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Burn the Cabinet Manual

Written By: - Date published: 7:27 am, April 15th, 2015 - 53 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, accountability, john key, national - Tags: , , ,

In a series of posts yesterday Rob Salmond at Polity published his OIA / research on National’s bridges promise in the Northland by election (see one two three four and especially the timeline in two). This was excellent work, picked up by many in the media. Here’s a typical summary:

Labour accuses Simon Bridges of “gross” breach of Cabinet Manual

Labour is calling for John Key to sack Simon Bridges as a Cabinet minister, after emails emerged showing officials gave him advice days ahead of the Northland one-lane bridge announcement. They suggest Bridges, the Transport Minister, sought information from officials in the days leading up to a major Northland by-election announcement.

On Tuesday emails emerged showing the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) responded to requests for information from staff in Bridges’ office on one-lane bridges in Northland in the days immediately leading up to Osborne’s announcement. The response indicated that Bridges’ office had requested the information be provided “as soon as you can”.

Labour is now accusing Bridges of breaching the Cabinet Manual, an extensive rule book for ministerial conduct, part of which relates to conduct during an election period when ministers are not meant to use their ability to gather advice from officials for political gain.

“Before and after an election, the incumbent ministers should ensure that any requests they make for advice or information from their officials is for the purposes of their portfolio responsibilities and not for party political purposes,” the manual states.

Labour leader Andrew Little said Bridges should be sacked not only as Transport Minister, but should lose all of his ministerial warrants, because of the emails.

The issue was first raised by Polity, the blog of Rob Salmond, who is a contractor to the Labour Party.

Seems like a very clear breach of the Cabinet Manual, Section 6.60 as quoted in the piece above. So, what does John Key plan to do?

John Key stands by Simon Bridges after he’s accused of breaching Cabinet guidelines

Prime Minister John Key says he has no plans to take action against Transport Minister Simon Bridges following claims he may have breached Cabinet guidelines by receiving official advice on his by-election bridge upgrade promises prior to their announcement.

Hardly a surprise, given Key’s track record. During one of Judith Collins’ many misadventures he wrote the Manual off as “a “set of rules which are always just a guideline anyway”. Guidelines (like advice and factual evidence) can be safely ignored.

So, might as well burn the Cabinet Manual, at least for the remainder of this government’s term. It’s pretty clear now that Key has no intention of being held to account, or holding his ministers to account, by or for anything at all.

Update: Andrew Geddis has written (as usual!) a much better post about this, go read it at Pundit (ht wyndham in comments).

Update: Rob Salmond still on the case…

53 comments on “Burn the Cabinet Manual”

  1. b waghorn 1

    What I’m struggling to understand is why have a rule book that doesn’t actually have what the penalty is .It seems to me that government is policed by public opinion and unless the story is reported and the polls show a negitive public reaction then nothing gets done.

    • McFlock 1.1

      It’s John Banks syndrome. When the Cabinet Manual was created people weren’t necessarily more honourable, but they had the common sense to know that if they paid it lip service for minor breaches, threw the occasional competitor under a bus, and kept their own abuses of it short and sweet, then it wouldn’t be replaced by something with teeth.

      These jerks are so blatant that the next Labour government should probably look into giving it teeth, such as making breaches appealable to the Supreme Court.

    • tracey 1.2

      because maybe some people genuinely used to use it as an ethical guideline for managing cabinet responsibilities…

      but, our media don’t demand adherence to it. They buy into the “if it isin’t legal it’s ok” schtick, and so down go our expectations of our representatives.

      • b waghorn 1.2.1

        It seems a bit rank that most other people s work lives are governed by rules that have consequences and yet we’re expected to put up with a different set of rules for any old Joe blogs/blogess that manages to get themselves elected.

        • tracey 1.2.1.1

          well, in some countries the media makes it untenable for reps to stay following certain behaviours… that is the kind of role the media plays in other countries. Wierd huh? It’s kind of like those countries understand that individual voters can’t do anything between polling days so the media use their influence to ensure accountability.

  2. Naturesong 2

    The degradation of public trust in govt may actually be an end in itself rather than simply this govts corruption of process and abuse of power.

    Why Trust Matters:
    Declining Political Trust and the Demise of American Liberalism
    Marc J. Hetherington

    American public policy has become demonstrably more conservative since the 1960s. Neither Jimmy Carter nor Bill Clinton was much like either John F. Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson. The American public, however, has not become more conservative. Why, then, the right turn in public policy? Using both individual and aggregate level survey data, Marc Hetherington shows that the rapid decline in Americans’ political trust since the 1960s is critical to explaining this puzzle. As people lost faith in the federal government, the delivery system for most progressive policies, they supported progressive ideas much less. The 9/11 attacks increased such trust as public attention focused on security, but the effect was temporary.

    Specifically, Hetherington shows that, as political trust declined, so too did support for redistributive programs, such as welfare and food stamps, and race-targeted programs

  3. Atiawa 3

    Simon Bridges prior to entering parliament was a Crown prosecutor in the District & High court in Tauranga.
    You would have to wonder how many short-cuts and blind eyes he turned, in his prosecuting role. If any current Minister of the Crown has a recent better background in the importance of following manuals and procedures, surely it is he.
    Keys inaction sends a clear message, his government is corrupt.

    • toad 3.1

      Hmmm! section 105A Crimes Act 1964
      http://legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1961/0043/latest/DLM328755.html

      105A Corrupt use of official information

      Every official is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years who, whether within New Zealand or elsewhere, corruptly uses or discloses any information, acquired by him or her in his or her official capacity, to obtain, directly or indirectly, an advantage or a pecuniary gain for himself or herself or any other person.

      Bridges in his official Ministerial capacity corruptly used information he had sought and obtained in that capacity to give Osborne an advantage in the Northland by-election. Seems to fit.

      Of course, section 105A prosecutions require the consent of the Attorney-General so it’s never going to happen.

    • mac1 3.2

      Not the first time that a National Party Prime Minister turned a blind eye to the ethics of the use of public services for gain. Herewith the story of Kinloch Keith, in which Keith Jacka Holyoake used the public service for private gain.

      http://www.nzjh.auckland.ac.nz/docs/2010/NZJH_44_2_03.pdf

      It’s also a story which points out how important it is for biographers to maintain a professional distance from their subject in order to preserve a proper historical and facts based narrative and set of conclusions.(Any prospective biographer of PM John Key please take note!)

    • Murray Rawshark 3.3

      “If any current Minister of the Crown has a recent better background in the importance of following manuals and procedures, surely it is he.”

      I’d suggest his background is in evading procedures, distorting guidelines, and concealing ethical breaches. Perfect for a NAct minister.

  4. wyndham 4

    Excellent comment by Andrew Geddis over @ Pundit here;

    http://pundit.co.nz/content/hes-not-the-messiah-hes-a-very-naughty-boy

  5. adam 6

    Anthony, you seemed shocked or at least you writing style seem to imply you think they (national) should play by the rules.

    This is government, has embraced a very vulgar type of anarco-capitalism – the one which is morally bankrupt, which only works for the rich and elites – and it out of touch with reality. They follow no rules, or morals, they embraced no concept of what is right or wrong. Anthony, they are never going to play fair, it goes against their petty will to power and ego.

    The National party worship cupidity. So simon bridges will get a pass on the bridges, because he has no morality, no decency and most of all – he is part of Key incorporated.

  6. coaster 7

    and they still lost.
    they dont seem to care that they are cheating and getting caught anymore.

  7. felix 8

    a set of rules which are always just a guideline anyway

    John Key mistakes the Cabinet Manual for the Pirate Code.

    • mac1 8.1

      “Honest John Key, Ahhhhaaaaaaarrggh.”

      Complete with hook, parrots, crooked oxter staff, ticking clock, Wendy, dead man’s chest and assorted crew. You choose who plays which part in this show ……….coming your way soon, again.

  8. Penny Bright 9

    Time for an enforceable ‘Code of Conduct’ for all MPs?

    I think so.

    Penny Bright

    • b waghorn 9.1

      Absolutely!!

    • Murray Rawshark 9.2

      We need something like that. Any rules governing their behaviour need penalties associated with breaches. As the FJK regime has shown, they take no notice of anything without penalties. Maybe something like a constitutional court, with members nominated by all parties?

      • b waghorn 9.2.1

        ” with members nominated by all parties?”
        That’s what I was thinking , it would be a good spot for the likes of Winston to semi retire to.

      • RedBaronCV 9.2.2

        And a compulsory stand down from parliament for a period of time for serious breaches. Get enough of them in the sin bin & the opposition parties could pass their legislation.

        • Murray Rawshark 9.2.2.1

          As long as we had an opposition with different policies, that’d be a great idea.

  9. john 10

    You also have Michael Woodhouse failing to comply with the cabinet manual over a whistle blower complaint against commissioner Bush that Anne Tolley also ignored.

  10. hoom 11

    “Democracy Under Attack” banner headlines are where?
    Oh thats right, its not power saving lightbulbs…

  11. Draco T Bastard 12

    Say one thing: This timeline does seem to prove that National didn’t have this widening of bridges in Northland before the 2014 election. If they did then they wouldn’t have had to go demanding costs to do so ASAP from our public servants.

  12. tracey 13

    “The issues at the Immigration Service have again dominated headlines this week. The most alarming factor in all of this is that Ministers were told about these serious allegations more than a year ago, but it was hushed up. It wasn’t until the media got onto the story that the Ministers involved started to admit what they knew.

    Remember that it was Helen Clark who promised higher standards of ministerial accountability. Yet here we have confessions from not one, but two Cabinet Ministers that they knew about these allegations and did nothing. Labour was more interested in avoiding a scandal than it was in doing what’s right. ”

    John key http://www.johnkey.co.nz/archives/2008/05/P3.html

    And this, in his campaign opening speech of 2008

    ““Do you want more of the same? The same directionless economy? The same political games and distractions? The same loose management of your money? The same excuses, buck-passing, and the same failure to deliver real results?””

  13. tracey 14

    Simple Simon met a lie-man
    Who was a millionaire;
    Says Simple Simon to the lieman,
    “Let me sell your faire.”

    Says the lie-man to Simple Simon,
    “first you must sell a bridge.”
    Says Simple Simon to the lie-man,
    “Indeed, I made a pledge.”

    Simple Simon went on to say
    his bridge was in a pickle;
    LTA pricked his fingers very much,
    Which made poor Simon whistle.

  14. wyndham 15

    But,but, but Labour did it too !! Helen Clark did it !! Statements from Key accompanied by “ackshully” (twice).

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/67769691/john-key-backs-simon-bridges-over-northland-requests

    • emergency mike 15.1

      I like this bit where he forgets what words mean:

      “”Before and after an election, the incumbent ministers should ensure that any requests they make for advice or information from their officials is for the purposes of their portfolio responsibilities and not for party political purposes,” the manual states.” My emphasis.

      “But asking for information? The advice I’ve had is that’s fine,” Key said.

      “That’s okay and at the end of the day, most people would accept that.”

      That last sentence is the classic meaningless bland Keyism rhetoric.

      It’s weird, back in opposition, Key was a very articulate and pointed critic of the government regarding issues of accountability and democratic principles. Higher ethical standards and all. And yet still, after seven years in power, here he is still pulling out, ‘Labour did it too’. Apparently the previous Labour government’s ethical failings, which he once railed against, are in fact the precedents he uses to repel criticism of his government’s ethics.

      ‘But so-and-so did it too’ is the immature excuse that primary kids use when they are caught doing something naughty. Because even if Labour did do it too, that doesn’t make it ok. If Labour got away with murder, that doesn’t make it all gud for National to start murdering people.

      But course, as Key’s articulate word and sentence thingies about democracy and accountability in opposition showed, he’s not an idiot. He doesn’t need the ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’ principle explained to him. He knows what democratic principles are. He knows why they are important to democracy and freedom. He just doesn’t care – principles are optional, and replaceable. He’s in it to win it, “whatever it takes”. Principles are good for beating up your opponents with, but to ackshully adhere to them? What for? Why would he hold himself back like that?

      It’s not like there’s any journalists around who are going to ask any mean questions is there?

      • vto 15.1.1

        ““whatever it takes””

        the classic sign of failure

        and key doesn’t even realise this

      • Macro 15.1.2

        As Andrew Geddis points out in his excellent post on the Key defense.
        http://www.pundit.co.nz/content/three-signs-that-national-knows-simon-bridges-did-wrong
        The comparison that Key tries to make, that Michael Cullen did it too, is so much bullshit (my words not Andrew’s). They are as different as chalk and cheese and the decision by Cullen to ask Treasury for advice on the Deposit Guarantee Scheme was in no way used as a bribe by Labour in the run up to the election and was defended By Bill English after the Election.
        We should just cry “Bullshit” on Key here – Labour did NOT do it too.

  15. tracey 16

    Remember… Key has ruled with an iron fist in many ways for this Cabnet. He has made them beholden to him, and probaly scared of him… There is more than one way to send a message

    “One of his first acts on his return was to sack two lower-ranked Cabinet ministers – as Roughan puts it – “for nothing in particular that they had done”.”

  16. fisiani 17

    Oh My. Another Storm in a D-Cup. Do you not notice how nobody cares?

    • Atiawa 17.1

      Seems to have got your attention. Besides we care!

    • emergency mike 17.2

      So the blue team’s propaganda is working and you reckon that’s a fine reason to come here and give us the finger about it?

      Yeah that process and democracy stuff is so kinda wordy and stuff. Maybe we should talk about the flag or snapper instead.

      Hey where’s our daily ‘Honest John’ tr0ll anyway fizzer?

    • tracey 17.3

      Tea Cup fisiani. For a guy that spoke strongly about homosexual slurs you seem happy to use sexist ones.

  17. Incognito 18

    From all this we can obviously conclude that any signing of a TPPA by Cabinet as described in the Cabinet Manual has no legal basis either and that the New Zealand Parliament is the only appropriate body to examine and decide on this. Thank you John Key and Simon Bridges for clarifying this so clearly and removing any doubts.

  18. emergency mike 19

    Andrew Geddis reduces Key’s excuses for Bridges to dust in his latest post. Secondary to the one linked to in the OP. Worth a look.

    Amongst other (more interesting) things, he point out two John Key sentences where he says the word ‘actually’ three times each. As well as being an empty device of rhetorical persuasion that he relies upon reflexively, I’ve always personally believed his overuse and mangled pronunciation of this word to be indicative of his basic technique of pathological deception. Deny reality and replace it with one that suits you.

    • ianmac 19.1

      Great link EM. But true to form Key will muddle the issue so that by the time it gets un-muddled the point will have been lost in the fog. He is so good at that.

      • emergency mike 19.1.1

        Oh for sure, no one around here is holding their breath for one of the popsicles we call ‘journalists’ to do a quick check to see whether the things that our dear leader says make any sense. Ackshully, they ackshully should. Then maybe he wouldn’t be able to make it all go away by just talking a bunch of muddling waffle for a while.

  19. insidre 20

    Where does it say in the Cabinet Manual that it applies to by elections?

    • You asked the same naff question of Andrew Geddis. You must have missed his reply:

      1: Where in the Cabinet Manual does it say the rules do not apply to by-elections?

      2: Why would we think they shouldn’t apply to by-elections – all the same concerns (incumbent party advantage and undermining the neutrality of the public service) are present at both the general and a by-election.

      3: John Key thinks they do (see his comments about getting advice from officials not being OK)

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