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Bully Brownlee forces SOE CEO to withdraw critical blog

Written By: - Date published: 11:26 am, January 12th, 2010 - 55 comments
Categories: national/act government - Tags: , ,

Powershop is a subsidiary of Meridian Energy, an SOE. It is the most highly rated power retailer by its customers, with 92% satisfaction. On the Powershop website, there’s a blog. On this blog, the CEO of Powershop, Ari Sargent, wrote a post on the Government’s proposed electricity sector reforms. It’s insightful, adroit, politically neutral, and scathing of ironically titled Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee’s reforms. It is called: Proposed energy sector reforms likely to increase electricity prices.

In response, Brownlee launched into a bizarre public attack on the publicly-owned company saying Powershop should “come out from behind Meridian’s skirts. When Powershop manage to achieve a significant presence in the retail domain, they’ll be able to speak with a great deal more credibility and authority.” This, of course, coming from a former woodwork teacher with no experience in the electricity sector and a year in his job as do nothing minister and inept Leader of the House. Effectively he’s saying “shut up, you bastards and stop wrecking my PR”.

More disturbing is what went on behind the scenes and it explains why when you go to Powershop’s blog now, the contents of the post are gone. Brownlee called Wayne Boyd, Chairman of Meridian Energy, and ranted and raved at him for several minutes about the Powershop blog post before Boyd could even get a word in. Brownlee, stepping miles beyond his power as minister, insisted that the post be removed because it didn’t suit Naitonal’s political purposes for the truth to be told. In contravention of the legal checks on his power, Brownlee orderd that Sargent and Powershop be muzzled for daring to speak truth to power.

Boyd (also Chairman of Telecom) failed to stand up to his minister, probably in justified fear of his job, and called Sargent telling him (in excess of Boyd’s own power) to take down the post that had so offended Brownlee. Sargent, probably in fear of his job, complied. Although he cleverly left up the comments, so we can see him rationally, responsibly and intelligently discussing the problems with the reforms with various commenters.

Of course Brownlee is an idiot as well as a bully, and his idiocy extends to not realising that you can’t really destroy anything that has been on the internet. Wikileaks has a copy of the original blog and, now, so do you. As you can see, it is a thoughtful and measured response by an expert who is clearly concerned about reforms that are directed more at PR than ensuring the future of cheap, reliably electricity.

And that’s why it had to be suppressed, of course. That’s why Gerry Brownlee was throwing his weight around behind closed doors, exceeding his legal powers under the SOE Act by bullying a Chairman to direct the CEO of a subsidiary company regarding operational matters.

SOEs are meant to be free of such political interference. It is not acceptable for ministers to behave like this.

The shame is that this is hardly an exception, more like the rule. Brownlee is fast becoming notorious for his bullying, above the law, dictatorial attitude, as are other ministers like Paula Bennett and Judith Collins.

The Right used to talk of Helengrad and spoke darkly of politicisation of the public service, although the truth was most civil servants felt their ideas were listened and valued to under Labour. Now, we have a government that is extending its reach deep into the operational aspects of independent public bodies to make them politically correct for National’s purposes. Ministers run their portfolio agencies like personal fiefdoms, while the PM is either on holiday or hamming it up for the cameras.

Welcome, to the Bully State.

55 comments on “Bully Brownlee forces SOE CEO to withdraw critical blog ”

  1. fizzleplug 1

    Welcome, to the Bully State.

    Hi, you must be new here. I’ve lived here for around 10 years. Weather’s great.

  2. El Laho 2

    brownlee has always been a bully – now Ari Sargent thats a guy you want as a CEO. Great post and he suggested his own reforms – keep that guy on!

  3. randal 3

    I have been chastised for this before but anyone who achieves the girth of gerry is trying to psychologically compensate for a lack of power in their personal lives.
    I believe it is called throwing their weight around.
    any notion of right or wrong is completely irrelevant to being in charge and forcing other people to do their will.
    disgusting.

  4. Crash Cart 4

    Hell of a lot of very detailed accusations as to Brownlees actions but very little corroborating evidence to go with it.

    And no just the post being removed does nothing to corroborate “raved at him for several minutes about the Powershop blog post before Boyd could even get a word in”

    • Pascal's bookie 4.1

      It would corroborate someone’s claim of that though.

      JFTR, if true, what say you?

    • lprent 4.2

      You know the usual drill. The parties (Brownlee, Boyd, and Sargent) are welcome to deny it. We will happily publish a denial.

      Denials tend to drag these things out especially if you have to avoid directly lying. Of course there are usually 3rd parties to these things and everything leaks eventually so I don’t think that it is that likely we will get much of a response.

      In the meantime, I’d expect that the media will ask Brownlee as well.

    • Bright Red 4.3

      what do you want? Phone logs? Peps are really spoiled since the secret tapes.

      Eddie’s relating something he has heard, insider info. That’s one of the reasons this blog is so worth coming to. You can’t expect that insider info will come with signed affidavits.

      • Crash Cart 4.3.1

        The fact remains that this is a very serious allegation. One that I would think were it to prove true could have serious consequences to the minister involved. Sans evidence it is nothing more than hear say and can have no real effect. Brownlee can no more be found guilty for this than any other person charged with a crime with no evidence. It then comes off as a smear.

        And if either of the parties were to go public with this I doubt that the minister would have the opportunity to meat retribution. He would be so busy covering his own arse that any attempt to fire the said whistle blower would result in even more pressure.

  5. Crash Cart 5

    It would corroborate the claims if they were made by the person who made the initial blog that is true. However all I have seen is Eddies claim. The fact is that the removal of the post could indicate that the SOE themselves felt that perhaps their posting was starting to stray into the realms of political commentary and removed it them selves. I am by no means suggesting that this is what happened but what I see above has no backing substance. It could well be true but unless there is a link to a quote from the initial author to confirm he removed it from circulation due to downwards pressure or from the head of Meridian confirming that he was ranted at for minutes then it all just seems like emotive story telling.

    • Bright Red 5.1

      bro, think about it. The dude removed his blog post. If he backed down because of ministerial presure he’s hardly then going on the offensive, eh?

      • ben 5.1.1

        So the complete absence of evidence is the surest sign what Eddie says is true?

        • lprent 5.1.1.1

          The only bit for which there is no evidence is the phone call by Brownlee and the subsequent call to Sargent.

          The rest is all public record. Bearing in mind the linked article comment by Brownlee to the news about Powershop, what Eddie claims happened sounds quite plausible.

          Unlike a court, politics isn’t based on evidence. It is based on credibility. Ask Winston Peters (that the right used the blogs to draw out the speculation) or Worth (where the speculation went over all blogs) or … many others.

          This sounds credible. Politically Brownlee either has to answer or attempt to ignore. If he cannot answer, then I’d suspect that it is true. If he does answer then the other parties will also wind up answering.

    • Crash Cart 5.2

      For the record if it is true then Brownlee is showing once again that this government is chronic in its lack of regard for living up to the virtues it so strongly preached at the last election. I for one have no intention of voting for them next time round but it puts me off when a blogger I respect would post such detailed and inflammatory accusations without even a link to something that might provide corroboration.

      @brightred

      If this accusation had been bought in this way against anyone on the left the first thing I would expect to see would be your self asking for some evidence, and rightly so.

      • Pascal's bookie 5.2.1

        Not everything a blogger writes about can be linked to.

        If someone tells you something, and you trust them, and they say you can blog about it but not say their name, what’s a blogger to do?

        Like any media outlet they can publish, protect their source, run the risk of libel hearings etc, and the credibility of story will be judged by it’s readers.

        • Crash Cart 5.2.1.1

          But that isn’t like any other media outlet. This isn’t m,early reporting what may have been said. This is being pro ported as fact. With nothing to back that up. In the MSN if this were to happen it would have one word attached to it, SMEAR.

          • lprent 5.2.1.1.1

            Blogs aren’t a media outlet.

            What they do is to provide an outlet for the posters of the writers in a way that is unfettered by anything apart from the legal rules on libel (if someone wants to bring a case), suppression orders where the police are able to enforce them, and whatever the hosting company chooses to do.

            Internally, they operate as a private venue completely up to the whims of the operator of the site. Generally this makes them semi-public with some kind of rules about what other people can put on them.

            • Crash Cart 5.2.1.1.1.1

              This is true but they also set their own standards as to credability.

              The fat fish for instance is really a waste of time to even go and visit because it is full of unsubstantiated bolloks that is just people throwing crap at other people.

              The standard tends to be a place where you find people discussing a wide range of topics in depth with respect for each other. Eddie is often at the forefront of that sort of discussion. I just personally felt that this particular post was more along the lines of what fat boy would throw up.

              As you say it is completely yours and Eddies right to make the accusations. I merely pointed out the they are completely unsubstantiated. Hell you could have even edited me out if you wanted, it is another thing that I like about this place that all views are heard.

              • lprent

                Yep. In this case Eddie appears to have found something interesting in an area that appears to have some prima facie evidence, but where you couldn’t do a OIA (Official Information Act) request, and would require someone to go and ask the people concerned.

                We are part-time bloggers who use psuedonyms to protect ourselves. So we aren’t going to do that. However Eddie seems to think that it is worth pursuing so is putting it up for more public attention. So the blog gets used to put it out so that the media/politicians/public and see it has been made ‘public’. They can do it.

                As you said, the credibility of the poster is everything on particular topics. If Zetetic said it, then it would probably be ignored. If I said it on this topic so would I (and anyway I seldom post on the beltway issues). Eddie is known to be pretty good on beltway issues, and not known for going over the top. I’d expect it will get looked at by the MSM.

                BTW: He is a fat mammal – not a fish. I point this out because I’m uninterested in being regarded as a fish either – see my identicon.

  6. tc 6

    More of the same bullying, intimidating, arrogant behaviour that will go unchallenged by the media who apply the formula’ IF govt…THEN positive/nice copy only’.

    Unsure about Boyd being painted as an innocent party here……if he had bollocks he’d resign as his position is being undermined by the minister abusing his powers so effectively he’s culpable in abusing the due process instead of reminding Gerry of his boundaries.

    In fact I reckon Boyd probably enjoyed the opportunity to play Yes minister……watch those remuneration figures people….betcha wayne gets a few bones thrown at him….good boy now sit and rollover.

    • prism 6.1

      Serving the government in a senior position can be a grubby business it seems. But somebody has to do it. It may not be good for everyone who is put under pressure to resign. Politics appears to advance with a series of compromises but hopefully government does understand the need for limits to these.

  7. The reforms are bizarre.

    Meridian’s “green and clean” image has been shot by Brownlee requiring it to take a Hawkes Bay diesel powered station thereby “contaminating” the source of its power.

    If the idea was to provide geographic diversity I do not understand why a Waikato power station or a Geothermal station could not have been provided instead.

    The decision has caused consternation in the ranks of Meridian’s management.
    According to The Press

    A Government review of the electricity sector is jeopardising the green reputation of one of its biggest money-spinners. Giant state-owned South Island generator and retailer Meridian Energy’s multimillion-dollar carbon-neutral generating status will be threatened if the recommendations of a review requested by Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee are adopted.

    Meridian has written about the review to its shareholding ministers, Finance Minister Bill English and State-owned Enterprises Minister Simon Power, and to Associate Infrastructure Minister Steven Joyce. However, its letter has not been addressed to Brownlee.

    Meridian chief executive Tim Lusk had said it would not consider building gas-fired power stations. “Our mission statement is to be a global reference company in renewable energy. It is pretty hard to see how we would move into gas, because it would not do a lot for our brand.

    Get the feeling Brownlee may have deliberately sabotaged Meridian?

    • mouse 7.1

      I think you have hit the nail on the head Mickeysavage… I for one moved to Meridian as a vote for their renewables focus…

      I think It Irks National that Meridian have sucessfully differentiated themselves as being a renewables only Business…

      Though I think Nationals Stratergy is really very straight forward…i.e. just think of what the best policy response to events should be, then do the opposite.

  8. You guys are making big gerry look like old flatiron himself..

    Interesting to me was the stuff-link title refered to by eddie, in which the word ‘majority’ was purportedly spoken/written by the minister in regard to his intended legislative changes. Taken to mean that only the majority was for whom these changes were necessary..

    Given how a majority can amount to just one person are we left to assume that such a person is the Minister himself..?

    Also Eddie, and in no way mischievous I assure you, a lot of manufactured debate could be very good for ‘bully’ victims and amount to vigorous positive promotion of cost-cutting power retailers. Albeit discriminatory against potential customers outside of an operator’s existing coverage ambitions..

  9. Draco T Bastard 9

    Ministers run their portfolio agencies like personal fiefdoms,

    I’ve called National the Party of Petty Dictators before and nothing they’ve done so far has disabused me of that notion. In fact, everything they’ve done is totally characteristic of dictators including the Nanny State smear they levelled at the last Labour led government.

  10. Irascible 10

    The mind set of the NACT MPs has always been closer to those of the stasi state of East Germany than of any democracy. Brownlee is demonstrating, along with his stasi mates – Key, Bennett, Collins,English, McCully, Wong… , the arrogance of the conservative dictatorships the world over.

  11. Zaphod Beeblebrox 11

    He’s making lots of enemies at the moment. The Queens Wharf debacle in Auckland is the other current mess of MED. Read the front page of the Herald and weep Aucklanders.

  12. Welcome, to the Bully State.

    No welcome to SOEland. The government owns the SOEs, examples like these are one reason why they shouldn’t. Depoliticisation of firms is a major reason for privatisation of state owned firms.

    • Zaphod Beeblebrox 12.1

      Yeah but they are never really free of the influence of the state are they??

      As the above example proves, sort of like monopoly guaranteed profitised socialism for the lucky few.

    • RedLogix 12.2

      No…Ministers keeping to the rules is how you de-politicise SOE’s.

    • burt 12.3

      No Ministers keeping to the rules is how you de-politicise SOE’s.

      Putting aside the ideological issues of big-govt vs small-govt for a moment, RedLogix hits the nail on the head.

      And what is important is that we pull them up when they fail to do exactly that irrespective of which party they are in. Every time we STFU because they are from our team we are condoning what we find offensive from the other team.

    • dcnbwz 12.4

      no the government does not own the S.O.E.s. The government is an elected body supposedly acting on behalf of the will of the people. The citizens of New Zealand are the stakeholders, not any elected body.

      It’s been proven time over and around the western world that all privatisation does is at best maintain status quo with services provided whilst providing massive profits for (usually) overseas corporations. New Zealand’s experience with a number of privatised S.O.E’s is also that little or no maintenance is carried out during this ownership and assets are stripped. Assets that were provided by the previous owners i.e. the nz public.

      If the press actually did what is expected (which I know will never happen) i.e. provide neutral coverage with a decent amount of research we would not even be discussing this. It would be black and white that privatisation is NEVER in the interests of citizens and almost always in the interests of a very rich minority.

  13. The problem is Minister don’t “keep to the rules”. And what are the rules anyway? The government owns the SOEs, so they can direct them to do what they want.

    • burt 13.1

      Indeed, Darnton VS Clark shows us what happens when the rules are inconvenient.

    • Eddie 13.2

      Paul. I expect better than ignorant crap like that from you (not from burt, of course).

      A minister owns an SOE on behalf of the people of New Zealand. The SOE Act and related law establishes limits on how that ownership can be exercised. They do not have the right to reach into an SOE and direct its operational affairs. They are not allowed to run SOEs as their personal fiefdoms

      • Paul Walker 13.2.1

        Actually the Minister does not own anything on behalf of the New Zealand people. Ownership is having (residual) control rights, the New Zealand people do not have such rights. The government has these rights and thus they are the owners, plain and simple.

        • Bright Red 13.2.1.1

          Good God, Paul. Shareholding ministers do not have the right to direct operational matters of a company. They do not have personal ownershp of the companies, the shareholding goes with the office, a minister in the New Zealand Government, governing on behalf of the people of New Zelaand and under New Zealand law, most specifically the SOE Act.

          What the hell is wrong with you, you think you’re some smart-arse economist and you don’t even know how SOEs work?

          Get informed.

  14. Ron 14

    I tried to link to the Wikileaks article from my Facebook and it was blocked. Ought I be getting paranoid?

  15. What does one expect from Right -Wing governments. ? They are “The Nasty Party”completely anti- worker .Their whole purpose in life is to have money and power . History proves it . So i’ts no suprise that the National Party spawns a number of bullies among its members. they even had a Leader called Muldoon who was nothing but a vicious drunk. Remember Brownlee has a conviction for assaulting an old age pensioner. By making him a minister the Nats are showing they have learnt nothing from the Muldoon years .

    • gitmo 15.1

      Is this pseudonym channeling D4J ?

      [lprent: This IP range was on a watch list because of someone with a very similar address getting moderated the other day. I’ve removed the auto-moderate…. ]

  16. Sally Wu 16

    Word on the street is Brownlee’s friend Shipley( who is chair of Genesis) has connections to the factory farmers who would love to get their hands on the water from the Waitaki chain to pump into the factory……..Mr Brownlee is this asset swap really about increasing competition or increasing milk production………. New Zealanders should be worried.

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