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Sludge Report #168 – Don Brash, Roundtable 'Tool'

Don Brash – "Tool Of The NZ Business Roundtable"


By C.D. Sludge


Click for big version

READ RUTH LAUGESEN'S "Brash's right hand men" @ Stuff.co.nz

Inside:
A Simply Remarkable Investigative Report
Dr Brash Announces His Intention To Walk Headlong Into A Campaign Kicking
The Backstory To Dr Don Brash's Orewa Speech Is Fully Revealed
Meanwhile Who Is Going To Look After Brash's Back This Week?
Where The Rubber Hits The Road

***********

In a simply remarkable investigative report in today's Sunday Star Times Ruth Laugesen reports on a startling series of emails and faxes to National Party Leader Don Brash around the time of his coup against former leader Bill English in October 2003.

The report leads page three of the paper and is followed up with a full page feature on page six.

It would doubtless have been a front-page lead but for Fairfax's need to publicise its new poll , which showed National making gains in the wake of its tax cut plan unveiled last Monday.

However any joy in these gains now seems likely to be very short-lived indeed.

Like Nicky Hager's "Seeds of Distrust" GE corn investigative piece in 2002 Laugesen's article has thrown a spanner into this election which will not be forgotten from the history books for some time.

In pure headline terms the sweet-spot in Laugesen's investigation can be found in a sidebar headlined 'TOOL OF THE ROUNDTABLE'. This focuses on a November 6 2003 email sent by Business Roundtable executive director Roger Kerr to Dr Don Brash titled "Tool Of The Business Roundtable".

And the contents of the email are as explosive as the incomprehensibly poor judgement shown in the headline.

In his email Roger Kerr laments the fact that Douglas Meyers (Beer Baron) and Roderick Deane (Former Reserve Bank Governor and Telecom Chairman) never received high honours under National Governments.

He then attacks Dr Brash's colleagues, most notably his deputy Gerry Brownlee who is accused of "mindlessly attacking" the Business Roundtable, before posing a few pages of talking points to Brash, guiding him how he might like to talk up the public persona of the Business Roundtable.

Laugesen's article is summarized today on Stuff.co.nz - the full feature article is also posted.

How Act helped Brash take over


28 August 2005
By RUTH LAUGESEN
See full article here:
http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/sundaystartimes/0,2106,3391873a6005,00.html

Senior figures in Act helped back National leader Don Brash's leadership coup, leaked documents show.

But the move could have cost Act its own political survival.

Emails and faxes leaked by a National Party source concerned at the influence of big business on the party show leading right-wing figures were closely involved with Brash, advising him on his 2003 leadership coup and political strategy immediately afterwards.

The documents show:
- Act founder Roger Douglas sent Brash detailed advice on his coup and briefed him on political strategy once Brash became leader, advising him, "don't get painted 'hard right"'.
- Business Roundtable executive director Roger Kerr suggested to Brash one of the central phrases later used in the now famous Orewa speech, and gave Brash detailed advice on staff appointments.
- Business Roundtable vice-chairwoman Diane Foreman sent an email offering Brash help with the leadership coup.
- Business Roundtable member and National Business Review publisher Barry Colman paid the hefty bill for an Australian media trainer for Brash and had lunch with Brash and the Australian after the training session.

See full article here:
http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/sundaystartimes/0,2106,3391873a6005,00.html

***********

Dr Brash Announces His Intention To Walk Headlong Into A Campaign Kicking

The substance of today's article was quickly taken aboard by the radio news networks, and by nightfall several of the key players in the saga, including the two Rogers, Douglas and Kerr, had attempted to play down their role in helping Dr Brash into power.

However their efforts to head off this story seem likely to come to naught as this is one story that a Labour Progressive Government in full campaign mode will see as mana from heaven. Already the Progressive Party has started paraphrasing Dylan Thomas in its spin on the news of the day.

But it is when this story is put in its full context that its impact becomes fully apparent.

The National Party has one trump card left to play in this election – a second assault on the "Nationhood" themes of Don Brash's famous Orewa speech , the speech that led to his spectacular gains in public popularity at the beginning of 2004.

And that is precisely what the party and Don Brash is intending to do this week. In today's Herald on Sunday's political story of the day Jonathan Milne reports:

"National leader Don Brash will tomorrow renew his Orewa assault on special treatment for Maori, as a Herald on Sunday poll shows most Kiwis believe ending Treaty settlements would be good for the country.

He will single out laws such as the Crown Entities Act, which requires public agencies to recognise the need for Maori employees.

"I think that's very dangerous stuff," Brash said yesterday. "

However in the circumstances - Laugesen's report quotes Brash as confirming that the communications she based her reports on are real - one can only wonder whether the spin doctors at National Party HQ have lost their grip on reality. Either that or they had not been informed of the bombshell about to be dropped by the Sunday Star Times when they briefed Dr Brash in advance of his interview with Milne.

If Dr Brash does proceed to rake over the coals of Orewa this week - and he will look like a right wally if he decides not to do so now - then he is going to receive the election campaign kicking to end all election campaign kickings.

The entire basis of Dr Brash's Orewa oratory rests on his credibility as a plain-speaking politician talking from his heart about issues which tap directly into the political milieu of "mainstream" New Zealand voters.

However what if - as Ruth Laugesen seemingly proves conclusively - these are not actually his ideas at all, but rather a set of ideas pushed upon him by self-serving business interests represented by highly paid spin-doctors, many of whom actually owe their allegiances to a party other than the National Party….

And what if these same group of people, the puppet masters if you like, on the face of it have no legitimate interest in the debate at all except in terms of what it can be used to achieve ..

********

The Backstory To Dr Don Brash's Orewa Speech Is Fully Revealed

Ruth Laugesen's full page feature [http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/0,2106,3392143a1861,00.html] is clearly based on a veritable motherload of leaked personal communications to Dr Brash – "leaked by a National Party member", according to Laugesen.

She leads off with an email sent to Dr Brash by Roger Kerr the day after his "Tool of the Roundtable" masterpiece, November 7th 2003.

"Business Roundtable chief executive Roger Kerr fires off a note to new National Party leader Don Brash, a week after Brash has toppled Bill English from the leadership.

He has some advice on how Brash should present his views on race relations – he "hates" Bill English's "one standard of citizenship" slogan.

"A far better more inclusive slogan would be the one Keith Holyoake used to use: "We are one people," says Kerr in the email, dated Novemeber 7, 2003.

Eighty days later, Brash makes his now famous Orewa speech on race relations. As Kerr suggested he uses the quote that former Prime Minister and Governor General Holyoake took from an earlier New Zealand leader.

Do we really want a racially divided nation with two sets of laws, he asks?

"The Spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi was expressed simply by then Lieutenant Governor Hobson in February 1940. In his halting Maori he said to each chief as he signed, "He iwiw tahi tatou'. We are one people."

Later in the feature Laugesen comes back to this November 7th email.

"A week after the coup, Business Roundtable executive director Roger Kerr was also in contact with Brash and his office, giving advice and making requests.

Kerr said the Roundtable expected to be involved in formulating National policy on race matters.

"You'll recall that… I said we would like to be involved with the policy paper and that it would be a good idea to have a workshop on it like the others", says Kerr to Brash in his November 7 email.

Laugesen then discusses a second November 6 email, this time from National Party strategist Bryan Sinclair who was appointed by Brash on the advice of ACT Party campaign manager Brian Nicolle.

[Nicolle most recently made the headlines as a result of his involvement in the illegal distribution of campaign material - a National Business Review hatchet job on Dick Hubbard - in the Auckland Mayoral race apparently on behalf of John Banks. John Banks says he didn't know about the activity and promptly sacked Nicolle, however that did not stop Nicolle from getting back aboard ACT's Election 2005 campaign.]

In his email Bryan Sinclair endorses a request from Kerr and his communications manager David Young to discuss appointments to Dr Brash's staff.

Laugesen then states that the Roundtable was very keen for Dr Brash to appoint right-wing Merchant Banker Peter Keenan to his staff. Dr Brash, says Laugesen, confirmed that "the Roundtable may have influenced his decision."

Keenan then co-wrote the Orewa race-relations speech.

The Orewa speech returns to the Laugesen narrative one final time when she records Brash and Kerr's reactions on having the Business Roundtable's role in the development of National's race-relations policy discovered.

"Kerr believes he influenced the Orewa speech with the 'we are one people' line, Brash says he thinks the line went in independently."

*********

Meanwhile Who Is Going To Look After Brash's Back This Week?

Aside from revealing that the Business Roundtable backed Brash into the Leader's job and then bossed him about, Laugesen's masterpiece also deals succinctly with the manner of his appointment, and the story is not pretty.

In doing so this Laugesen article opens up another front on which the National Party Leader is likely to become extremely vulnerable, his home front.

On the Sunday night another offer of help arrived form the Business Roundtable's [vice-chairwoman Diane] Foreman, in an email headed "Do You Need Help?"

"I am currently overseas, but have been phoned by a mutual friend who suggests that you may need help."

She suggests speaking to every National MP and placing a full page advertisement in the Herald.

"Our friend feels you must do deals," she says cryptically.

She suggests National MPs be told that National's coffers will dry up if they don't back Brash.

"Could you contact all your friends in the business community and ask them to lobby their MPs for you, i.e. no Brash no money?," she asks.

In an email to Brash's personal aide a day after the coup she says: "I have been speaking to Roger Kerr so know that the message got given!!!"

Two days later at the Parliamentary Caucus meeting at which English was rolled, Brash raised the issue of business funding. A copy of his caucus speech leaked to the Sunday Star Times says, "as you and I both know, the party is currently very short of money, with no obvious willingness of those who could do so to write out big cheques…. I believe that attracting that money would be substantially easier with me as leader."

************

Where The Rubber Hits The Road

And so you can see something of a pattern emerging here.

  • Business Roundtable wants Brash in the National Party Leaders seat:
    - they tell him to blackmail his caucus colleagues to oil his path - he follows their advice.
  • Business Roundtable wants one of their insiders Peter Keenan in the heart of the National Party policy machine:
    - they tell Brash to do so and he appoints Keenan.
  • Business Roundtable wants race-relations placed front and center on the NZ political agenda, i.e. they want Brash to play the race-card.
    - they tell him how to do so, get Keenan to write him a speech and he delivers it.
  • Dr Brash counters this argument at the end of the Laugesen piece by pointing out that the National Party has adopted policies such as holding onto the SOEs and maintaining a progressive taxation system which run directly counter to Business Roundtable desires.

    However this in itself does not get Dr Brash off the hook. Rather it raises a variety of other possibilities for consideration.

    One possibility is that this is an indication that Brash is a not a very effective "Tool".

    Indeed the fact that someone privy to what are clearly very private communications is willing to leak material so harmful to Dr Brash and the Business Roundtable's interests makes you wonder exactly who within the National Party is gunning for him.

    Another possibility is that the Business Roundtable are in the process of swallowing a few dead rats in order to get their "Tool" into power. And if the details in this sorry tale are any guidance, then such an extra piece of duplicity is far from difficult to believe. But if this is the case then what is real agenda to be rolled out after the election has been delivered?

    From the 2005 Election Campaign point of view the problems with this picture for Dr Brash are legion. For the benefit of this analysis I will present just five of the most obvious pitfalls directly ahead of Dr Brash on the campaign trail:

    1. His credibility as a potential Prime Ministerial candidate rests on his ability to show strength of character. Meanwhile this picture presents him - to quote his friend and supporter Roger Kerr - as a "tool".

    2. His ability to credibly lead his own team is grossly undermined by the revelations that he effectively participated in a business plot to undermine National Party finances in order to force his colleagues to take him on in the first place. The substance of this story reflects badly on him both as a politician and as a person. And the fact that he was elected to the leadership by a majority of one does not make his internal political security look particularly strong.

    3. His ability to play his one remaining trump card - the race-based vs needs-based policy storyline - has effectively been completely shot. If he chooses to proceed at all with a discussion of this subject matter all he will succeed in achieving is a guarantee that all the dirty laundry in this article will be front and center on every television screen in the country all week.

    4. Even if he chooses not to proceed with a new version of the Orewa Oratory he probably cannot prevent the debate over his suitability for high office from leading news bulletins all week. Already the other players in this drama have made it clear they are willing to talk publicly and Dr Brash has already spoken to Ruth Laugesen so he has no real choice but to continue to front.

    5. If he did not know so already he now knows for certain that someone inside his own party with access to his personal emails is gunning for his personal and political destruction.

    Which leaves one wondering just what the National Party Leader can possibly do to dig himself out of this hole?

    In the past when Dr Brash has had his personal integrity attacked - most recently by Trevor Mallard over his friend the billionaire U.S. financier and golf-course owner Julian Robertson – he has effectively gone into hiding.

    In that instance after fronting for a couple of days Gerry Brownlee was left holding the baby. And notably Dr Brash bailed on the issue then even though most media remained supportive of him. That is unlikely to be the situation this week.

    With just three weeks to go to election day, a no-show on an issue as central to the campaign as this is not a realistic option for the National Party Leader – he would probably be better advised to simply resign.

    Another possibility would be for Dr Brash (or the party) to attempt a show of caucus unity. Key National MPs could be rolled out and sing their praises of their leader and pledge their loyalty.

    But actually achieving such a feat might prove a big ask, even if the National Party MPs are in fact loyal to their leader.

    Last week in the wake of the tax-cut plan which is central to the Party's campaign, and which was warmly received by the media and the public on Monday, the National Party caucus could not get its ducks in a row. On Thursday Lockwood Smith went AWOL from a key Foreign Policy Debate and on Friday forestry spokesman Brian Connell was effectively censured by his leader for jumping the gun on native forest logging.

    One thing is certain. This will not be a good week to be Dr Don Brash.

    ***** ENDS *****

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