I’ve just finished the book. It is a nightmare. This is not dirty politics as in politics as usual; it is dirty politics as in politics most unusual. National and its supporters come across as Cullen’s ‘rich pricks’ with a huge sense of entitlement. They are revealed as considering themselves above the law, beyond democratic norms. Nothing like this in New Zealand’s history comes close to being comparable. This is truly horrific. Nicky Hager suggested that political corruption in the Muldoon era was worse – no it wasn’t, not by a long chalk. In this posting I intend to concentrate on the political and social corruption exposed in the Cameron Slater e-mails – leaving its extension into education to another posting. For apologists to say Labour did it too, is absurd – which political period would that be?
That this has occurred, is occurring, in New Zealand is horrific enough, but that it is being pushed aside, rationalised, cynically laughed away, is unimaginably serious for our democracy. Everything detailed in this book has the feel of truth. If the people of New Zealand, the establishment, the media, can’t do the right thing here – where is there for us to go?
It is an Aotearoa Watergate. The time was mid-1972 and I read about the Watergate break-in. I knew immediately, as did any observer of politics who wanted to know, that it was organised by Richard Nixon. He brazened it out, the voters looked steadfastly away, the commentators saw nothing much to comment on, he was popular, you see. He won by a landslide; the rest is history.
The absurdly biased Dominion offers little hope; the NZ Herald somewhat more; TV with Mike Hosking and Paul Henry leaves that medium bereft of impartiality in important parts of its functioning. As it happens, Henry and Hosking are listed as special friends by Slater, as is Rachel Glucina, the Herald gossip columnist. Have you noticed something about all this? Dirty politics comes through as very much an Auckland thing – the country is in the grip, it seems, of a tight, Ayn-Rand skewed pulsating set of Auckland political operatives. On Wednesday night, 13 August, 2014 Henry found someone whose skill was a speed reader, and after a listless interview with Hager, the speed reader was able to say it wouldn’t cost Key a vote. He is probably right, but that avoids the fundamental question of whether what happened is morally acceptable, even legally acceptable. As for Hosking, he blustered on, as you would expect, about it just being politics and they were all doing it.
As for commentators elsewhere, there was a weak response from the academic Bryce Edwards, very careful it seems not to upset the right too much, while he did say that the events described in Dirty Politics were near unprecedented, it was vapidly expressed. The hero has been John Armstrong, a Wellington-based NZ Herald columnist. Armstrong is an old style lower case ‘c’ conservative. He declared Hager’s book convincing and needing to be seriously responded to. National Radio has been very professional, searching but fair, especially Susie Ferguson.
In observing Key responding to questions about Dirty Politics, and from the reading of the book, there are a handful of situations that are central to what has happened. They are:
- The breaking into the Labour Party’s computer system
- The SIS information made available to Slater
- The degree of closeness of Key to Slater.
Before I look at these most telling of situations, I need go into the events surrounding Slater’s website being broken into.
Slater in a posting made gratuitous comments about a young man who had been killed in car accident in Greymouth on 25 January, 2014. In a posting titled ‘Feral dies in Greymouth, did world a favour’, Slater then proceeded to insult further both the young man and his mother. In the severe backlash that resulted, Slater’s friends rallied round to give support. One of those, as reported by Slater, was Key who was quoted as saying: ‘The dead man’s mother was the same fucking bitch that screams at him when he goes to Pike River meetings.’ The expletive language was probably Slater’s, the sentiment Key’s. It was friends of the young man, working together, who hacked Slater’s site and who eventually sent the material to Hager.
1. This situation is mainly about Jason Ede, long-time adviser to John Key, now employed by the National Party – but it begins with Slater. In 2011, Slater hacked into the Labour Party’s websites then made an online video about how he did it. Internal documents show Slater working with National Party staff to do this and then using the information to impede Goff’s election campaign. There followed many e-mails recording Ede’s involvement, also IP address evidence. Ede and Slater, as shown by e-mails, then worked on ways to use the data to maximum effect. There was a moment when they were nearly discovered. Next day, Ede and Slater exchanged several e-mails expressing their relief at Ede’s close escape. Ede, it needs to be remembered, was doing his hacking only two doors away from the person it was his responsibility to advise – John Key.
Key’s response to questioning has been to say Ede wasn’t involved, and even if he was it didn’t matter because the websites were badly protected. He is brazenly batting this one away.
This is the big one and after the election it will be a court case.
It is also a big one because in an election that hung on a few thousand votes, it could credibly be said that the election was stolen by what appears criminal action.
2. Goff was caught out on a very small matter of memory that was made electorally costly by an illegal action by Key, the only one (outside the director) with access to SIS records. The prime minister as the person in charge of the SIS couldn’t be seen to use records for political purposes so the National Party informed Slater of the existence of a SIS briefing and then expedited its release. It is most unusual for SIS information to be released to the public, but, in this case, the usual practice was overruled and the information fast-tracked. That could only have been Key.
Key’s response was that the release had nothing to do with his office. Once again he is being brazen. As the person in charge of the SIS, it had everything to do with his office. This will also be subject to court action or, at least, an enquiry.
3. Then there is the matter of his closeness to Slater. Key has said recently that he only communicated with Slater every few months or so. But in an effort to stop questions about whether some information he had used against Winston Peters came from the SIS he admitted that he ‘regularly called’ Slater, ‘to see what he’s got on his site and mind.’ And he acknowledged the information came from him.
This closeness to Slater brings directly into consideration the full range of Slater’s activities most vile. And I take you back to a prime minister ringing up to console Slater over the criticism Slater had received as a result of calling a young man who had died, feral.
In trying to remove himself, Ede, and the National Party from having anything to do with the hacking of the Labour Party computer system, Key is now quoting Slater as saying National had nothing to do with the hacking, and that he took Slater at his word. I wonder if he will take Slater at his word in the matter of Slater reporting Key as describing the mother of the young man who had died as the ‘fucking bitch’ who screamed at him at Pike River meetings.
We know from our experiences in education that our prime minister is a liar, a cheat, and a bully. That is nothing new to us. You, like me, are probably feeling outraged and perplexed about how to respond. In my case, I am going to accept the outcome of our form of democracy, with all its faults, and appreciate that within it that there remains a reasonable freedom of speech (though likely to be reduced for teachers and principals in the years ahead) which I am going to exploit to the fullest. I commit myself to three more years of struggle for a better education for our children and a better democracy for us all.