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[insert tea-related pun here]

Written By: - Date published: 9:08 am, November 16th, 2011 - 65 comments
Categories: election 2011, john banks, john key, national, scoundrels, spin, winston peters - Tags:

The teapot tapes story (seems that’s the name that’s been settled on, despite the story involving neither teapots nor tapes) has evolved two distinct strands: the contents of the Key-Banks conversation, which is gradually coming out through the media, and the very aggressive, poorly conceived response of National which is making it worse for them.

If we listen closely to the questions that Banks was asked on 3news on Monday, Key asked on Campbell Live on Monday, and Key was asked Firstline and 3news yesterday a clear indication of what was on the tapes emerges. TV3 is boxing very clever. They’re sounding Key and Banks out by putting very specific questions to them that give them the opportunity to directly contradict what is on the tapes. If Key and Banks so contradict what’s in the recording, it could serve either as basis for releasing the recording on the basis that they are saying one thing to the public and another in ‘private’, or it could be used for compare and contrast once the recording is released anyway this weekend.

Key and Banks, knowing this, have been very careful to not answer the questions, to avoid and deflect rather than outright disagree with a position they held in the recorded conversation.

So, on the basis of that, what do we know was in the conversation:


Key made a disparaging comment about why New Zealand First’s support has been, until recently, declining. “They’re dying off” and possibly something more. Peters certainly is talking this up not only as a grave insult to older New Zealanders but also an insight into Key’s underlying callousness. Key’s now saying he can’t recall if he said that (but he is sure what he said was bland).

The other aspect seems to be around rolling Brash post-election and replacing him with Banks. The quote here is “restructure”.

That’s disastrous for ACT and their hopes in Epsom. Those who were prepared to vote John to get Don now have no reason to do so, and everyone else just sees yet another ACT shambles. Key’s endorsement of Banks is completely overshadowed.

There’s so much blood in the water around ACT now that even a bottom-feeder like Peter Dunne feels he can take a nibble – labeling a Banks-led ACT “even scarier” than a Brash-led one.

Key may also have said something arrogant about Epsom voters falling in line.

This is big, powerful stuff. This conversation, all in one, kills ACT, brings NZF back to life and does enough damage to the carefully cultivated “Brand Key” that soft voters will be looking for somewhere to go, which will benefit Labour, the Greens, and, yes, maybe even United Future.

Tonight’s minor leaders’ debate just became required viewing. Brash and Peters! Expect to see Winnie go big – this is his chance and he knows it. Brash, on the other hand, will be a sorry sight.

So will the recording come out? Of course it will. I reckon TV3 will get ‘new legal advice’ and run it on Saturday as a teaser for full transcript in HoS. Really, if this is important material, and we know it is, they have a duty to the public to reveal it before we vote and damn the legal consequences (there won’t be any, despite the Police’s stand-over tactics).

We give the msm a hard time sometimes on The Standard, but they wouldn’t take such a momentous decision as to withhold this conversation, the contents of which the public has a right to know, just before the country votes.


Make no mistake, the Nats have done the same calculations, that’s why they’re running at this so hard. They want to, optimally, kill the story and turn the focus off content on to how the recording was obtained.

I think the Nats’ initial thinking in laying the Police complaint would have beenthat the public would back them for looking strong and decisive, it would cow the media, and it would give them an excuse not to discuss the contents of the recording.

The bully tactics have proved popular in the past (Bennett and the DPB mums, for example) but this has happened at the height of an election campaign when people are paying more attention and expect greater transparency from their leaders, and when the media assumes more of its 4th estate role. The conversation happened at a photo-op conceived by National for their unpopular Epsom rort. The public is hardly going to have sympathy for Key when his attempt to use the media to his own ends blows up in his face.

The media clearly aren’t cowed. And it hasn’t allowed National to refuse to talk about the conversation because the Police investigation isn’t about what Key said to Banks it’s about a recording of what they said. Everyone can see the difference.

So, far from looking strong, by going to the Police while refusing to comment on a conversation he insists was ‘bland’ (although he can’t remember it, even though he was paying such close attention to it that he didn’t notice the mic bag) Key looks like he has something to hide, which he does.

Calling the recording “News of the World tactics” has also backfired. Key looks shrill and callous.

As was noted on Firstline:

Smalley: “Hacking into the phone of a girl that’s been murdered is very different from leaving a microphone on a table”

Key: “no it’s not”

In fact, the lawyer for the family in the most famous News of the World hacking case has said that the teapot tapes is “good journalism” and not at all akin to what the News of the World did. It’s more like, he says, when Gordon Brown got caught on an open mike calling a woman an “awful bigot”.

The News of the World also presupposes that the recording was intentional. It’s part of National’s strategy of attacking the cameraman to distract from the conversation. Let’s unpick that assumption, because no-one really has –

Would anyone have intentionally gone out and broken the law to record a conversation that everyone assumed would be totally banal? Nobody thought Key and Banks were arrogant enough to discuss their secret plans a metre from the press gallery, so why would anyone break the law to get it? It’s even more ludicrous to think that, having decided to record this conversation and, therefore, expecting there would be something juicy to record that Key and Banks would want to keep secret, the master plan would be to leave a mic in a bag a couple of centimetres from Key’s cup of coffee.

Key wants you to believe that Bradly Ambrose broke the law to record a conversation he says is “bland” and he didn’t try to hide what he was doing. How stupid does he think we are?

Besides, this attack the messenger tactic only works when the messenger is weak or compromised and the media can be turned against them (eg. the Worth affair). Key isn’t just picking a fight Ambrose, he’s up against 2 major news organisations – they’re not going to make the story about how the recording came to be made, so it won’t be.

When challenged over why he is wasting the Police’s time on an investigation that can never succeed because they’ll never be able prove intent on behalf of the cameraman, Key ran a ‘I’m defending everyone else by drawing a line in the sand‘ line: “What happens if a couple of high profile New Zealanders are married, they have a conversation about their son or their daughter being suicidal, a Sunday paper reports that, and that child takes their own life.”

I just find this analogy despicable. There is nothing similar between the PM and the man he has just endorsed to win a seat, having a conversation, about political issues, at a publicity stunt of their own creating, in a public cafe, metres from journalists and the tragic (fictional) scenario Key describes. To try to equivocate his position and that of the victims in that scenario is disgusting.


The only other time we know of when a reporter recorded a PM’s conversation unknown to the PM and it became public was when Joanne Black recorded Geoffrey Palmer in Malaysia in his hotel room getting a telling off from his press sec for not giving good soundbites. National got hold of it and made fun of him in the House ever after. Black apologised to Palmer who said it was no big deal. Compare how over the top Key has been over a recording of a publicity stunt of his own making, and it tells you Key has something serious to hide.

For all his bluster, Key still can’t answer a straight question convincingly: if there’s nothing to the conversation, why not release it? The only conclusion you can reach is there is something to it.

The Nats aren’t stupid. They know how bad and dishonest Key looks insisting he has nothing to hide while refusing to answer simple questions, making outrageous comments comparing himself to victims in real tragedies, and running to the Police. They just think it’s the optimal outcome ahead of having the recording come out.

Right now, they’re playing for time and hoping against hope that this will all blow over. It won’t. In fact, all Key’s actions at the moment are doing is magnifying the damage to Brand Key done by the conversation itself.

What Key said to Banks when he thought we couldn’t hear will dominate the debate tonight, the weekend news, the final major Leaders’ debates, and, ultimately, do more than anything else in this campaign to shape the outcome of the election.

It might sound incredible, but that’s what happens when you say one thing to the public and another in private, and get caught out.

[there’s an interesting subplot with Fairfax and TVNZ trying to playdown the importance of the story, which they don’t have but their competitors do, while also trying to get it – a lip-reader? Seriously? – but that’s for another day]

Update: According to Fairfax reporter Danya Levy on Twitter, Key has just “stormed out” of a press conference after further questioning on the tapes.  He’s losing it.  Now The Herald has the story.


65 comments on “[insert tea-related pun here]”

  1. Rick Rowling 1

    This is great. Now that we have agreement that politicians don’t need to consent (or even know about) our recording their conversations, the political news in New Zealand from now on is going to be AWESOME.

    Get out there anyone with recording devices! It’s open season!

    • Blighty 1.1

      And why not? Why should it be OK for our elected representatives to say one thing to our faces and other behind our backs (or behind a window pane in a public cafe in with half a dozen cameras on them,a s the case may be)

      • Rick Rowling 1.1.1

        It shouldn’t be okay for them to say one thing privately and another publicly.

        And if it is okay to “accidentally” covertly tape some of them, it should be okay to “accidentally” covertly tape all of them.

        Which should be happening now. Especially those who have publicly said that the recordings should be released as they are in the public interest, as they have implicitly approved the tactics.

  2. It is beginning to look like another deliberate diversion away from discussing policy – did the small black bag really go undetected or was the whole scenario planned? Think about it… days of speculation, TV and other media time, a week and a half out from Election day. And the names on everybody’s lips – K…B…B…W… not Goff, not Cunliffe, not King , not Labour!

    • Willie Maley 2.1

      I have thought the same, that the whole thing was a set up. Witness Key’s David Brent moment when he “discovers” the bag. However Key’s behaviour this week has been odd to say the least. Not sure where this will go, but Hooten was rattled on Nine to Noon this morning, that must mean something.

      • Akldnut 2.1.1

        Would be a good play by National if the tapes were released with nothing incriminating on them, could potentialy be a game breaker for either side.

      • Akldnut 2.1.2

        Body language and unconsious affirmation.
        Notice how he nods his head whilst trying to spin his answer, and he leads with “YES……………..”

        We need Dr Cal Lightman from LIE TO ME to close the deal.

  3. ianmac 3

    For Key to say that he cannot remember what he said less than a week ago, must be a lie in the eyes of the public.
    Or his mental capacity is impaired.

  4. haydenarrrrgh 4

    Someone should ask him what he *can* remember, if anything, and go from there.

    • kriswgtn 4.1

      Key should and must be drug tested to see wtf he is on 🙂

      If he is going to bring it in for beneficiaries so should he put his money where his troll mouth is and pee in a jar

      Bet he would fail alongside alot of other public servants @ the beehive

      • weka 4.1.1

        He looks out of it to me too, but I suspect we would find it’s a combination of stress hormones and faulty brain chemistry.

  5. Barry 5

    Whatever is on the “tape” it would have been forgotten by now if it had been printed on Sunday. Key’s credibility is already suspect, so by making it look as though he has something to hide he is making it worse.

  6. randal 6

    what about the lip reader.
    she said that kweewee said to binky, ” I used to be somebody”.
    get used to it dude. after novemebr 26 you will be a nobody.

  7. tsmithfield 7

    Well, people might have been expecting shock and awe from the recordings. From what is coming out in the media its more like crock and bore. I can see why the Herald couldn’t be bothered publishing it. Now it has become a useful device to divert attention away from the left wing messages.

    • Blighty 7.1

      “crock and bore”

      good one, ts, but how about “crook and boor”?

      For those of you who haven’t noticed yet, this is the Right’s new line. Suppressing the details hasn’t worked, so they’re going to try to argue that the contents of the conversation are trivial and it’s all a clever plan to starve the Left of oxygen.

  8. Blighty 8

    he’s cracking

    Danya Levy http://twitter.com/#!/danyalevy
    John Key has refused to answer questions about tea tapes and stormed out of press conference in Wellington.

  9. tsmithfield 9

    What has come out so far is:

    1. Discussions about succession planning in Act.
    2. Discussions about the effect of demographics on NZ First support.

    This is trivial.

    I think people are starting to get bored of it to be honest.

    • Lanthanide 9.1

      1. This isn’t trivial because Key and Banks are both saying “vote Banks, get Brash!”. If they know that shortly after the election, that will no longer hold true, then they’re being deliberately deceptive to the voting public. This is called lying. You might like to think of it as a “dinemic environment” though.

      2. In this case it’s not what was said, but how it was said that matters. In Key’s case he is shown to be this nice guy who isn’t like other politicians. Except we now find out that when he’s having a private conversation, he’s just like other politicians, or even worse.

    • James N 9.2

      To be honest? So passe. Actually, the term du jour is ak-shully.

    • felix 9.3

      Yes I agree.

      Key should release the recording so everyone can see how bland it is and we can all get on with it.

  10. Lanthanide 10

    “So will the recording come out? Of course it will. I reckon TV3 will get ‘new legal advice’ and run it on Saturday as a teaser for full transcript in HoS.”

    I’m betting 50/50 that TV3 release it tonight – in fact the timing of the leaders debate on TV1 tonight increases the odds even further. Watch Campbell Live last night when they ask whether a conservation is private or not. Apart from the well-known stuff, they showed on particularly interesting piece of evidence:

    There is an open door right behind John Key where a camera man is standing and filming their conversation, not on the other side of the glass like the rest of the reporters. Banks would have seen him. The security staff make no effort to move him on.

    When the event initially began another reporter was standing in exactly the same spot with a notepad, taking notes on the conversation that Key and Banks were having at the table – he could clearly hear what they were saying. Therefore the cameraman could also hear what was being said.

    The crimes act specifically has a definition of what a private conversation is, and it is one where you can “reasonably expect a level of privacy”. Banks and Key cannot reasonably expect this in their situation, therefore this is not a private conversation and the recording was entirely legal, even if deliberate (which they can’t prove either).

    “Right now, they’re playing for time and hoping against hope that this will all blow over. It won’t. In fact, all Key’s actions at the moment are doing is magnifying the damage to Brand Key done by the conversation itself.”

    In politics, it is never the initial indiscretion that gets you in trouble. It’s the coverup.

    • Jackal 10.1

      Even if there is some kind of implied ownership of the recording by Key or Banks the fact that it’s part of a work that they had arranged and consented to being made and released through various media outlets means that they have no lawful claim to that work. The audio is an incidental recording that if accompanying the video footage and not exceeding 5% of the total “teapot” work is allowable under current law.

      It comes down to whether the law sees that the broadcasting arrangement ended when Key and Banks sat down for a cup of tea when there was no explicit change negotiated by the parties involved apart from ushering people out of the café. As far as I can tell, the diplomatic protection agents have no negotiating powers in this respect.

      The other thing is that the public pays the wages of the Prime Minister and he is accountable for what he says and does while in our employment. His public appearances should be recorded and he should have no control of what parts of those recordings are broadcast. It is highly undemocratic for him to have any control of what our media does and does not broadcast.

  11. queenstfarmer 11

    Yep, the conversation will come out. Yep, the “cover-up” will be worse than the “crime”. It’s as if Key is trying to throw the election.

    Having a sensitive conversation in full view of the media is either a rookie’s mistake or insanely reckless. I’m picking it’s more the latter in this case.

  12. Out of interest who was the Journo who kept asking John Key questions about the tea pot tapes, before he stormed out.

  13. Felix:

    Thanks for the headsup.

    Key should of done a Clooney with what he did with Paul Chi.

    • felix 14.1

      Yeah, because the PM is a celebrity, a bit like a movie star, and simply isn’t accountable to us vis the fourth estate.

  14. Akldnut 15

    “There’s a public interest test, and I think it passes that test as capable of being published so I do not think it’s illegal.”

    Labour party leader Phil Goff has called the incident a ‘farce’ and a media stunt where photographers and journalists had their faces pressed up against the glass.

    And while we’re at it he can fess up why Richard Worth got the arse.

  15. Ianupnorth 16

    Is it just me, or is he slurring his speech on the herald video?

    • Lanthanide 16.1

      No more than usual.

      Yes, our PM usually sounds drunk.

    • Morrissey 16.2

      Is it just me, or is he slurring his speech on the herald video?

      I thought the same thing. But it’s probably more a sign of someone under great stress more than drunkenness on this occasion. Unlike THIS…

  16. Tanz 17

    Aha, we have the real Key coming to the fore. Can’t stand the heat when things don’t go his way, isn’t the nice, relaxed guy he pretends to be. Money traders don’t get ultra rich by being nice, now do they. His eyes say it all, cold and hard.
    Now Key has spat the dummy and is showing up his murkier, ruthless self. Go Winston, defiantly back in the game!!! Some honesty, hope he keeps the Nats honest.

  17. Morrissey 18

    His eyes say it all, cold and hard.

    I thought they looked like the eyes of a man who is frightened and panicking.

  18. Yeah Morrissey a man who is consistency ahead by 20 points in the polls is worried.

    • felix 19.1

      20 points lol. Gotta add all the parties in Brett.

    • Morrissey 19.2

      Yeah Morrissey a man who is consistency ahead by 20 points in the polls is worried.

      Well, he certainly looked worried, and haggard, today.

      That “20 point lead” seems about as safe as the one-point lead the All Blacks enjoyed against France in the World Cup final.

      Non-referee Craig Joubert came to the All Blacks’ rescue in that match; I doubt that the public of New Zealand will studiously close its eyes to Key’s offending in the same way Joubert did to the All Blacks’ outrageous cheating.

  19. the keycup runneth over

    key walking out and the whole taped teacup incident could become the defining moment of this election and i hope at the next leaders debate goff puts aside the economics bullshit and focuses on credibility, needle key, apply the blowtorch, go hard – whatever, but make the most of it. There is blood in the water…

  20. willie maley 21

    TV3 are saying that Key staged the walk out.
    What game is he playing here?

    • Carol 21.1

      Tracy Watkins does the National CT lines that aim to recover from Key’s press walkout – staged or not:


      Which is why he upped the stakes today by deliberately walking out on a press conference rather than answer questions over the contents of the tape.

      It was clearly a calculated move to drive a wedge between the media and the public over the issue.

      Presumably National’s focus groups are telling them that there is a high level of public distaste at the way the conversation between John Banks and Key was picked up.

      Focus groups presumed?

      And yet, Stuff’s poll shows the largest group think Key’s response to the teapot tapes has been bad:


      Just over 40% say “bad”, 25% say “good” and 32% say it “won’t change their vote”… which could mean good, bad, always have been a Green or Labour voter….

  21. infused 22

    I see the word storm has been redefined.

  22. Roy 23

    The storming-out is pathetic. Key throwing a tanty because the media aren’t kissing his rear end like they usually do.

  23. Willie Maley 24

    Someone needs to remind him that, when you are in a hole, stop digging!

    • Draco T Bastard 24.1

      Um, no, they really don’t. It’s amusing watching him dig himself deeper 😈

      • McFlock 24.1.1

        but that would just double the dismay if he actually manages to keep the job come nov 27.

        Although he’s trying hard to ditch it, I’ll give him that. Just when I was worried that there wasn’t a more significant narrowing of the polls in the past week or two

  24. gobsmacked 25

    The Pike River anniversary this weekend will probably mark the end of the story. But the damage has been done – not by the “tape”, but Key’s handling of it. At least half a dozen avoidable mistakes in three days (comparisons with NoTW, police complaint, suicide nonsense, faulty memory, today’s walk out, etc).

    Of course National’s vote isn’t going to collapse. Key could shag a panda on live TV and still get 40% plus. BUT … the crucial 5-10 % who like that “nice Mr Key” will be having second thoughts. Look at Key’s apparent strengths …

    “Relaxed” – gone. “Admits mistakes” – gone. “Open and Transparent” – gone. “Competent” – damaged. “Soft media coverage” – maybe gone?

    All in all, a remarkably inept performance.

  25. rod 26

    I think the Nats will be digging deep for a nasty diversion.

  26. Sookie 27

    Keep digging that hole, ole Smile n’ Wave. Public tantrums of the priveleged are sooooo appealing to voters, it’s really working out for you 🙂

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    3 weeks ago
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    3 weeks ago
  • Rethink welcomed
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    3 weeks ago
  • Disappointment over UN vote
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    3 weeks ago
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  • More than 1,300 schools to face budget cuts
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    3 weeks ago