By Bernard Hickey
With 38 days to go until the September 20 election, here's my daily round-up of political news on Wednesday August 13, including the launch of a book by Nicky Hager alleging Prime Minister John Key's office is closely linked to 'dirty tricks' campaigns using bloggers Cameron Slater and David Farrar.
Hager launched the keenly-awaited new book on Wednesday evening in Wellington and surprised a few by having nothing to do with the Edward Snowden leaks from the NSA. It is titled: "Dirty Politics: How attack politics is poisoning New Zealand’s political environment."
"Today’s book follows on from his earlier book The Hollow Men and gives an inside view of politics after the John Key led National Party. It revolves around a cast of Key, Cameron Slater, Jason Ede, David Farrar, Judith Collins and other National Party figures. It shows a very different side of John Key and his government than most New Zealanders know," Hager said in a release.
"Throughout Key’s time as prime minister, his staff and notably senior adviser Jason Ede have been assisting and coordinating persistent personal attacks and dirty tricks against his political opponents," he said.
"Journalists have suspected these activities but the evidence has been hard to find. There have been repeated political attacks launched by the National Party attack dogs, notably Slater backed up by Farrar, and what the book shows is that many of these lead back to the Beehive. This is a technique originally from US republican politics known as a two-track strategy, where the prime minister maintains a friendly, relaxed public image while relying on political proxies to relentlessly attack opponents," Hager said.
"This approach has meant that Key and his government have not had to take responsibility for their negative politics. This and many other stories about internal National Party politics are revealed in the book.’
Hager said the book was based on a large number of internal communications between Slater and a network of National Party figures.
"The documents are very revealing about Slater and his collaborators, including much that is shocking and distasteful. But, much more important, the documents also cover politicians and Beehive staff, showing the highly coordinated National Party attack politics used year after year throughout Key’s prime ministership. Readers can see the inside story of issues they have seen in the news, now revealed in the participant’s own words," he said.
Hager said the leaks seem to come from when Slater had his website crashed in January this year after comments he made about a West Coast man who died in a car crash. Hager denied obtaining the materials himself and said he also used other infromation from some National Party sources.
He detailed the following:
* During the 2011 election campaign Slater obtained a database of the Labour Party’s members, e-mails and donations, and gleefully attacked the party. What no one knew is that Key’s dirty tricks person, Ede, had helped throughout, including searching inside the Labour Party computers and helping Slater plan the subsequent attacks on Labour. Ede’s office was just two doors from John Key’s and presumably he was using his Ministerial Services computer (Chapter 2).
* In the same election campaign, the prime minister’s office used its knowledge of secret SIS documents to tip off Slater and arrange an attack on the Labour leader (Chapter 3).
* Ede drafted official information act requests for Slater to use in other attacks, for instance against Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff who were in conflict with the government (Chapter 3).
* When the Labour Party leadership race was on last year and getting good publicity, Ede got National Party research staff to prepare an attack on David Cunliffe and other contenders’ policies that was published on David Farrar’s Kiwiblog website the following day (Chapter 9).
* The more the National Government has used Slater, the closer that Key himself has got to the attack blogger. For instance, when most New Zealanders were appalled by Slater’s offensive comments about the West Coast man who died in the car crash, his closest associates rallied to support him. One of those who phoned him and commiserated at that time, according to Slater’s account of the conversation, was John Key (Chapter 12).
"Key and his colleagues have known their use of proxies and allies for attacks and dirty tricks was risky, but they believed they could keep it secret. It was only the unexpected leak that has brought the story to the light. The book is full of stories that might otherwise have remained secret," he said.
Key said before the book's release he was "not terribly worried."
Not on Planet Key
Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission banned television and radio stations from playing the Planet Key spoof video criticising John Key during normal programming on the grounds it may be an election advertisement by a third party. It can still be played during news bulletins and got a good airing on the news shows last night.
It is still available on Vimeo , raising questions about the Commission's jurisdiction for sites hosted outside New Zealand. It had barely 5,000 views before yesterday's announcement from the Commission that it was banned. By this morning it had nearly 57,000 views.
Key said he was not fazed by the video, which "was quite professionally done."
Also, he clarified his comments about an effigy burning video coming from Internet Mana . He said he had made a "natural assumption" linking the two. Laila Harre has threatened legal action on the grounds Key's comments were defamatory and made a complaint to TVNZ, which aired Key's comments.
Elsewhere, various media reported Winston Peter 's former right hand man, Frank Perry, had started working with Pam Corkery and the Internet Mana Party.
Housing supply problems?
Meanwhile, in a sign the Government's big push to boost Auckland housing supply may be running into trouble, the Manukau Courier reported developers at four of the 63 Special Housing Areas had pulled out of the fast tracked consenting process and others reported developers were buying SHA land to increase its value in land banks, rather than to build houses on it any time soon.
Elsewhere, the Office of the Auditor General reported that just 22% ofACC 's customers were satisfied with how it handled complaints and that it needed to improve significantly.
(Updated with details of Hager's book.)
I'll update this regularly through the day.
See all my previous election diaries here.