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Armstrong slams National’s “disgraceful” arrogance

Written By: - Date published: 7:58 am, August 7th, 2010 - 41 comments
Categories: democracy under attack, Parliament - Tags: ,

Herald political editor John Armstrong has slammed National’s recent behaviour in Parliament saying it verges on “being a disgrace to itself and the institution”. This incredibly strong language from a senior journalist is the result of a National government that is undermining democratic accountability by refusing to seriously answer questions in Parliament. John Armstrong goes as far as to describe National’s attitude as “arrogant”.

Shame on National. That party’s behaviour in Parliament over the past couple of weeks has on occasion veered close to being a disgrace both to itself and the institution.

Those are incredibly strong words from a senior journalist. And the reason for Armstrong’s terse tone is the way government Ministers Gerry Brownlee and Steven Joyce decided they would first lie, then obfuscate, during Parliament’s question time about whether NZ’s income gap with Australia had grown.

What has been disturbing in this debacle, however, has been the way National has responded to parliamentary questions about the income gap. The low point came on Wednesday when Steven Joyce briefly deputised for Brownlee. Tributes to the fallen New Zealand soldier in Afghanistan had delayed normal proceedings and Brownlee had to leave to catch a plane before the House had got to his question.

A week earlier, Brownlee had told the House in response to a question from Labour that “yes”, the Government did have milestones by which it would measure the progress it was making towards closing the income gap, although he would not reveal them.

So eyebrows shot through the chamber’s ceiling when Joyce made the startling admission that there were, in fact, no such milestones. Even more startling was what Joyce said next. Brownlee had given Labour what was technically known as a “brush-off”. A perusal of Parliament’s standing orders fails to list a “brush-off” – technical or otherwise – as an acceptable means of answering a parliamentary question.

This is an incredibly serious attack on our democratic institution by Key Government ministers. Brownlee is Leader of the House and in that role should be helping to facilitate the running of Parliament, not undermining it. And Joyce as the Prime Minister’s closest Ministerial colleague should be doing likewise.

Parliament is the heart of public accountability. It’s a serious concern that National refuses to take the institution seriously.

It is true that the proceedings of Parliament often fly by under the public radar; listening to MPs talking is hardly the most popular past-time. But it’s incredibly arrogant of National to try to take advantage of this lack of interest by ignoring democratic accountability. This is yet another example an attack on democracy by the Key Government.

They won’t get away it.

41 comments on “Armstrong slams National’s “disgraceful” arrogance ”

  1. tea 1

    I like this one too…


    But in the article I picked up this:

    “Again, not a lot of people would have noticed that. Arguments about statistics do not make it to the top of the news bulletins.”

    I talked to someone yesterday who was intelligent and university educated who simply didn’t realise that Australian unions had played a big part in keeping wages comparatively high there, and that Howard had been voted out after the Work Rights bill there.

    If they can buy into the wages in NZ lower than Aussie line, and people leaving in droves line, why can’t they run a under unionised countrty sees wages lag line?

    This kind of thing where an Australian union is taking action in Australia to prevent us getting exploited and treated like a third world country should just be embararrased.


    It’s not front page news because of the news media’s priorities.

    • Pascal's bookie 1.1

      What amazes me are the stories they bury in the “insider’ column, which is tucked in the back of every Friday’s “the business” liftout.

      Doesn’t make it online, natch. But it’s actual journalism, of the ” wanna know why x said weird thing y? Knowing z helps explain it”

      In the news pages they just report that x said y and that opponent a said b. z, doesn’t get reported, because it wasn’t in x‘s interest to say and presumably a didn’t know about it. Or some variation.

      But it (“the insider”) quite often contains news in the old sense of something that someone doesn’t want someone else to know. News that just reports what x and <a have to say about something is the opposite of this. That’s telling people what someone wants them to know.

      If you don’t explain why that someone wants that message out, are you working for the reader, or the subject of the article?

      Journalists should be tattle-tales, is what they are fucking for.

      I’m glad that column exists, but it frustrates that it’s so little, so buried. (it’s also inconsistent and often shallow gossip, but that’s news, and still more valuable than much of what hits the front page)

      • tea 1.1.1

        Also that John Keys vascetomies and school girls fainting for him are in ‘nation’ or lead story and commentary or opposition can get buried under the ‘politics’ heading down the bottom of the page.

        • Pascal's bookie


          Some ‘media event’ gets reported as news, and policy issues are reported along the lines of what pollies x and y say about it. Analysis is then given of how what they said will play among the voters, ‘who looks good, smart strong’ (looks good to whom exactly is often left unsaid), who ‘won the day’.

          This is absolutely useless. First up, how the fuck does the journo know how it will play among the voters? On what authority can they say that? If they have polling data, they should report it, otherwise they should stop pretending to know what voters think, and just report on the things they do have access to. Report on the politicians, and the policy, and leave the bloody voters out of it.

          The voters are relying on journo’s to explain what the policies are, how they fit into the political game playing, and who stands to benefit from those policies and games. They do not need to be told what they, as voters, collectively think about it. Especially given that is something the journo does not have any insight into. They do however have some control over how voters feel about things, because they are the source for voters information.

          And so, if journo’s want to be proven clever, and right and oracular, they report and shape public opinion, and focus their journalsim on that. Journalism as self fulfilling prophecy. Onto it politicians from all sides can use that sort of journalism quite nicely thank you very much.

          Citizens? Not so much.

          rant over.

          • Olwyn

            Indeed. I am particularly amused/incensed by Duncan Garner’s frequent, “Of course the perception is…” in cases where the only perception he can possibly be referring to is his own.

            Anti-spam word: accuracy

            • roger nome

              Garner usually assumes the role of National Party shill. He fits the bill perfectly (He’s so closet he now sees better at night time). Why must these repressed tories take thier masochistic tendancies out on the rest of society?

          • loota

            Next Labour Govt should use RNZ and TVNZ to remind our citizens what solid frakking journalism is about.

            Half the peeps who are ‘journalists’ now can leave and go work for Truth.

            (Would be a brave thing to do as a strong Fourth Estate will also make life so much harder as a pollie)

            captcha: tables (turned?)

            • Jacqui

              Nothing will change unless people complain and demand higher standards of their media. Anyone who has the time to whine on blogs about such issues, should cut and paste their concerns to the two media watchdogs (press complaints & broadcasting standards) – don’t bother writing to the TV cos or newspapers, as nothing will happen. The media have no choice but moderate their reporting if enough people complain to the authorities. Make it your election year promise.

            • Rex Widerstrom

              Next Labour Govt should use RNZ and TVNZ to remind our citizens what solid frakking journalism is about.

              “…by according them significantly better public funding on the condition that this all be directed to current affairs and news and primarily be used to re-hire senior, experienced people from PR and communications”, surely …not “use” them the way Goebbels would?

              I’d love to get back to reporting, but not at the derisive salaries media offers for most jobs. There’s senior roles that pay a decent wage, but those that have them and don’t want to go into PR hold on for dear life, which is why the same faces, voices and bylines appear time after time, even when they’re clearly tired. The majority of reporters are paid less than the average tradesperson, though their “trade” is a vital part of our democracy.

              Improving the quality of reporting is one thing where money does make a measurable difference. However in no way can that be tied to any government intereference in content or the best journalists won’t want a bar of it, no matter what the salary.

              • Draco T Bastard

                However in no way can that be tied to any government intereference in content or the best journalists won’t want a bar of it, no matter what the salary.

                Then why are they there now when there’s so obviously interference from upper management/owners now? I think you’re attributing more moral strength to journalists than they actually have.

                • Rex Widerstrom

                  Not denying there is now (though pointing out my comment was in the context of TVNZ / RNZ… you’ll get varying degrees at different news organisations across the country and across the world).

                  I’m saying that if there were a state-funded (but not state-controlled) news organisation that was well resourced and could afford to pay a few older and wiser heads to return to the profession then that would lift standards… but that those people (myself included) wouldn’t give up PR for… well, PR disguised as journalism. I’d rather be honest about being a shill.

                  Sure journalists generally don’t stand up to proprietors. But that’s at least partly because they have nowhere to go that isn’t either biased or totally screwed by the state of the market (e.g. a small community newspaper which can barely afford to pay you to stick your byline on press releases).

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    State support of a news organisation is the way to go if we want real news coverage but, yes, state control is obviously out. Even if you managed to get state control completely out of the equation, which shouldn’t be too hard, there’ll still be such accusations anyway.

                    Sure journalists generally don’t stand up to proprietors. But that’s at least partly because they have nowhere to go…

                    And is one of the reasons why authoritarians such as NACT like high unemployment. People will do as they’re told to keep food on the table and a roof over their head.

  2. Name 2

    Yes, they will get away with it.

    Public respect for and expectation of politicians is already below that for used-car salesmen and financial advisors so this behaviour simply confirms that we can expect nothing better.

    Frankly no-one with any shred of personal integrity would today consider becoming a politician so we are doomed to enduring the current crop of fifth-rate intellects and egos, and their wanna-be successors, until such time as Parliamentary salaries and perks are reduced to the same level as teachers, policemen and nurses and their ilk who do the really important work in society.

  3. Craig Glen Eden 3

    Thank goodness someone is outing this disgraceful behavior. I have been watching the questioning over the wages gap. Not only do they lie about the information and its interpretation but they then tell fantasy stories about the previous Governments History.

    While I accept you can argue from two different sides of a coin National ( Key, English, Brownlee,) are just lying. They will continue to get away with it until it is reported and the people start saying A what is the truth here and B thats not right that these political leaders are lying.

    The sad thing in this is that this level of arrogance has in some ways been created by the media and people like Mr Armstrong. John Key and his cabinet have never been asked hard questions and they have therefore not had the bad headlines that scream somethings not right here Eg Key fails to front on the Budget bla, bla.

    So the people are unaware because all they get is Key smiling and waving and the media going we like him he is so candid, candid that is when he is talking some bullshit I had a phone call from Bill and Mary story. The other thing he does when talking to the media is to say nothing ( Worth ) or say thats it Im finished bye. Once again this has worked for him because the Journos have let him get away with it. Until they start reporting on what’s actually going on then the current arrangement will continue because it works for them and the polls are telling them its its a successful strategy.

    • Herodotus 3.1

      CGE- yo appear to write as if this is a phenomenon. The political system has been failing us for quite some time. (If it ever did succeed in being for the peoples benefit) journalists have taken the easy route, and with fluf reporting and 30 sec sound bites could we expect anything else?
      I believe that Lockwood has made an attempt to realign things and restore any order to proceedings. But yet again we see the system destorying the individuals desires. I am sure that this has occuerre to the majority of MP’s. Great intentions but the system just oppresses them into summittance.
      JK is very photogenic and looks great in a flack jacket. Re NZ Herald this week, what more do we want from a leader?
      All that can be done is the scratched record of just asking the same question. (It worked for Lockwood regarding the Philip Field affair). It helps if the right Lab MP is asking the questions, and give that Lab MP this one topic to hound and harras. The easy way for Nats to deflect is to throw the question back to Lab, where is your answer? Political games with no winner

  4. prism 4

    The wages gap thing is such a shadow curtain of aspiration by governments, and it is a worry that defending statements on it are so important to the NACT government.

    What then is happening behind the shadow curtain? What about the real policies for which we need facts and efficacy presented so they can be examined and monitored? Smoke and mirrors. Government passing its edicts using urgency for instance – shouldn’t be allowed.

    We watch with horror as our democratic conventions are circumvented – are we as helpless as those watching the vast buddha artifacts destroyed by the Taliban? We need a constitution or some effective law to protect our democracry against depradations from the latest johnies-come-lately. They are a bunch of vandals who have got power and then use and abuse the fabric of democracy. tear at and weaken it for their short-term, narrow-minded, self-centred machinations.

  5. Chris 5

    Armstrong’s past columns and evidence of shonky thinking render his ‘senior journalist’ tag meaningless, and consequently, he can pen a column wagging a finger at Brownless for little effect.

    Armstrong is his own worst enemy by his behaviour, which I suspect he thought he was being clever, but wasn’t so in fact. Pity he’s unaware of it.

  6. Santi 6

    Unfortunately, National can get away with this sort of thing because the opposition is non-existent.

    Goff is a hopeless leader. Only when he goes, the party will start having a chance to regain power.
    That should happen circa 2020 or 2023.

    • gobsmacked 6.1

      The opposition was outstanding. Watch the clips that Armstrong refers to. Ministers on toast.

      Armstrong is right. The headlines today may not be about National’s lies and emptiness.

      But the election will be.

      • ghostwhowalksnz 6.1.1

        The headlines today Saturday at 2:30 PM are about Chris Carter !!

        • gobsmacked

          But the election won’t be.

          The Carter story is inevitable today, with the council meeting. But irrelevant to the voters in 2011.

          The people who march and protest in Dunedin, in Auckland, in Christchurch, are not marching about Chris Carter. They care about their real lives. Real issues. And that’s what they’ll be voting on at the election.

          Journos think politics is only there to entertain them, so they get excited about soap opera politics. Fortunately, the public don’t.

      • Rosy 6.1.2

        Yes, Labour was outstanding, especially, IMO Clayton Cosgrove. His speech after question time was hard-hitting, relevant and reportable. But of course, it any mention of it seems to be missing from the MSM.

  7. coolas 7

    I saw this. Joyce grinned his way through the ‘brush off’ exchange.

    Parker asked the question. Whip Tremain, obviously briefed by Brownie tried to deflect, but Mallard forced Lockwood into a looking out of his depth, and partisan, when he wouldn’t/couldn’t rule on ‘brush off’. Instead he ‘told off’ a backbencher for shouting. Pathetic. (this stuff aint boring to me)

    Labour should start being real tough with Lockwood. “Mr Speaker is it acceptable for Ministers to lie to the House?” Again and again.

    Weakening the authority of the Speaker to the point of ‘no confidence’ is what Lookawoody deserves if he doesn’t act soon.

    • Herodotus 7.1

      If Lab tried that using the word “Lie” they will be banished out of the chamber. That word Ifrom recollection is about as bad a word that can be used within Parliament. Then it would appear that Labour is directionless and ill disciplined as they would tally up the greatest number of expulsions. It would just reaffirm peoples impressions of parliament and MP’s. Preschool adults playing games and being well rewarded and all the perks.

      • coolas 7.1.1

        So they have to say, “Mr Speaker, the other side are being economical with the truth.”

        • loota

          “So stingy with the truth that in fact, Mr Speaker, they make Scrooge McDuck look like Mother Teresa”

        • Akldnut

          “Mr Speaker, the Nat Govt are treating the truth like election policies, they’re not telling anyone”.’

  8. BLiP 8

    About time, Mr Armstrong, about time. Perhaps now you might like to exercise yourself about the contempt for parliament shown regarding the “blind” trusts – or how about the use of Urgency – or maybe the lies in relation to ACC – its not just this latest dishonesty which defines National Ltdâ„¢.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.1

      Bingo, Armstrong is still in NACTs pockets as he undoubtedly won’t address these lies by National.

  9. burt 9

    I though Armstrong was a hack for National;

    A love that will not die

    • Craig Glen Eden 9.1

      He is burt but it looks like even he can now see what we have been witnessing over the past 18 months.
      What he has probably realised is that the country is now in serious trouble and National have no plan. Pretty scary when your cheerleaders realise shit we have pumped this bloke up and his team and enabled it to happen,
      Maybe he is having a Saul moment “oh shit that makes me part of the political process instead of just reporting on it” and is trying to make amends

      Anti-spam word CONSEQUENCE.

    • burt 9.2

      Ooops, buggered up that link above; A love that will not die

      • Draco T Bastard 9.2.1

        two things burt:
        1.) Things change – even fans can get weary
        2.) He still hasn’t made a great deal about all of Nationals other lies which would tend to indicate that his love hasn’t died

  10. Arandar 10

    I’ve stopped my daily papers. I’ve stopped getting the Listener. I MySky the TV programmes I like and watch them later without the flamin commercials and all the BS. I find news and commentary and real journalism on line. I get opinion from these blogsites. Stuff the MSM. I’m sick of being played for a fool. I’ll not give them another $ if I can avoid it.

    • tea 10.1

      the Listener used to be a prominent national periodical. Used to subscribe. Have scarely read it in 3 years and when I did nothing new was brought to my attention nor was there any fresh or well argued point of view in it.

  11. Tiger Mountain 11

    The simpering Armstrong will be back to usual by next week, or looking for new employment. Fair enough for him to verge on accurate reporting for once when confronted with evidence like this, but not a practice likely to be often repeated I would suggest.

  12. Mac1 12

    Before the last election, an Editor told a senior Labour politician that the job of the media was “to change governments.”

    I think the news has travelled north to Armstrong.

    When that worm turns, the NACT government will be casts in the political lawn- ready for the roller.

  13. we need a new, young, guerilla minded breed of journos who will take to task the entrenched hacks and minor celebrities the msm have become.

    people who will stalk teh journos, run after them, knock on their home doors, stick a camera and mic in their face and ask them the hard questions about why they’re not asking the hard questions of the politicians.

    msm reporters are as much public figures whose lives should be placed under the same process of scrutiny as they place others under.

    I’d love to see duncan garner get accosted in an airport lounge or door knocked with a live cross to his house in the evening and asked for comment on a ‘real’ political story.

  14. peterthepeasant 14

    If Armstrong is that publicly upset you can bet that a lot of Nat insiders are also
    pissed off.

    There is a power play going on.

    JA is infatuated with JK.

  15. tc 15

    All in the name of perceived ‘balance’ from JA who must’ve had his idols not invite him to a lunch or something to pen this rant…….a pathetic excuse for a senior political journo with plenty of mates.

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