Friday, December 12, 2014

Karl du Fresne: Stop bullshitting us, prime minister

The day after winning re-election, prime minister John Key warned that one of the biggest risks his government faced in its third term was arrogance. What a pity he didn’t heed his own advice.

Over the past few weeks, we have observed a National government that seems determined to live up to every stereotype about third terms. It has been arrogant, smug and incompetent.

Worse than that, it appears to have undergone an integrity by-pass.
Key has given new Labour leader Andrew Little a dream start, and Little has the ability to take full advantage of it. More by good luck than good management, Labour has found itself with a leader who could prove a real handful for National.
I would go further and say that if National and Key carry on as they have in the past few weeks, there’s a good prospect of a Little-led government in 2017.

Let’s examine National’s performance in greater detail. We’ll start with the accusation of arrogance.

With very little warning, the government proposed radical changes to security laws and allowed practically no time for people to make submissions. It displayed utter contempt for the normal democratic process.

It didn’t even bother trying to explain why an overhaul of the security laws was suddenly so urgent. “Don’t bother your tiny little heads fretting about civil liberties and the right to be free from surveillance,” the government effectively said. “Just believe us when we say the country is at imminent risk of terrorism. Trust us, because we know what we’re doing.”

Trouble was, the legislation was introduced to Parliament in the same week as the Inspector General of Security and Intelligence confirmed that the former head of the SIS was up to his eyeballs in the leaking of information calculated to damage one of the National government’s opponents. 

Trust them? Yeah, right.

The perception of arrogance was compounded by the performance of the Attorney-General and Minister in Charge of the SIS, Chris Finlayson.

This is the minister charged with ensuring our rights are protected. Yet when Guyon Espiner questioned him on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report about why the security legislation was being bulldozed through Parliament, Finlayson testily replied that the government didn’t have time for “chit-chat”.

He subsequently made what purported to be an apology in Parliament, but he didn’t look at all apologetic to me. In fact he looked very pleased with himself.

Finlayson is reputedly a clever man, and knows it; but clever men have a way of tripping over their own egos. He’s also a list MP, and I wonder if he would be quite so cocky if he had to answer to an electorate.

Even before the appearance of the proposed new security laws, the government had shown signs of third-term arrogance.  Within weeks of winning the election, it had pushed through new employment laws that were widely criticised as eroding workers’ rights.

I’m not convinced that the new laws are quite as oppressive as the critics say, but it was the symbolism that struck me. Here was a newly re-elected government using its majority to ensure the speedy passage of laws that were seen as anti-worker.

If it wanted to send out a signal confirming all those old left-wing claims about National acting in the interests of the bosses, it couldn’t have done a better job. 

Now let’s look at the charge of incompetence. Consider the following.
■ Murderer and paedophile Phillip Smith, a man known to be clever and manipulative as well as evil, escaped to South America because of staggering naivety on the part of the Corrections Department;

■ The State Services Commission presided over an embarrassing sexual harassment fiasco in which it was seen as supporting the senior public servant whose behaviour was the subject of the complaint;

■ As already mentioned, the former head of the SIS allowed himself to be used in an underhand smear campaign aimed at discrediting a senior Labour politician.

In each case, incompetence and bad judgment on a grand scale. But did we see any of the responsible cabinet ministers, or even department heads, volunteering to fall on their swords? 

Ministerial accountability used to be a core principle of Westminster-style democracy. Ministers carried the can for their departments’ cockups even when they weren’t personally to blame. 

It’s a harsh system, but an effective way of ensuring discipline and accountability right down through the chain of command. It means someone has to pay when things go wrong. After all, if no one suffers, where’s the incentive to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

But don’t hold your breath for waiting for ministers in this government to maintain that tradition. It’s just not going to happen.

Finally, there’s the issue of Key and his relationship with Cameron Slater, which brings us to the subject of integrity.

I now seriously wonder whether the prime minister has any, given his pathetic dissembling over whether he’d been in touch with Slater. That came on top of his preposterous claim recently that when he spoke to Slater, it wasn’t in his capacity as prime minister.

For heaven’s sake, give us a break. This is altogether too cute and too cocky. People have given Key the benefit of the doubt before, but there must come a time when his credibility runs out.

You could argue, I suppose, that if he has some sort of political death wish that compels him to continue dealing with Slater, that’s his prerogative. But what’s inexcusable is that he plays us for mugs by bullshitting us. 

At the very least, he should show us a bit more respect.

Karl du Fresne blogs at This article was first published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Stop Bullshitting us Prime is a Cow of a Parliament anyway.
The arrogance of Office known in Washington as “The Potomac Fever” is alas, common in most democracies; more obvious in those with a single house when laws passed are not subjected to the scrutiny of a second chamber with checks and balances.
As the late Barbara W. Tuchmann put it
“A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests”.
“The March of Folly” (1984)
It is also a phenomenon or rather an established practice of new governments, to implement policies and regulations that would be electorally suicidal later in their term of office. A case in point being the implementation of the new radical security laws, and the undue haste with which these have been rammed through Parliament. However like many other laws being instituted for our own good they are merely a feature of government in our time. Who in office wants the tedium of requesting a plebiscite to ascertain what the general public thinks. Or even wants. A case of we are better placed and know the facts and you do not?
In any case our Security here in “God’s Own” has been abysmal for decades, ever since Lange & Co walked away from Anzus, with the knowledge and certainty that whatever would happen in a military sense the Western Powers would protect and defend N.Z. as a matter of course. Which was and still is a clever and shrewd move by the peace loving Appeasement Brigade Socialists; thus avoiding any costly re- armament and the stigma of being labelled at the U.N, as an American stooge.
Although it would be better described in alcoholic terms as New Zealand being an annual “Bar Drink Cadger”; who expects all others to pay their share of defence, while being able to be “a sort of innocent abroad”? Although there is a certain word among drinkers for those who fail to pay their rounds!!!
Still National is a third term lot of Parliamentarians, and cracks always appear when performance drops.
The bigger questions National has to face, and so far they have buried their heads in the sand in providing any decisions....
1 Backing up the Supreme Court’s decision and ensuring the police force are adequately equipped to deal with the law breakers in the Takamore case. In this case to date “Justice seen to be done, does not always mean Justice done”!
2 To deal with the ever rising number those convicted of crimes missing out on sentencing by virtue of their occupation or ethnic backgrounds.
3 To rid itself of the perception that Maori have a special place in our society and therefore need special privileges. To confirm we are ONE PEOPLE subject to the same laws and penalties.
4 To cease placing people into tribunals and boards with obvious with conflicts of interests. ( Case in point being the Local Government Commisiion now examining the idea of super amalgamations. Impartiality is the key function in any government constitutional body, and to this end with our unique small population it would be advisable to select such people from overseas to ensure impartiality in any decision making.
5 The sexual harassment scenario which has reached astronomical proportions.

Incompetence and Governmental control go hand in hand whatever the party is in power, and it behoves us all to realise that any government organisation should be judged continually on its performance against the private sector. Not I will admit, a very popular concept in a country conditioned from womb to tomb a shroud of socialism.

Respect of our Parliament has diminished since the introduction of MMP, due to the very obvious fact that nearly half our members in the house have NO responsibility to the electorate, only to their party. So just over a half a democracy then, which I guess is better than none at all!!