Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Winston's Latest "Scandal": Bureaucratic Bungle, Or "Political Hit-Job"?

This is a hit! How strange it is that only Jordan Williams from The Taxpayers’ Union, has felt moved to observe: “Winston Peters has either been the victim of a political hit-job, or there is a serious flaw with the Ministry of Social Development’s systems which saw Mr Peters accidentally overpaid”. Clearly, Mr Williams recognises “dirty politics” when he sees it – so why can’t this country’s leading political journalists?
 
THIS LATEST POLITICAL “SCANDAL” involving Winston Peters reminds me of The Godfather. Not the famous scene in which Sonny Corleone is assassinated at the toll booth, but the earlier scene in which Michael Corleone realises that there are no staff on duty in the hospital where his wounded father is being treated. The empty nurses’ work station, the silent corridors, the overwhelming sense of something being “off” – all of it communicates a single, unmistakeable message to Michael. This is a hit.
 
Unfortunately, New Zealand’s mainstream news media lacks the instincts of the fictional mafioso. Thrown a large chunk of red meat by … oh, that’s right, the scandal-mongers have told us nothing about the source of their accusations other than he/she/they operate “within a concerned public service apparatus” … the media dogs have all, as intended, started baying for more of Mr Peters’ blood.
 
How strange it is that, at the time of writing, only Jordan Williams from The Taxpayers’ Union, has felt moved to observe: “Winston Peters has either been the victim of a political hit-job, or there is a serious flaw with the Ministry of Social Development’s systems which saw Mr Peters accidentally overpaid”. Clearly, Mr Williams recognises “dirty politics” when he sees it – so why can’t this country’s leading political journalists?
 
We must hope that the answer to that question is not the same in 2017 as it was in 2008. Nine years ago, when Mr Peters was similarly under fire for alleged financial irregularities, there was open collusion between the NZ First leader’s political opponents and members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Politicians on the Right wanted Winston and his party out of Parliament. Political journalists were desperate for the sort of information that keeps the punters coming back for more. A biologist would call it a “symbiotic relationship”.
 
Is the need to preserve and nurture that symbiotic relationship the reason why our leading political journalists have not reacted to the inflammatory “Co-habiting Peters billed $18,000” headline, by demanding to know from which “concerned public service apparatus” that $18,000 figure originated? Is that why the two most obvious suspects: The Ministry of Social Development, which administers NZ Superannuation; and the Inland Revenue Department, which processes New Zealanders’ superannuation payments; have not been pressured for answers?
 
Because, for those of us with no skin in this game, that is the question that must not only be asked, but answered. If the information comes from MSD, then a scandalous breach of a citizen’s privacy has occurred. But, if Mr Peters’ communications with Inland Revenue have been leaked by someone working inside that particular “public service apparatus”, then whoever received the information has made themselves party to a serious criminal offence.
 
Always, the critical journalistic question arising out of this sort of political hit is: “Cui bono?” (Who benefits?) Which political party would benefit the most by embarrassing Mr Peters and driving down his party’s support?
 
Richard Harman, proprietor of the Politik website, has (almost certainly unwittingly) identified one possible beneficiary in his latest posting, “National Sees Path To Power” (28/8/17) in which he states: “National is now going to target Winston Peters and NZ First in the hope of winning one or two per cent of his vote back off him. They believe that will be enough to hold on to power.”
 
If it is even remotely possible that the so-called “scandal” of Mr Peters’ superannuation overpayments could have been set in motion by persons either within, or aligned to, the National Party (which is certainly, as the party in government, best placed to organise such a “hit”) then why isn’t that the story?
 
After all, no one is disputing that, upon learning of the MSD’s overpayment of his pension, Mr Peters’ responded by repaying the sum of the overpayment (plus interest) immediately. Also undisputed is the claim that Mr Peters and his partner visited the MSD together in 2010, and that Mr Peters’ details were entered into its database by a senior MSD staff-member. It stretches credulity to suggest that the de facto relationship between the NZ First leader and his partner could somehow have been missed – except by accident. Certainly, Mr Peters is clear that any such “accident” was the MSD’s – not his.
 
What we have, therefore, is the story of a senior politician who, as a simple citizen (Mr Peters was not an MP in 2010) and accompanied by his partner, registered for NZ Superannuation in person at the Auckland offices of the MSD, and soon thereafter began receiving his pension. Seven years later, that same senior politician is informed by MSD that he has been incorrectly designated and, therefore, overpaid his pension. Immediately, the senior politician makes good the overpaid amount.
 
Some scandal!
 
And yet, we see the same media dogs who tore Metiria Turei to pieces, now bounding after Mr Peters. They are demanding that he release to them all personal financial records pertaining to his pension. His comfortable personal circumstances are being waved before the public, as if he was some sort of latter-day Marie Antoinette. Once again, Mr Peters is being showered with mud by politicians and journalists bound together in what can only be described as an ethically deficient political symbiosis. And, as we all know, mud sticks.
 
In the movie, Don Corleone survives because his son convinces the hit-men sent to kill him that he is under the protection of men who will not hesitate to fight back. If Winston is looking for a way to both relax and rearm himself in the midst of this politically-motivated and media-driven “scandal”, then he should, perhaps, sit down in front of the nearest TV, with a decent-sized measure of single malt, and take some lessons from The Godfather.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 28 August 2017.

22 comments:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Winston's reaction, though typical Winston going for the jugular, is remarkably ham-fisted. He's made it look as if he has something to hide.

Anonymous said...

It's come out this morning that Anne Tolley was briefed 2 weeks ago as part of the Govt. "no surprises" policy. The policy does not cover peoples personal tax/benefit records & is a breach of the State Services mandate. The leak points to blatant dirty tricks. I hope Winston gets back into Govt. & deals directly to this BS, clearly no-one else will. Tolley should resign; her duty was to stop the briefing immediately it became clear what the subject was.

Polly said...

Whoever put the hit on Winnie, deserves our highest praise.
Lets not forget Winnie and the winebox.
The man is a charlatan.
Winnie king hits anyone and everyone in his way.
I do not believe his fudges, fumbles and changing stories.
Could not have happened to a nicer chap.
WELL DONE "WHOEVER".

jh said...

What sort of person would want to get rid of Winston?:
Ross McKitterick
August 26, 2017 at 11:52 pm
Suggest you look at this link, on Kiwi Blog, via BNZ, just shows what a world class economy we are running, world record immigration and look at the participation rate..amazing. That is an economy running probably as one of the best…productivity measure is meaningless
http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2017/08/nzs_labour_force_participation_rate.html
Ross McKitterick
August 27, 2017 at 11:49 am
Bob don’t know what you mean by hard work for low wages. Most wages are in NZ are based on a fair return for a fairs day work based on the workers skill and education level. In NZ we have one of the worlds highest minimum wage rates, we have one of the most generous social welfare programs that tops of the low incomes.
You could argue that in the non-tradeable sector, like education, they have captured more than their fair share as the non-tradeable sector has ballooned out to a disproportionate size in many parts of NZ..
What this chart shows is that despite 75,000 net immigration, and all those other factors you mention the economy is growing very strongly, which means more wealth and higher wages.
https://croakingcassandra.com/2017/08/26/wages-and-profits/

greywarbler said...

There was a story that John Key had a 'drawerful' of muddy details about other politicians that could be used when required as leverage to achieve actions advantageous to him and the Party. If Winston's open secret has been around since 2010 then it would no doubt have been in the secret cache of that dodgy drawer ready to be released like a fragrant fart in a meeting hall which makes everyone unhappy and edgy.

As Chris states the facts and the background and the questions are:
After all, no one is disputing that, upon learning of the MSD’s overpayment of his pension, Mr Peters’ responded by repaying the sum of the overpayment (plus interest) immediately.

Also undisputed is the claim that Mr Peters and his partner visited the MSD together in 2010, and that Mr Peters’ details were entered into its database by a senior MSD staff-member.

It stretches credulity to suggest that the de facto relationship between the NZ First leader and his partner could somehow have been missed – except by accident. Certainly, Mr Peters is clear that any such “accident” was the MSD’s – not his.

What we have, therefore, is the story of a senior politician who, as a simple citizen (Mr Peters was not an MP in 2010) and accompanied by his partner, registered for NZ Superannuation in person at the Auckland offices of the MSD, and soon thereafter began receiving his pension.

Nick J said...

Polly, the WineBox was a scandal. The way I remember it the scandalous bit was not Winston but the way in which the "system" managed top nobble the judgement. There were a lot of "guilty" types who managed to avoid the full consequences. Of course I (and many others) could just be conspiracy theorists, a very convenient label. My faith in the ethicacy and the lack of corruption in the NZ "system" took a fatal knock with the WineBox affair.

Over the years I have always admired Winston for his stance against the status quo on that issue, if he were the Devil himself he would get my favourable comment for his efforts then.

Nick J said...

jh,

Thew links are fascinating.....so according to the BNZ graph we have in NZ about 70% labour participation rate.....so 30 in 100 people who could work dont. Unemployment being reported as sub 5% means that 25% dont want to work, or one on four people in NZ have alternative income / ways of staying alive. So by the time we take off those who the government manages to remove from the real figures, and those who have given up, and those working part time jobs etc what is the real rate of unemployment? Betcha it is not pretty.

Anonymous said...

jh, you probably already know that labour force participation rates are severely compromised by the stats methodology (eg includes anything more than an hours work a week). This gov't policy of obfuscation is quite deliberate; Stats will argue it's the way the OECD does it for comparisons, which simply means all gov't tend to hide unacceptable realities. It doesn't change the fact that there are approx. 1 million not showing in either the employment or unemployment stats.

Kat said...

Silly, silly move pulling this stunt on Winston Peters. National and associated rat pack are a certainty to be gone now. The decent minded voter won't stand for this. And should Labour when in govt lower the threshold for MMP National may never again darken the political scene for many years, decades hopefully.

alwyn said...

I think you are getting to tied up in the conspiracy theorists trying to tie it to the National Party.
I don't think that either the National or the Labour parties have anything to do with this. By far the most likely person to have leaked the story is Winston Peters himself. He is the one who is most likely to benefit, after all. It puts him back on the front page getting all the publicity. Since the arrival of Ardern and the immolation of the Green Party he has been out of the limelight and he will do anything to get back into it.
It really doesn't matter whether the person responsible for the overpayment was Winston or someone in the Department. Winston can claim total purity in that he has paid the money back. He can then go on, as he always does that there is a great conspiracy to defame him and that he is the only person who is standing up for the "ordinary" Kiwi.
The only other, minute, possibility is someone involved with the Green Party. If you believe one of the many rumours about Turei's self outing it was that she did it because she thought Winston had the info and was going to do the outing himself.
She got in first to try and put a moral spin on the matter.
However by far the most likely one, at least in my view was that it was The Right Honourable Winston Peters who is the source of the public story.

Patricia said...

I receive Universal superannuation.
WINZ, (as it was then called), when I was about to turn 65, contacted me and asked me to make an appointment with them.
At that appointment as well as asking for my Bank Account details WINZ asked me if I were living alone.
They have contacted me, by mail, numerous times since then asking me of my living arrangements which included having a boarder.
Just because Winston came to his appointment with another person does not mean WINZ would assume he was living with them. He would have had to tell them that.
Okay, it may be a political hit and it may be no different from double dipping Dipton but I don't believe Winston is as white as driven snow. Just as I don't believe Bill English was as white as driven snow.

greywarbler said...

What a good way of sliding under the limbo pole. How low can you go to get past and still not tell outright lies.
Most wages are in NZ are based on a fair return for a fairs day work based on the workers skill and education level. In NZ we have one of the worlds highest minimum wage rates, we have one of the most generous social welfare programs that tops of the low incomes.

'Most', based on what absolutely reliable statistics?
'We have one of the world's highest minimum wage rates' - which world though? Third, Second or First? I don't know which countries are in the Second, but we certainly don't match the First.

This greasy, slippery talk is what passes for educated opinion and discussion in NZ. No wonder we are languishing low in the developed world.

Victor said...

Wholly agree with you, Chris.

Moreover, no-one who cites Godfather I or II can be all bad.

Though I'm not one of his supporters, I wish Winston well in dealing with all this nonsense.

However, he would probably do well to avoid his characteristic default to truculence.

Richard said...

If it is a choice in the egregious and illegal disclosure relating to Mr Peter's payments from the the MSD, the organ of state that pays super, one would normally put a tenner on the latter.

Except there is here nothing to cock-up. This was all done and dusted in the last decade. Ancient events. Nothing suspicious or readily discerible now. It is all dead and buried literally. Peters repaid what ever had to be paid and the MSD organ of state and/or IRD accepted whatever remediation or repayment.

It goes without saying that Mr Peters had no reason to re-agitate it and not one of the 4.5 million ordinary people in NZ could discover anything to agitate because tax dealings are secret as per the Income Tax Act. There is no "Watergate" style burglary of Mr Peters or his accountants, or suggestion any belated IRD investigation. This far down the track the only "party" with any interest in Mr Peters AND with the ability to retrospectively start to ferret about and ACTUALLY ACCESS the relevant material.

Only the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation or his department,that is a given. With a choice between "a cock up and a conspiracy", this time you can safely back the latter. There are no other candidates, and certainly nothing like a "Winebox" source here, well except for the negative publicity for Mr Peters.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Personally, I can't see what all the fuss is about. It's extremely unlikely that Winston deliberately lied to WINZ, because he would know that they would catch up with him eventually, and it would be extremely politically embarrassing. And they have. It's not as if he needs the money presumably, as he gets a shitload from being an MP among other things. So it's an obvious mistake. That doesn't matter that much if it's Winston's or WINZ's. I think that whatever you say about Winston, he's not that stupid? Not after surviving God knows how many years as an MP.

alwyn said...

For Nick J @ 11.37am
You have to bee aware of who is in the 30% who do not feature in the participation rate.
Among others it includes women who are at home with children. Anyone who is on maternity leave for example will be there. If you were to increase the entitlement to maternity leave, as National has just announced, it is likely that you will decrease the participation rate and that number of 30% will rise.
In the same way if anyone was to introduce a significant UBI the participation rate would probably drop by quite a lot and the 30% that worries you will rise.
It isn't just the discouraged that are counted.

greywarbler said...

Patricia
Wouldn't it be lovely if the bloody government could just accept that they pay a good basic pension to those over 65 and leave it at that and not be interfering with your living arrangements at all.

My belief is that in return all mentally and physically able retired people would put in at least a couple of hours work a week, mentoring, making school lunches, passing on skills etc. Giving and taking would result in a happier society and the nosy so-called Welfare would get on assisting young people into skills training and part-time work at least, with a topup to a living level. Older people could apply for grants if they were short.

Victor said...

A random thought:

Could this whole business be a ploy to distract attention from the latest round of Dipton Follies.

I only rarely quote Lenin. But he had a point when he wrote that the only two questions worth asking in politics are "who?" and "whom?"

Pinger said...

There are gestapo type figures in every government department.

Nick J said...

Alwyn, I take your point. The bit I find disturbing is that the numbers could mean just about anything and be quoted totally out of context by all and sundry. My suspicions based upon years of observation is that inconvenient facts attract convenient smoke screens.

peter petterson said...

If public servants were involved in providing personal information relating to Winston Peters to the media, they must be tracked down and dismissed - and a clean broom must sweep through the public service. If any govt MP was involved, they should be prosecuted by the incoming Labour-led administration.

Victor said...

greywarbler

Yes to all that, provided that the volunteering is voluntary.

I really don't want my taxes spent on employing yet more bureaucrats to keep tabs on whether Mrs Jones has fulfilled her weekly quota of labour at the SPCA, CCS, the Cancer Society et al, estimable bodies though they all are.

Still less do I want to contribute to bureaucrats deciding whether Mrs Jones's angina,sore feet or acid reflux constitute a sufficient excuse for her to skip a week or two.