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Peter Dunne says the Hamish Walker affair is potentially catastrophic for the National Party just over 10 weeks away from the general election

Peter Dunne says the Hamish Walker affair is potentially catastrophic for the National Party just over 10 weeks away from the general election

By Peter Dunne*

There can be few more spectacular political own goals than that just scored against the National Party by first-term Clutha-Southland MP, Hamish Walker this week. The consequences for Walker personally, and his eminence grise, Michelle Boag, have been grim and dire, but the incident is potentially catastrophic for the National Party, just over 10 weeks away from the general election.

Not only will things drag on for a while, as the Heron inquiry, and a possible investigation by the Privacy Commissioner unfold, there is also the possibility of separate legal action arising from these investigations. Then, there is the prospect of a hurried and intense candidate selection process as for the second time in three years the National Party looks to find a suitable candidate to take over what has always been one of its safest electorates. None of this is likely to be good news for the National Party.

It all makes the Jami-Lee Ross saga of last year look like a distant storm in a teacup. That matter is now before the High Court and the National Party will be relieved that a trial date has been set for September next year, so sparing it from any further embarrassing revelations on that score before the election. Winston Peters may be even be breathing a sigh of relief too that any detrimental finding by the Serious Fraud Office in its inquiry into the New Zealand First Foundation may not now look as bad.

National leader Todd Muller seems to have been blindsided by the whole Walker affair, although some are trying to draw links between Boag and Muller, given the assistance she apparently provided during his campaign for the National Party leadership. However, he seems determined to try and make the best of what is an almost impossibly bad situation.

His initial response to Walker’s admission was considered by some to be too bland – a mere expression of disappointment – although we now know that was as much a consequence of the legal actions already being undertaken by lawyers acting on Walker’s behalf. But the decisiveness of his subsequent actions – stripping Walker of all his Caucus responsibilities and asking the Party’s governing board to expel him altogether from the Party – will have taken his critics by surprise. Walker’s recognition that his political career was over and that he should best stand down was no less swift.

Muller has always insisted that his mild demeanour should not be mistaken for a lack of political steel or the ruthlessness need to be an effective political leader. But it is one thing to say these things about one’s self and then have them believed by a normally sceptical public, but something else altogether to be able to demonstrate them. Unwelcome and annoying as the incident undoubtedly is for Muller, its circumstances have allowed him to show the decisiveness and ruthlessness he has said he possesses.

Walker’s rapid journey to oblivion will have been met with approval by his angry Caucus colleagues, perhaps fearing that their own prospects of holding their own seats at the election, let alone being able to form a government, will be rapidly disappearing with him. At the same time, they will have also taken on board the message that Muller is not to be trifled with, and that he will not tolerate disloyal or dishonourable actions by his MPs.

Beyond the National Party, Muller’s handling of the Walker case provides a stark contrast to the way in which the Prime Minister has dealt with cases involving her own Ministers. Admittedly, her cases have been more about sheer Ministerial incompetence – Curran, Twyford, Lees-Galloway and Clark, for example – than actions that have been disreputable. Nevertheless, the general pattern that has emerged over the last three years has been of a Prime Minister disinclined to act decisively when cases of Ministerial incompetence and poor performance occur. The recent example of the prolonged retention of David Clark bordered on the painfully embarrassing, until he finally recognised that he was a liability and resigned.

Muller will be hoping that the public will react favourably to the way he has dealt with Walker, compared to the more drawn-out and indeterminate processes applying to government Ministers. But any kudos he gains will be small, as the consequences of the Walker affair for the National Party are just too overwhelming.

Recent opinion polls have shown high levels of trust and confidence in the government’s Covid-19-related actions. While there is an acknowledgement that not everything has been anywhere near as perfect or smooth as Ministers like to suggest, the government was winning support for “doing its best” in unprecedented circumstances. National’s hope was that public frustration with the bungles, such as the recent border control failures, would grow to the extent that concern about competence came to outweigh trust in the government’s “doing its best”.

The Walker incident has blown that hope out of the water. Now, any future concerns National raises about the competence of government actions, based on information it has obtained through official and other legitimate sources, will be easily dismissed as dirty and desperate politics. Any trust in National as the party best to rely on to lead New Zealand through the difficult few years of recovery ahead has been seriously damaged.

No wonder Todd Muller is angry. He has every reason to be. After all, it is not every day one of your most junior MPs turns your party into the best reason yet for re-electing your opponents to office.


*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.

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63 Comments

15
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Muller doesn't seem any more electable than Bridges. Sad state of affairs as we could use a credible opposition.

Nonsense , he is a way better bet than Simon or Cindy

Cindy vs. Toddler. Battle of the nicknames.

Having no one seemingly electable is sad.

But the saddest thing is that there is not such a sustainable system to select and grow competent political leaders or any leaders.

20
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Actually you're wrong! At least we have a strong Prime Minister with Jacinda Ardern, who has remained steadfast in keeping the NZ people safe and for us to be able function within our own boarders. If she hadn't have been so strong and kowtowed to your Chinese ambassador who was trying to force us to keep our boarders open, then we would have been swamped by the coronavirus. So to quote your ambassador; "When in prosperity friends know us, and when in adversity we know our friends." Frankly with friends like you we don't need enemies do we!

15
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Absolutely comrade Wang, what we need is a dictator like Emporer Xi who nobody voted for.

If you love Chinas political system so much why dont you head back home ?

If Xing heads back his family have to give the money back. His job is to stay here and chip in the party line as and when required.

I half suspect that he may not be what he appears. He may well be a provocateer who is trying to stir up anti China sentiment. I am sure that any Chinese state sponsored propoganda merchant would be far more subtle and persausive.

Todd has to firm and appear to be stronger than he is. A little bit more of smile, confidence and firmness won't hurt. He is now only reacting to events. He is yet to catch the National Bull by its horn and tame it.
Not a good look, just weeks out from the election. May be he should hire some good consultants, aye.
Exclusive Brethren, you think ?

Prior to the 2008 The Labour Party sent a fishing expedition to Melbourne to see if it could dredge up any dirt on John Key. He reacted by not reacting and in so doing seemed to indicate he was lifting National out of all that old hat political smear stuff, and for the first half of his government that seemed so, as Labour floundered around in a room with no windows. Didn’t last though did it. Everything reverted to the old swamp sledging and puerile antics. This latest episode, following the J L Ross saga, proves things have returned to type.

Melbourne, why Melbourne?

I remember this incident very well , it was desperation on HC's part .

And damaging too

Turned out they didn't need to go to Melbourne either. The dirt was all right here with Cam Slater, Judith Collins, Carrick Graham, John Key etc.

Stronger than he is? Walker is gone in under two days. Twyford is still there. Jones in still there. The SFO is combing through NZ First's donations (again) - no action from Ardern. It took months to do anything about Clark. Why does Muller have to live up to a strongman stereotype when he got rid of the problem MP in record time compared to our actual Prime Minister? It would be nice to see the same levels of scrutiny applied to each of them.

Instead Muller has copped more heat for his stupid hat than Ardern has for anything to do with Tywford or her own failure to deliver on policy from 2017.

I don't know; Walker could have got the hots for a reporter.....

18
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National like to claim that Hamish's behaviour is not within the party ethos and not what National stand for.

Yet Paula Bennett deliberately released the private details of beneficiaries in Parliament purely for political gain. She was never admonished for it and went on to become deputy PM under Bill English. No one in National was upset with what she did.

Hamish's actions are simply a continuation of that arrogance and willingness to stoop to whatever low is required to achieve the outcome they want.

What Bennet did was fill out information about people who had walked onto the media stage themselves, their own choice, and hurled allegations - but but but - keeping much of the story quiet.
Most people had no sympathy for those people.

Get your hand off it. Both parties have played the leaked-data-for-political-gain game. Labour's most egregious example was never apologised for and the culprit has been promoted up the list, despite achieving nothing in the last three years. If National are rotten, what does this say about Labour?

Must be a lot more to be revealed yet, especially the Boag part of it all. Labour will want those revelations to be drip fed to keep it all in the news as long as possible.

It's just further evidence that the National party are corrupt through and through and should be disbanded all together since they are unfit for purpose.

18
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The bigger problem for National is using a list MP with links to the CCP for fundraising and soft arm influence, and the refusal to front up to English media.

Polite Request;
I would very much like to have some competent, smart, moral, worldly types to vote for. I see ample evidence of such types on this site, could interest.co.nz please do a round up of their writers and commentators with potential talent and see if they can't rustle up a political party? I'd be so grateful. Thanks in advance.

12
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Could call it TIP - The Interest Party. A TIP-TOP coalition would surely go down a treat with the electorate.

Excellent! - well thought..

My concern is when a party (any party) plays politics for the sake of power, which in this case it clearly was, rather than for the good of the country. The difference should be easily discernible by the ordinary man in the street.

I do not believe it is acceptable to do what Nicky Hager did; use illegally obtained information to accuse another party of playing dirty. For our democracy to be more successful, there needs to be clear transparency. While i have not yet heard how Michele Boag got the data, I do question the motivations of anyone who willingly discloses confidential information to political groups. Such behaviour smacks of a lack of integrity, and should be treated as such.

I joined a bank in the early sixties. I signed up to the Official Secrets Act. I took that seriously. So too did 99% of any others that signed in those days. What the hell has gone wrong with our society today, when somebody’s confidential information is treated with such disdain and venality.

Nicky Hager is a legend. When governments aren't transparent, it takes people like him to shine a line on what governments do in the shadows.

The stopped election clock on a three year cycle:
A new book by Nicky Hager
A new documentary by Bryan Bruce
A new allegation of something-or-other by Winston Peters

You know I don't recall seeing any of those things this year. Why is that, I wonder?

I agree that it takes, and we need, good investigative journalists to monitor our Governments. But when information is gained unscrupulously how can we be certain of the veracity of that information? All politicians emails should be discoverable, but there still needs to be a high level of integrity in the process. Those Journalists shouldn't have an axe to grind. I don't trust Hager simply because he is too far left, and clearly is not neutral on the political spectrum. There are plenty of occasions around the world where journos have gone looking for a scandal, found nothing so manufactured the evidence they wanted. Hager's bias just reeks from all his work. How would a similar piece from a right wing journo be treated?

You can read the raw source material Hager used. You don't need to even read his words.

Having done so, he didn't have to distort things and he didn't. The raw material was as bad as it was. And you can be sure that if he'd told porkies he would have ended up being sued, not just having the police sicced on him potentially improperly.

Problem is, people simply don't want what was uncovered in Dirty Politics to be true. So they'll ignore it or find reasons to not believe it.

Wrong on this one Mr Dunn. Yesterdays headline, todays wrapping for fish n chips.
Todd Muller has effectively dimissed Hamish Walker and by Monday nobody will be able to find anybody who has concern about the thing.
On top of that very few NZers were concerned about the leak. Most of the outrage was generated by the media and the likes of us common taters.

Well at least Muller had the balls to get rid of him.................something we know from her record to date , Cindy would not have done

The PM's name is Jacinda, boatman. Leave out the mysoginist stuff.

Cindy is the polite term in my household. She is the most inept PM in living memory.

Sorry to hear of your memory issues, XX. Hope it's not an age issue.

No memory issues here She is not up to it, end of.

What amazes me most is that so many here saw her as the big hope to change things, yet here we sit three years later with an empty score card and still you support her.

What impresses me is your resolute insistence that I voted for her, and disbelief that I can be a disillusioned multiple times National voter who was disappointed by John Key's failure to lead.

I'm disappointed in Labour's failures on immigration, Kiwibuild etc., just as I was disappointed in Key's lack of performance, and both Key and English's lack of genuine economic policy. On the other hand, I'm realistic enough to be somewhat relieved that Ardern was in charge during the pandemic rather than a CCP-beholden Bridges who couldn't decide what he wanted.

Bridges wanted border restrictions earlier than Ardern. He got shouted down and March 15th/Pacifica were only canceled at the 11th hour. But the media doesn't like to talk about that because it shows the 'hard and early' narrative for what it is - a load of rubbish. I'm not convinced that Bill English, with his staunch pro-life views and with a wife who is a GP, would have taken such a different approach.

We've been heavily reliant on the opposition to show us the difference between reality and spin, even though they're in a woeful state themselves. What does that say about how good Ardern has been, really? Or is this one of the things where she gets all of the kudos but none of the responsibility?

Brdiges certainly tried to shout a bit at certain times. He became quite good at receiving briefings then shouting for the thing to be done, hours before the announcement of the thing to be done. That demonstrated politicking - as we continue to see from National at the expense of Kiwis' privacy - rather than leadership.

Bridges wanted border restrictions earlier than Ardern.

Only because the government wasn't doing it earlier.

If the government had closed earlier, he would have shouted about how the government was unnecessarily destroying the tourism industry. Just like he and National complained the government was unnecessarily destroying the education export industry by banning visitors from China - quite possibly the action that saved us from getting infections earlier in March or even February like most of the rest of the world.

Todd Muller is like some 1960s Soviet Politburo chief

Leave out the boot licking

11
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All leaders acquire nicknames good and bad. People on here refer to Chon Key and Ximon Bridges, which is a criticism of their political relationship to China. But Cindy? It's not clever, its not satire, it just seems patronising. Some other jibes against JA are her teeth, her hair, her smile. It's just really gross. There are plenty of valid reasons to criticise JA. I would have no objections to nicknames that were a witty play on a valid criticism but just undermining her appearance or whatever? Its just lame.

Good point, I find Aussies in particular really focus on her looks which I think is pretty disgraceful. Notwithstanding that she's attractive anyway, Morrison, Dutton, Hansen et al look like they just walked off the set of "The Hills Have Eyes".

Te Kooti. Always appreciate your perspectives and share your distaste at purile Aussie commentator attacks on Ardern's personal appearance but maybe a hint of pots and kettles in your Aussie politician horror show reference ?

Why thank you! You're right and many Aussies actually love her. It's the bogan right wing ferals that have the problem. There, I did it again!

Puerility personified. Mind you our politicians themselves set the tone, quite capably.

Yes, the ‘Simple Simon’ one was a favourite of the Left, including our Saviour, the yet to be beautified, Saint Jacinda Ardern,

'beautified' ..... living dangerously there comrade.

Angry old men talking down to young women, is the way it comes across.

Ginger. I agree with your views on personal appearance based jibes but not plays on names, satirical or otherwise. Xiomon/Chonkey portray weak compromised character traits, Cindy conveys sentiments of lightweight flakiness. Both sets of labels are perspectives held by many. All are about personality characteristics, not looks. Don't see how you get 'cindy' as an attack on her appearance.

As has been said about a million times, Cindy is not a disrespectful nickname, it is an abbreviation. Dick Seddon, Jim Bolger, Fred Flintstone etc.

Taxinda it is then?

KH. I think you call it correctly. Walker will be viewed as a provincial political turnip and largely forgotten as the community starts to face the real consequences of C19. The entitled prat Gilmore faded from view quickly. I suspect Labours strategists have worked that out judging by the restrained comments from them. Hipkins ashen face as he announced yet another potentially catastrophic quarantine breach shows they are keenly aware they are only one cock up away from disaster and thus its no time to be crowing.

You're assuming that Walker and Boag are the only national party players in this.

Yes, OK. Bated breath, don't keep us suspended too long.

When does the lawyer's report come out?

If you mean the one Muller wisely waited for before passing judgment then it's already been done but if you are talking about the formal enquiry about how the info got to Michelle Borgia it'll take a while. But it'll be yawn snore I suspect and just reveal what we already knew ie move on folks, nothing much to see here just more shambolic mismanagement by MOH under an incompetent minister.

there is already a discrepancy in M borgs statements and the helicopter trust, it sounds like she bullied the MOH into including her in the info and what we need to know now is who and how many national party people did she hand on any info she got.

Boag told RNZ the Ministry of Health had sent daily emails to her private email, which included the sensitive details of the country's Covid-19 cases.
Boag couldn't explain why it was sent to her private email, but suspected it was because she was only temporarily in the role of chief executive.
Helicopter Trust chairman Simon Tompkins, in statement issued Wednesday morning, said the trust had reviewed how it protects patient information and “that none of this patient information has been subject to any privacy breach”.

Yeah, she could have worked the trust management over to get the info but that'd have left a trail and you'd expect someone to have outed her by now. It's sounding increasingly like a simple low level mistake that Lucretia misjudged as significant. Although the timing of Walkers previous statement about C19 refugees being sent to southland is interesting given that's government and MOH policy stuff which would probably have been conveyed in a conversation. So a leaker somewhere probably at a reasonably senior level, whether to her or direct to the southland swede will probably remain unknown. A grand conspiracy to set her or the hapless walker up would be much more interesting and I was half expecting something explosive hidden in the data that he'd spill his guts on but it's looking more like just a mundane misjudgement than that.

Is now fine? Add Woodhouse to the list. Who's next?

Boag, as CEO of some emergency trust was given the names and addresses of all covid-19 cases as part of her job, so any staff going to an address would know if they had covid or not. The suspicious bit is that someone thought that with her baggage, she was actually employable. The bad bit was her giving it to Hamish. He gave it to media, not so they would publish his name, but to show them that the secret names and addresses were easily gettable. The other bad bit is that he thought they wouldn't write stories making him look real bad.

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Days to the General Election: 38
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.