Danyl Mclauchlan on why having an early election might be better for Labour and the Greens than enduring another year of NZ First drama

Danyl Mclauchlan on why having an early election might be better for Labour and the Greens than enduring another year of NZ First drama

By Danyl Mclauchlan*

Leaks of NZ First Foundation records raise big questions about the party’s funding, and there’s every chance of more to come. A glance at history suggests the scale of the problem. An early election may not be a bad idea at all, Danyl Mclauchlan writes for The Spinoff.

It’s happening.

During its time in government New Zealand First has fundraised aggressively. They’ve also taken very strong policy stands on behalf of specific industries and companies. But no specific donations have been declared; instead the party has been funded by loans from the New Zealand First Foundation, a mysterious entity run by two of Winston Peters most trusted advisers.

Those advisers are his lawyer Brian Henry, and Doug Woolerton, a former New Zealand First MP who now runs a Hamilton based lobbying company called “The Lobbyist”, which advertises the provision of “all ancillary services such as media strategies, speeches, drafting changes for legislation, submissions to select committees and personal introductions when appropriate”.

And now Taupo Times reporter Matt Shand has what almost every investigative journalist in the country has been sniffing around for: leaked records from the New Zealand First Foundation. His story on Stuff reports that the foundation has been accepting party political donations and paying for electoral expenses in a way that appears designed to avoid transparency or oversight.

Stuff doesn’t name the donors in the document – one source has told me that both Winston Peters and the donors could be horribly embarrassed if identities were made public. But Stuff says the foundation received 26 donations $325,900 in just a five month period, adding: “Donors to the foundation include food manufacturers, racing interests, forestry owners and wealthy property developers.”

Winston Peters is the minister of racing. Shane Jones is the minister of forestry. If the food manufacturers are exporters then they might be impacted by Peters’ decisions as minister of foreign affairs. New Zealand First has publicly, repeatedly announced that they were responsible for killing the Ardern government’s proposed capital gains tax. The public has a right to know that they were being funded by property developers.

We’ve been here before, of course. When Winston Peters was minister of foreign affairs and racing under the previous Labour government it was revealed that he’d taken donations from Sir Bob Jones, Sir Owen Glenn and the Velas, a wealthy family prominent in the racing industry. The donations were made through an organisation called the Spencer Trust, which was run by Peters’ brother. An investigation by Parliament’s Privileges Committee found that Winston Peters had attempted to conceal the donations and then lied about it, and the committee voted to censure him. The scandal dominated the 2008 election. John Key ruled out working with Winston Peters. Helen Clark didn’t. Labour lost, and New Zealand First was voted out of parliament.

There are two separate issues here. The first is whether New Zealand First has broken the electoral law. That’s a matter for the Electoral Commission, and if they decide the law was been broken they can refer the matter on to the police or the Serious Fraud Office. The second is whether senior ministers in the current government could get caught up in accusations of corrupt practices. When you have companies and individuals making secret donations to a party that holds the portfolios in those industries, there is every reason for the public to ask questions about whether their government is corrupt.

New Zealand First’s coalition partners have dreaded this moment for two years. The prime minister’s instinct will be to distance herself from the scandal and hope that it goes away. “We assume that the law has been followed”. “It’s a matter for the Electoral Commission.” “I am not responsible for the New Zealand First Party.” And so on. But the matter of whether or not she presides over a corrupt government is not a matter for another party or office. The integrity of the government is the prime minister’s responsibility.

She could ask the auditor general to find out whether these donations influenced the spending of government funds. She could call for the Privileges Committee to determine how these donations were solicited whether they’ve generated conflicts of interest that were not disclosed, and whether they’ve caused ministers to mislead parliament. And she could suspend ministers from their portfolios while these investigations are being carried out.

It is safe to assume Winston Peters’ reaction will be to try and turn this story into a confrontation between himself and the media. Arguing about whether this is all “fake news” and reporters are “psychos” is a much more profitable story than whether or not political donations have been concealed. Peters knows that media outlets will almost always take this bait and make the story about themselves instead of anything substantive.

Labour’s concern will be that if it came to suspending a senior NZ First minister, or attempting to investigate their fundraising activities, the party is likely to retaliate by withdrawing confidence and supply from the government and forcing a snap election. But this is the latest – and most serious – in a series of leaks from within New Zealand First; a party that seems to be in an advanced state of fragmentation.

One of the things that destroyed the Helen Clark government’s credibility was the endless drip feed. The allegations of secrecy, illegality, deceit and corruption just kept coming. And now this government is trapped in the same political hostage situation, with the same politician, facing accusations of engaging in the exact same practices. An early election might be worth the risk if the alternative is a year of ongoing leaks and allegations resulting in a contest that makes Simon Bridges prime minister.


*Danyl Mclauchlan is a contributor to The Spinoff. This article was first published on The Spinoff and has been republished with permission. 

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.

91 Comments

Comment Filter

Highlight new comments in the last hr(s).
20
up

Don’t think the majority of the NZ electorate would see a government consisting of just Labour and Greens as being desirable. In fact if that were to eventuate, then God save New Zealand!

17
up

It is actually hard to imagin how bad that would be.

. . if we had an early election there's no way Labour & Greens reach the 61 seat majority to form a new government without NZF ...

But you have to larf at the predicitabilty of the current political crisis ... true to form , once again Winnies antics threaten to pull down the government he supported . ..

.... message to Taxcinda ... even old dogs have fleas ... if you allow them into your bed , don't be surprised if you wake up scratching . . Flee !

This Govtment would be gone Berger

About as bad as National and NZ First, and that is a possibility, if Labour called and early election against Peters wishes. That makes this early election scenario very unlikely indeed.

Surely NZF wouldn't get the 5% if there was a snap election..

Proportion of befuddled geriatrics with failing comprehension of the world has never been higher in NZ's history. And none of mainstream parties appeal to them. So wouldn't be too sure. MMP = let a single spiteful narcissistic 74 year old decide the government and screw the voters.

Agree - its almost as narcissistic as bringing back the archaic honours system and giving yourself and your mates one..

Also he may get votes for purely strategic reasons - although he's a proven royal pan in the ass he is a buffer from the extremes of either party.

He would never allow the peoples National party to increase sales of NZ Inc to China and he stops the crazy lefty BS Labour want to introduce - hey "land rights for gay whales.."

MMP - it is what it is

... will the Governor General step in and dissolve parliament ... as Kerr did to Gough Whitlam in Australia all those years ago ... or will she remain an appointed patsy and hold her nose whilst NZF causes such a stink ...

Then time we changed it, so that the average New Zealander gets a fair shake not just the Moners

NZF would get the 5%. The the way Ron Mark dealt with property developers in Whenuapi already has them kudos now all they need to do is spout some stuff about immigration even if its a bribe/lie they'll still get their 5%.

No way not know NZ has had enough

Actually that would be worse than Larbour/Greens - just look at history to see how that worked out.

15
up

Well one hopes there is not an early election in which Labour and the Greens win outright ........ because our present Government is snafu and there is no reason to believe that it would be any better without Winston .

In fact it could be a whole lot worse for all of us , at least Winston has reined in some of the more lunatic ideas in the COL

Well National had better come up with a credible offering for the voters, or it just may be Labour/Greens. I think Winston will be toast this time.

He's lost 3 different electorate seats in his career - a record! but MMP has has turned him into political herpes that NZ is unable to cure itself of. Given his recent bad health (surgery and noticeably labored breathing of late plus occasional nonsensical speech in the house) I doubt he has another election in him, but you never know.

i think he has more, he knows his party is doomed to disappear when he is gone and i think in his character he would prefer to pass on whilst still in parliament so as to not see the demise of NZ first.

imagine the state funeral

Perhaps ACT winning 5% of party vote would give us a sensible govt?

Act are electorally irrelevant even if they get 10 MP's as they won't go with anyone but National.

They are the right wing “green party” in that case then.

Does National need its party votes? What would happen if National voters all gave their party votes to Act?

You'd be politically naive to suggest an early election would favour Labour, with the lolly scramble coming new year. If Labour play their cards right, they may get to govern alone.

If you want to talk corruption, why not question Jonkey as chairman of the ANZ; which were the main benefactors to the policies he delivered while running the government.

i agree why would you have an election before the budget you have saved up for so you can spend like a drunken sailor.
i would not be surprised to see tax cuts to rip the carpet from under national like JK did to HC even though we were clearly heading into the GFC

If you want to talk corruption, why not question Jonkey as chairman of the ANZ; which were the main benefactors to the policies he delivered while running the government.

Yep, presided over a huge run up in house prices, then sold out part of his Parnell home for $10m to a Chinese investor at the height of the market... coincidental, me thinks not.

With your last comment I agree with Winston, you are creating fate news

17
up

Lets face it, nobody makes large donations without wanting something in return. All parties are donkey deep in it because they have to.
Democracy is at stake here, so time for a shake up. How about state funding, and rules around what gets presented to the voters with an emphasis on policies rather than the shallow stuff we are currently served up.

No way to State funding,that would be like giving the Politicians a blank cheue Book.

Of course it wont be a blank cheque.
A lot of blood and tears have been spilt by our ancestors achieving our democracy, they would spin in their grave at how cheaply our politicians sell out. It appears under a million dollars gets you to call the shots in NZ.

It might trouble Danyl Mclauchlan (long term politically active Green and known close associate of James Shaw) to point this out, but last time I checked this was a coalition Government of three parties. Why is a senior Green party member suggesting that our Labour PM should go for an early election? Why not just have the Greens exit the coalition, same result?

Could it be that whichever coalition partner chucks it's toys first will be punished by the electorate for making us endure an election, based on what are at this time rumours? And where might disgruntled Labour voters go if the PM calls an early election, maybe to the Greens of that nice Mr Shaw?

Good point. Labour's recent string of massive screwups and ugliness (PM's office abuser) have blotted their copy book sufficiently in recent months that left wing vote has probably drifted greenwards. If Winston is nullified during the next year (bad health or political scandal) the doddery low-information voters he prays on will most likely go to National, so an early election would favour greens, hurt labour, and possibly nullify the dodderers vote with a sub-5% NZF result. Could go either way, but might get Labour-Green majority with 6-7% greens having the power to really screw the country with their zealotry.

Yes we are really going down the tubes with the COL at the helm?
Just how positive the economic situation in New Zealand is, is again illustrated by the OECD 2019 growth update. Year-on-year GDP growth for the OECD area was stable at +1.6% in the third quarter of 2019, and that was only held up by the US at +2.0%. New Zealand however is expected to record +2.4%.

we have had no real export driven growth for over ten years, our growth is driven off one thing importing people

China exports would debunk that.
ast year marked the 10-year anniversary of New Zealand's free trade deal with China.
In that time China has grown to become the largest market for Kiwi goods.
China has overtaken the United States as New Zealand's largest red meat export market by volume and value, accounting for about a third of the market.

Dont forget to add that whole milk powder to the exports

our top export earner now is people, ie tourists, and we have to import people to look after those tourists
dairy is still the biggest earner to most countries that is why all our FTA are shaped for fonterra
https://statisticsnz.shinyapps.io/trade_dashboard/

China is outbidding US buyers for red meat because they are short of protein with half their pigs gone.

Although it's pushed up prices, it's not a good thing - our markets have become less diversified and when prices get too high customers look for alternatives.

Re Read his statement. There has been no new real growth over the last year except importing people.

So how would electing National fix that? It was their plan in the first place.

Ardern calling an early election might create unexpected turmoil in the National Party?
Would they want to go to the ballot box with Bridges at the helm? It's clear that leadership is a question for them, and any snap election could bring that forward.
It could be Nationals to lose in advance if they stick with Bridges. That brings Collins' and Luxton's camps into play; perhaps even Muller's.
Interesting times ahead.

It absolutely would. There would be so much horse trading in such a short period of time, there wouldn't be time for a dead cat bounce if Collins or someone else with limited appeal ended up as leader.

Ardern could roll the dice here, but she doesn't have to. Given her extreme reluctance to punish ministers for severe incompetence, I'm unsure there's any reason why she'd throw a snap election when she can just smile and US-talkshow her way out of it. It's not like she's going to get any hard questions from the media on this kind of thing, so why not just wait it out and let NZ First implode on their own terms?

In fairness, too, it would be a bit counterproductive overall to vote out Winston First and vote in National because of dodgy donation handling. Zero gain made.

Bw most National supporters would not agree with your comments.

Winnie knows, because he has called it out before, and as noted been slammed for it too, that there is no appetite to tolerate any overt corruption. Between this and Shane Jones antics he may just be sealing the fate of NZF. And this will be of concern to JA as there is no single dominant party in parliament at the moment. JA is hugely popular because of how she presents, but that is neither policy nor results and I wouldn't like to call the next election.

Thinking about this John Key won at least one election on his popularity alone, because National's policies were crap. Could JA do the same, and strengthen Labours hold on the Government?

The majority of new Zealanders have had a gutsfull of this COL so they will be gone anyway before any inquiry is complete. A snap election is not going to help them, everything this lot has touched has turned to custard.

Can you back that up with any hard statistics/evidence?

Last October poll has Nat+Act on 48, Lab+Green 47 NZF 4, NZF would now struggle to get over 5%, so suggests that electorate has shifted to centre right for first time since election. It's a reasonable statement.

The majority of new Zealanders?..Soyman has PM?

Better that than another few years of the Commie Princess (we can all play the sandpit name game - thanks for being the first)

There there - I dont recall Jacinda meeting head of Chinas secret police - gee you blue bloods are has forgetfull as Prince Andrew
"National leader Simon Bridges is rejecting the claim he met with the head of China's "secret police", saying that is an "unfair characterisation" of the man he met."

Also Soyman is not saying names- thats how he pronounces it.

Frazz - if Kiwifail alone is not enough I can provide scores more examples.

Houses still been built in record numbers in Auckland - prices stagnant and falling. Next please?

Just look around you, open your eyes.

Eyes open..still waiting for some facts to appear before them....tick tock.

The overwhelming majority of New Zealanders don't want Simon Bridges as their next PM ( which of us does - even those on the right?!).
Given that, it's a matter of alternatives - either a different Leader of the National Party or another Party to garner the votes. Which do you think it will be?
Ardern has proven to be a weak leader. So. Does Labour reinstate a now proven politically courageous Andrew Little in the top spot ( by his actions in the pragmatic way of standing down last time and the way he's conducted himself in Government. Ardern can announce she's off to raise a bigger family etc.) and in that case, who do National stand against him? I reckon a revitalised Little could knock any of them off and have Labour govern on their own.

agree...Little was underrated. I'd prefer him to Jacinda myself.

Shearer was better than Cunliffe who was better than Little. Little was highly off-putting to most personality wise and hasn't distinguished himself in parliament with ridiculous ongoing waste on Pike River posturing and worsening crime stats on his watch. He may have been more diligent worker than the superficial Ardern who did so little in her back-bench years, but that is not enough to make him PM material.

Cunliffe was egotistical and power hungry ... constantly undermining Shearer .... given more support , DS could've seriously challenged Key ... I rate Shearer higher than any Labour leader since he was ousted...

Yes, could have been great, but I suspect couldn't stomach the political environment and associated bdust..

You underestimate people's capacity to hold their noses and vote for the lesser evil. The majority of people probably liked Mike Moore better than Jim Bolger, but when the government is dysfunctional you have to go for what seems the more competent option.

Indeed, elections are won in the middle by swing voters picking the least bad alternative. Simon doesn't appeal to right wing (too wet) but Labour/National have to focus on centre swing voters - not pandering to the extremes (as labour did to their detriment during the Key years). Democrats in US need to re-learn this lesson, as front-running Sanders/Warren are pandering to left and making themselves unelectable.

No Carlos, I think you miss judge many voters - probably a reflection of the feedback loop of your social networks. The latest on landlords will have pushed them up some notches too.

I'd say their biggest risk is immigration. As concerned as I am about NZF, I understand they have been frustrated at not being able to reduce immigration - because of labour. But National of course can't highlight this - they won't shut it down. Which leaves NZF s being a necessary evil.

JA would rather let Winston self destruct and then call the election at the usual time. May be a new NZ First leader would be more controllable in a coalition ? Doing a snap election now would be risky and would give an opportunity to National, which may replace Simon with Luxon for the snap election and win handily.
So, No No Snap election.

... can the Gnats promote Luxon to leader , when he's not a member of parliament....

Winnie is NZF ... with Jones or Mark at the helm they're goneburger ...

while they're out it change the election cycle to 4 years. Three is ridiculous. One year settling in, one trying to do something and one gearing up for elections. Nuts.

I dunno though. In the US they have 4 years, but spend the whole 4 years electioneering.

Any increase in the electoral cycle is an erosion of democracy. why would you want that? Just move to China!

...coffee not right this am?

Because a 3 year cycle leads to short time-horizons that undermines necessary focus on long term infrastructure and economic development projects

What we really need to do is reduce MP salaries and give them annual bonuses for 10 years after they are in parliament based on measured improvements in average standard of living. That would get them focusing on improving NZ with a much longer time view and less partisan bickering.

funny you say that do you know how many votes for legislation that both national and labour vote yes on

France has a 7 year cycle and just look at the monumental stuff up that Micron has created and many years before the French have the opportunity to replace the Rothschild's appointee. With the yellow vests celebrating their first anniversary perhaps and the religion of peace members causing mayhem Micron may have a fortunate fatal accident and start the next French revolution - its about time!

I have said it before no way Hosea. Think of the damage this lot would do it they had a four year term. NZ would never recover.

It would help if they had some idea of what they wanted to achieve before taking office, something the CoL were unable to master. Then a third of their term wouldn't have been wasted with working parties to find the tea trolleys.

Taupo Times reporter?? What are the Herald crew doing? The TT is free....

The usual, spruiking property mostly. You don't expect journalism from the herald, surely?

MMP is simply a disaster , and it enables racist fringe looneys like Winston to be kingmaker and game the system .

... I'd be happier if we had 120 electorates... rather than half that number , and the rest of the pollies from lists created by the parties .. get the MPs in to closer connection with their constituents ...

It's still better than the alternative - having an even smaller minority rule over the majority. It's just that some folk have grumpy pants on at the moment because their preferred party forked up their election strategy last time around.

That said, we should have STV and a 3% threshold.

would prefer 2% and STV, and 100 MPs total. Pretty sure we wouldn't notice if 20 backbench MPs disappeared.

Backbenches are the training ground for Ministers. You need a lot of them to provide sufficient depth of talent pool and generally 3+years experience as a backbencher before they are ready for promotion to Minister. A lot of Labour's problems are due to an insufficiency of talent to draw on. Less MPs would only worsen that, and given the massive cost of bad governance a few extra MP's is worth the price. Better would be to limit MPs to a maximum of 3 or 4 terms as non-ministers. Cull the dead wood

Again your dreaming.

no turkey will vote for an early xmas and there is no problem,if you consult your beehive codebook you will find that the leak could mean hack,dodgy will be pretty legal and bribe of course is a donation.

This is "Fake Corruption" just like "Fake News".

Mmmmm not sure about an early election from Labour's perspective. I think they need more policy wins.
All going well they might have a few of those come May, re a raft of RMA initiatives. I also think they need the leverage of a 'spend big' budget.

They had the debacle of KBld, but I give them credit for trying, so that's not a game changer. That aside, they have ticked along pretty well with some decent policy changes along the way (foreign buyers, landlords, water etc). A crack down on immigration is all they need and if actioned I believe they would be well placed to increase their position.

They need more for middle NZ. There's hardly been anything for the middle.
Elections are won and lost in the middle.

Good night Rastus

Have said it before, call me a sell-out, but you could put a feral goat forward to lead National and I would vote for that to get the COL out. Anything to get the COL out gets my vote.

Thats great Theo - who eactly would you want to lead NZ and what eactly is going wrong you are so worked up about?

Maybe feral is the key word.

It could all be a cunning stunt. One would think we would all wait to see some facts before working out the permutations of it all .