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Don Brash Writes: Nicky Hager's book

Don Brash Writes

06 December 2006

Nicky Hager's book

As most of you know, some weeks before last year's election some emails sent to me were leaked to the media, allegedly from a National Party source. This was irritating, and even a bit embarrassing, but I took no serious action to find the source of this leak believing at the time that the emails had been leaked either by accident or by a discontented member of my staff or caucus.

After the election, Winston Peters boasted of having "telephone books" of my emails, which he promised to release in due course. He indicated that these emails would "blow your heads off". But he eventually tabled in Parliament only a single email and attachment, and neither came close to "blowing our heads off".

I did, however, commission a private investigator to see if we could find the source of these leaked emails. That investigation found nothing.

But as this year wore on, there were more and more references to leaked emails. Helen Clark and Michael Cullen referred to them in the House. I became aware that some members of the Press Gallery had seen some of them. And so I asked the police to investigate.

Last month, thinking that a "book of emails" was due for publication before Christmas, I sought and obtained an injunction to prevent the publication of such a book, believing that it is very important that members of the public can communicate with the Leader of the National Party, and indeed with all Members of Parliament, and have those communications treated in confidence.

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Great was my surprise when, a few days later, Mr Nicky Hager announced that the injunction was blocking the publication of his book. Hager's book was never the target of the injunction, and as a result I asked the court to lift the injunction as soon as possible.

Hager contends that his book - a scurrilous attack on both the National Party as an institution and me as its Leader - was written with the help of emails provided to him by six "people in the National Party (who) were profoundly unhappy" with how some of the Party's electoral success in 2005 had been obtained.

This edition of "Don Brash writes" is my response to Mr Hager's book.

It is, of course, impossible to reply to every allegation in that book short of writing a book of my own. I don't intend to waste my time doing that. There are literally dozens of factual errors, some of no great significance but others of much greater importance - such as the allegation that taxpayers' money was used to pay for a pamphlet promoting a fair tax regime for the racing industry; it was not. This is a good illustration of the trouble Hager gets himself into by having access to only part of an internal discussion.

But it is important that I make some comments about the book so that those of the public who read this can make a more informed judgement about its merits.

I intend to comment on the source of the information in the book, the role of the Exclusive Brethren in last year's election, the influence of American neo-conservatives on the National Party, and the influence of "big donors".

Hager's information did not come from six disaffected National Party supporters

Hager contends that most of the information in his book was provided by six disaffected National Party supporters who were deeply unhappy with the direction in which I was taking the National Party.

I have no difficulty believing that I have six political enemies within the National Party - indeed, I almost certainly have more than that! - but I do not have six political enemies who had access to the kind of internal emails which Hager includes in his book.

Rumours abound about two particular staff members who are alleged to have provided the emails to Hager. I am absolutely satisfied that those rumours are without foundation.

The information which Hager uses was stolen, of that I have no doubt, and he has almost certainly broken the law in doing so. How the information was stolen is still not clear, though of course I have views on that which I have conveyed to the police investigating the matter. I hope that Helen Clark, Michael Cullen, and Winston Peters will help the police in their inquiries, since they have all been aware of these stolen emails for many months and it is vitally important for the health of our democracy that the thief is discovered and prosecuted.

The role of the Exclusive Brethren

To the best of my knowledge, I first had contact with members of the Exclusive Brethren when I talked with two of them at Whangarei airport in 2004. They expressed their strong distaste for the Labour-led Government.

Subsequently, I met with a somewhat larger group in my office in Hobson Street, Auckland, and had two or three meetings with them in my Parliamentary office, the last one prior to the election being in August 2005. In addition, I was often accosted by members of the group at public meetings throughout 2005, usually receiving a simple message that their members were praying for me.

Their consistent message at formal meetings was that they were keen to get rid of the Labour-led Government. I was told that they planned to run some advertisements in the media, particularly around defence and health policies.

I clearly recall seeing their proposed advertisement about defence policy because it advocated a massive increase in New Zealand's defence spending to about 5% of GDP (from memory) - a figure some five times the current level of defence spending. In my view, New Zealand does need to increase its defence spending above its current level, but to the best of my knowledge nobody in the National Party caucus favours an increase of that magnitude, and I certainly do not. For this reason, I was particularly keen to avoid National being associated with the ad, and my staff urged the Brethren to take ownership of the advertisement publicly.

Because those with whom we met were so keen to see the Labour-led Government defeated, we strongly urged them to talk with the Chief Electoral Officer to ensure that nothing they did would be illegal, or would in any way implicate the National Party, and of course they did talk to him.

It is alleged by Hager that one member of the Exclusive Brethren sent an email to both John Key and one of my two so-called "public email addresses" on 24 May 2005, with an attachment detailing how members of the group proposed to operate during the election campaign; that a staff member responsible for monitoring those "public email addresses" forwarded that to me on the same day; and that a short time later I acknowledged receipt of that email and indicated that I had forwarded it to the campaign director, Steven Joyce (which of course would have been the appropriate thing to do).

I certainly have no recollection of seeing that email, or of opening the attachment. John Key has denied seeing the email or the attachment, and Steven Joyce has no recollection of seeing it either. I can't deny that the email exists - it may do - but I do strongly assert that I have no recollection of seeing it, or of opening the attachment. Since my four email addresses were routinely getting hundreds of emails each day, that is perhaps not surprising.

The fact of the matter is that all manner of special interest groups, as well as private citizens, send volumes of material to Members of Parliament, with all sorts of suggestions - some of them good and helpful, but others wild and totally impractical. Over the 12 months prior to the election, I received many thousands of emails, including some which propounded some very weird ideas. Most of those emails were, of necessity, never read by me.

The role of members of the Exclusive Brethren became a matter of huge public interest in the last few weeks of the campaign after I bumped into Rod Donald, then co-leader of the Green Party, on a street in Rotorua. He asked me rather aggressively whether the National Party was responsible for an anti-Green pamphlet which he waved under my nose. I said that we were not responsible for it, and that I didn't know who was. That was the truth.

A few days later, seven members of the Exclusive Brethren acknowledged that they had produced the pamphlet. To the best of my recollection, I was not told about their intention to issue any anti-Green pamphlets, and for this reason I did not connect the anti-Green pamphlet which Rod Donald showed me with the "anti-Government" campaign which I had been told about.

And of course, the rest is history, with lots of media accusations that I had deliberately misled the public on this issue. There was certainly no deliberate intention to mislead anybody.

To the best of my knowledge, members of the Exclusive Brethren did not contribute financially to the National Party at any level, though it is certainly true that in some electorates they were actively involved in helping to erect billboards and distribute National Party pamphlets. Nothing about that assistance was in any way illegal. And of course, negative third party advertising is not illegal in New Zealand.

I am told that the union that represents journalists, the EPMU, had members driving up and down the main streets of our major cities on the eve of the election chanting anti-National slogans over loudspeakers. I have also been told that the same slogans were still chalked on city pavements on Election Day - and that is illegal.

The role of American "neo-conservatives"

Hager's book notes that early in 2004 I met with Richard V Allen in Queenstown as a result of an introduction by Matthew Hooton, at that time one of my unpaid advisers, and that Mr Allen assisted in arranging meetings for me in Washington a few months later. The book describes Dick Allen as a leading American "neo-conservative", with ultra-right-wing views, and says that Mr Hooton urged that my meeting with Mr Allen should be kept secret.

Well, for starters, the meeting in Queenstown was not in private - it was held in a coffee shop, and the meeting was ended when a journalist from a radio station reminded me that I was due to talk to him.

Secondly, Mr Allen, though a life-long Republican, categorically denies being a "neo-conservative".

He certainly did arrange a series of meetings for me in Washington in June 2004, and I am very grateful for his doing that. For the Leader of the Opposition - and not a government minister - I got quite extraordinary access to a very wide range of senior US Administration people as a consequence of Mr Allen's contacts and friendships in that city, including meetings with the Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, James Kelly; the senior Asia specialist on the White House National Security Council Staff, Dr Michael Green; Special Trade Representative Robert Zoellick; the heads of a number of Washington-based think-tanks; and several leading Republican and Democrat members of the US House of Representatives and Senate.

All of those named would, I suspect, resent being identified as "key US far-right" figures, as none is, though they are Republicans. If Winston Peters were to ask Mr Allen to organise meetings in Washington, I strongly suspect he would be sent to the same addresses.

Did meeting those people influence the National Party's foreign policy? I found the meetings were very helpful in giving me a fuller understanding of US foreign policy, but there was no significant change in the National Party's foreign policy during the time I was Leader. To be sure, I indicated that, had the National Party been in government when the US sought support for the invasion of Iraq, we would have provided that support, along with the United Kingdom and Australia. But that was a policy position determined by the National caucus months before I became Leader.

In short, there was no "neo-con" influence on the National Party's policy positions, and any suggestion to the contrary is nonsense.

The role of "big donors"

One of the over-riding themes of Hager's book is that Don Brash was and is a puppet of the "extreme right-wing", that people associated with the economic reforms of the late eighties and early nineties strongly supported my bid for the leadership in October 2003, that wealthy donors provided very considerable financial support to the National Party while I was Leader, and that I was very much more involved personally in the fund-raising effort than I have been willing to acknowledge.

It is certainly true that some of those associated with the economic reforms of the late eighties and early nineties were very frustrated that the Labour-led Government was adopting policies likely to slow the growth of living standards in New Zealand, and wanted a strong advocate for the kind of economic policies which orthodox economic policy advisers all over the world, including those in the New Zealand Treasury, strongly favour.

They saw me as able to argue for those policies effectively, and to explain to the New Zealand people why those policies were in the public interest. Some of them were very enthusiastic when I announced, on 25 October 2003, my intention to challenge for the leadership of the National Party because, rightly or wrongly, they felt pessimistic about National's electoral prospects under the previous leadership. I have little doubt that some of them phoned members of National's caucus to advocate on my behalf.

But given those involved, I suspect few had strong contacts in the National caucus, and even fewer would have had any influence on how the members of the caucus voted on the leadership.

Hager quotes from a speech he claims I gave when the caucus met to decide the leadership on 28 October 2003, and has me telling the caucus that it would be much easier to attract the financial support of the business community with me as Leader than with my predecessor.

What will no doubt interest the police is that, while I wrote that paragraph in the context of a much longer speech, written on my home computer and prepared for delivery to the caucus, the speech was never given. The caucus went straight to a ballot with no speeches, either by the previous Leader or by me.

Hager's book lists a number of people he is confident did contribute to National Party funds, and I suspect that some of those on that list did so. Why do I think that? Because several of those named have been personal friends for a very long time, and told me they had contributed. People like Alan Gibbs, who was a next-door neighbour when I first moved to Christchurch at the age of six and who was in what we then called Standard 1 with me. People like Douglas Myers, with whom I met from time to time 30 years ago to lament the fact that the New Zealand economy was growing more slowly than other developed countries. People like Roderick Deane, whom I have known since we both did doctoral theses on similar subjects in the sixties.

But I don't know for sure who contributed, and Roderick Deane, for example, has told the media since the publication of Hager's book he has never contributed to any political party in his life. I didn't personally collect cheques - that task was, correctly, left to the Party President and the General Manager of the Party. With almost no exceptions, I never knew what individual donors may or may not have contributed - and in the case of the exceptions, I knew only because they insisted on telling me.

Did I meet with people who were potentially donors? Of course I did - every time I met with leaders in the business community I knew I was meeting with people who had the potential to support the National Party financially. But I was not soliciting their financial support, and I strongly suspect that most of the business leaders with whom I met contributed nothing at all to the Party's funding. My meetings were no different in this respect to dozens of meetings which Helen Clark and her ministers have with union leaders - indeed, I strongly suspect that Labour ministers put more direct pressure on union leaders for funding support than ever I did on business leaders.

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.

Most important of all, there was never any suggestion at all that actual or potential donors were looking for specific policy concessions in return for their financial support. The allegation, for example, that National's policy on accident compensation was driven by financial support from the insurance industry was and is a total fabrication of the Labour Party. I have no idea whether any insurance company did in fact contribute to the National Party's funding, and two of the largest insurance companies have stated publicly that they contributed nothing to any political party in the 2005 campaign. Moreover, our commitment to reintroduce competition into the accident insurance market was made almost as soon as the Labour Government re-nationalised the accident compensation industry in 2000, and has been reiterated many times since.

But of course, Hager never lets the truth get in the way of a good conspiracy theory. He has used information very selectively, apparently modified some of the emails he has obtained, and drawn conclusions which are, in many cases, quite absurd. One could get the impression from reading the book that the only thing my close advisers and I did all day was meet with narrowly-based religious groups, wealthy friends, and American neo-conservatives, which is patently ridiculous.

A few months ago, Hager fed the line to a Sunday paper that the SIS had infiltrated the Maori Party. Subsequent investigation proved that claim to be, in Helen Clark's words, a "work of fiction". Mr Hager specializes in outrageous claims. Nobody should take them too seriously.

As indicated earlier, there are lots of statements in Hager's book with which I disagree strongly. I do not intend to comment further on the issue until the police form a view on who stole the emails which provide some of the titillating material in the book.

Don Brash


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