Hard News by Russell Brown


Why we thought what we thought

Matt Nippert must hardly have been able to to believe his luck yesterday when the latest source in the dizzying Dirty Politics drama -- Prime Minister John Key -- produced the email that, according to Key, finally exhausted Justice minister Judith Collins' apparently inexhaustible stock of warnings and chances.

Nippert has been working with Rawshark -- aka Whaledump, aka the source of the messages that form the basis of Nick Hager's book Dirty Politics -- to piece together a story showing that Mark Hotchin, the former co-owner of Hanover Finance, paid Cameron Slater and Cathy Odgers, via Carrick Graham, to attack and undermine the Financial Markets Authority and the Serious Fraud Office, who were investigating Hanover's collapse.

What Nippert describes is wholly in line with the modus operandi of paid smears outlined in Hager's book (Hager actually alludes to a Hotchin connection on page 87, but he didn't pursue the story). But it evidently appeared to be a story without direct political resonance -- until yesterday, when Key released a screenshot of an email in which Slater implicates Collins in an attack on Adam Feeley, the then-director of the Serious Fraud Office, saying:

I also spoke at length with the minister responsible today (Judith Collins). She is gunning for Feeley. Any information we can provide her on his background is appreciated. I have outlined for her a coming blog post about the massive staff turnover and she has added that to the review of the State Services Commissioner. She is using his review of these events to go on a trawl looking for anything else. It is my opinion that Feeley's position is untenable.

Suddenly, Nippert had an even better front-page story: The real reason behind Judith Collins' demise.

But there was more than that. Nippert himself is mentioned in the email. Slater, affecting the tone of a PR professional, says he will "cover Matt Nippert", as part of a drive to foster the story of an embattled, compromised Feeley with mainstream media journalists.

Slater also says that his accomplice, lawyer Cathy Odgers, had been briefing New Zealand Herald columnist Fran O'Sullivan -- who wrote scornfully in this column and this one of Feeley's somewhat unprofessional act of celebrating the the SFO's prosecution of Bridgecorp by opening a bottle of champagne left behind by Bridgecorp directors when they vacated the company offices.

From Slater's email:

Cathy can outline her contact with Fran O'Sullivan separately. Basically though the Herald and other media are now picking up our lines that this situation is like "Caesar's Wife" where the SFO must be beyond reproach. If he nicked a bottle of wine what else has he nicked or hidden from receivers and liquidators? ...  

Our (Cathy's) nickname for Feeley (Five Fingers Feeley) has stuck. journalists ringing me actually use to describe Feeley now in phone conversations.

I also spoke at length with the Minister responsible today (Judith Collins). She is gunning for Feeley. Any information that we can provide her on his background is appreciated. I have outlined for her a coming blog post about the massive staff turnover and she has added that to the review of the State Services Commissioner. She is using the review of these events to go on a trawl looking for anything else. It is my opinion that Feeley's position is untenable.

From O'Sullivan's column:

Collins - who is not known as the Crusher for nothing - is understandably furious that the SFO director, whom she personally hawked around town as the sheriff who was going to drive the fraudsters out of Dodge City in the wake of the multibillion-dollar finance companies sector collapse, would trivialise such an important issue.

Collins is a tougher bird than Prime Minister John Key or Finance Minister Bill English, who have each trivialised the matter. If I read her correctly, she will see this as a matter of character.

The full facts are yet to be disclosed.

The commission has to make full inquiries into just how Feeley came by the bottle of Gosset champagne. But clearly those inquiries must also involve the Bridgecorp receivers PricewaterhouseCoopers, given that Feeley's email directly mentions insolvency specialist John Waller.

There may be simple explanations why "three or four" bottles of champagne were left behind after the directors' "sudden exit". But Bridgecorp's investors are entitled to seek assurances that all the company's assets - however minor - were cashed up in the usual fashion and not purloined by the next inhabitants of their former offices.

What should concern Collins is other material now in circulation questioning just what is going down within the SFO.

Feeley's hired gun approach upset many of the SFO staff he inherited when he took over the office.

Slater's line seems to be echoed almost exactly in a Herald column written at the same time by Deborah Hill Cone:

What does it say to his staff that it is OK to take a bottle of wine from one of the companies you are investigating? If that is OK - hey, it's only a bottle of wine - what next? 

O'Sullivan also scorns the "PR flannel" of the SFO's response in her column. And yet reading that column now, it could be seen to cohere to a countervailing PR strategy. One that nobody wrote any columns about.

The Slater email also says this:

I am maintaining daily communications with Jared Savage at the Herald and he is passing information directly to me that the Herald can't run and so are feeding me to run on the blog. in the meantime I also have additional information flowing in via my tipline. That information will be drip fed into the media or via my blog.

In a response posted on the Herald website yesterday, Savage confirms that he provided Slater with material that had come to him in the form of emails from inside the SFO:

Most of it was flotsam and jetsam, interesting tidbits of unverified information or gossip which I decided against pursuing as angles.

I cut and pasted the content of some of those emails, to remove any possible identifying features, and forwarded them on to Slater. So information was shared, there was a bit of "horse trading", we talked about developments as the story rolled along.

I think that largely this is the supping-with-the-devil that investigative journalists sometimes have to do. Savage was hardly the only journalist to be dealing with Slater behind the scenes. Savage's Herald colleague David Fisher, who later stepped "outside the tent", was among them.

In the same article, there's also a response from O'Sullivan, who insists that her opinions and sources were her own and says:

The inference in Cameron Slater's email that blogger and lawyer Cathy Odgers had any influence over that column is risible.

She had previously been rightly critical of Feeley's overreach in another case. And yet, it's difficult to avoid the view that O'Sullivan's column was written in the context of an atmosphere that Slater and his ghastly friends were working to create. We even have further confirmation that these people habitually gamed iPredict to create perceptions.

There are any number of stories in the past five years that we might now peel back and inspect in this light, and ask why we thought we what thought about those stories. Both columnists and reporters rely on their contacts and sources. It might well be asked when and where the source becomes the spin we're supposed to avoid.


Friday Music: Tramadol Rock

I saw Samuel Flynn Scott a couple of times last year at the time he was suffering through a back injury in a haze of painkillers. It made for a fairly spaced out Phoenix Foundation show at the Powerstation -- and it appears the experience has also borne some grunge fruit for his periodic side project Bunnies on Ponies.

He basically goes all 90s in the first single from the forthcoming new album. The album was conceived and written over two weeks and this has the kind of unselfconscious, rockin' feel you'd expect from that. Cool. Also -- free download!

I mentioned a while back that I'd heard a track from the long, long awaited new Jakob album. The album has a name, Sines, and it's out in October. This is the opening track and it's vast and shining as you'd expect.

They're fixing to tour, too.

Nice to see Jah Red Lion (Auckland, via Santiago) turning up on TheAudience.

Wilfully, unabashedly 80s pop from New York-based New Zealander Andy Diamond:

A gem from Leftside Wobble. His rework of the Bill Withers classic:


December is looking lively. Not only the sold-out Nick Cave shows, but as of this week The Skatalites play Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and crazy old Evan Dando brings the Lemonheads to Auckland and Wellington.

Charlotte Ryan has a chat with Arthur Ahbez.


And finally, a new mixtape from the extremely reliable Gronigen DJ crew RocknRolla Soundsystem. Chunky soul edits and proper dancing grooves. This is pretty much exactly my thing. 

The RocknRolla Mixing A Go-Go Show August 2014 by Rocknrolla_Soundsystem on Mixcloud


The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:



Earning Confidence

That any fallout from Dirty Politics -- if that was what we saw in last night's 3 News poll -- would go to New Zealand First rather than the main Opposition parties is not very surprising. For many people, Winston Peters is the equivalent of a "no confidence" vote.

I'm less sure about any enduring benefit to Colin Craig and his Conservative Party. Craig was cock-a-hoop yesterday, but the New Zealand Herald's editors, Tim Murphy and Shayne Currie, let him have almost exactly 15 minutes of 6pm news fame last night before taking to Twitter to make it clear that tomorrow's Herald Digipoll poll contains a very different result for the Conservatives.

Craig's prediction this morning that Garth McVicar would win the Napier electorate for the party is surely fanciful. National's Chris Tremain, with more than 17,000 votes, won Napier in 2011. Labour's Stuart Nash polled 13,636 votes in a modest leftward swing. The Conservatives' Roy Brown got 668 votes. Even allowing for McVicar's celebrity, it's hard to see where that many votes come from, although it's not out of the question that McVicar could pull enough votes from National's 2014 candidate Wayne Walford to let Nash squeak through.

The question is when and how Labour benefits from any of this. Tonight's TVNZ leaders' debate is probably David Cunliffe's best chance to change the public narrative around his party and more so -- let's be frank -- around himself. They really, really need some positive news and there ain't many more places that's going to come from. There's not much mileage left in policy: unlike the small parties they're not in a position to promise some bollocks they're in no danger of having to actually deliver.

On the other hand, there's no reason to think that the traditional Labour Party campaign ground game has gone anywhere. The party faithful came away from the 2014 launch very fired-up and they do still know how to get their voters out. Ironically, at electorate level, some of that will depend on the Greens. Even with unhelpful boundary changes, Jacinda Ardern could win Auckland Central if Denise Roche can communicate to Green voters that she neither wants or needs their electorate votes.

The Greens, I think, are in the unusual -- and unprecedented in our recent political history -- position of making the transition to major party status. In policy terms, that entails moving from principle to practice -- are they there yet? I've sought your questions on that score and will be putting them to the Greens' co-leaders Metiria Turei and Russel Norman at part of The Green Room, the second-screen companion broadcast to the TVNZ debate.

To watch that, point your internet-capable device here from 6.30 onwards, or just use this embedded player:

The talking will be before and after the TV debate, and in short, sharp bursts in the ad breaks.


Elsewhere, I found the first of  Native Affairs' feature programmes on the Maori electorates both fascinating and a little troubling. Te Tai Tonga -- all of the South Island plus a fair chunk of Wellington -- is a geographically huge electorate with very varied needs, not the least of them those of Maori in post-earthquake Christchurch. Perhaps a truly gifted MP could find a way of drawing the threads together, but on the eveidence of Monday's debate, there are no such MPs on offer.

The programme last night on Te Tai Hauāuru made for quite a contrast. The people are more connected and the candidates are much, much sharper.

Note that there's also Radio Live's finance debate, hosted in Queenstown on Tuesday night by Duncan Garner.

I'm going to be away from my computer tomorrow and Saturday and I'd be grateful if you all could use the discussion for this post as a place to post links to the various debates, polls and other campaign happenings. Cheers.


UPDATED: Media Take: Election Songs

Last night's Media Take looked at the background to the Electoral Commission's advice on Darren Watson's 'Planet Key' song and video: firstly, that it is an "election programme" (probably correct under Part 6 of the Broadcasting Act, whatever you think of it), then that it is an "election advertisement" (probably not correct and really needs testing in court).

Watson's problems with the song have been fairly widely reported, along with his announcement that he's taking it to the High Court, but there's a story behind this encompasses the Commission's decision last year that this Jono and Ben sketch -- in which the punchline is a spoof election ad featuring Winston Peters -- was in fact a real "election programme" under the Broadcasting Act.

The Commission referred the sketch to the police (the only action it can take over alleged infringements) on the basis that it was an election programme shown outside the election campaign period. Unsurprisingly, the police have not exactly been rushing on that one.

Behind the scenes, the Broadcasting Standards Authority disagreed strongly with the Commission's decision, which it believed didn't pay proper heed to the Bill of Rights Act's guarantee of freedom of expression. The Commission rejected the BSA's view that seeking a declaratuve judgement from the courts would be helpful.

What we're seeing now is more of the same from the Commission.

Update:  I've uploaded two legal opinions sought by the BSA in the course of this important, but little-known struggle between the entitities. As I noted on the show last night, both consider the Jono and Ben case and reach conclusions that might be summarised as "it was a joke, for goodness sake".

We didn't have the space on the show to go into much more than that, but the first of the opinions, provided in April by Russell McVeagh, is summarised thus:

(a) we advise that a principal reason for the difference of approach between the BSA and the Commission is that the BSA interprets "election programme" by reference to section 14 of NZBORA (freedom of expression), whereas the Commission sees limited, if any, role for that provision;

(b) the two approaches can, and do, lead to different results in individual cases, as illustrated by two recent complaints; and

(c) we advise that the BSA should not adopt the approach of the Commission, precisely because that approach gives inadequate effect to section 14 of NZBORA.

The second, provided in May by John Burrows QC, also traverses the BORA and concludes that:

... consistency with BORA’s right of freedom of expression requires that the words “encourage” and “persuade” in section 69 should bear their natural meaning of active incitement to vote for a party or candidate, and that this interpretation applies both within and outside the election period. That is the position arrived at by the BSA.

Burrows further concludes that "Part 6 of the Broadcasting Act would benefit from review".

I also sought a couple of quotes myself. Auckland University's John Ip, the editor of the New Zealand Law Review, told me that:

It probably makes sense to have a specialist body deal with such matters at first instance. That said, given that the Electoral Commission is interpreting and applying law when it makes its decisions, it is important that the Electoral Commission's understanding of the relevant law is correct.

So it would be useful to have guidance from the Courts as to whether, in light of the NZ Bill of Rights Act's guarantee of freedom of expression (which speaks of "the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form") and its general instruction to interpret legislation consistently with it where possible, something like 'Planet Key' - in essence, musical political satire - falls within the  Broadcasting Act's definition of "election programme" and the Electoral Act's definition of "election advertisement". Even if a court decision were to affirm the Electoral Commission's view, this might provide some impetus for reconsideration of the law.

And Professor Andrew Geddis of Otago University, who has already written about the 'Planet Key' issue, said:

Because the Commission is both in charge of voting and reporting offences to the Police, it must avoid any allegations that it is acting in a partisan or non-nuetral fashion. This fact leads it to take a very conservative - and perhaps overly conservative - view of what the law says. But the real problem is that it is dealing with a piece of law that is some 20 years old and was written for a completely different media landscape.

As a lay person, it does seem to me that there are probems with both the law and with the Electoral Commission's interpretation of the Broadcasting Act and the Electoral Act. And that Darren Watson is doing everyone a favour by going to the High Court for a judgement that the Commission shows no interest in seeking of its own accord.


 Last night's Media Take can be viewed here.

In the studio to discuss 'Planet Key' and all, we had Andrew Maitai, owner of Powertool Records, whose Election EP I noted in last Friday's music post, and Hamish Keith, who has been scornful of the Electoral Commission's warning to a Napier art gallery over an exhibition of the late Whetu Tirikatane-Sullivan's frocks.

The show led with Toi Iti interviewing the founder of RockEnrol, the very impressive Laura O'Connell Rapira, and finished with Jane Kelsey talking about the TPP, which has pretty much fallen off the media radar.


But for now, here's Loop Recordings' new all-star get-out-and-vote version of Bob Marley's classic 'Get Up Stand Up'.

It's non-partisan, but the label's owner Mikey Tucker and one of the artists, King Kapisi, are involved with the Internet Party. The party has nothing to do with with the tune, but you can probably expect the usual suspects to try and make an issue of it. The song is available as a free download here.

Finally, as I've noted recently here, I believe that our tolerance for more robust forms of political expression should be broad. But mine, anyway, doesn't extend to this. The sentiment in the title of 'Kill the PM' crosses a line and the stuff about Key's daughter more particularly crosses several more. I think the song has been played live by @Peace and Home Brew before, but posting it now is really Not Helping. Fucksake.

Media Take screens at 10.30 tonight, after the Tuesday documentary, on Maori Television.


The Big Bang

It was, it must be said, a bloody big bang. The All Blacks finished the haka ('Kapa o Pango' again) and a second later, BOOM, sheets of flame and a shockwave. Unexpected explosions thrill us because our bodies respond as if it's a threat and our brains turn up half a second later to tell us it's all good fun. Which it was.

Except it quite clearly wasn't fun for the three people in Eden Park's West Stand who were injured by stray pyrotechnics. It seems that some waste also made its way on to the playing surface, possibly presenting a risk to the players.

The use of pyrotechnics at big matches is far from new, but that one did seem out of the ordinary. Additionally, there were so many fireworks on a still night that the smoke just stayed in the stadium for a good 10 minutes into the match. I got a little video of the All Blacks running on to the sound of Shapeshifter -- and remember, this was before the big bang.

I was sitting with my buddy Richard in the "restricted view" seats I'd grabbed at the last moment. It turned out that Row D really was quite restricted:

But it was okay once we adjusted and got used to looking up at the screens where necessary. And really, it was great to be in the stadium for one of the All Blacks' top-drawer performances. The outside backs' tactical kicking was quite a revelation -- they'd clearly worked out that the Wallabies were vulnerable down the tramlines.

Man of the Match? Brodie Retallick. Without naming names, there have been All Black locks who haven't seen their job as much more than catching lineout balls and pushing in the scrums, but Retallick contributes furiously in almost every area of the game. He's almost redefining the role.

To get to and from our seats, we had to pass the media room. Time was, just getting some copy in for the Sunday paper was what the job was about, but we live in a real-time world now. These guys were sweating over their laptops during the half-time break.

But not everything of note happened inside the ground. As Richard and I were walking up Bond Street to the ground, one member of the group of young rugby fans in front of us yelled "Fuck John Key!" and someone behind us immediately responded "Fuck Cameron Slater!"

The liberal left might not want to hug the young man too closely: he shouted his piece just after he chucked a plastic bottle into the park. So let's say his position was more anti-authority than party political. But it was ... interesting.


The next morning I rode over to Avondale Markets, where there was an election campaign on. The Internet Mana crew were at the front gate again:

Just inside, the ladies from New Zealand First were fascinated by the man with ankle-length dreadlocks who had paused to talk to them, and eagerly reached for their cameras.

Over behind the grandstand, Labour people were out in force -- and in red.

I gather the Greens and the Conservatives were also working the crowd, but I missed them. I hope they all had a good time. It seemed a good day for doing democracy.

After lunch I walked over to Western Springs College to have a look at the Internet-Mana campaign launch. By and large, it was full of the same jolly spirit. And then this weird thing happened.

Like almost everyone else, I missed it. I needed a beer, so we strolled home and caught the sunset on the deck, which quite delightfully lit up my awesome Avondale Markets purchase. These two little beauties from Temuka -- for five bucks the pair!