Murray McCully

Lifestyles of the rich & famous – hangin’ with Groser, McCully & Hauiti

The quarterly release of the ministerial and MP expense returns paints an interesting picture of some of our MPs. Most of our ministers, it must be said, seem to have heeded the harsh lesson of Shane Jones. The bright, shining light of transparency means that they now enthusiastically ask the question, “Would I like this expense revealed in the morning paper or the evening news?”

There are though, always a few interesting items every quarter which raise eyebrows throughout the land. This quarter’s prime target seems to be Trade Minister Tim Groser, for indulging in a dish of Chilean sea bass – a slightly impolitic choice, given that the Chilean sea bass (aka the Patagonian or Antarctic toothfish) is endangered, and that New Zealand has been working unsuccessfully for years to establish an Antarctic marine reserve to protect species including the sea bass / toothfish. One can just imagine Mr Groser snapping his fingers and requesting that he brought the most endangered item on the menu…

Foreign Minister Murray McCully though seems the most enjoyable minister to travel with. Wherever he goes, the fine wine flows, in truly prodigious quantities. Just check out his almost 200 pages of receipts here. As Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn notes:

Right there at the beginning (on page 6) we have him billing us to drink Absolut Vodka in his lonely hotel room. And it all goes downhill from there…

Ministers have developed several tricks over the last few years to hide dubious expenditure. Last time, they simply “lost” detailed receipts for expensive dinners, perhaps because they knew what we’d think of what they showed. McCully has a new strategy: charging it all to his room. His hotel bills are full of large charges for Hotel restraunts, far more than normal. And we know he’s not eating in them, because he frequently presents receipts for boozy delegation dinners on exactly the same day. He’s also not dining with his staff, because they’re billing their own meals separately.

In one case (p. 24), he racks up more than US$1,000 of “bar/restaurant” charges in a single night, with no explanation to the taxpayer of what its going on.

In another case (in Trinidad), he spends twice as much on booze as he does on his room, but calls it “accommodation expenses”.

He’s also started dumping his drinking bills on MFAT, as this receipt shows.

The meals that we do see show a large amount of expenditure on alcohol. In Singapore, he has some crab-burgers and $200 of booze, and calls it a delegation “dinner”. At Millbrook Resort in Queenstown he catches a quick “lunch” with his PPS: $71 of food, and $172 of wine.

And remember, we’re paying for this.

Then of course there’s Claudette Hauiti. She’s not a minister, so her Parliamentary credit card records are buried by Parliamentary Services, and Ms Hauiti is steadfastly refusing to waive privilege. Nonetheless, we get to see things like her domestic travel bill – $30,824 between April and June. One can only wonder how a new backbench MP, with no portfolio obligations, could possibly have racked up such a dramatic travel bill. A nation-wide tour visiting those on the Maori roll, perhaps?

The thing is, we as taxpayers are the ones who fund all of this. Groser’s endangered toothfish, the seemingly endless stream of wine and vodka poured down MCully’s throat, Hauiti’s attempt to see the whole of New Zealand from a plane – there go our taxes…

Where to now for Colin and the Conservatives?

It’s (almost*) official – there’s no deal for Colin Craig in East Coast Bays. Murray McCully will not be knifed, thrown under a bus or given concrete shoes to go swimming in. Given that Mr Craig had already accepted he couldn’t win if Mr McCully stood against him, I think we can safely say that the odds of an electoral seat victory for the Conservatives are about nil.

(Mr Craig will undoubtedly have done exhaustive polling in the seat, and his polling has evidently given him nothing to trumpet to the media. Although, given Mr Craig’s polling apparently put him on course to win the Rodney electorate last election, which of course he lost by a landslide, any polling announcements showing him on course to win anything would likely have to be treated with a healthy fistful of salt.)

Matthew Hooton has discussed on several occasions National’s internal polling on the likely impact of the Conservatives, which showed that National will lose at least 2% if it did a deal with Colin Craig in East Coast Bays. Essentially, the Conservatives needed to be polling above 3% to make a deal worthwhile, and the simple fact is that they haven’t come close. They’ve made 2.8% and 2.7% in the last two TV3 Reid Research polls. However, of the last dozen major polls released, the only time they’ve been above 2% is in those two Reid Research polls. The remainder of the polls have had them between 0.9% and 1.7%. In this site’s Poll of Polls they’re currently sitting on 1.5%.

National has looked at the polling and decided that a deal simply isn’t worth it.

With the door closed on an electorate, that leaves just one alternative – to make a desperate last-minute dash for the 5% threshold. Given their current polling, it’s highly unlikely they’ll make it.

For a start, prospective small-c conservative voters who might have considered throwing in their lot with Colin Craig have now been sent a signal by National that their vote will be wasted. Those voters are now far more likely to go to National or NZ First. It’s in National’s best interests to now squash the Conservative Party vote – the lower the Conservatives go, the less wasted vote for National to worry about.

When Matthew Hooton appeared as a guest speaker at the recent Conservative Party conference, he told them they needed to be bolder – to embrace the God vote and to look at more extreme policy platforms such as bringing back the death penalty. Given that Mr Craig has already ruled out supporting the death penalty on TV3s The Nation, going for the God vote is probably the Conservatives’ only hope now. Colin Craig has gone head-to-head with Winston Peters and it’s got him nowhere. Mr Peters is very good at being Mr Peters; Colin Craig comes off as a pale imitation.

Regardless of where Colin Craig tacks, policy- and image-wise, it’s fairly safe to say that Mr Craig can kiss his three years worth of investment in his party goodbye. If the party gets no higher than it did at the last election, or even sinks below its 2011 vote, one wonders whether Mr Craig will bother looking to 2017.

* Although John Key has said he won’t pull Murray McCully from East Coast Bays, technically there’s still room for a reversal on that position right up until 26 August when nominations close. Of course, for Mr Key to perform an about-face, something catastrophically wrong would have had to happen to National’s polling, given how desperate such an about-face would look.

Winston Peters & East Coast Bays – National’s nightmare scenario

Back in June, I noted Matthew Hooton’s comment on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon programme that National were expecting an electorate deal with Colin Craig in East Coast Bays to cost them about 2% to 3% of the party vote. The Conservatives would therefore have to be polling 3% to 4% for an electorate deal to be worthwhile to National.

At the time, I presumed that Mr Hooton had seen some of National’s internal polling. Well, at the Conservatives’ party conference this weekend, Mr Hooton was a guest speaker, and confirmed exactly that:

He cited internal polls which predicted that National would lose 2 per cent of the party vote if it pulled Mr McCully from the East Coast Bays contest.

On this basis, he said Conservatives would need to be pulling at least 3 per cent for Mr Key to consider a deal.

Back in June, the Conservatives were sitting on just 1.4% in this site’s Poll of Polls. Fast forward almost a month, and they haven’t moved, still sitting on 1.4%, well below the point where National needs them to be.

It’s was a conundrum then for National, and it’s just gotten worse, with Winston Peters announcing at the NZ First conference that’s he’s considering standing in East Coast Bays himself if National pull Murray McCully.

The nightmare scenario for National is that the party pulls Murray McCully to give Colin Craig a free run, Winston Peters does indeed put his hat into the electorate’s ring, and that enough people hate Colin Craig and/or electorate deals to give Peters their protest vote. Peters wins East Coast Bays, the Conservatives’ party vote is wasted, and National is reliant on a truculent Peters to form a government.

From Peters’ point of view, it’s a publicity masterstroke. Right up until 26 August, when nominations close, he’ll be able to drop hints and dance around the issue, courting the attention and hogging the headlines.

Frankly, I’d be surprised though if he did stand in East Coast Bays. He’d have to devote too much attention to the electorate, which would impact on NZ First’s nation-wide party vote campaign. We had the same dance routine last election, when he “considered” standing in John Key’s Helensville electorate, which of course never transpired.

The problem for National is that there’s still that nagging possibility that Peters might just be serious. National knows Colin Craig isn’t popular – that’s the entire reason why they’d have to knife Murray McCully. If Peters did decide to stand in East Coast Bays, there’s a significant risk to National that he might just take the seat.

National will undoubtedly have already spent a lot of money polling the good people of East Coast Bays. They might now need to run a few additional polls with some rather different new questions…

Mfat disfunction

The Malaysian diplomat who did a runner from New Zealand after invoking diplomatic immunity will return to New Zealand to face charges, says the Malaysian Government.

Of course, the main question currently exercising the minds of the media, MFAT and our MPs is how the diplomat, Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail, managed to get out of the country to begin with.

The alleged offending occurred on 9 May, with Mr Ismail appearing in Court on 10 May and Murray McCully being briefed on that same day. Mr McCully says he was told on that date that Mfat would be seeking a waiver of diplomatic immunity from Malaysia, and that was the last he heard about the matter until 27 June, when he faced media questioning on the issue. In the intervening period, an Mfat staff member appears to have implied that New Zealand would turn a blind eye, and Mr Ismail would be free to return to Malaysia if diplomatic immunity wasn’t waived. Accordingly, on 21 May the Malaysian Government stated that it refused to waive diplomatic immunity, and the following day Mr Ismail departed for his home country.

The problem is that no one at Mfat who was dealing with this matter seems to have thought it serious enough to have kept the Minister or Chief Executive in the loop. As Mr McCully put it on National Radio’s Checkpoint programme yesterday evening, regardless of whether the alleged offending was investigated by military tribunal in Malaysia or police in New Zealand, there was always going to be significant international media interest. It beggars belief that a) Mfat officials didn’t see that, and/or b) they believed or hoped that the Malaysian Government would simply take no investigatory steps, meaning the matter could be effectively swept under the carpet.

But there’s another issue. Why did Mr McCully not think to follow up with his officials, once he heard nothing further? A month and a half went by between McCully’s briefing and the first media questions. During that time, did he not think to ask, “By the way, whatever happened with that Malaysian diplomat who was facing serious criminal charges?”

Mr McCully may be happily placing the blame for this debacle on Mfat’s “compartmentalising” of information in order to limit its spread, and the inevitable review of Mfat procedures has been ordered, but this shows a serious breakdown in senior oversight of Mfat.

Mr McCully should be thankful that Malaysia have so quickly agreed to return the diplomat to New Zealand. A drawn-out diplomatic saga created by Mfat’s incompetence, and weeks or months of questioning about McCully’s leadership of the department, is the last thing National would have wanted during the election campaign.

Colin Craig running in East Coast Bays

Paula Bennett and Mark Mitchell can now breathe a sigh of relief, happy in the knowledge that there’s no chance John Key will take their electorates off them. For Colin Craig has now decided that East Coast Bays is the seat for him. He’s said, “polling received this week showed my support is stronger in East Coast Bays than in Rodney. This result was an important part of my decision”.

Of course, going by Mr Craig’s previous statements that the Conservative Party is aiming for and will achieve 5% of the vote, that he isn’t seeking a deal in any seat he runs in, and that he won’t be able to beat an incumbent candidate, his personal support in East Coast Bays versus Rodney should matter not a jot. Taken at his word, he’s accepted he can’t win East Coast Bays, but that won’t matter because his party will get 5%. Why should he care whether his personal support is slightly higher in East Coast Bays than in Rodney?

However, one should never take a politician at their word. His talk of personal poll ratings is of course more code to National that he’s waiting for a deal; that he’s popular enough in East Coast Bays that he won’t lose the seat if National pulls Murray McCully. As I’ve discussed before, there’s a significant risk for Mr Craig that his very public acceptance that he can’t win on his own may have jinxed National’s ability to get right-leaning voters to play ball, even if National pull their candidate completely.

National have a big decision to make. But at least McCully has indicated that he’ll roll over if required. National’s Dark Prince has the party running through his veins. If it’s required for a third term to be achieve, McCully will take one for the team.

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory – the Colin Craig saga continues

It’s just three days ago that I wrote:

No matter how high National are polling, they won’t be able to trust that those polls will hold up on 20 September. The numbers from 2011 dictate that National will strike a deal with the Conservatives. They won’t dare risk losing a chunk of the right-wing vote that may be decisive.

I’d thought it was a foregone conclusion that Colin Craig would be gifted a seat by National. The only questions were which seat, when the deal would be announced, and whether National would run a faux candidate or not.

However, Mr Craig’s appearance on the Nation on Saturday morning may well have changed National’s calculus.

All Mr Craig had to do was keep his mouth shut and try and act normal. No talk of fake moon landings or mind-altering chem-trails. Nothing that would make National nervous.

So what does Mr Craig do? He tells Patrick Gower that he hasn’t a hope of beating any of the National MPs in the three North Shore electorates he’s looking at standing in. Given his statement from last week, that he was expecting National to pull one of their candidates to give him a free run at a seat, it’s an implicit admission that he believes that even if National stands a Goldsmith-esque candidate against him, voters will still vote for the National candidate.

That raises a significant problem for National. Do they stand a candidate, give him or her orders to “do a Goldsmith”, and risk having Labour come through the middle? And if they pull a candidate completely, can they trust voters to swallow a Colin Craig-sized dead rat under duress? In Epsom and Ohariu, the voters have always had a choice. If they really didn’t like Rodney Hide, John Banks or Peter Dunne, there was still a National candidate they could plump for. This election will be the same for then. Don’t like Seymour or Dunne? Vote for the National candidate.

National has always asked the voters nicely (or at least given them a saucy little wink and a nudge), and the voters have obliged. What Colin Craig is suggesting though is that the only way he’ll make it into Parliament is through duress. National supporters don’t like me? Tough. There is no National candidate. It’s me or the opposition.

I’m not sure the voters in East Coast Bays, Upper Harbour or Rodney will necessarily play ball. After all, who would be happy being forced into voting for a candidate who admits that he’s otherwise unelectable?

If National don’t end up doing a deal with Mr Craig, National will undoubtedly be hoping that its vote of no confidence in Craig will drive voters away from the Conservatives, possibly back to National. The last thing National would want is the Conservatives getting a decent proportion of the centre-right vote and having it go to waste. Better to send an early signal to voters that a vote for the Conservatives is a wasted vote, and have them desert in droves. The risk, of course, is that those voters head to Winston Peters, helping him get over the line when he might otherwise have fallen just below the 5% threshold.

National’s strategists have some serious thinking to do.

Colin Craig, Jamie Whyte and Pakuranga

Following Maurice Williamson’s fall from grace, the sharks immediately began circling around his electorate seat of Pakuranga. First up was Conservative Party leader Colin Craig, telling Radio NZ:

“I haven’t ruled out standing there myself. I did grow up in Howick and Pakuranga, I played cricket for Howick-Pakuranga, my father taught at Pakuranga College so there are ties to that electorate. It’s an area that I know, an area that I grew up in and then from there it’s a genuine area that I could represent.”

Over at Pundit, Tim Watkins laughs off Mr Craig’s musings on standing in Pakuranga as being nothing but publicity seeking. I’m not sure that’s entirely correct. Here’s my reasoning:

Colin Craig must surely know by now that it’s going to take a miracle to get his Conservative Party over the 5% threshold. His only realistic possibility of making it into Parliament is if National gift him an electorate seat (and the voters play ball). (I’ve blogged about the Conservative Party’s polling issues here, and I note that this site’s Poll of Polls currently has the Conservatives on just 2.0%, hardly lighting the world on fire).

After initially trying to pin his name to the new seat of Upper Harbour, Mr Craig had his hopes firmly dashed by Paula Bennett, who had no intention of going gently into reliance on the lottery of list rankings. Murray McCully’s seat of East Coast Bays then beckoned, with the punditry predicting that McCully would fall on his sword if called upon by John Key. The likelihood of Craig standing there only increased when it was revealed that his father, Ross Craig, had managed to have the electorate boundaries redrawn in order to get Ross Craig and his wife and an additional 120 neighbouring voters into the electorate.

The issue for Mr Craig is that his success in East Coast Bays relies on National throwing one of their long-time stalwart MPs under the bus. John Key isn’t going to want to make that call unless he thinks he really needs Mr Craig, which is why Mr Key is attending ACT party fundraisers in Epsom, and Mr Craig is getting nothing.

I get the feeling that Mr Craig would have looked at Mr Williamson’s blood on the floor and made a calculation or two. Sure, Mr Williamson is another long-time National party stalwart, but he’s also just been sacked as a Minister and may be viewed as expendable. He’s past his prime and has proven himself in the past to be a bit of a loose cannon. If National has to throw a long-serving MP under a bus, wouldn’t it be better to do it to one who’s already a political corpse? Even better, it’s a safe National seat – National won 62.8% of the party vote there in 2011. And to top it all off, the Conservative candidate in 2011 came in third with 5.2% – a good base to start from!

I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr Craig’s expression of interest involved a testing of the waters to check National’s reaction. Perhaps unsurprisingly, National’s public reaction was non-existent, although it may have provoked some discussion in various party back rooms.

The Conservative’s are hoping to finalise their candidates by the end of the month, and I would predict that one further calculation will result in Mr Craig throwing his hat into East Coast Bays. That calculation is Mr Williamson’s reliance on Pakuranga as an insurance policy. He’s been a pariah before, back in 2002 when he was hammered for criticising National’s then-leader Bill English and disappeared from the party list. On that occasion he basically campaigned solely on the electorate vote, gaining a 43.94% personal vote compared to a 26.09% party vote for National in the electorate (although that party vote was still ahead of the nation-wide average). If Williamson wants to stick around as an MP, he’ll be determined to hold Pakuranga to the bitter end, despite whatever the party might want of him.

But Colin Craig wasn’t the only shark circling. ACTs leader, Jamie Whyte, also popped his hand up as a possible contender to take the seat. Mr Whyte’s bid Pakuranga didn’t last long. He soon decided that he didn’t want to end up splitting the anti-Colin Craig vote between he and Mr Williamson, a somewhat laughable proposition.

The odd thing about Mr Whyte’s bid though was that it makes no sense at all for him to make a tilt for a seat he has no chance of winning. National will be gifting ACT Epsom; they’re certainly not going to hand ACT two seats, and Whyte’s individual profile is hardly such that he’d be in a position to take out a sitting MP without National’s help. The only way that Whyte will be making it into Parliament is for ACT to get enough party votes to bring in an additional list MP. The last thing Mr Whyte should be contemplating is the pouring of his energies into an electorate campaign, when his only hope of success is in broadening ACTs nationwide appeal.

Which means, all in all, that Maurice Williamson will remain safe in Pakuranga.

What does Shane Jones’ departure mean for Labour?

So, Shane Jones is leaving the building, wooed away by an offer from Murray McCully to become a roving economic ambassador throughout the Pacific.

The political reaction has been rather diverse. Over at the Daily Blog and the Standard, various hardened left wing activists trumpeted his departure as a victory – a lancing of a right wing boil from Labour’s soft left wing skin – while various political commentators have decried his leaving as a huge blow to Labour’s ability to attract votes from National.

Personally, I see it as a short term blow, in terms of voter perception of the manner of his departure, but nothing more.

The problem for Labour is the timing and the miscommunication. Having a former aspirant to the Labour leadership, and a front bench MP who has been firing on all cylinders recently, suddenly duck and run just five months out from the election looks terrible. It leaves the impression that Mr Jones does not believe that Labour can win. Plus, once the news broke, Labour simply looked disorganised. No one could be found for comment, and those that did comment didn’t seem to know anything. It was a case of terrible political management.

I can’t speak to Mr Jones’ actual motivations for leaving, but I would have thought that he is smart enough to know that it will only take a small swing to the left, and it’s game on for Labour and the Greens. To me, I think he’s simply become disillusioned with what he can personally achieve. He’s been muzzled, and the thought of wearing that muzzle for three more years leaves him cold. Certainly, his comment on TVNZs Breakfast show this morning, as reported in the NZ Herald, would indicate that it’s disillusionment, rather than defeatism:

There were frustrations during his career in being reigned in over some comments he had made, Mr Jones said.

“The political collar has chafed this dog’s neck and now I’ve slipped the collar.”

That comment sums up why I don’t see Mr Jones’ departure as being anything more than a short-term voter perception problem for Labour. Mr Jones may have a certain level of support among swing voters, but it’s outweighed by his slipshod approach to politics. He’s undisciplined, turns off women voters in droves with his casual misogyny, and simply cannot stay on message (as evidenced by his continued attacks on the Greens, presumably against the instructions of those on high). He creates just as many negative headlines as he does positive headlines, and would just as likely prove a liability in the upcoming election campaign as he would a positive. Mr Cunliffe would be continually on edge, every time Jones popped his head up to create a soundbite.

Certainly, Shane Jones has been Labour’s most effective mouthpiece regarding the importance of job creation. Yet the positive headlines about jobs would generally be balanced by a negative headline about whether Jones’ statements exposed further division within the Labour party.

On balance, once Jones goes and the media furore dies down, I don’t see there being a medium- or long-term downside for Labour. Perhaps Danyl McLauchlan at the Dim-Post sums it up best:

I guess this is ‘bad for Labour’. It makes them look weak and disorganised, and the gallery will run around wailing that Labour have just lost their brightest star. (I think they’ve lost an undisciplined, waffling misogynist who probably cost them more votes than he ever won.)