Hard News by Russell Brown


Incomplete, inaccurate and misleading

The reporter of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security into the release of information by the SIS is now public, and it turns out to be largely about a democratic problem we've discussed plenty this year: the growing contempt in which New Zealand's public agencies hold their obligations under the Official Information Act.

It finds that the SIS and its director Warren Tucker provided "incomplete, inaccurate and misleading information" in response to an OIA request -- in a way that was unfair and damaging to then Opposition leader Phil Goff -- and made no attempt to correct that information. Moreover, it finds that the SIS simply "denied" requests for information on the matter from journalists, and yet responded immediately to such a request from Cameron Slater.

It also finds that -- in direct contradiction to John Key's pre-election assurances -- that the Prime Mininister's Office was indeed involved in expediting the release to Slater, for political purposes.

Astonishingly, Key's deputy chief of staff, Phil de Joux -- a political employee -- turns out to have been the Prime Minister's principal point of contact with with the Security Intelligence Service, an extremely sensitive public agency for which the Prime Minister had direct responsibility. Moreover, Key's senior political advisor Jason Ede is found to have directed Slater to make his request -- and was in fact on the phone to Slater at the time Slater made his request.

But there's more. The inspector, Cheryl Gwyn, has this to say:

Witnesses appearing before this inquiry also produced documents. Documents were provided voluntarily by Mr Hager and Mr Slater. I issued a production order to Mr Ede in respect of his personal email accounts after it became apparent from evidence, including evidence provided directly by Mr Ede, that some of the correspondence pertinent to this inquiry was conducted from non-official email accounts. Upon receipt of the production order, Mr Ede provided a supplementary written statement to the inquiry in which he advised that the emails had been permanently deleted prior to the commencement of the inquiry and could not be recovered.

Thus is deniability engineered. And it's not good enough. Political actions involving the state intelligence agency were conducted on private email accounts, and the records of those actions were covered up when the shit hit the fan. Tucker, De Joux and Ede have all, conveniently, since departed their jobs -- and the Prime Minister is now no longer the minister responsible for the SIS.

As Gwyn writes:

I was concerned to discover the use of personal email and telephone accounts by Mr Ede for some of his PMO work and indications that he did so in order to avoid any public record ... The use of such personal accounts in relation to NZSIS information poses significant risks for information security. While the information dealt with by Mr Ede was not classified security information, there would have been serious consequences had it been.

Phil Goff is receiving due apologies today. In a decent world, he would not be alone. Nicky Hager, who drew our attention to these sorry and troubling matters in Dirty Politics will never receive an apology from those he has exposed, and who have subsequently sought to smear him -- but he really does deserve one.

The other thing to ponder is this: if these people were prepared to do this -- what else have they been prepared to do in their own political interests?



There are always candles at the memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajic, who immolated themselves in protest at the forcible ending of the Prague Spring in 1968, but there were more there than usual last Thursday when I walked to see it.

A little further up, at the end of Wenceslas Square, a smaller crop of candles marked another memorial, on the spot where Palach fell burning.

Overlooking that point, hoisted on the Czech National Museum, there was a giant, genial portrait of Vaclav Havel, the Lou Reed-loving poet who became the president after leading Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution in 1989, thus ending 41 years of Communist subjugation and clearing the way for a modern Parliamentary democracy.

On Thursday it was 25 years and three days since the the Velvet Revolution was sparked by a police attack on protesting students. Back over my right shoulder was Melantrich, where the newspaper The Free Word granted Havel and his colleagues first space in its pages and then a place on its balcony, to address the crowds milling in the square. I thought about doing such a thing as a journalist.

Back over my left shoulder was the hotel where Sir Nicholas Winton, a financial flash harry turned saviour, organised his plot to smuggle hundreds of Jewish children away from the Nazis in 1938 and badgered the British Home Office into terms for their resettlement. By chance, I'd seen the BBC Hard Talk interview with Sir Nicholas, now 105 years old, on the Monday.

Our guide, Marketa, didn't say so, but I got the sense that her guided walk towards our lunch venue, of which you will read in a specialist publication, was more political than usual on account of the anniversary (which had been highly political itself). She told a joke about the Cezch Parliament that I can't do justice to.

She'd been amongst the crowds in the square 25 years ago. She must have been quite young then, and I couldn't quite tell where her own memories stopped and the clarity of the iconic tales of of the revolution -- Marta Kubisova singing the national anthem from the balcony, the appearnce of Dubcek -- began. But it didn't really matter.

Twice, I went to thank Marketa for her account, and twice I pretty much choked up. I was quite undone by it all.

Wenceslas Square isn't really a square and its atmosphere is not entirely civic. It's a broad, somewhat cluttered avenue that shows only fitful reverence to its history. The Melantrich building is now home to a Marks & Spencer and some nice hotel apartments. The monument to Saint Wenceslas, whose feast day is celebrated as the day of Czech statehood, is way too close to a McDonald's. On the way back past from lunch, I heard Lorde's 'Team' blaring from a boutique.

But I suppose you can be a little more casual with some of your built history when you have as much of it as Prague does. Parts of it date back to the original 10th century state of Bohemia. Buildings are even going back in time as their more recent 19th century facades are scraped away. While crowds of tourists gather at the town hall in the city's main square to watch its magnificent mechnical scold of a clock crank out an hourly morality play, the back story is in the other side of the building -- the part that isn't there. It was destroyed by the Nazis as they shipped out in 1945.

Marketa indicated to us where buildings that had lost their character under the Communists had been restored and recoloured in recent years: "They belonged to everyone, so no one took responsibility for them." She has an economics degree from Cambridge.

"What strikes me," I said to her, "is that you are confronted by your history every day in the form of these buildings."

She nodded, but perhaps that didn't seem such a remarkable idea to her. Prague has been at the centre of a Czech state for more than a thousand years. It has been home to a university for more than 650 years. We stopped for a beer at a 170 year-old bar whose beer garden is bordered by the Church of Our Lady of the Snows, which was originally a carmelite monastery begun in 1347 but never finished (again, the story in is in what's not there).

Back at the hotel, I thought of it in the context of Maori, who had no momumental architecture, but still associate everyday places with the historic events that unfolded in them. And who, like the Czechs, have had their sovereignty rudely interrupted and been in danger of surrendering their language.

Empires have come and gone through Prague's thousand years, and the twin insults of the Nazis and the Russian Communists in a single half-century seemed especially acute to me, as literal living memories. But they walk amongst it all, every day. That's what you do in an old town.


Team Little: pretty good

New Labour leader Andrew Little has announced his first caucus lineup and, with one or two questions, it would seem to be pointing the party in the right direction. A clearout of a few of the usual suspects is offset by the appointment of Annette King as deputy leader, but if any of the old guard warranted keeping on for the time being, it was King. She was composed and confident as acting leader and, crucially, has no designs on the top job herself.

Grant Robertson's receipt of the Finance portfolio (and third place in the rankings) seems to be a way of both harnessing Robertson's manifest political skill and of providing some continuity with the policy base developed by David Parker. Robertson has a learning curve ahead of him, but Labour doesn't have a lot of other talent in the area and the alternative -- rehabilitating David Cunliffe -- was clearly unacceptable.

Parker himself had clearly already got the memo, but his demotion to fifteenth place in the rankings seems nonetheless fairly brutal. On the other hand, his responsibilities (shadow Attorney General, Treaty negotiations, trade and export growth) are substantial.

Although Phil Twyford's senior placement, with responsibility for housing, transport, and (as an associate to Phil Goff) Auckland issues, the rankings themselves do not seem closely tied to conventional notions about portfolio seniority. They acknowledge two things: political talent (Robertson, Hipkins) and the plain fact of where Labour's support survived in this year's diificult election result.

Cunliffe comes in only a place above Parker, but -- perhaps ironically -- his bouquet of responsibilities  (regional development, tertiary education, R&D, science & innovation, associate economic development) constitutes the kind of shadow Steven Joyce role he might have had much sooner if his colleagues had felt better able to trust him. On the other hand, Su'a William Sio is ranked eleventh with a relatively light policy load, including "interfaith dialogue". 

I was unimpressed with the means of Little's victory last week, and I still think it's something he's going to battle with, but he was the candidate who faced the fewest impediments to enacting the clearout-and-refresh the Parliamentary party needed, and he has largely done that. Trevor Mallard, Clayton Cosgrove, Damine O'Connor and Clare Curran have been left to wander the wilderness of the unranked and there are four women and three Maori or Pasifika MPs in the top 10. I'm particularly pleased to see Carmel Sepuloni accorded such seniority.

I'm interested to see that some of those least happy with Little's election -- the likes of former MP (and strong Robertson supporter) Darien Fenton -- have been quick to express approval. I can see why, too. This is a pretty good first move by the new leader.


Music: Watching on Twitter from afar

TV3's decision to broadcast the Vodafone Music Awards live to air was a great call. Not that I was able to actually watch it, but being able to read tweets both from Vector Arena and the living rooms of home certainly brought it alive the other morning in a hotel room in Prague. Twitter is an event medium, and y'all are some clever buggers.

The event itself seemed impressive. The only disappointment for me was that an award couldn't be found for Ladi6. With no disrespect whatsoever to Lorde and David Dallas, Ladi's Detroit-recorded album Automatic is such a strong and graceful record; a career statement. I never tire of hearing it and it would be nice to see it recognised.

It inspired a couple of good remixes too -- mostly notably this one:

I'm also hoping that someone took some good photographs of Ladi on the night. Styled by Sammy Salsa, wearing a World couture gown and Michael John jewellery: she looked sensational.


One great little discovery in London: my hosts Glenn and Jen's default "radio" station is Seattle's KEXP FM. It's cool, eclectic and, as Jen pointed out, pretty much never drops a dud tune. I'll be listening to this plenty from now on.


The recent untimely death of Soane Filitonga touched a lot of people; not just here but, I can attest, as far afield as London. The music the big man played in the club was emblematic of a special time in Auckland. Moreover, as Damian Christie pointed out on Facebook, Soane was someone everyone liked. DJ can be a bitchy trade, but no one had a bad word for him.

Nice work, then, to Loop Recordings for re-upping this 2011 remix of Fat Freddy's Drop's 'Shiverman' and making it a free download. It's house music perfection:

I love it when rappers loosen up and embrace the disco, and that's what Onehunga's Spycc has done here with the smooth assistance of High Hoops:

Rap goes another place with Raiza Biza guesting on this slow-burner by RosaDub on TheAudience. So nice. Click through for the free download:

She's So Rad have made one of their effortless shifts between genres -- off the dancefloor and back-to-mine with huge big slab of shoegaze that signs of with the most glorious 1970s lead break. It's like Brian May had a jam with My Bloody Valentine. You can buy it here on Bandcamp at a price of your choosing:

Yumi Zouma's 'Alena' gets a moody bass treatment from Ewan Strauss:

The nice guys from Rocknrolla Soundsystem have posted another edit for download: this time it's a low ride through George Benson's lounged-up version of Donny Hathaway's 'The Ghetto':

Leftside Wobble has reworked 'Take Ten', the would-be follow-up to 'Take Five' by Paul Desmond, the man who wrote that tune for the Dave Brubeck Quartet. It was never a hit, but damn, it's groovy:

And finally, some pure disco to download: Junior Byron 'Inch By Inch' (Joey Negro Moody Edit):


The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:



News from home ...

I'll be brief (it's 5am where I am and have to catch a plane) but the Labour's leadership result and the means by which it was achieved both seem disastrous for the party and for the prospects of the centre-left.

Little didn't win the support of the party or the caucus, he loses his electorate more badly every time he contests it, and he's vowing to dump all the intellectual capital built up by David Parker. I can't see any good thing about this.

Am I missing something?