Hard News by Russell Brown


Moving right along?

The past few days have provided us with a great many personal reckons on the matter of Mayor Len Brown and the revelations about his former sexual relationship with Bevan Chuang. And I'm somewhat surprised there hasn't been more attention on the view of one influential Aucklander: The Prime Minister.

John Key couldn't have been clearer in speaking to media late last week: "ultimately it's between Len and his family", there was no need for him to resign and the mayor would "soon be back on the horse". Move along, nothing to see here.

There are a number of reasons Key would want the Brown scandal to die down. One that is that he quite sensibly does not want to see the personal lives of senior politicians made fair game. Another is that he quite probably sees the "Labour mayor" as someone central goverment can work with and sees no gain in upsetting that status. And the third is that this is already becoming a major shitfight within the National Party itself.

Cameron Slater and National Party figure Hamish Price have spent the weekend hurling bombs at each other across the internet. On his Facebook page, Price says the Palino campaign was a trainwreck all along, that Luigi Wewege was a sleaze allowed far too much influence -- and that Palino had been "pimping" the Len Brown story long before it broke.

Slater says Price is furious that he wasn't hired by Palino (Price says he simply didn't have the time for policy work) and is in league with Slater's enemy, former National Party president Michele Boag. The fact that Wewege seems to have attended one of the political training courses run by the self-styled svengali Simon Lusk introduces an internal narrative with which party leaders are deeply uncomfortable. It can't be long before someone asks Slater's friend Judith Collins what she thinks.

Update: a fascinating column by Richard Harman setting the scandal in the context of National's infighting.

So, yeah, you'd really want that to go away.

Meanwhile, Slater applauds Kerre McIvor's declaration that "there was absolutely no need for [Chuang] to go into the detail she did. It was utterly tasteless." It has apparently slipped his mind that he, Cameron Slater, gleefully published all that detail. The headline of Slater's post refers to "bunny boilers and rooters". If Hamish Price is, in fact, now looking after his friend Chuang, she seems in much safer hands than she was with Slater and his buddies.

I have a copy of the second Chuang affadavit, the one that seems to land John Palino squarely in the middle of the plot. There's more in it than has been reported so far, which I suspect is partly because she directly attributes words to both Slater and Palino that could constitute grounds for a criminal prosecution. They have both denied its contents. Stephen Cook's she-was-totally-up-for-it version of his interactions with Chuang is contradicted by her account of him demanding to know only the most salacious detals: how was Brown in bed? What's his penis size? Journalists have been left with a situation in which no one can truly be regarded as reliable witness.

There has been a great deal of weird and regrettable commentary on this scandal, some of it from people who should know better. When Matt McCarten wrote that Brown "solicited sex" in the Herald on Sunday, he was uncomfortably close to calling the woman in the relationship a whore. And in declaring that Brown's "crimes" were similar to those of John Banks, he should (a) have borne in mind that Banks will be prosecuted but has not been convicted of a criminal offence, and (b) looked up the definition of of the word "crime" in a dictionary.

But it's also the HoS which has provided the most measured commentary on the affair, in its editorial yesterday.

[Chuang] and Brown have been targets of tactics foreign to this country's politics but that is of little help to Brown now. The affair in itself is a private matter but some of the questions it raises are of legitimate public interest. Most importantly, has Chuang received any benefit from the council with the help of the mayor?

We know he put in a word for her for a job in the Art Gallery. Was her previous experience suited to the job? Was she the best applicant? On what basis did the mayor recommend her?

Did she receive any other benefits in the form of contracts, as the co-ordinator of the New Lynn night markets or in any other role? Has she been associated with any resource or planning consents? The council needs to thoroughly check these records for the two years of the affair.

The mayor has put himself in circumstances where any benefit he has helped her gain is also a personal benefit to him and he ought to resign. But if there have been no gains of that nature, and the whole sad affair has cost the ratepayers no additional expense, Aucklanders ought to allow him to get on with the projects he has started.

The voters have re-elected him for good reasons that remain good. He has caused a private tragedy, it is not yet a public outrage.

In other words, the questions that Brown faces are a consequence of the pickle he got himself in. On the face of it, his agreement to be listed as a referee when Chuang applied for a job at the art gallery would have been of little note had she stayed simply an acquaintance. Brown's office says the mayor played no role in Chuang winning a contract to coordinate the New Lynn night markets, which went through a standard process, and that her claims that he accepted offers of free hotel rooms for their trysts are not correct.

We'll see. An independent inquiry has begun. And I'm sure I'm not alone in wishing that the mayor and his council should for the time being get on with addressing the very real challenges of Auckland's future. On that, the Prime Minister and I very much agree.

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