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Key’s Australian excuse

Written By: - Date published: 3:27 pm, March 8th, 2008 - 45 comments
Categories: john key, Media, workers' rights - Tags: , ,

On the 20th of December, John Key was reported in the Bay Report as saying “we would love to see wages drop” while talking to a Kerikeri businesswoman. The story broke nationally three weeks ago and Key offered several, conflicting explanations – he was joking, he was misquoted, he was talking about Australia.

The Bay Report stood by the quote in an article in its next issue and in a statement it issued, as did the Northern Advocate.

Last week, John Key smeared the journalist and said he had spoken to APN, the parent company that owns both the Bay Report and the Northern Advocate, about getting a ‘correction’. Rumours emerged that National had attempted to have the journalist fired and that the APN management was trying to kill the story. The Herald, APN’s flagship, refused to give the story any serious coverage.

Then, on Wednesday, Bill English announced the Bay Report was ‘retracting’ the quote it had previously stood by. How English knew this would happen is still unknown. In fact, there was no retraction, only a ‘clarification’ that Key had been talking about Australia. This clarification was ordered by APN management and forced upon the staff. Story over as far as APN and National are concerned (apparently, a wannabe PM saying our closest cousins should have lower wages is not a story itself). APN gagged it’s staff from further discussing the issue on record.

But does this late, artificial, explanation even hold water?

final– Key does not mention Australia in his response.

– The quote came in response to a question that refers the trans-Tasman wage gap, and lowering Australian wages would indeed decrease that gap but the question actually is about wage pressure here in New Zealand (high Australian wages being part of that pressure).

– There is no way a New Zealand leader could lower Australian wages so why would he suggest that as the answer? Furthermore, why would his policy to make New Zealanders better off actually involve impoverishing another nation? On top of that, New Zealand wages are low relative to a number of wealthy countries. So, lowering Australian wages would have at best a marginal effect on emigration to Australia (which isn’t even that high) and international wage pressure.

– In the second part of the quote Key says “The way we want to see wages rise is because productivity is greater … not just inflationary reasons”. Many commentators have taken this as directly conflicting with the ‘wage drop’ quote and accepted, therefore, the ‘wage drop’ quote must be regarding Australia. In fact, the two parts are consistent: Key is saying ‘we would love to see wages drop and not rise to match inflation’. Also, it doesn’t show on the transcript but there is an important pause: Key says wage should drop, he pauses, then explains that they shouldn’t rise because with inflation, only from increased productivity.

So, was Key talking about Australia when he said ‘we would love to see wages drop?’. Pull the other one, cobber. This ‘clarification’ is a blatant case of political interference by National and APN in media freedom.

45 comments on “Key’s Australian excuse ”

  1. Camryn 1

    Seems like there have been more posts on this topic than there are readers of this blog.

  2. infused 2

    Jesus christ…

  3. r0b 3

    Well Camryn, despite a methodology that seems to miss lots of hits, the usually cited ranking system had The Standard as 7th most active blog in NZ for January.

    http://nzblogosphere.blogspot.com/

    Not bad for a blog that’s been around for – what – 6 months?

    But on the topic of the thread Camryn, what do you think of Key’s “clarification”? What do you make of the fact that APN management will not allow the reporter in question to speak for himself on this issue? Is gagging a journalist OK with you?

  4. higherstandard 4

    Ye Gods

    I’ve been out all day with the kids and thought I’d log in to see if the standard was covering anything interesting. But no the same old tired story.

    any fair reading of the “Point of clarification” would see that the paper is not disowning the reporter’s transcript. It is is saying that if what Key had said left the impression he wanted to lower wages, that would be incorrect.

    “From an examination of the interview, and the context of the comments made by Mr Key in relations to the loss of skilled workers from New Zealand to Australia, the Bay Report now accepts that was not intended and that impression would be incorrect.”

    A tongue tied gaffe by Key yes – National wanting wages to drop no.

    If you wish to rale against something worthwhile I would suggest you cover what looks like an absolute outrage at the Hawkes Bay District Healthboard or perhaps the Blue Chip fiasco.

  5. deemac 5

    this topic has attracted posts because it’s so baffling – why would a politician say someting so bizarre? what did he mean? has he got a clue? And as usual, it’s the cover-up (or damage limitation exercise) that’s actually more harmful in the long run

  6. George 6

    But the reality is that National DOES want wages to drop. It wants wage increases in line with productivity Key tells us. Wages above productivity rates are inflationary. If wages at present are above productivity rates then of course Key DOES want wages to drop. Through the 1990s the Nats used a level of unemployment to keep inflation low. The Nats leader, Don Brash, did so when he was reserve bank governor. No one should be surprised that Key is saying he wants to use the likes of wage increases/decreases & higher unemployment to control inflation. That I think is the reality of his comment. Not that ‘he was talking about Aussie wages’, nor that ‘he was joking’, nor even that he is a ‘prick who wants to screw people’. The reality is that National view the labour market as a mechanism to screw down inflation. The resultant damage done to working people is the result of a ‘natural’ free market lever. National however see that as part of the gamne.

  7. Scribe 7

    Wow, what a surprise!! A post on this topic. I didn’t realise you guys were following this story. What a joke.

    the usually cited ranking system had The Standard as 7th most active blog in NZ for January.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t that at about the same time The Standard was in the news for being hosted by Labour? Coincidence? I think not. When it comes to counting hits, there truly is no such thing as bad publicity.

  8. r0b 8

    But no the same old tired story.

    Sorry that you find freedom of speech to be a boring topic HS. I seem to recall a bunch of people getting quite excited about it, for months (and months (and months)) last year.

    So tell me, just hypothetically, if it happened to be true that Key had but pressure on the APN owners and the APN owners silenced one of their own journalists – would that bother you at all? Just, you know – hypothetically.

  9. andy 9

    Seems to be important enough to be covered on mediawatch (National Radio)this morning. Is this issue getting some legs? I think APN will try anything to make this go away..

  10. Billy 10

    Does the anti-smakcing legislation apply to dead horses and the flogging thereof?

  11. AncientGeek 11

    This issue seems to be getting more strange by the day. Not so much the original statement (I’ve aware that Key isn’t the brightest politician for some time), but more on the reaction to it.

    As the O’Kane blog says, Key said both that he’d like to have wages drop and rise. In the latter case by productivity increases. Now I’d question that because I’ve generally observed that managers tend to organize productivity increases when wages rise rather than the reverse. It has been interesting that Key and the Nats appear to have no policy about how to improve productivity – it costs quite a lot.

    But as The Standard, Nevermind, kiwiblogblog, and others are pointing out, the reaction by the Nats and APN is wierd. For instance this dompost article to me raises more than it answers. A clarification? more like a descent into more murkiness.

    It really makes me start to worry about the APN’s hold on NZ media

  12. Billy 12

    Good point, Andy. Did you hear Mediawwatch saying Key obviously didn’t mean he wanted NZ wages to drop? Please, don’t let that stop you banging on boringly.

  13. I absolutely agree Billy – the anti-child abuse legislation has been well flogged by the right. It’s time for them to move on.

    As I understand it this clarification and the pressure behind it are causing some serious internal tension at APN. But because nobody involved is going to talk I’d say it will stop being news. I doubt journos will forget it though…

  14. AncientGeek 14

    Billy:

    Perhaps Key could clarify exactly how he plans on raising productivity rates? I can remember that being a key part of the national platform in the 90’s. Their policy to do it by having increasing unemployment levels didn’t work. They managed to increase the wage gap between NZ and aussie, while maintaining an artificial recession in NZ.

    captcha: pill political

  15. andy 15

    AncientGreek,

    It is getting stanger by the day, and I think some media have finally cottoned on. I am sure Fairfax would love to spill APN blood. The only problem with ‘he said, she said’ issues like this is that they are too comlicated for punchy headlines.

    IMO This is the risky time for Nat stratagey, summer is fading and like the glow of new love, so is the media love affair with JK!

    He will have to give the press gallery red meat soon because the constant attacks on Labour (admittidley own goals alot of them) are not getting cut through.

  16. andy 16

    Billy

    “Please, don’t let that stop you banging on boringly.”

    touche.

  17. higherstandard 17

    Rob

    “So tell me, just hypothetically, if it happened to be true that Key had but pressure on the APN owners and the APN owners silenced one of their own journalists – would that bother you at all? Just, you know – hypothetically.”

    Yes Rob I am against anything that restricts the freedom of the press as I am against the EFA for the same reason.

  18. Good point, Andy. Did you hear Mediawwatch saying Key obviously didn’t mean he wanted NZ wages to drop?

    Quite probably. By if it is indeed so obvious, why should APN management force its journalists to say so?

  19. infused 19

    “I absolutely agree Billy – the anti-child abuse legislation has been well flogged by the right. It’s time for them to move on.”

    Atleast the anti-smacking issue is moving, this is dead in its tracks.

  20. r0b 20

    HS: Yes Rob I am against anything that restricts the freedom of the press

    Splendid. In that case you should be taking a very keen interest in these allegations regarding Key pressuring APN management into muzzling their own reporter. Let’s get to the bottom of these allegations eh HS? Get the truth out there. Let’s ask the reporter himself. Oh – wait…

    infused: Atleast the anti-smacking issue is moving, this is dead in its tracks.

    So those on the Right would have us believe. It was “dead” in Part 1 when it was just a story about National dropping wages. That story grew. It is supposed to be “dead” in Part 2 when the story became Key’s use of political pressure to muzzle a journalist. But that story seems to be growing still:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/4428659a6160.html

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/thepress/blogs/politics/2008/03/06/why-is-bay-report-apologising-to-john-key/

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/national/mwatch/mediawatch_for_9_march

    No doubt it will still be “dead” (like the Coldplay story) if we get to Part 3, if some brave whistle-blower comes forward with the whole story.

    Because if it’s true that Key used his political clout to silence a journalist, then he’s not fit to be in our parliament.

  21. Nah, this story’s a damn good one, really. It’s clarified a few issues for me, anyway. I’ve been arguing about it over at No Minister, that argument coming down to the fact that National spent the 90s trying to push working-class wages down, through breaking union power and maintaining a good pool of unemployed (you guys will be familiar with it, you blogged it here). Why would they do that? Well, it’s in their constituency’s interest – their constituency consisting of employers, shareholders, farmers etc. The same guys who did that stand to be back at the Cabinet table this year, if enough suckers vote for them. They have the same constituency and pretty much the same policies, so of course they’re going to try and make workers’ wages drop.

    Key was just failing to keep his mind on the job and providing us with an unusual moment of honesty when he let it slip, that’s all. Inside, we all know this is true, even the right-wingers – otherwise, as Russell Brown points out above, if it was so obviously not what he meant, why would he have to explain himself? For example, if he’d come out and said “We’d like to see taxes raised,” and afterwards said he’d been misquoted, who would doubt him for a moment?

    I feel a lot better about Labour after this episode. for the last couple of decades I’ve taken the approach of “a plague on both your houses,” because Labour brings to power such an annoying crowd of schoolmarms and nannies with an utter lack of respect for individual liberty. But this is a handy reminder that both main parties represent social classes, and if one of those classes is going to get shafted, I’d rather it wasn’t the workers.

  22. higherstandard 22

    Yes rOB

    You’ve cracked it.

    It’s also true that John Key will become the leader of the Labour party at any moment – he said it so it must be what he meant. Where is Helen by the way ?

    As an aside it was amusing to read Dover’s comments in the papers today, he was being most open and truthful I’m sure and it’s interesting that he feels comfortable saying these things now he’s leaving parliament. However what saddens me is that if Helen Clark or John Key had said the same thing they would have been pilloried.

  23. r0b 23

    It’s also true that John Key will become the leader of the Labour party at any moment – he said it so it must be what he meant.

    You’re avoiding the issue HS. It’s grown bigger than the original quote. If the allegations are true, and Key pressured the APN management into silencing a reporter (and tried to get the reporter sacked), do you think he is fit to be in parliament?

  24. higherstandard 24

    If that’s the case get the reporter to come forward

  25. higherstandard 25

    And while you’re at it why not look into the HBDHD scandal

  26. IrishBill 26

    I really don’t want to dispel your touching belief in the power of the standard, HS, but somehow I doubt we can get Robertson to make a public statement when the major media outlets have failed. It may have escaped your attention but we are just a blog after all.

    I’ve been looking into doing a post on the HBDHB issue for a while but can’t get enough reliable information to do so. Once a copy of the report is released I’ll blog it.

    In the meantime if anyone does have a copy of the report I would be very interested in seeing it. Please email: thestandardnz (at) gmail (dot) com

  27. Scribe 27

    Robinsod,

    The anti-child abuse legislation has been well flogged by the right. It’s time for them to move on

    There is going to be a citizen-initiated referendum on child discipline, so it’s certainly not time to move on. It’s time to ask — once the signatories have been verified — when that referendum will take place. And if not in conjunction with the general election, why not?

    rOb,

    If the allegations are true, and Key pressured the APN management into silencing a reporter (and tried to get the reporter sacked), do you think he is fit to be in parliament?

    That’s a HUGE if, and yes, it would raise some questions. But one might argue that someone who signed a painting he/she didn’t paint might not to be fit to be in parliament.

  28. Pascal's bookie 28

    HS, I’m sad to see the crap you’re writing after your various cries for people to debate the issues in a reasoned manner.

    My take on Keys comments are that he is quite happy to see real wages fall, all other things being equal. I’ve yet to see him deny this and the clarification is utter crap. The clarification says that there was a mistaken impression created, without telling us what the correct impression should be and without withdrawing any part of Key’s comments.

    He made the comments very clearly. His point was that wage and salary earners should not get pay increases to account for inflation.

    He also said wage increases should only be given for productivity gains. This means that if productivity increases by x per cent, and inflation is ‘x plus y’ percent, wage earners should take a cut in their real pay. It means that if inflation is x percent, wage earners should get a real pay cut of x. He was quite clear about that.

    Given that anyone not living under a rock knows that we are heading into an inflationary environment worldwide, (one that is being driven and compounded by both the malpractice of Key’s old banking mates, and the responses to that from the fed), Key is saying that the people that should pay the price are the working classses.

    If he wants to declare class warfare he should man up. If not he should explain that of course he doesn’t want to see real wages drop and that unions are perfectly entitled to bargain for inflation adjustments unless productivity drops, and that as PM he would support that.

    Your weird demands that the Standard change the subject makes me believe that you understand all this, agree with Key, and know how unpopular his policy would be.

    Scribe:
    Glad you agree this developing story is potentially huge, as(I assume) a supporter of the National party perhaps you could send a few emails asking the Nat’s if they could do whatever they can to allow the reporter and others to say what they know. Ta.

  29. Scribe 29

    rOb,

    I can’t say such moves would make him unfit for Parliament. After all, it’s not a crime and some people in Parliament at the moment have actually committed crimes. And that’s not to say people don’t deserve a second — or third or fourth — chance.

    And I could list other things the PM has done in the past eight years that some might say make her unfit for Parliament. The point I was making is that the threshold of “unfit for Parliament” is a high one — and people disagree on how high it is.

    captcha: The greens — don’t get me started on those people 😉

  30. higherstandard 30

    bookie

    Yes any policy that would encourage wages to drop would be assinine

    Key has already clarified his position as below.

    “It’s not a change of position, it’s not a flip-flop, I’ve never in my life advocated for wages to fall.” (this is either his true position or as you believe he is lying)

    Which is why to my mind it is a dead issue, your talk of class warfare is bizzarre and I agree there is a financial meltdown coming on the back of the sub prime shambles in the USA. That said I find it staggering that the current government is thinking of embarking into the very same market on the back of their housing policies.

  31. Scribe 31

    rOb,

    If you find it OK for politicians to (hypothetically) try to bury an inconvenient story by muzzling a reporter and trying to get them sacked, I’m not quite sure what kind of “democracy’ it is that you believe in.

    Thanks for completely misrepresenting my position. I didn’t say it was OK; just like it’s not “OK” to punch a man in the lobby of Parliament and it’s not “OK” to drive drunk and it’s not “OK” to urinate in a hotel hallway and it’s not “OK” to sign a painting you didn’t paint.

    As a working journalist, let me tell you it’s not easy to muzzle one. And it’s even harder when that alleged attempted muzzling is coming from someone who doesn’t sign your pay cheque.

  32. Pascal's bookie 32

    But HS, saying that nominal wages should not rise to keep up with inflation is saying that real wages should fall. Agree?

  33. r0b 33

    HS: If that’s the case get the reporter to come forward

    You’re still avoiding the question HS. Hypothetically, if the allegations were true, would Key be fit to be in parliament?

    scribe: That’s a HUGE if, and yes, it would raise some questions.

    I agree that it’s a huge if. We’re playing a hypothetical game here. Surely if it was true, then it does a little more than raise questions? Surely it means Key would be unfit for parliament? Do you agree scribe?

    (Btw – the attempted analogy to the painting thing is weak at best, if anything it goes to show how little real dirt there is on Clark after 8 plus years in the top job. Extraordinary!).

  34. Scribe 34

    rOb,

    Not offended, just saying there’s a big difference between saying someone is unfit for Parliament and condoning someone’s actions.

    The clear implication in this case is that the pressures is indeed coming from those who sign the pay check. Top level management in APN, the parent company for the reporter’s local newspaper.

    I’m aware of that. But the clear implication from the people who run this blog is that John Key and the Nats have APN in their pocket. That’s quite an accusation.

    And especially in light of how the Herald, by its editorial decisions in September 2005, may have had as much influence on Labour’s re-election as the pledge card.

    Remember the Brethren on the front page and Taito on page 5 or so? Which or who of those two is currently facing charges?

    The Herald could have played the coverage the other way, and I’m not saying which was the bigger story, but if APN/The Herald is a National-loving outfit, wouldn’t they have made different choices then?

  35. r0b 35

    I can’t say such moves would make him unfit for Parliament.

    Well props for at least answering the question. Must say I find the answer a bit disappointing though. If you find it OK for politicians to (hypothetically) try to bury an inconvenient story by muzzling a reporter and trying to get them sacked, I’m not quite sure what kind of “democracy” it is that you believe in.

    To my mind it’s pretty simple. If the allegations are true, Key crossed the line. He should go.

  36. Scribe 36

    rOb,

    I’ll say this: If the APN people have rolled over on this to the extent being alleged, and I seriously doubt that’s true, then the journalists should consider their future with that company.

  37. r0b 37

    HS – you’re still not answering the question! What’s the matter – can’t you bring yourself to give the same answer scribe gave? Scribe’s OK with pretty much anything goes. But is your conscience giving you trouble with that HS?

    That said I find it staggering that the current government is thinking of embarking into the very same market on the back of their housing policies.

    That’s a pretty poor grasp of the issues HS. The American markets got themselves deregulated and went wacko with insanely leveraged financial “innovations” all balanced on a foundation of loans to people what couldn’t afford them. This doesn’t suddenly mean that it makes no economic sense for anyone in the world to build houses.

    Labour’s new policies for affordable housing are desperately needed in NZ, where sharply rising prices are driving more and more young people out of the market. Indeed, I think the policies announced so far don’t go nearly far enough.

  38. r0b 38

    Thanks for completely misrepresenting my position. I didn’t say it was OK;

    You said that it was OK for such a person to be in parliament, which was the kind of “OK” I was asking about in my question. I’m sure you don’t think it’s OK at all levels, and sorry if you took anything I said in that way, didn’t mean to offend.

    As a working journalist, let me tell you it’s not easy to muzzle one.

    I’m sure it isn’t, which is what makes this situation all the more extraordinary.

    And it’s even harder when that alleged attempted muzzling is coming from someone who doesn’t sign your pay cheque.

    The clear implication in this case is that the pressures is indeed coming from those who sign the pay check. Top level management in APN, the parent company for the reporter’s local newspaper.

    I would have though Scribe that you would have a professional interest in getting to the bottom of all this?

  39. r0b 39

    But the clear implication from the people who run this blog is that John Key and the Nats have APN in their pocket. That’s quite an accusation.

    Perhaps not “in their pocket” in general (and we could argue endlessly about bias in past Herald reporting), but that’s certainly the gist of it with respect to this particular situation.

    And you’re right, it’s quite an accusation. Because if true, I think a lot of people would hold Key unfit for parliament. Surely it is exactly the fact that it is an extraordinary accusation, with extraordinarily important implications, that means that it should be explored and openly reported with the greatest of urgency!

    Step away from the specifics and ask youself what in general should the media do with an extraordinary accusation for which there is prima facie evidence:
    (1) ignore it, or
    (2) explore it?

  40. r0b 40

    I’ll say this: If the APN people have rolled over on this to the extent being alleged, and I seriously doubt that’s true, then the journalists should consider their future with that company.

    I agree with you about the journos, if they can, they should move on. Might be difficult if they are tied to a little local community though. But I do hope they can one day let us know what really went on.

    But if it’s true it doesn’t get fixed by the people involved finding another job. It gets fixed by the truth being told to all. I don’t see how any journalist could hide from that conclusion.

    For myself, I really don’t see any other way of interpreting the prima facie evidence Scribe. The story was published. It was challenged. The editor and reporter stood by the story. Key spoke to APN chief executive Martin Simons about the story. The Herald then publishes a “correction”, and states that the Editor and journalist agree to it. Those who try to contact these people directly find that they won’t talk about it. Those connected via union links say that Key tried to have the journalist sacked, and that APN management have now instructed them not to talk about it. I dunno Scribe – I find this pretty convincing evidence that there has been a totally unacceptable abuse of power here. I really don’t see any other way to read it.

    At least one of your colleagues agrees:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/thepress/blogs/politics/2008/03/06/why-is-bay-report-apologising-to-john-key/

  41. r0b 41

    “At least one of your colleagues agrees:” – beg pardon I should say – At least one of your colleagues agrees that there are serious questions here.

  42. lprent 42

    Not on topic, but people should have a look this rather interesting paper by Brian Easton at the Public Sector Finance Forum last year. “The Current State of the Public Sector: An Economist’s View. He gives a good breakdown of the overall position.

    “On existing definitions the OECD ranks New Zealand as 20th out of 30 in terms of total government revenue, which includes non-tax revenue sources and local authority rates. Remember too, the effect of grossing up transfers. Thus it is hard to argue that New Zealand is particularly highly taxed in comparison to other rich countries.

    Even so, there has been extraordinary effort to demonstrate that New Zealanders are highly taxed and that the economy would perform better were tax rates lower, often using almost fraudulent statistical procedures. The alacrity with which some advocates seize upon incompetent analysis to justify their views suggests a debate more driven by enthusiasm than competence.”

    There is quite a lot of commentary by someone I’ve been reading for decades, and who is usually correct in his long-term analysis. It is pleasant not reading about the short-term obsession on this and other blogs.

  43. lprent 43

    There are some interesting papers there on Government/Policy

  44. randal 44

    well why doesnt he take a wage cut himself or does he consider that he is personally becoming more productive by the moment?

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