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?
– 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.