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Nicky Hager Reply to Don Brash

[See... Don Brash Writes: Nicky Hager's book]

6 December 2006

Yesterday Don Brash circulated a long rebuttal of my book The Hollow Men. In the interests of accuracy I should respond to his substantial points.

Out of a 350 page book, with nearly 1000 detailed references, Don Brash has found two minor inaccuracies. I am happy to take his word about both of them. But neither detracts from the book. The first concerns collaboration between National and the horse racing lobby, which spent large sums on advertising to get party votes for National (magazine advertisements, direct mail, signs at racecourses and so on). Most of these activities appear to have been in breach of the electoral laws but Dr Brash simply ignores them in his rebuttal.

The one aspect he raised was thousands of pro-National postcards that were designed by his parliamentary office staff and handed out at a large race meeting by people paid by the racing lobby. In the book I quoted discussions where the National campaign manager said the party had no money to pay for the postcards and it was decided instead to fund them from the leader's office budget. This appeared to mean three breaches of the electoral laws and parliamentary spending rules: 1. using parliamentary staff to prepare election advertising; 2. using parliamentary money to print the advertising; and 3. not declaring the payments made to the people who distributed the postcards.

In his rebuttal, Don Brash says that National did not use taxpayers' money for the postcards. Presumably Parliamentary Services declined to pay for the postcards or National changed its mind after the correspondence I quoted. However this still leaves two of the three breaches: Dr Brash has not denied that parliamentary staff were used to produce advertising materials for the party's campaign and, assuming the plans went ahead, that the racing lobby paid to have the postcards distributed and this expenditure was not declared by the National Party. In other words, his rebuttal brushes over more than it explains.

The other inaccuracy Don Brash found concerned a speech he intended to read to the National caucus when he made his October 2003 leadership bid. The passage in the book read as follows:

On Tuesday, 28 October 2003, Don Brash was elected leader of the National Party in a secret ballot of National MPs. He had gone into caucus with three prepared speeches. The first was for his caucus colleagues, in which he replied to concerns that he lacked experience to be leader, was ‘too old’ and ‘too right wing’.

Brash also listed ‘what, positively, I would bring to the table as leader’. He mentioned his personal experience as a CEO and in public policy, then emphasised that having him as leader was vital for collecting sufficient corporate election donations. ‘I have good connections in the business community,’ he said. ‘The business community can’t give us enough votes to win, but... [they] can provide us with money. As you and I both know, the Party is currently very short of money, with no obvious willingness on the part of those who could do so to write out big cheques. We need money badly. Indeed, without a substantial injection of funds in the near future, we are in big trouble. I believe that attracting that money would be substantially easier with me as leader.’ The other two speeches he arrived with that morning were a concession speech to read to the press if he lost the vote and the victory speech he read as new leader of the party.

I am happy to accept that Dr Brash did not get an opportunity to read the speech that day. He says that the caucus decided to go straight to the vote without speeches. Nevertheless the speech which had been prepared for that crucial caucus vote gives an interesting insight into his thinking and the arguments he and his political allies were using as they lobbied for him to become leader.

So that's it. After spending two weeks trying to find fault with the book, this is all that Dr Brash could come up with. If there had been more serious errors I assume he would have used his rebuttal to point them out.

Don Brash also uses the politician's trick of making denials against things that have not been claimed. The most concrete of these was where he said: “The allegation that Peter Talley contributed $1 million to the National Party is, as he has made clear to the media in recent days, totally incorrect.”

But the book does not allege that Peter Talley contributed $1 million to the National Party. What it does say, backed up with remarkable documentation, is that fishing industry leader Peter Talley offered a million dollars to National. The book presents evidence of meetings between Brash and Talley about the proposal, written proposals of what Talley expected from National before he gave the money and correspondence in which Dr Brash talks about the million dollar offer and links up Talley with some of the other main National donors (Diane Foreman, Roderick Deane and Craig Heatley) to help develop the proposal.

I concluded in the book that the Talley plans and donation probably did not go ahead, or only went ahead in a reduced form. Essentially, Talley wanted too much control over the National election campaign for the plans to be acceptable to other National MPs and staff. But it still gave a fascinating insight into what Peter Talley and (at least initially) Don Brash thought was acceptable. This was one of numerous examples in the book where the people concerned did what they did because they were confident their plans and actions would remain secret.

The most notable feature of Don Brash's rebuttal, of course, is that he does not mention or bother to respond to all the hundreds of pages of revelations about his party where he was unable to find fault.


ENDS

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