Written By: - Date published: 12:10 pm, May 9th, 2014 - 225 comments
Categories: accountability, class war, corruption, democracy under attack, im/migration, john key, Judith Collins, russel norman, same old national, sustainability - Tags: fundraising, michael woodhouse
Whether or not the National Party has done anything illegal with its Cabinet Club/s fundraisers, there are wider issues about values, who the National government represents, and how they insert themselves within networks of influence. A major part of the opposition and media focus has been that of people with a lot of money buying political influence, as posted on by NRT.
However, a distinctive thing about Cabinet Club is the values embedded in the practices, and seen in the exclusive and private nature of the events. These mostly seem to be focused around cosy private dinners, targeting wealthy donors. This also connects with the Collins-Oravida saga, where a lot of the debate has focused on whether or not Collins dinner in China, was a private event, or one that she attended in her ministerial role (see Gordon Campbell on this).
With both the Cabinet Clubs, and Collins dodgy dinner, the problem is that they blur the boundaries between public and private. These private and exclusive social events are ones in which wealthy and powerful people cement their access to power by nurturing personal relationships. This pretty much exposes the way the National Party represents the already wealthy, while making life harder for those on low incomes.
This was shown graphically on the 3 News report on the Chinese Cabinet Club event at which immigration minister Michael Woodhouse was a guest speaker. 3 News had obtained a slideshow with images of the event, including this one:
Here mainstream politics meet private activities, within someone’s home. Woodhouse is set up to speak, with the cosy little dinner table seen in the background; the after-glow of a friendly bit of exclusive networking on a very personal scale.
The curious thing about Cabinet Club/s is that they have been a pretty secretive activity. When the Green Party’s revelations about them were first picked up by 3 News, the immediate reaction of some Nat ministers was to deny all knowledge.
I did a search for online information about the Cabinet Clubs, and found very little publicly available information about them. I did find reference to them going back to the 1990s. There’s this speech by Simon Upton in 1999, when he was a minister in Jim Bolger’s government: “Address to the Dunedin Cabinet Club“.
In 2011, Simon Bridges hosted a Cabinet Club event in which Paula Bennett was a guest speaker.
I am hosting the first Cabinet Club Dinner 2011 with special Guest Hon Paula Bennett
Don McKinnon, “New Zealand: An Engaging Country,” Address to the Cabinet Club (Dunedin, 9 May 1997), 7-8. In Ayson, “New Zealand and Asia Pacific Security,” 395.
In the National Party’s ploy to attack the opposition with a “They do it too” gambit, they have inadvertently shown the difference between the Labour Party fundraisers and donations and the Cabinet Clubs. In the House on Wednesday, John Key gleefully mentioned an ad from the Labour Party website, waving it about like some trophy of war:
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I seek leave to table a report that shows that a market place was established where $1,250 was paid for an opportunity to meet one-on-one in a short meeting with your choice of MP. That was at the Labour Party conference last year—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has been satisfactorily explained. It is in the House’s hands, when I put the leave, as to whether members want that document tabled.
Grant Robertson: What’s the source?
Mr SPEAKER: The member is asking what the source is. That is a reasonable question.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Labour Party website. [Interruption]
Kiwiblog also has a copy of the invitation, clearly pretty widely circulated around businesses, for businesses to buy a marketplace stand at the 2013 Labour Party Conference. This publicly available document, about a pretty well publicised event, clearly spells out what is on offer. This is a stark contrast to the murky, hidden operations of the Cabinet Clubs: Clubs that frequently happen in very private spaces.
The 3 News report showed a clip of the Labour Party Conference stalls, which were very openly displayed for public, via the media, scrutiny. Compare these stalls with the cosy Cabinet club scenes in a private home above:
Furthermore, Key, in the House, as shown on 3 News, went on to compare Cabinet Club with Phillip Mills donations to the Green and Labour Parties: something that the parties were happy to put in the public domain. And note that Mills did this in order to encourage Labor and the Greens to implement environmental policies for the good of all New Zealanders, and not to enrich himself.
How do people get an invite to a Cabinet Club private and exclusive dinners? Who gets the invites,. Why are these events not publicized in the public domain?
In the course of researching for this post, I came across this Pansy Wong blast from the past: a Bryce Edwards report on some dodgy National Party fundraising by Pansy Wong at a restaurant dinner.
It has been revealed that Wong has raised large amounts of money for the National Party in 2007, including $200,000 from one fundraising event where apparently one Chinese businessman paid $50,000 for one of John Key’s ties. All of this money presumably was passed onto the head office of the National Party. Yet the funds are not easily identified in the donations declared by the party to the Electoral Commission for 2008. Why not?
The National Party fundraisers, target the wealthy, showing who they really represent. And in the course of the fundraising, the boundaries are blurred between mainstream politics and personal relationships, nurtured in exclusive and/or private spaces. As Russell Norman stated when he began his excellent speech for the Urgent Debate on Maurice Williamson’s resignation:
This cuts to the heart of our democracy […] and this cuts to the issue of whether our democracy is for sale under this government