sign uplog in
Want to go ad-free? Find out how, here.

Peter Dunne says while Labour talks big about transparency and accountability it quickly retreats into its shell whenever challenged to match the rhetoric with action

Peter Dunne says while Labour talks big about transparency and accountability it quickly retreats into its shell whenever challenged to match the rhetoric with action

By Peter Dunne*

The Labour part of this government is extremely weak when it comes to dealing with difficult situations. They are simply letting their bureaucrats and coalition partners run rings around them, more and more often. After over two years in office, they cannot credibly use the excuse of Ministers on trainer-wheels anymore. They have to take control and set the agenda if they are to have any hope of being the government of transformation they say they wish to be.

Three examples this week demonstrate the point. First, is the continuing saga of the name of Wellington’s Victoria University. Next is the Radio New Zealand Concert debacle, and third is the ongoing drama over the New Zealand First Foundation.

Take Victoria University first. The Vice-Chancellor’s obsession with renaming the university the University of Wellington is well-known and unbounded. It appears most of the University’s alumni; its staff and benefactors are strongly opposed to any such change. (I am none of those, so have no direct interest here.) When the University applied, after a fractious and bitter internal debate, to the Minister of Education for approval to change its name, that approval was declined.

That should have been the end of the matter, and the Vice-Chancellor should have got back to his day job of promoting the University’s role as a centre of academic excellence, quality teaching and research. But no, with the densest of tin-ears, he has persisted with his dream, defying his critics and the Minister in the process. Revelations this week that the University has spent almost half a million dollars rebranding itself as Wellington’s University, or the Wellington University and the like, are the ultimate two-finger salute to the Minister of Education.

By standing by quietly, the Minister is not only angering the many critics of the renaming strategy but also demonstrating his impotence. Some may argue that for reasons of the protection of the principle of academic freedom the Minister cannot intervene, but this is not a matter that has anything to do with academic freedom. The Minister has every reason to be concerned about how the University is spending public money on non-core activities.

Therefore, he should call in the University’s Chancellor and make it very clear that the Vice-Chancellor’s ongoing actions do not meet his expectations following his earlier decision to decline the name change.  Moreover, if the University Council will not bring the Vice Chancellor to heel, he will replace it with a Council that will. He may not choose to go this far, but the more he sits idly by and lets the Vice Chancellor get away with it and carry on regardless, the weaker he looks.

The still unfolding Radio New Zealand Concert saga is just as puzzling. On the face of it, it appears that Radio New Zealand went ahead with announcing a plan to shift Concert off the FM platform in favour of a youth centred station, even after the government had asked it to hold off, pending further discussion. The Prime Minister’s remarkable decision to step in and decide previously unallocated FM spectrum could be made available to keep Radio New Zealand Concert on air won plaudits and should have been the end of the matter.

However, it seems that Radio New Zealand is still struggling to come to grips with being put in its place so emphatically. All it will admit to is a “miscommunication” over the original announcement – whatever that means – and that it now needs a few days to absorb the impact of the Prime Minister’s intervention. Moreover, it is not prepared to give any guarantees about the future of Concert’s current staff. Yet the public’s expectation (and one suspects, the Prime Minister’s as well) is less ambiguous, that Radio New Zealand Concert will now be retained as it is currently, staff and all.

The remarkable silence throughout of the Minister of Broadcasting to whom the Radio New Zealand board reports is telling. Does he not realise he has been run rough-shod over by them, and made to look quite inadequate by the intervention of his Prime Minister? Even while Radio New Zealand continued equivocating about what this week’s Cabinet decision actually meant, the Minister was still keeping his head well down. Instead, to prove he is still worth his job and that his government is still in charge, he needs to be calling in the Board and leaving them in no doubt of both his displeasure at the way all this has unfolded, and his clear expectation there will be no similar repeat in  the future. Otherwise, he will be left looking just as weak as his colleague the Minister of Education.

But the biggest example of the timidity of current leadership looks likely to be the way the Deputy Prime Minister is treated over the New Zealand First Foundation investigations. This is not the place to express any judgment on the allegations that have come to light – they are now matters for the Serious Fraud Office. However, where there have been previous cases of allegations being made against Ministers being investigated by either the Police or other law enforcement agencies, the practice under successive governments has normally been for the Minister to stand aside until the matter has been resolved. Under the Helen Clark Labour-led government, for example, this happened to Ministers Samuels, Field, Dalziel, Dyson, Parker, and even Peters at various stages.

Based on that precedent, it would not be unreasonable to expect it to now apply to the Deputy Prime Minister pending the outcome of the Serious Fraud Office investigation. However, the current Prime Minister is no Helen Clark, so will not act. Indeed, she has gone so far as to express, albeit after some media prodding, confidence in the Deputy Prime Minister, and to reject all calls for her intervention. Of course, it would be extremely politically difficult for her to do so, given the threat potentially posed to the maintenance of her coalition. But it is inevitable that any stench of taint that lingers from the New Zealand First Foundation investigations will eventually envelope her as well, her current distancing and inaction notwithstanding.

The overall impression left by each of these cases is that while Labour talks big about transparency and accountability it quickly retreats into its shell whenever challenged to match the rhetoric with action.

*Peter Dunne is the former leader of UnitedFuture, an ex-Labour Party MP, and a former cabinet minister. This article first ran here and is used with permission.

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.


Cracks in the good times = massive collapse in difficult times.
Bring back Peter Dunne's incentives.
Early retirement if you elect to.
Income tax split between the household i.e. $100k income for one person in the house is split 50/50 if the spouse dose not work.
It was sad to see Peter Dunne leave as he was middle of the road average Kiwi champion.

No doubt if he had stuck around he would have quietly dropped the whole early retirement thing exaclty the same way he dropped income splitting, both of which have merit especially income splitting. That he did not persist with that lost him just about all of any credibility I had given him.

Yep, a very hypocritical government!

so he is saying they need to make their partners bend over and take it like he did for JK and HC just so they can get paid extra for being a spare vote
a bit rich coming from PD


When I complained to you, when you were the Minister of Internal Affairs, about the actions of Fire and Emergency New Zealand you fobbed me off. By all means suggest that I go to the Commission but you did not care about the bullying and rather dubious activities that were endangering public safety.

Yet, strangely, you have remained silent about this issue. Why were your actions not transparent? Why did accountability not apply when you were the Minister? Why have you declined to cover this matter in your articles?


This particular author seems not to excel in self-awareness, indeed.


peter will never pass up an opportunity to have a go at WP but he is in the very small minority of MPs that were willing to piss off the chinese in his support of Taiwan.

I think he's got a chip on his shoulder that WP has been able to run a successful political party that gets into parliament on the party vote and that Dunne never did.

I suspect Jacinda will stand by Winston for as long as it takes to prepare a snap election campaign and have it ready to go the second it starts to drag her down in the polls. Until then, as is the norm for this government: just keep repeating an answer to any questions, even if it's not actually answering the question you've been asked.


Senior public "servants" have become public masters, in their minds at least. We are seeing a dangerous erosion in accountability to the people who should be the true bosses, the New Zealand public.

I think the thrust of the column is that the bureaucracy is becoming increasingly difficult to control and discipline. Those of us who are not bureaucrats would have little difficulty in agreeing with that.

That part of the message is important. Red tape is out of control and I keep having to complain about government employees breaking the law. It's ironic given they are supposed to be enforcing the law, and this undermines the rule of law in New Zealand.

My take on that is that we the public are having to cope, in a very negative sense, with the ever burgeoning power of the bureaucracy. Vive! The Brown Cardigan Brigade. Fly the banner “Omnes Auctoritate Nihil Responsabilitas.”

We'll form a committee to take a look into that and get back to you in a year.

When you report back, you'll commission a business case in 2021 to look at the 2018 problem you initially complained about. Then there will be rewrites and rehashing and the entire concept might get taken to market before an actual tender process like it did with light rail. So maybe 2023. Then there's the minister's briefing and the months it takes before it actually goes to cabinet, and then it will get voted for consideration in 2024 for the 2025/2026 Budget. And, if approved, it will be funded at half the level to solve the problem to the extent you demanded in opposition, but only to resolve the issue itself as it stood then, not the way it has grown exponentially because you've also crammed another 200,000 people into the region since then.

Ha ha
So true

The authorities want to run everything take a look at AGENDA 21 google it.

Is there linkage between AGENDA 21 and Just Transition?

Question: does anyone know who introduced JT into nz government method?.

Currently it appears Just Transition has stalled. Stalled over the "conversations" and "community partnering" ( many believe government is not an entity that partners with the community, rather it is of the community ) partnering with the Taranaki region.

The minister has said the program will not extend beyond Taranaki presently.

It seems the JT program was established After Taranaki off shore exploration was cancelled (help with fact checking would be welcomed).

God forbid but maybe we need to have a war. The USA began the near to 3000km highway to Alaska in March 1942 and had it completed the October 1942. Wouldn’t happen now though.

We'll spend 9 years pretending there's no problem.

Keep beating that drum in the hope other keep marching to it.

Well, by your own standards they have another 6 years left to live up to their campaign promises. Or they simply don't need to.

Personally I'd hope they move faster.

Yeah your right Kezza, problem is that Labour supporters have the memory of a Goldfish, give it a year and everyone has forgotten why the committee was formed in the first place let alone provide an outcome. What happened to this lot that said we were getting fleeced at the petrol pumps ?

And economists ponder why NZ productivity is lagging. LOL.

And what a shambles they preside over- so many departments failing at basics like processing applications, answering the phones or paying the bills. It seems like the govt has lost control of its own ministries.

I got a ridiculous response to an OIA request today, whole host of redactions.
Makes one suspicious.

Maybe we are seeing progressiveness running against it's own record.

Here is a look back/see through of Obama via the Limbaugh story.

. the desire of a self-appointed group of elites to expand government in order to regiment the lives of ordinary people, allegedly to achieve greater mandated equality and social justice but more often to satisfy their own narcissistic will to power.
It was Limbaugh who most prominently warned that lax immigration enforcement would soon lead to open calls for open borders, that worry about “global warming” would transform into calls to ban the internal combustion engine, and that the logical end of federal takeover of health care would be Medicare for All. .....

Our interest is in what Just Transition means, its origins and how progressives think to translate / transplant into NZ.

The following contains a Link posted late yesterday by Chairman Moa. It is the most sensible suggestion I have come across in this blog containing a housing solution for the homeless and mentally ill. Ok the Scandinavians are light years ahead of all other countries on the planet in almost every department of civilized life. But this solution from Finland looks doable and, remember Labour has 1.9 billion dollars earmarked for mental health spending over the next 5 years. This would be a last chance before the election for Labour to demonstrate that they are capable of doing something constructive perhaps using some of the failed Kiwibuild resources. Come on Labour, give this a go because your 5-year plan to expand mental health workers by 1600 over the next 5 years just seems like another empty promise. Ask Findland for help in design if necessary. Anyway here is the Link. Thanks again Chairman Moa:

I would like Peter Dunne to give his response to this idea.

As always you need to factor in the inherent differences in national Culture/values/morals/ethics.

While it clearly works in Finland, I have no doubt at all that it would fail miserably in NZ.

Noncents What a facile negative response. The typical NZ futile response:

"She'll be right mate, nah yeah."

I guess your inherent values must be embodied in one of the following parties: Labour, National, NZ First, or the so-called Greens.

"All good mate."

"Sweet as"

ignoring the true complexities of an issue; superficial.
"facile generalizations"

Sure you got the right word there?

I fully understand the complexities. You cannot take one single isolated policy and apply it in another country and expect it to work. You need to account for all the other factors that are inputs into that policy.

Monaco has no tax, great place to live. Lets adopt their tax policy.
New York has a world renowned skyline, China built a "Hospital" in a week, and Singapore is a model of high density living. Maybe we should adopt their construction policies.

Quite simply it is Facile to think you can just bring in a solitary policy, and "She'll be right mate, nah yeah.", "All good mate.", "Sweet as".

oh, by the way it is also incredibly facile to judge someones values based on a two line interest comment. So please don't embarrass yourself by continuing this in the future.

I use the word 'facile' in the sense of 'too easy', 'simplistic', 'without any useful thought', 'superficial', 'shooting from the hip', 'on the hoof', etc, etc.
Your response aptly sums up the meaning of 'facile' and reinforces my argument: you are one of the NZ idiots I am referring to and our country and political parties are full of them.
Your 'different cultures' argument implies that we in NZ shouldn't use antibiotics because they were invented by a Scotsman. LOL

And here is a repost of my angry response to Chairman Mao's Link in his original post late last night. I was angry that the Scandinavians are so far ahead of NZ:

What a brilliant, sensible link Chairman Moa. The Scandinavians are certainly the most advanced and sensible countries on this earth by a country mile. I'm ashamed of my Anglo-Saxon background with its still class-ridden, money-grabbing, wealth-disparity ethos.

Labour's stupid, National's stupid, NZ First are really stupid. Who do you vote for out of this lot?

You just have look at the Brexit nonsense; and the poms still think they rule the world. And the other so-called superpowers: the Russian people need a corrupt dictator, the Chinese need an authoritarian dictator, the Americans (USA) need a fascist half-wit. Their populations are half-wits to allow this situation to arise. Why don't we just allow Scandinavian immigrants? A stupid suggestion because they wouldn't want to come.

I seriously advocate that we volunteer to become a colony of one of the Scandinavian countries, if one of them would have us which I doubt. And I'm not joking.

Jail the bankers if they screw up instead of giving them more money and power is a big plus for me.

Well if the common sense of the Fins. and NZ's lack of makes you that angry, then you will apoplectic that the Texans and many other jurisdictions can easily develop and build houses at 3x median income.

If we did that, we would have hardly any need for the amount of emergency housing we do.

In the first two examples, the appropriate ministerial interventions happened. What the author is suggesting is that there should be further follow up measures - a sort of Donald Trump style, you're fired.
With respect to the NZ First foundation, let the voters decide and/or the investigation run its course. That makes sense in terms of stable government.

Yes. Let the investigation run its course.

Politicians too weak to challenge bureaucrats is only part of the story. Our media is widely reduced to bland inoffensiveness by its jacindamania addiction. Take the recent avoiding of questions over her level of trust in Peters. She was allowed by media to get away with it on the spot and only after some time had passed, and presumably her PR advisers had picked up mounting public disquiet about NZF, did she then change her stance. Would soyman be given the same latitude? .... not a chance. Which is as it should be.

What we are witnessing in Wellington is a political abdication of responsibility. The civil service can see this, just like you & I can & their response is to further their own personal agendas in the leadership vacuum. We saw that in the UK over the past 3 years. We saw that in America under Obama & it's still going on under Trump. The sad part is that we have devalued our leaders & their leadership deliberately through the media, within the universities & from within the civil service itself. These three ingredients are what I call democracy's triad of evil. So, how do we rest control back to the centre? I know what I'd do, but I cannot write it here.

I am afraid he is right. I am sure that Jacinda is a lovely person and took the job on with all the hopes and best intentions, but she is totally ill equipped for the job and out of her depth. Trouble is that apart from David Parker, Chris Farfoie and Tracy Martin, perhaps James Shaw, Andrew Little and Grant Robertson. The rest are no better or even worse.
The trouble is that while any prospective alternative National government may be slightly more competent, their agenda would run totally contrary to the interests of average NZ citizens and the consequences for them would be worse. If that is possible. So what the hell are we supposed to do? It is easy to understand how voters get so desperate that they will vote for the likes of Hitler or Trump.

Your second paragraph totally nails the dilemma.
Well done.

I though his first paragraph nailed it.

His arguments really lose all their integrity by being so overtly biased. Surprised interest don't even up the ledger by publishing views from the other side.

John Key set an excellent example with his highly wasteful and masterfully distracting 'change the flag' campaign. Although it was highly lucrative for his supporters in finance who made a killing out of the partial privatisation of the electricity SOE's while we were all carping on about which flag to I would have preferred a flag with Keys smug face printed on it...would have felt great each time I wiped my butt with it!

OMG such earth shatteringly dreadful situations for a govt to find themselves in................. OR............ is it sour grapes yet again from Mr Dunne.

Peter who... sit on the fence Dunne

how much for a couple gramms of synnies these days?

What is the option though Pete? - when clearly the previous 9yrs bunch are even denying if any difficult task to tackle. Even average most educated have to switch allegiances observing the field & being affected by it. It is just about first 3yrs, some can be seen slightly improvement (ask those bunch that protesting for wage increases). Previously? no significant wages improvement, yet by other means their income is being siphoned slowly but surely by the Nat govt. - Remember the last Brexit vote? hell, looking to the average most NZ politicians mindset? - I won't be surprised if suddenly the majority voters goes to Aotearoa Legalise CanParthee.. - But anyhow, my small kid always look upon you as an owl, I didn't realise until recently.. it is a bit confusing tho to Morepork.

Basically, Peter is saying the electorate has a bottomless appetite for spin over substance. As a result ineffective leaders foc on press conference soundbites, and avoid anything that could possibly look like a decision. It takes a really good minister to get anything worthwhile done, and when they do, they get little credit and often loose the spin battle. Case example - Bill English. What a pity - best finance minister and potentially the best prime minister we have had, but all substance and little spin. He would have done so much for the social indicators like child poverty, compared to the current self serving pc goofballs, who were elected for that. Because she has little behind her, Jacinda is already burned out.