Andrew Little

Contractors aren’t workers?

Andrew Little, rather than simply apologising to NBR reporter David Cohen for the lengthy non-payment of his $950 invoice and moving on, seems dedicated to providing Patrick Gower with more ammunition.

On 3News last night, Mr Little attempted to amend Gower’s terminology:

“Your commentary talked about a worker. He [David Cohen] was a contractor.”

Unfortunately, Cohen had exchanged numerous emails with Little’s chief of staff, Matt McCarten, during his attempt to get paid, and at one point Mr McCarten had written:

“I’ll make it a priority. Every worker must be paid for work they are asked to do.”

When confronted with this by Gower, Little accepted that if it was okay for McCarten to refer to Cohen as a worker, it was also okay for Gower to do so.

Presumably, Little was concerned that use of the word “worker” might imply to the public that Cohen had been a Labour staffer who hadn’t been paid, as opposed to a one-off contractor. Nonetheless, it was a baffling piece of semantics, given that the first definition of “worker” in my dictionary is:

A person who works; one who works well or in a specified way.

As a former union boss, Mr Little will be well-versed in the distinctions between different types of workers – employees v contractors, for instance – but to try and paint a freelance contractor as someone who is not a worker seemed like a hiding to nothing. For a leader who, late last year, was bellowing “Cut the crap!” at John Key, this ill-considered linguistic smokescreen looked decidedly mealymouthed.

It was a line that Mr Little surely hadn’t thought through before he said it. If he had thought it through, he would have realised that it jarred rather uncomfortably against the idea that the Labour Party is supposedly there for all workers, not just the ones who belong to unions and have employment contracts.

Once again this week, Andrew Little has unnecessarily shot himself in the foot.

 

Advertisements

Paying one’s debts (or The Ongoing Art of Political Stupidity)

No one likes being caught saying one thing and doing another. So it’s been more than a little embarrassing for Andrew Little to have been talking up the need for Labour to reach out to small business and contractors, only to be busted for not having paid a contractor’s $950 invoice for four months.

Many Labour supporters will argue that it’s a minor issue, blown out of proportion by Patrick Gower’s gleeful penchant for sensationalist reporting. Nonetheless, the problem for Andrew Little is that it’s a very simple issue that all small business owners and contractors can relate to: you do the work, you send out the invoice, and you wait, and wait, and wait. And while you wait, and pay your own bills, you think how nice it would be to have that money sitting in your bank account. Because there’s a rates invoice due in a few days, or a GST payment coming up fast, or the oven at home has just committed hara-kiri.

Of course, it’s unlikely that the invoice sat on Andrew Little’s desk for four months, with Little making a personal decision to obstinately not pay it. Instead, it will have been with any number of underlings, who are paid to sort such things out.

They’ve certainly dropped the ball on this one, and not merely in their handling of the (non)payment of the invoice.

For a start, the contractor, freelance journalist David Cohen, writes for the National Business Review, a publication not often known as a bastion of left wing journalism. Cohen’s latest NBR piece states that he was contracted to “take a few hours to talk with Mr Little and then independently distill his views as they might sound to an outsider”. Quite why anyone in Camp Little thought that the ideal independent outsider to hire was a right wing journalist is rather beyond me.

As The Dim-Post‘s Danyl Mclauchlan writes in the comments to his latest post:

Here’s how a similar conversation would go in the National Party:

Aide: We’ve arranged for Danyl Mclauchlan to interview you then distill it into key messages.
MP: Who’s he?
Aide: He’s a left-wing blogger, his wife was a senior staffer for the Greens . . .
MP: Let’s not use him. That’s just stupid.

Nonetheless, the political preferences of Mr Cohen presumably wouldn’t have been an issue had the invoice simply been paid. But it wasn’t, and according to Mr Cohen on Morning Report this morning, that’s despite him having contact with various Little staff members, including Chief of Staff Matt McCarten.

Did no one, especially Mr McCarten, think, “We owe an NBR journalist $950. We should probably pay that before he turns feral…”?

And so Mr Cohen writes a story about his shoddy treatment, exposing Mr Little’s hypocrisy and making Little and his staff look like a pack of extremely odd individuals.

And so Andrew Little is embarrassed in Parliament by Stephen Joyce, who gleefully lampoons Little’s “no payment contract”.

And so Patrick Gower makes Mr Little look like a fool on 3News, as Gower asks again and again when and why the bill was suddenly paid, and Little tries not to answer.

It’s an issue that should never have got to that stage, and it beggars belief that Little and/or his staff allowed it to end up on the six o’clock news. Reverting to type, Labour once again fluffs its basic political management.

And John Key didn’t consult either…

Following yesterday’s discovery that there will be no minor party involvement in the oversight of our spy agencies, Andrew Little was castigated for his failure to consult with either the Greens or NZ First regarding his nomination of David Shearer to the Intelligence and Security Committee.

As I wrote yesterday, there is a legal requirement for the Leader of the Opposition to consult with all other opposition party leaders before making a nomination. This puts Labour in the strange position of essentially having to argue that, despite having already announced Shearer’s nomination, consultation can still occur prior to the nomination being officially made. (At present, the nominations aren’t yet official.)

John Key was approached for comment on Little’s decision, but as far as I can see, none of the reporting yesterday focussed on the issue that both Andrew Little and John Key had consultation requirements. Section 7 of the Intelligence and Security Committee Act 1996 requires the Leader of the Opposition to consult with all other opposition party leaders, but  it also requires the Prime Minister to consult with the leaders of all parties in government.

John Key has confirmed he’ll be nominating National’s Chris Finlayson and Amy Adams. Surely, given that ACT, United Future and the Maori Party all have confidence and supply agreements with National, Mr Key must therefore have consulted with David Seymour, Peter Dunne and Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox before coming to his decision?

Well, Peter Dunne yesterday tweeted:

FWIW no-one has consulted me under either 7(1)(c) or 7(1)(d) [the relevant consultation sections of the Act]

Maybe Mr Key, like Little, intends to get around to “consulting” with the other party leaders prior to the nominations of Finlayson and Adams becoming official.

Nonetheless, if that’s the defence that both major party leaders intend to rely on, it makes a mockery of the duty of consultation. What it shows is that both Key and Little consider the statutory duty of consultation as nothing more than a nuisance; an exercise in ticking boxes before doing precisely what they want.

And we’re supposed to blindly trust them to protect our rights and interests as they oversee the spies…

UPDATE (18/02/15):

Oddly, Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox has confirmed on Twitter that the Maori Party were consulted:

So why was the Maori Party consulted, but Peter Dunne wasn’t? Was ACT?

Ill tidings for oversight of spy agencies

We mere citizens don’t get to know too much about how our spy agencies operate and what they get up to. There are good reasons for that. A spy agency that gives out all of its secrets probably isn’t going to function particularly successfully.

Unfortunately, our spy agencies, just like the police, sometimes don’t appear to know the law. And sometimes, even when they do know the law, they choose not to follow it.

Which is why it’s rather vital that there’s oversight of our spy agencies. In New Zealand, that oversight is provided by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee. It’s a five person committee, made up of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, two MPs nominated by the PM, and one MP nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.

Now you’d expect that the committee that makes sure the spies aren’t breaking the law would be lawfully appointed, wouldn’t you?

Turns out that Andrew Little didn’t appear to have read the relevant law. Section 7 of the Intelligence and Security Committee Act 1996 provides that the member nominated by the Leader of the Opposition must follow “consultation with the leader of each party that is not in Government or in coalition with a Government party”.

Little has nominated Labour’s David Shearer, which has provoked howls of outrage from the Greens and NZ First, both of whom say they were not consulted.

Russel Norman had previously been on the Committee, but was not nominated by Labour this time round because he’ll be stepping down as Greens’ co-leader in a few months. Little didn’t nominate the other Greens’ co-leader, Metiria Turei, because he wanted someone with “skills, understanding and experience”.

Labour’s view appears to be that there’s no breach of the law, because David Shearer hasn’t yet been officially nominated, and the party will consult with the Greens and NZ First before the nomination is confirmed. Quite what that “consultation” will consist of, given that Shearer’s name has essentially been put forward as a fait accompli, remains to be seen.

National, meanwhile, has announced that it’s nominees will be GCSB and SIS minister Chris Finlayson and Justice minister Amy Adams. They’re both National, meaning that no minor party will have a role in the oversight of the GCSB or SIS.

Now here’s the worrying party. John Key has previously signalled that the Government intends to introduce a new round of tougher surveillance laws this year, further eroding our rights. So he supports Labour’s stance, because:

“A range of opposition voices from the minor parties could railroad the process.

“I don’t think the committee was terribly constructive over the last few years, I think it was used less as a way of constructing the right outcomes for legislation, and more as a sort of political battleground.”

In short, John Key doesn’t want dissent. He wants as little scrutiny of our spy agencies as possible.

Here’s Russel Norman responding to Labour’s decision:

“I think it’s a bad call. It means it’s the old boys’ club – Labour and National – both of whom have been responsible for illegal spying.

The Greens were the only ones on [the committee] with clean hands . . . the spy agencies will be extremely happy. The duopoly of illegal spying will be maintained without any independent oversight.”

The spy agencies will indeed be extremely happy. They’ve been given an indication from Key and Little that, for the next three years, oversight of their activities will be rather less stringent than it has been in previous terms.

Masters of the Universe

I’ve never read Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, nor seen the film. Consequently, Andrew Little’s description yesterday of John Key and Bill English as “Masters of the Universe” caused my brow to furrow.

Other minds apparently initially leapt to He-Man and the Power of Greyskull. However, my childhood didn’t tend to involve the watching of cartoons, so I completely missed He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Google tells me there was also a Masters of the Universe movie in 1987: I missed that too, which was probably a good thing, given the rather negative online reviews.

No, my mind leapt towards an early song by Pulp entitled Master of the Universe, with the immortal lines:

Oh now look what you have done.
You’ve spoilt it all for everyone.
The master masturbates alone,
In a corner of your home.

Thank you, Mr Little, but that wasn’t an image I ever wanted to associate with the Prime Minister or Finance Minister…

If only I’d watched more cartoons as a child.

Labour and the polls

When Andrew Little was first elected to the Labour leadership last year, everyone I knew seemed a little dumbfounded. No one, whatever their political stripes, thought him a good choice, with their reasons generally ranging from his apparently humourless personality to his union credentials. Labour had doomed itself, was the general consensus.

Of course, Mr Little then failed to make a right hash of things. In fact, with his “Cut the crap” soundbite, he got a fair bit of positive press coverage, and seemed to have united many Labour Party doubters behind him.

Nonetheless, despite that good initial run of form from him, the mood from the streets of Gisborne, Rotorua and wherever else I wandered remained circumspect. People expected Little to come a cropper sooner or later (perhaps sooner rather than later), and they were hardly likely to switch allegiance to (or back to) Labour until the party had shown it could offer some degree of basic competency.

On Sunday, we had the first television poll of the year: TV3’s Reid Research poll. There was good news for Labour – it was on 29.1%; up 3.5% (or up 4% on its election night result) and close to the near-respectability figure of 30%. And 55% of voters thought that Mr Little was “potentially a better match for Mr Key than his predecessors”.

Leaving aside the usefulness or otherwise of including the word “potentially” in that last polling question, the results really aren’t great news for Labour. For a start, National was up 5.3% to 49.8% (or up 2.8% on their election night result). Labour’s rise in support didn’t come from National…

It’s the post-election summer, and until this frenetic last week, politics has been off everyone’s agenda. With no media exposure, the smaller parties have suffered:

  • The Greens were down 5.1% to 9.3% (or down 1.4% from election night), having had little more than bad publicity since the election after their lacklustre 10.7% showing.
  • NZ First is on 6.9%, down 1.9% on its election night result (although down just 0.2% on the pre-election TV3 poll).
  • The Conservatives are on 2.7%, down 2.2% from the last TV3 poll and down 1.3% from the election.
  • Internet Mana are on just 0.6%, down 1.4% from the last TV3 poll and down 0.8% from the election.

Labour and National have basically just profited from the usual post-election lack of exposure that the minor parties tend to suffer. Labour’s 29.1% leaves the party no closer to governing. National’s back in governing alone territory.

And Andrew Little’s preferred Prime Minister rating was just 9.8%. It’s not a dreadful debut, but it’s still 2.5% less than the terminally disliked David Cunliffe was polling.

Really all that can be said about the TV3 poll results are that there is still more than two and a half years to run until the next election, so it’s early days yet. Plenty of time for Little and Labour to build on an error-free Parliamentary term. Or plenty of time for an implosion.

Labour supports 24 hr surveillance : the unenviable job of being in opposition

This week, the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee reported back on the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill. The Government had been seeking, among other things, the ability of the SIS to undertake 48 hour warrantless surveillance, and for the Government to revoke passports for three years.

Quite why these measures were required were never addressed. After all, our terror threat level may have raised, but it remains on ‘low’. MPs such as Jamie-Lee Ross muttered darkly of tales of terror disclosed by the SIS: if we meek citizens only knew what the MPs knew, we would quake in our boots and immediately provide ringing endorsements of the Government’s planned changes. Of course, we mere citizens weren’t allowed to know. The SIS’s briefing was conducted in secret, open only to MPs, on the grounds of protecting national security.

The SIS’s briefing may have persuaded Mr Ross, but the opposition appeared rather less convinced. Labour MPs such as leader Andrew Little, Phil Goff and David Shearer held the line that the Government had failed to make a case for the increased powers, and one doesn’t have to be a genius to know that the Greens were never going to be convinced.

Nonetheless, the Committee has reported back, and Labour now backs warrantless surveillance, albeit for a maximum of 24 hours and only in relation to terrorist activity (as opposed to the SIS’s wider activities). In addition to that concession, the Government has also agreed to stricter oversight and more frequent reporting, in relation to the use of warrantless surveillance, and those individuals who have their passport revoked will have the ability to appeal that decision and apply for their passport back.

To my mind, 24 hours less warrantless surveillance isn’t a huge concession. Warrantless surveillance is still warrantless surveillance, and the Government has still failed to make the case as to why it’s necessary. After all, in emergency situations involving terrorism, s10 of the International Terrorism (Emergency Powers) Act 1987 provides the ability for police to intercept private communications and interfere with the operation of any part of the telecommunications system in the area in which the emergency is occurring. For powers above and beyond that, which may heavily impinge on the rights of certain individuals, a proper case should be made as to why those powers are necessary.

By rights, I should be lambasting Labour for abandoning its principled approach and supporting warrantless surveillance. On the other hand, however, the Government had the numbers to pass the Bill in its initial form. Labour could have voted against it and achieved nothing. The Government wanted a vaguely bipartisan outcome, meaning that small concessions were achieved. That’s the unenviable job of being in opposition: Do you stick to your guns, opposing to the death for no reward, or do you give support on some issues, taking what gains you can in order to make the end legislation a slightly better beast?

Labour will have made the call that few New Zealanders really care about the issues of warrantless surveillance or revocation of passports. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear, etc. Labour gets a positive headline or two for at least forcing a few changes; National gets its positive headlines for being bipartisan.

Everyone wins, except our civil rights.

And, as No Right Turn points out, this piece of legislation is just the beginning, with John Key already stating that the Government will look to further toughen security laws after a review next year. With Labour now on record supporting the thin end of the wedge, what will our major opposition party agree to next time round?

John Key implodes over the Gwyn report

The Cheryl Gwyn report into the release of SIS information relating to whether Phil Goff was or wasn’t briefed about the Israeli spy saga  was released on Tuesday. It makes for compelling reading as it investigates whether Goff lied, whether then-head of the SIS Warren Tucker behaved inappropriately, and what role the Prime Minister’s Office had in releasing the information to Cameron Slater.

The conclusions were, on occasion, somewhat unexpected. Had Phil Goff lied? Apparently not. It seems that although Mr Tucker briefly provided Mr Goff with a “preliminary document” relating to the Israeli spies, Goff did not read the document, and the matter was brushed over by Tucker. Essentially, both men were right: in Tucker’s mind, he’d briefed Goff on the issue, while in Goff’s mind, he hadn’t received a briefing at all.

The problem that then arose was that Mr Tucker seems to have taken personal affront at having his honesty and professionalism called into question by Mr Goff. To put Goff in his place, Tucker therefore released only selective documentation, which (when read in isolation) appeared to prove Goff a liar. The report drags Tucker over the coals for this, and the SIS has apologised to Goff.

So what then of Mr Slater and his OIA request? Slater’s explanation was that he received a tip-off from someone purporting to be from the SIS. He denied being tipped off by Jason Ede.

There are a few problems with that explanation though. For instance, the report finds that Slater was on the phone to Ede at the same time as his OIA request was made. Slater’s explanation to the media? Ede was in fact trying to persuade Slater not to make the OIA request. Yet, the report states at para 214:

Mr Slater also later provided a series of emails to and from Mr Ede, in which Mr Ede expressed his concern that he “might be in the shit” over his use of the NZSIS information. Mr de Joux explained to the inquiry he was not happy Mr Ede had chosen to work through Mr Slater rather than mainstream media because it would create an unhelpful perception. Mr Slater’s email reply to Mr Ede was that he would simply state that he had an NZSIS source. In the context of Mr Ede’s evidence, I interpreted that email to mean that Mr Slater would claim to have an NZSIS source in order to protect Mr Ede.

Why would Ede be “in the shit” over using SIS information if the tip-off to Slater came from the SIS? And why would Slater assure Ede that he would state he had an SIS source, if Ede actually had nothing to do with tipping of Slater?

So could Jason Ede’s phone and email records provide salvation for him? Well, as it turns out, Ms Gwyn suspects that Ede was using personal phones and email to conduct Prime Minster’s Office work. It’s a pretty blatant ploy by Ede to avoid OIA requirements.

But it gets worse. When asked by Ms Gwyn to disclose his personal emails and phone records, it turned out that he’d already deleted them prior to the commencement of the inquiry. It’s the high-tech version of spending the night in the archives room with the paper shredder…

There’s no provable connection between John Key and any of this, but it’s almost impossible to deny that his office didn’t play a role. Nonetheless, Key has gone on the offensive, attempting to argue that the report shows that his staff did absolutely nothing wrong. Of course, the report says nothing of the sort. In fact, it concludes that Jason Ede tipped off Cameron Slater, and it rejects Slater’s explanation that someone in the SIS tipped him off.

The email trail makes a mockery of Slater’s attempt to get Ede off the hook, and John Key’s attempt to argue otherwise has made him a laughing stock. Just check out his disastrous interview with Mary Wilson on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint programme on Tuesday evening. Likewise, his performance yesterday afternoon in the House was farcical, with Andrew Little memorably skewering him with the line:

“Why doesn’t he just cut the crap and apologise to New Zealand for running a smear campaign out of his office?”

“Cut the crap” now seems to have taken on a life of its own, propelling Little to cult hero status amongst the Left, not quite what Key would have intended.

Then it got worse for Key, having to return to Parliament to correct one of his question time answers, to admit that the day before the report was released, he’d had text message communication with Cameron Slater. He’d “misinterpreted” the initial question, and apparently hadn’t understood that communication with Slater in the past week would include text messages…

Key is evidently hoping that, just like the initial pre-election Dirty Politics furore, this second round will simply pass the public by. To a certain extent, he’s probably right. Almost no one will read the Gwyn report, and the non-partisan centre-ground of voters will continue to assume that what happens in John Key’s office probably also happens in the Labour leader’s office.

Nonetheless, Key’s facade of being an honest, everyman, non-politician takes another big hit. With every Mary Wilson interview and every attack by Patrick Gower at 6pm, Key becomes Just Another Politician.

The odds on National winning a fourth term in Government just lengthened.

The Sutton debacle

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: it’s not a good thing, except when you’re playing Frank Zappa’s 1988 instrumental album Guitar, in which case ‘Sexual Harassment in the Workplace’ is the opening track, and it’s a stonker. However, setting aside the brilliance of Frank Zappa, when one hears that someone is about to resign due to sexual harassment claims that have been upheld and substantiated, all sorts of icky things come to mind.

Roger Sutton’s press conference of a few days ago undoubtedly therefore seemed like a great idea at the time to him. He talked of hugs, off-colour jokes and calling women “honey” and “sweetie”. It was calculated to minimise the damage, instilling in people’s minds the image of a harmless, ever-so-slightly flawed, olde world boss, struck down by the forces of modern feminism.

I for one initially heard the soundbites from the press conference and thought that the whole thing sounded like a storm in a teacup. I considered all of the female colleagues over the years who’ve called me “darling”, “hon”, “sweet” and the like (and indeed the female colleagues who do indeed still call me such terms of endearment!): it never worried me. I thought, “I too am a hugger! What’s wrong with a hug?” In short, I sympathised with Mr Sutton’s position.

But of course the worm very quickly began to turn. Other senior female CERA staff made anonymous statements, asking whether anyone was really so stupid as to believe that hugs, jokes, “honey” and “sweetie” were the beginning and end of the matter. Details of Mr Sutton’s misconduct began to leak: asking female staff to engage in visible g-string Fridays (which reminds me of the secretary who resigned from a well-respected Central Auckland law firm after one of the partners began pondering the efficacy of upgrading Casual Friday to No Pants Friday…) and asking who they’d want to have sex with.

And of course there’s the issue of Mr Sutton breaching confidentiality with his press conference, while the victim remained gagged.

Now, former National Party MP and current Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue has waded into the debate. She’s sent a strong letter to State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie, querying his handling of the complaint against Sutton, and expressing concern about “the chilling effect on future complaints arising from the current situation”.

The Sutton press conference has now resulted in Sutton’s exit from CERA being brought forward by two months, and his actions are now being analysed in far greater detail than they would have had he simply gone quietly.

Whether Iain Rennie survives remains to be seen. The SSC is under attack from all sides, with allegations that the initial inquiry into Sutton was mishandled and that other allegations against Sutton had been swept under the carpet. That’s in addition to the outrage over the SSC providing a platform for Sutton to breach confidentiality, by organising the resignation press conference.

The Sutton debacle has provided an immediate platform for new Labour leader Andrew Little, who was grabbing the opportunity with both hands, providing suitably pithy soundbites yesterday afternoon. With Sutton remaining in his CERA job until 1 December, and with Rennie thus far refusing to fall on his sword, Sutton’s downfall seems likely to provide ammunition to the opposition for some time to come.

 

The awkward question of New Plymouth

It’s rather common knowledge that Andrew Little wasn’t exactly a star in New Plymouth. He stood in the former Labour Party seat in 2011 and 2014, losing ground in both the electorate and party vote on each occasion. Overall, the party vote in New Plymouth dropped from 31.4% in 2008 to 21.2% in 2014, while the electorate vote dropped from 47.9% in 2008 to 31.9% in 2014.

Essentially, Little has ended up as leader of the opposition despite twice failing to win an electorate seat (that was once safe Labour), and, in the leadership race, failing to win the votes of his fellow caucus members and the party membership. Little appears to be a relatively unelectable fellow, except in the minds of New Zealand’s union leaders.

Which makes New Plymouth a bit of a problem for Labour. Little can’t stand there again, because he’ll lose. And there’d be nothing worse for Labour than the continual comparisons throughout an election campaign of John Key’s majority in Helensville versus Little’s inability to win a former safe Labour seat.

That means that come 2017, Little will either go list-only (to concentrate on New Zealand, don’t ya know…) or have lined himself up with a safe seat. The obvious safe seat would have to be Rongotai: it’s the electorate in which Little lives, and Annette King could presumably be pressured into giving her long-held seat up for the leader. If King doesn’t retire in 2017, she’s surely only got one more term left in her. It would make sense for her to be shunted into a list-only spot.

Of course, when Labour’s candidate selection takes place, and Andrew Little is inevitably to be found nowhere near New Plymouth, there will undoubtedly be a series of stories about Little’s lacklustre history there. Labour should begin the process of finding a replacement New Plymouth candidate sooner rather than later, so that the issue is dealt with well before the 2017 campaign proper begins.