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Q + A - Preferred Prime Minister Poll and GCSB Discussion

Q + A – 4 August, 2013

Preferred Prime Minister Poll and GCSB Discussion

SUSAN Today we have the latest ONE News Colmar Brunton Poll results for preferred prime minister – a poll taken in a week when the government was pushing ahead with the GCSB legislation and the parliamentary journalist's phone records scandal was in the news, with the government forced to agree to an inquiry. The poll was also taken after Labour leader David Shearer announced on Q+A his party's housing policy, banning foreigners from buying homes. The results show Prime Minister John Key is down one to 41%. Labour leader David Shearer is up one to 13% as preferred prime minister. New Zealand first leader Winston Peters is sitting there unchanged on 4%, and Greens co-leader Russel Norman is up one to 3%. Corin, not a big change, but what are you reading into it?

CORIN What I’m reading into it is – to coin a phrase which I think Michelle Boag came up with once – this is stop the rot for David Shearer, because, look, it was looking very wobbly for him for a while. This poll did take mostly—got mostly that housing policy, and I think it has stabilised his leadership a little bit at a time when it was looking very wobbly. I think he can springboard from this and use this to get more strength to it. And he’s certainly performed better. In the last couple of days in the House, he was very strong. Some of his speeches were very good. So I think we’re seeing a slightly more confident David Shearer, and that’s being reflected that he’s managed to stabilise that sense that things were starting to fall away.

SUSAN Do you see it as a stop the rot for David Shearer, Michelle?

MICHELLE BOAG – Former National Party president
Well, I think it’s certainly good news rather than bad news, and in this situation he’s going to buy some time. But I think whatever the results of the political party poll, that no doubt TV ONE will be announcing, I think there's an interesting thing happening here. The media are very focused on the GCSB bill and all those issues, because it’s all about them. It’s all about the media. It’s all about journalists’ press freedom. The two issues that I think have the capacity to really upset the government, and I’m not sure they’re aware of them yet – I’d call them sleeper issues – are the snapper catch, reducing the snapper catch, and this issue of animal testing for recreational drugs. Not for medical advance and research, but for recreational drugs.

SUSAN Yes, we saw big protests on that. Mm.

MICHELLE And I know from looking at the people concerned about that that the people who are most concerned about that are National voters. National voters say, “We don’t give a stuff about the GCSB. We don’t do anything wrong. We’re quite comfortably. We trust our government.” But when they start—

CORIN Can I take one issue with that as a journalist? I would say that a big focus of our attention is on the credibility of the Prime Minister, and that is the issue that I think is the big issue here. He’s the leader. He’s the minister responsible for this inquiry. He’s trying to get the GCSB bill through. It is the confidence in his ability to do that and the confidence in our spy agencies that is dominating the media.

MICHELLE That may well be the case, but I’m telling you if David Shearer wants to resonate with voters who are in the middle, he would be talking about the snapper catch – difficult for them, because they voted for that—

MIKE WILLIAMS – Former Labour Party President
Fishies and doggies.

MICHELLE Fishies and doggies. That’s what the man in the street is concerned about.

SUSAN But Corin brings up a good point, and I’m going to give this one to you, Mike – trust in the Prime Minister.

MIKE Yeah, but let me also take issue with what Michelle said. I don’t think this whole GCSB shambles is a Beltway issue, and the reason I don’t think that is if you look at what are the stories being accessed on the New Zealand Herald by the general public, that is a big one. People are looking at it. I think the Prime Minister has taken a hit over this. At the end of the day, he’s in control of the whole thing, and it has turned into a shambles.

SUSAN Let’s hear more revelations on the GCSB legislation. It’s been like a Chinese water torture to some extent: this drip, drip, drip of information. Here’s what Labour leader David Shearer had to say.

DAVID SHEARER: It’s the same old story which is trying to pull information out of this prime minister bit by bit rather than him coming clean. He will not come clean, sir. He keeps on saying that he gives the answer, and then we find there’s another answer behind that one and there's something else and something else. Sir, the public has lost confidence in our intelligence agencies, which the Prime Minister heads, solely because of the way he has behaved.

SUSAN And, Raymond, that was before the latest revelation on Friday that Andrea Vance and Peter Dunne’s emails had also been handed to the Henry Inquiry. This drip, drip, drip of information. Stories behind stories.

RAYMOND MILLER – Political Scientist
Yes, we don’t know how much was inadvertent and how much was deliberate, and I think it’s got a long way to go, this story, actually.

SUSAN Well, it’s a cock-up or conspiracy, isn’t it, seems to be the—?

RAYMOND That’s right – a cock-up or conspiracy. I mean, setting aside the privacy issue, which is a very important one, there are concerns about certain democratic principles here. The first is the separation of Parliament and government. Now, we have in Parliamentary Service an organisation that is supposed to be looking after Parliament and MPs, not looking after the government. And we see there a measure of compliance or something is going on which is very unsavoury potentially. The other is this whole question of ministerial responsibility. It’s a doctrine that goes way back in New Zealand political history. And you see on issues like this ministers running for cover, blaming civil servants for what has gone on, and I think this is a very unfortunate thing, because civil servants can't speak up for themselves. We saw it with Kim Dotcom and GCSB, we saw it with the Novopay issue, we’re seeing it now, and really you expect that ministers will actually – given that this was a ministerial inquiry – that ministers will be prepared to front up and say, “The buck stops with me.”

SUSAN And yet, Michelle, we’ve seen, as Raymond points out, a culture within this government of pointing at the officials and going, “Their fault.”

MICHELLE Well, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Because it is about political management, and I always ascribe to the theory 99 times out of 100 it’s cock-up, not conspiracy. And it’s amazing just how often cock-up happens. I mean, when you look at all the issues that the government has had to deal with, it’s been cock-up. Things like Novotel, for example.

SUSAN Novopay.


SUSAN That’s a motel. (laughs)

MICHELLE They’ll get— Yeah, they’ll be very angry. Novopay. Novopay.

RAYMOND Slipping in an advertisement here and there. (laughs)

MICHELLE That’s right. So I think it is about political management, and I guess the question that I would have for the government is why did you not know all this at the beginning? Why weren’t you able to find out?

MIKE Well, maybe they did.

MICHELLE Well, I don’t think they did, because I don’t think they would have managed it—

CORIN There was no— I mean, the ministerial inquiry – what was its authority? There was no protocols. It does seem to have been very lax. The whole process and the whole business of what Parliamentary Services can hand over and what they can't – the whole thing seems completely confusing.

MIKE But it’s not only cock-up, it’s cover up, and I’ve got this Dominion article which anyone who’s got the slightest knowledge of computing knows it is full of porkies. Number one, it says the emails were recalled. Well, Michelle will know from her dealings with the ACC about her friend who fell off a bike and hit her head that you cannot recall emails. If you could, then the ACC would have recalled the emails from that person’s computer. You can't do it. They’re there. Second porkie: they’re trying to tell us that Parliamentary Services sent something to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet which the DPMC was unable to read because the systems were incompatible. This has got to be complete incompetence or can I use the term bullshit. You mean to tell me that the Parliamentary Services’ computers cannot talk to the computers of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet? It’s nonsense.

SUSAN Well, I don’t know about that. Let’s— I don’t know about the technology behind it. The last point to your point, Michelle, and because we are media, freedom in the media. Look, on Friday afternoon, we learnt that the emails between Andrea Vance and Peter Dunne had been sent and opened or unopened, we really don’t know about that. That off the back of the fact that Vance’s swipe card had been accessed and her telephone records. Now, this is what the Prime Minister had to say earlier in the week to try and explain what was going on

JOHN KEY: A second report was also sent which were the phone records of the journalist, and then I quote from the inquiry administrator when he received that: “Many thanks for this. Let’s be clear. We did not request the second report you’ve attached here – i.e. the second one showing all calls to and from the number of interest. We are not interesting in looking at that.” They received it, they never looked at it, they never in anyway accessed it, and they rejected the fact it should have been sent to them.

SUSAN Raymond, Michelle’s point is that media likes talking about themselves, but there is a point here of a free media absolutely required for democracy, isn’t there?

RAYMOND There is, and it’s really— it’s important to remember that this is happening the very week they’re trying to push through a GCSB bill, which guarantees, the government is saying, that people won't be spied on unless they have very good reason for it. And here we’re seeing what is either a mess-up or something worse, and we’re wondering, well, is this really the case? Can the government absolutely guarantee that journalists and others will not be subject to surveillance?

SUSAN It’s trust and are we losing trust?

MIKE Yeah, I think we are. It’s a very good point. You’ve got to have freedom of privacy for journalists, there’s no doubt about that, and this goes to the heart of it. But there's a kind of overall higher issue than this. I’ve always thought it really stupid to get the media offside, and that is what it happening big time with John Key and the National Government. I think I made that mistake. These are people who can actually end your career.

MICHELLE Well, I think they would take the view that most of the media are agin them anyway.

SUSAN Alright, we’ll leave it there. Thank you, panel and Corin.


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