogue and get the new show on the road.
    I reckon we need to get rid of this Ideologically Driven Party Politic Machine because oit interferes in Democratic Governance for and by We the people”.

  17. I’m curious Bomber, why my “on point” comments are continually marked as SPAM by your Askimet Administrator? Very frustrating for an old Angel!

  18. Oh jeez, our morals and scruples and National’s. Thank you Ballance and Savage. Though Oz’s anti-establishmentarianism was and is better. Murdoch’s b.a. Christian twits over there know they can’t disturb the Ozzies for the Rich’s sake.

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