Opinion: National ignores incriminating material

Nicky Hager.
Nicky Hager.
The tirade of insults, invective and scorn directed at Nicky Hager must rank as one of the most sustained efforts by National to destroy an individual's credibility since the party's political witch trials of the Muldoon era.

National threw everything bar the proverbial kitchen sink at the author, researcher and long-time activist in the wake of last Wednesday's publication of his latest book, Dirty Politics.

Mr Hager is uncompromising in his principles and never shies away from a fight - as evidenced by one of his earlier works, Seeds of Distrust, which broadsided Helen Clark in the 2002 election.

This election has seen him move up a gear.

His book exposes a National Party dirty-tricks operations run by the blogger Whale Oil, aka Cameron Slater, working in conjunction with Jason Ede, who was until earlier this year listed as one of John Key's senior advisers in the Prime Minister's Office, but is who is now working fulltime at National Party headquarters in downtown Wellington.

Labour - then the ruling party - saw its poll rating shed a couple of percentage points in 2002, following the Corngate affair prompted by Seeds of Distrust. But Labour's rating had already been trending downwards.

The highly political nature of the latest book's subject matter and the provocative timing of its launch meant Mr Hager would get one shot - and one shot only - at getting some of the book's content in front of the media before National started running serious interference.

He did not make copies available to journalists until half-an-hour before that evening's television news bulletins went to air. The tactic worked.

National was stunned. What National got was The Hollow Men (Revisited).

What John Key got was Nightmare in Epsom transformed into a political horror movie potentially exponentially worse than 2011's Teapot Tapes Saga.

That episode haunted Mr Key for months after the last election.

Mr Hager's book will be having the same debilitating impact.

But that is all National's fault.

For years, the party hierarchy have turned a blind eye to an overenthusiastic band of little helpers whose activities were questionable to say the least, but which were more than tolerated because of their track record of making life miserable for some of National's opponents.

Initially flummoxed by the sheer volume of incriminating material within the book's 166 pages, National struck back on Thursday morning with a sustained barrage of character assassination, thereby confirming the very point the book was making.

Mr Key lambasted the book as being ''typical Hager'' and filled with ''baseless allegations''.

The material had long been in the public domain. Mr Hager was just reheating it.

Mr Key claimed it was no coincidence that the book's launch had followed the burning of an effigy of himself, the ''f *** John Key'' video, the description of Mr Key as ''Shylock'' by a Labour candidate and the widespread vandalising of National's election hoardings.

He argued that the left did not want to debate the real election issues because it could not win the policy argument.

So the left was playing dirty. The public would see right through that little game.

The accusation that Mr Hager found difficult to bat away was one of hypocrisy - that having come into the possession of screeds of emails stolen from Mr Slater, Mr Hager had used them as the basis for his book. He was the one indulging in dirty politics.

Mr Hager countered that any media presented with such juicy material would have done exactly the same as he had.

Mr Hager could also argue he was acting in the public interest and exposing abuse of power.

National's tactic has been to keep the focus on Mr Hager and persuade people he had hidden motives for writing the book - rather than being drawn into arguments about its damning contents.

Mr Key's damage-control operation was designed to both defuse and confuse.

However, the Prime Minister looked and sounded distinctly uncomfortable when questioned by reporters on Thursday afternoon.

He conceded nothing and repeatedly answered questions by saying the book's allegations had ''nothing to do with National''.

When it was pointed out to him that National was clearly implicated, he made excuses, saying he had not been briefed on the detail.

If Mr Key's answers sounded glib there was good reason.

The vilification of Mr Hager by Mr Key and Steven Joyce, National's election campaign supremo and the one designated to front for National when there is trouble, is a charade.

Their dilemma is that they have to rubbish the book as being wrong on every score when they know much if not all of it, is accurate, simply because the contents come straight out of the mouths of Mr Slater, Mr Ede and other National Party figures and associates.

Mr Key's and Mr Joyce's deny-everything stances are not tenable for long.

But if they admit Mr Hager is right about one thing, then they have to concede he is right about everything.

Mr Hager has the emails. It is of major significance that Mr Key has not questioned their authenticity.

To do so would risk Mr Hager releasing them and proving Mr Key wrong.

It would keep the story alive when Mr Key and Mr Joyce are saying and doing the minimum in the hope of denying it oxygen.

The last thing they want is for it to still be making waves next weekend when Mr Key officially launches National's campaign.

Mr Key, meanwhile, is placing himself at considerable risk.

It only requires someone connected with one of the incidents in the book to dispute and disprove the Prime Minister's assertion that it all has ''nothing to do with National'' for Mr Key to be in serious trouble credibility-wise.

Were the book's content being drip-fed day-after-day, momentum might have built among the voting public for a major inquiry or some heads to roll.

As things currently stand, they are in the balance.

But Mr Ede might yet have take one for the team and resign, as evidence that National has cleaned out its Augean stables.

John Armstrong is The New Zealand Herald political correspondent.

It's not whether parties look for dirt

It's not whether parties look for dirt on each other - it's whether they find it that matters. Not only have National been caught, but the scale of their misbehaviour over the last few years is mind-numbingly huge. Not to mention the fact that people seem to want to shoot the messenger and not the culprit.

I reserve the right to be revolted

Yes; shocked, repulsed, offended, disgusted. Whichever words you want to use. That something is common or frequent is no defence of that thing. If I ceased to be shocked by horrendous acts, though I am reminded of it through them media every day, I will have lost my humanity. Immorality is immorality and I reserve the right to be revolted.

55% of New Zealanders

GSCB is wrong if he thinks the National party has the support of 55% of New Zealanders. It is true that John Key has been able to promote himself as Mr Nice Guy pretty effectively to a gullible public and this has translated into favourable numbers in the polls, but the support has been for him personally rather than the National party and their policies as a whole.

His image is the only thing going for them in the face of; overwhelming opposition to asset sales, our shocking poverty statistics, the erosion of workers ability to effectively bargain for wages and conditions, the provision of tax cuts for the already rich and the number of National ministers who have had to be chastised. Key has been able to smile and wave above all that, assisted I must say be a snowed media. Well, now the real story is out!

Judgement

"I see no indication that they are ready." From Former Student

Interestingly I see no evedence that National ever were. Often, governments learn in government rather than sitting on the opposition benches. Labour have good policy. National only have one: redistribute money to the rich and let everyone else take care of themselves. That is the biggest reason why they are and never have been fit to govern for the people. Labour won't be governing alone. There are checks and balances in a coalition which is why we voted in and continue to want MMP.

Read carefully, very carefully

Te Jackle, I think you need to re-read my post which said in relation to Pike River "But it is equally damning that the main-stream media have failed to acquaint citizens of what is going on. How come it takes somenone like Nicky Hager to be able to report on these matters? Or Rebecca MacFie in her brilliant book on Pike River where the cruel depths of money making at all costs have been so exposed?"

Pike River, whoever did all the things, was encapsulated in Rebecca MacFie's book and was not exposed in the main stream media, and that was my point. However it is clear from Hagar's book that John Key apparently rang Cameron Slater to support Slater for his comments about "feral" people on the West Coast who heckled Key and thus annoyed him. It would pay to read MacFie's book to learn of the cynical and unacceptable behaviour of the politicians and big business around Pike River. It is shocking to say the least - just as the findings of Hagar's book on National Party tactics and practices.

The National Party line as espoused by Its Me, choose to shoot the whistleblowers and try and divert the attention away from the substance of this correspondence. There is no doubt that Key, Joyce and co want everyone to not know about their cosy deals, their rampant desire to "get back" at any critics as espoused by Judith Collins and her big business connections. They may be powerful, but this doesn't mean that their dirty tactics need to be supported.

Is anyone shocked?

Really, is anyone shocked that politics is dirty? Would you be shocked to go to the beach and realise the sea is wet? All the parties look for dirt on each other, no real surprises there.

We used to do "comprehension" in English class...

...so I found myself lining up with those who deplore current standards when I read a correspondent criticising Russ and Bev on the imagined basis that they "really feel a book on dirty politics where the writer steals personal information is fair". I have not read the book. However I have read about it and listened to interviews with Nicky Hager and it as clear as filtered water that he did not hack anyone's emails, steal anyone's files, pay anyone to hack or steal information or provide inducements to encourage such activities.

Written (not unsupported verbal gossip) was provided to him by others, who appear to have been people who were seriously disturbed by activities they classed as unethical, that impact on the integrity of the political process. He, unlike a sleazy blogger who slobbers over anything personal especially sexual that's included in that information, stuck to the material about politics. The sex life of politicians is not relevant: ponder on John F Kennedy and ask "was he a lousy president?"

The comment to which I am responding is not the first in which comprehension of written English is clearly an unsurmountable difficulty. It is time reading for comprehension was given more emphasis in the school curriculum. Or perhaps your comment writer attended school at a time when a "new, improved" educational theory was being trialed, only to find it short-changes both students and later, the grown-up community. I sincerely hope it has been restored to a position of importance since even online material generally needs reading and comprehension ability. As for medicine and ag-chem labels and machinery operating instructions, lack of comprehension may have lethal consequences.

Fitness to govern

Some correspondents are getting confused here. The question is not whether Labour and allied parties are ready to govern. I see no indication that they are ready.

The question is whether the Attack Blogs are an appropriate, or an inappropriate means of gaining and maintaining power.

Extreme right wing elements have the resources to gain an unfair and unethical advantage, and it is only the occasional action of somebody like Nicky Hager that somewhat corrects the imbalance. What we are reading about now is a continuation of a theme we saw in "The Hollow Men" and also with the unwelcome foray of Exclusive Brethren into political power games.

One correspondent suggests that Hager will earn money for the book he has written. I see no reason for him to give copies of the book away! For that matter, I don't expect that the full-on seemingly daily invective from WhaleOil is without some tangible reward, otherwise how would he survive?

I would suggest that the playing field has become so tilted that reasonable opinions of opposition are not being voiced or heard. I don't see how a demoralised critical thinking element in the public is helping us achieve a better nation or a viable alternative government.

But then that is the situation that someone like John Key would want, isn't it? Like Richard Nixon apparently, he has this self-belief that says that no other person or party could possibly be qualified to run the country?

Hager

I feel it is necessary to point out that there is a vast difference between what Hager does and what he has exposed others doing. There seems to be some wilful "confusion" around this point.

Hager, like Snowden, is a person guided by well considered ethics. Assange, Manning, Ellsberg etc are all clearly impelled by a desire to expose corruption. They all work for the public interest. Digging for salacious dirt on an individual, in a effort to crush them, tabloid style, is vastly different from exposing instances of corruption. 

Dirty Politics is a book that informs the public of the mechanisms of the National government and its proxies. It makes us aware of the kinds of behaviours that are acceptable in that milieu. The examples in the book should shock any person with a sense of right and wrong. If you are, instead, shocked that Hager had the gall to expose the wrongdoings of National and its proxies, and would rather be ignorant and surrounded by a society similarly ignorant, then I think you might have questionable ethics yourself.

There is no morality in arguing that politics is dirty, as if we should never expect our leaders to act in any other way. I, personally, feel we deserve better. Politicians will never be angels, but that doesn't mean we should accept monsters.

Its me

Its me, you are correct this Government will be history makers once they have finished selling NZ off and we are no more than tenants in our own country. Government of NZ should not be behaving in the way our current one does and the sooner they are kicked out the better. [abridged]

Remove your blinkers

Russ&Bev, you have by inference in your piece aligned the National Party with the Pike river disaster where you state,"Or Rebecca MacFie in her brilliant book on Pike River where the cruel depths of money making at all costs" have been so exposed? Can you please now clarify this as a National Party money making at all costs when this was at the end of nine years of Labour rule and no production has occured there since? You have tarred National with this brush when it was not responsible, your usual level headed comments have been blurred with left leaning bias and blinkered with rhetoric.

 

GSCB

When the GSCB rhetoric was flying about the slogan was 'If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to worry about". This being the case, National have nothing to worry about do they? However, if this is the pot calling the kettle black to cover up their dirty secrets, they need to be very worried. Personal emails *are* being looked at by the powers that be. Therefore we need to demand the right to see theirs. Thank you Nicky Hager for bring this to our attention. If you really believe 55% of NZers think this is OK, it does'nt say much for us does it? However once we have the information it's up to us what we do with it. I know what I will be doing with it. If your conscience feels OK with our present government's direction good for you.

Hager no Snowden

Seems some are lauding Nicky Hager as some sort of Edward Snowden-esque whistle blower...he isn't.

He got a bunch of emails, cobbled them together into a book and is earning some money from printing what most rational people see as being the obvious....politics is dirty!

Only Labour, Greens and those desperately clutching at straws for some sort of Frankenstein coalition win in September, think it's worth a read.

Instead of people wasting their money on the book, either throw your money down the drain or donate it to a suitable charity.

Would you share your personal information

Russ and Bev - Your views are very much in the minority. If you really feel a book on dirty politics where the writer steals personal information is fair then why don't you allow the public to view your emails and give us all your passwords and private infomation. This current Government will be history makers when they race into another term. You cannot defy the facts the the NZ public like the way they are leading and the evidence Bev is the polls. Do you really want your Government to be a hotchpotch of Labour, Greens, NZ First, Conservatives, Maori and Internet/Mana? That would be the biggest mess this country could ever see. You say National is for the rich - are you saying 55% of the population is rich?

Hager

"The tirade of insults, invective and scorn directed at Nicky Hager must rank as one of the most sustained efforts by National to destroy an individual's credibility since the party's political witch trials of the Muldoon era."

The discrediting will probably work (and One News poll appears to show it has) because even if Nicky Hager isn't linked to the "F*** John Key" rally, burning effigies and "Shylock" comments people will still see him as part of it. Ironically it may damage Labour because David Cunliffe has already been attacking John Key to further make their "Positive" campaign look foolish. It also doesn't do much credit to Nicky Hager that he is using hacking to complain about hacking (not that accessing a website that doesn't require a password is exactly hacking!)

The biggest thing is that none of it has nothing to do with policy and will have a negative effect on voter turnout.

Outstanding Op-Ed

This is the best commentary I have seen regarding this disgrace - The Hollow Men II for sure!

Nicky Hager is a whistle blower. He has no political accountability. John Key, Jason Ede and Judith Collins do.

John Key is wrong to describe Nicky Hager as a conspiracy theorist. The opposite is true. Nicky Hager identifies and documents actual conspiracies, and this book is no exception.

Is it a criticism to describe Nicky Hager on this occasion as "left wing"? Equally one could say that his targets are "right wing"! This is not the issue - the issue is the ethics of key National Party people and their mouth-pieces.

Right now too many people are being sucked in by the rhetoric of John Key and especially Steven Joyce - a latter day Bill Birch. It is all about the smiling faces (sometimes). It remains to be seen whether other parties exploit the opportunities that they have been handed.

 


Hager needs to be applauded

The tactics of National and all its myriad of supporters has been, and continues to be, to attack the whistleblower. It is more than abundantly clear that National have looked after its mates at every opportunity, made the rich richer and the poor poorer. On almost every front they have failed this country in their unrelenting quest to feather their own nests.

But it is equally damning that the main-stream media have failed to acquaint citizens of what is going on. How come it takes somenone like Nicky Hager to be able to report on these matters? Or Rebecca MacFie in her brilliant book on Pike River where the cruel depths of money making at all costs have been so exposed?

Much too often the easy and cheap ways out are chosen of pasting PR spin news releases, instead of undertaking professional investigative journalism. Cameron Slater is no journalist but he, and others like him, are filling the void left by mainstream media.

National, on the strength of the findings of this book deserve to be thrown out on their smug ears and Nicky Hager applauded, but at the same time newspapers and news magazines must be taking a cold hard look at providing journalism instead of sustaining profits to their owners.