Wednesday, 25 June 2014


26 June 2014

Just when it seemed almost impossible, there has been a new twist in the Donghua Liu saga. No, I am not referring to his amended statement about the nature of his relationships with and contributions to the Labour Party. Nor am I referring to the apparent amnesia of the man who granted him permanent residence in the first place.

Rather, the latest developments reveal something far more worrying about the relationship of the citizenry to its elected representatives. As I feared, the antics of Mr Liu and others like him appear to be leading to a loss of confidence amongst members of the public about the traditional role of MPs as the constituents’ advocate when they have issues to pursue with the government or one of its agencies.

A widely respected constituent of mine, whom I have been privileged to know for many years, contacted me last week about some issues he was facing. He said it was the first time he had ever felt the need to contact an MP, and then he added this chilling statement: “In light of current difficulties experienced by MPs trying to assist constituents, I certainly do not expect you to become directly involved, but merely advise who I should be contacting, or have them contact me.”

This is an appalling state of affairs if good, decent constituents feel unable to seek the assistance of their MPs, because of fears of perceptions of undue influence, brought on by the improper actions of the few who have tried to exert such influence – usually through the lure of financial support – to achieve their ends. MPs helping constituents, without fear, favour or recompense has been at the heart of our system forever, and it is extremely worrying if constituents now feel constrained from seeking that help.

So, what to do? In part, the answer lies with considering whether there ought to be limits placed on the amounts individuals can donate to political parties within specified time periods to blunt the influence of wealthy individuals. But MPs have to accept some responsibility as well. A new sense of wariness needs to be inculcated amongst them, especially where the attraction of the big dollar is concerned.

It is a truism that MPs have a duty to represent all their constituents, regardless of political allegiance, which most MPs honour. But it will become a serious problem if constituents begin to feel that they can no longer solicit their MPs’ assistance when they need it, because of fears of perceived undue influence. Yet, if my constituent’s concerns are widespread, as I suspect they may be from other conversations, that will be the unintended consequence of the Liu saga. People may well choose to just suffer injustice in silence. And when people lose confidence in the system that way, and the capacity of their MPs to represent them when they need it, the premise on which our representative democracy has been founded will really begin to totter quite sharply.    

Wednesday, 18 June 2014


19 June 2014

Amidst all the drama surrounding David Cunliffe’s recollections or not of his dealing with Donghua Liu, it is worth remembering that one of the most important roles an electorate Member of Parliament has is to advocate on behalf of constituents when they have an issue with the government or one of its agencies. Such advocacy often leads to the mounting of the strongest of cases on behalf of the constituent one feels able to, even if there are times when one’s personal sympathies for the case, or confidence about its outcome are not great. The point is that as that person’s representative one is obliged to ensure their case is at least fairly, properly, and fully considered before a decision is reached upon it.

Matters relating to immigration are amongst the most sensitive of cases MPs deal with for understandable reasons. In my own case, as an electorate MP of nearly 30 years standing, immigration matters have consistently accounted for about two-thirds of the individual cases I have handled. In that time, I have seen many harrowing situations, and written probably thousands of support letters to successive Ministers of Immigration. I have won cases I expected to lose, and lost cases I had expected to win.

However, I have always followed two firm rules for immigration – and actually all constituency – cases, aside from the obvious point of keeping clear and full records. Any letters of advocacy I write on behalf of a constituent have been drafted personally by me, rather than a member of my staff, as I am more likely to remember something I have written myself, rather than just affixed a signature to. Second and more important, I have never accepted a donation or gift in return for pursuing an immigration case. Where there have been occasions – usually after the event – where someone offered to make a donation, I have always referred them directly to the Party Treasurer. So I actually never know whether any of these offers have ever been followed up, which is as it should be.

I say this not to be sanctimonious, but because it strikes me that David Cunliffe has done neither. I do not think he had full oversight of Mr Liu’s approach to him regarding his immigration status, but I do think he – and his colleagues it would appear – had way too much involvement, more than they are letting on now, in respect of Mr Liu’s financial support. It is that ambiguity and shadiness that is doing the damage now.

Add to that Mr Cunliffe’s strident flaying of Maurice Williamson over his dealings with Donghua Liu and the firestorm of hypocrisy now engulfing him is both obvious and utterly predictable.

Coming so close to an election it is a loss either way for the Labour Party. Change the leader now and Labour is surely doomed – there is no Messiah in the wings to surge through and sweep them to victory like Bob Hake’s takeover in Australia a month before the 1983 election. Keeping the leader simply reinforces the perception of slipperiness and lack of trust. Little wonder then that for some 2017 is now not looking too far away after all.        

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014


11 June 2014

“Rich boys and their toys” usually describes the obsession of wealthy men to use their wealth to achieve something they can do only through their wealth, because they lack the ability to ever be likely to do otherwise. The success of magnates like Alan Bond and more recently Larry Ellison in winning yachting’s America’s Cup by bankrolling campaigns rather than any innate sailing ability of their own comes quickly to mind, but they are by no means exclusive examples.

Now, the concept has even extended to politics, with the variation that the obsession is usually with a more quixotic than mainstream political brand, and the likelihood of ridicule and catastrophe that much higher. In terms of the individuals themselves that is not necessarily something to be worried about (because they all seem pretty odd to start with anyway) but its implications for the body politic and the expression of democracy are more worrying.

In Britain, a multimillionaire football manager called Paul Sykes has donated more than £1.5 million to the neo-fascist, racist UK Independence Party, which polled strongly in the recent local and European elections. In Australia, the Federal Government looks increasingly likely to be hostage to the irascible, eccentric, classic car for every day of the week, mining magnate, Clive Palmer, who funded his fledging Palmer United Party to the tune of $A12 million at last year’s Federal Election to protect his own interests. And now the cancer has spread to New Zealand. Two equally bizarre and unlovely characters are spraying their largesse around to achieve their allegedly political objectives. Kim Dotcom has donated around $3.25 million to his fledging Mana/Internet/Old Style Jim Anderton Alliance Party with the expressed purpose of not influencing his forthcoming extradition battle, but more nobly, utilising this hydra headed vehicle and the renowned tactful and conciliatory skills of the Harawiras to make a positive contribution to the good and stable governance of New Zealand. At the other end of the spectrum (I think, although can never be sure, given the musings on chem trails and moon landings that may never have been) Colin Craig has funded his Conservative Party to the tune of already more than $2 million in its fight against the social advances of the 21st century and for a return to the values of the Old Testament.

Now, one of the elements of a functioning democracy is that everyone has the right to have a say. No problem at all with that – but the question has to be asked whether that includes the opportunity to buy an election we now seem to be witnessing. Or, put another way, the right to use financial resources to achieve outcomes they could only dream of otherwise.

Amidst all the fog and buffoonery that accompanies them, an essential fact remains. Just as no yachting syndicate would have ever selected a Bond or an Ellison on the basis of merit or ability, most surely there is no credible political party anywhere on earth that would have selected a Sykes, or a Palmer, a Dotcom or a Craig, as a candidate on the basis of what they could potentially add to the national tapestry and rational discourse, a point we as voters should never overlook.