Saturday, January 30, 2016

Is John Key’s government corrupt?

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key is leading a government wracked by scandals, corruption, and crony capitalism. That government has damaged New Zealand’s reputation around the world, resulting most recently in another slide in New Zealand’s international ranking for corruption.

For eight years, from when Labour was in power in 2006 through National taking power in 2008 and on to 2013, New Zealand was ranked the least corrupt nation in the world by Transparency International in its annual Corruption Perception Index. I blogged about NZ achieving least-corrupt ranking back in 2006, and again in 2010. That all ended last year.

In 2014, New Zealand slipped to second place, which is still pretty good (and that’s why I included it in my recent video, 5 Awesome Things About New Zealand). This year, New Zealand dropped again: We’re now down to fourth place.

Why is New Zealand’s corruption ranking falling? Opposition Leader Andrew Little put the blame firmly on National: “It is an indictment on the Government,” he said. “National has been dogged by scandal after scandal involving dodgy deals and inappropriate conduct. The Oravida controversy, involving [former Justice Minister Judith] Collins, Chinese border officials and a company her husband is a director of, along with the dirty politics scandal involving John Key’s office, show how little regard the Government has for a reputation of fair dealing and transparency.”

Andrew Little also notes that the report “is unlikely to have captured all of the fall-out from the Saudi sheep scandal where the National Government paid off a disaffected Saudi businessman, so we should expect another drop next year.” He’s not the only one to see the connection between the scandals National has created for itself and the drop in New Zealand’s corruption ranking. Political commentator Bryce Edwards observed:
It could be that many of the National Government's various controversies are finally coming to home to roost, impacting on New Zealand's global reputation. Although these controversies have varied in their seriousness and credibility, many of them have played a role in eroding the perceived integrity of the administration and the wider public sector.
In addition to the Oravida and Dirty Politics scandals that Andrew Little mentioned, Edwards also pointed out that National MP Maurice Williamson was forced to resign as a minister, which came about because he apparently tried to get special treatment for a National Party donor. Edwards also mentioned the revelation of the National Party’s "Cabinet Clubs" that gave the party’s big donors special access to government ministers and senior politicians.

Edwards also mentions the most corrupt action of John Key’s government, their sweetheart deal with the SkyCity casino to get them to build an international convention centre in Auckland in exchange for dramatic increases in gaming tables and slot machines, and law changes to guarantee SkyCity’s profits. It was a rotten and corrupt deal, and I criticised it back in 2013. But that wasn’t all that John Key did: In addition to the crony capitalism of the deal itself, Key also retaliated against critics of the deal, a tactic he’s used several times to get rid of dissent and criticism and to try to frighten other would-be opponents and critics into silence.

Edwards points out that all these scandals don’t necessarily mean that corruption is actually increasing in New Zealand, we just may be more aware of it. He argues that, “many of the allegations thrown around remain unproven or contentious”, and asserts that “the publication of Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics, despite all of the vitally important issues it raised about democracy in New Zealand, did not necessarily prove that corruption is now running wild.” Except, he’s flat out wrong: it actually did.

John Key and Judith Collins used the National Party’s attack blogger to destroy individuals and to attack the Labour Party with what were false and misleading assertions, all while keeping John Key’s hands clean and the air of plausible deniability intact. That’s pretty damn corrupt. Also, police conducted an unlawful raid on Nicky Hager’s home, which Key’s government and the police both adamantly deny was politically-motivated. But, then, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Naturally, John Key’s government is trying to spin its way out of trouble—yet again. Their official press release is titled, “NZ among top nations in fighting corruption” as if the NZ’s drop in ranking didn’t even happen. Current Justice Minister Amy Adams is quoted as saying, “While the slight slip in rankings to fourth place is disappointing…” before going on to claim that John Key’s Government “has strengthened our anti-corruption measures and enhanced transparency since the underlying surveys for this index were undertaken, which we would expect will have a positive impact next year.” Not bloody likely, and she knows it.

Adams, who has been accused of benefitting from crony Capitalism in the South Island, took a page from John Key’s playbook and attacked the report itself, telling ONE News (at 1:15) that the methodology “is not terribly clear” and that “it’s had a lot of criticism”, all things that John Key would be likely to say. Her spin was actually delivered exactly as John Key’s would do it, too, from which words she placed verbal emphasis on, to the condescending smirk on her face as she spoke, and even the little head bobbing she did as she stuck the knife in the report.

Still, despite all the evidence of corruption in John Key’s government, maybe Edwards is right and it’s not actually worse. The problem is that with the slow death of the newsmedia in New Zealand, and this government’s habit of retaliating against critics, we may not be able to prove it. Still, if New Zealand's corruption ranking continues to drop, we’ll know why: John Key’s government is corrupt.

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