On 15 September 2009, Labour MP Pete Hodgson asked the Prime Minister: “Does he believe that in all matters his Minister of Finance [Bill English] has followed that part of the Cabinet Manual that reads: “… Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards?”
The question was asked after Bill English had reorganised his personal affairs so as to be entitled, he claimed, to receive about $1000 a week to pay the rent for a house which was owned, via a trust, by his wife. The rort was predicated on the tissue-thin premise that, although Bill English and his family had lived and worked in Wellington for more than ten years, his primary residence was in Dipton. During the years he and his family lived and worked in Wellington prior to him becoming a minister, English had received, in total, an estimated $300,000-plus for his alleged out-of-town housing costs. Then, shortly after the 2008 election, the legal tweaks were done and the paperwork submitted for the much more valuable “Ministerial” housing allowance. The matter hit the headlines when ministers’ expenses were published and public interest was piqued by the blatant hypocrisy exposed. Publicly, Bill English had been softening up the country for a period of stringent economic austerity while, privately, he’d set about obtaining as much public funds as he could lay his tiny grubby hands on. In addition to the $1000 per week housing allowance, he also managed to wangle an extra $20 a week on top of the maximum allowed for house cleaning on the basis that his $1.2 million home was so large. And all while he was collecting a $10,400 a fortnight salary.
Because only politicians make the rules about politicians’ expenses, there’s no suggestion that English acted unlawfully. And because “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” is the fundamental basis of National Ltd™ ethics, English was, amongst his peers, indeed upholding their highest ethical standards. Where English came a cropper, though, is in the clause that Cabinet Ministers must “be seen” to be upholding the highest ethical standards. Most New Zealander could see immediately English was not upholding even a semblance of actual ethical standards. He wasn’t even trying. In short, the situation English found himself in was “not a good look”. And so, like all good National Ltd™ MPs who find themselves in a tight spot, he lied repeatedly hoping things would get better while attempting to bully into silence those making things difficult for him.
That didn’t work out too well. The fundamental lie at the base of his troubles was no longer sustainable for the simple reason that it was so obviously a lie. Also, English never had sufficient support from National Ltd™’s main shareholders. Within that milieu, English was considered to have committed the unforgivable sin of having been caught, which is more serious than any actual crime. The public was mightily pissed off about the situation, that was reflected in polls which, in turn, pissed off John Key. Eventually, the Auditor General whipped up a quick report which ostensibly gave Parliament and The Speaker a sharp poke in the eye about the sloppy state of the rules concerning allowances and expenses. Hidden in the report, though, was an indication that English may not actually have been fully entitled to the Ministerial housing allowance after all. Surprise surprise. Despite his oft repeated and plaintiff refrains to the contrary, English was found by the OAG to have had an interest in the trust from which his wife’s house was rented. In the end, English had to give some of the money back and, finally, admit that he didn’t live in Dipton.
The housing allowance kerfuffle left English a tad battered and bruised but entirely unrepentant. As a man imbued with National Ltd™ ethics, it was obvious to him that he had done nothing wrong. The only concern he publicly articulated, using it as the reason why he gave some of the money back, was that there was a “perception” he had attempted a fiddle. Of course, the opposite was true. English was attempting a fiddle and it was him who was attempting to create a perception that there only ever was a “perception”, nothing real. So obdurate was he in his righteousness, he was quoted as saying . . .
At all times my decisions have been driven by my desire to keep my family together and provide them with as much stability as possible. It’s now clear that the system has struggled to deal with my circumstances
. . . get that? Risible bullshit in the first sentence and then being caught double-dipping is not his fault, blame “the system”. No “sorry” or “I have learned my lesson” or “I’ll be careful going forward”. Just attempting to manufacture by deceit an “its all about family” and “I’m the victim here” perception.
Just as his double-dipping scandal was dying down leaving English all alone to lick his wounds, a beacon of hope miraculously appeared. Seemingly out of nowhere, TVNZ popped up with the idea to produce a documentary series on its TVNZ 7 channel all about demystifying the economy. What a piece of luck. A chance to re-engineer his public perception by selling his neoliberal agenda to the nation! And, even better, the segment designed for him will be called “Plain English”. How neat is that?
Well, not neat at all. Its deeply flawed and highly unethical.
The byzantine ins and outs of this slice of crazy from TVNZ is a whole other spectacular display of English’s underlying contempt for Parliament and the public. Lies were stacked upon lies, public funds were misused and wasted while the audience was left spell bound by the magical morphing of a public-owned broadcaster into the marketing department for neoliberal ideology. And English just loved it. He was the star. Over the course of a couple of weeks, his happy smiley face spouted a 30-second promo on TVNZ channels 65 times. Complete with enthusiastic platitudes calling for all New Zealanders to pitch in and help him bring deliverance from the financial crash, the promo amounted to a publicly funded advertising campaign just for him. A month later, TVNZ admited the whole pantomime was a serious misjudgment on its part but, by then, the rehabilitation of the “Bill – Blokey But Beneficent and Brainy” brand was well underway.
And so ended Bill English’s first year as Finance Minister. Since then, he’s largely kept his head below the parapet but the lies and unethical behaviour never stopped. He was caught out lying publicly after signing the supah sekrit executive order used to try and keep the illegal spying on Kim Dotcom under wraps. Most of his lies now are the half-truths and magik-thinking sprinkled liberally throughout the policy underpinning the economy. The national accounts and annual budgets are largely works of fiction serving more to promote himself and National Ltd™ than to inform New Zealanders. Billions of dollars are missing from everyone’s retirement savings, more billions which would have come in were it not for privatisation have been lost from the public purse, the social investment scam is reducing humans to commodities, the right to privacy has been killed in order to feed corporations profitable data, public housing has been rebranded “social housing” and thrown over to under-resourced communities to provide for themselves, education has been reduced from the status of a human right to a business opportunity, same with health, our primary industries are committing slow-motion suicide as they poison the environment which sustains them, the government agencies designed to protect us from all manner of threats barely function, the rest of the public service is a playground for largely idle but “ideologically sound” consultants, the rich have got richer, the poor have got poorer, and there is no budget surplus, just the fabricated “perception” that it exists. And we have this state of affairs because John Key and now English along with the rest of the National Ltd™ crew have been lying to us every day for the past nine years.
So why is it that the MSM is telling us English’s latest fit of lies is somehow out of character or something of a surprise? Heather du Plessis-Allan writing in the New Zealand Fox News Herald tells us . . .
“English came into the job of Prime Minister seven months ago looking squeaky clean. Even hardcore lefties warmed to him a little. He seemed progressive. He believed in policies to help the most disadvantaged. He alone spoke out against the Dirty Politics behaviour when everyone else ducked and ran during that crisis.”.
. . . bullshit. English has never looked squeaky clean, he’s always been dodgy and thuggish. No hardcore leftie I know thinks otherwise and we all know full well what English is really up to. It ain’t progressive, its oppressive. He had nothing to say about John Key’s direct, hands-on involvement with Dirty Politics and never made a statement to the police about it. His total contribution amounted to muttering “pooh-pooh take it away”. Hardly meritorious.
Audrey Young, also in the New Zealand Fox News Herald and someone who should know better would like her readers to think . . .
“But English’s fall from grace is much higher because over many years he has earned himself a reputation as the conscience of the party. It was mainly through his devotion to the social policy issues but the flow-on effect has been that he has been regarded as a man of substance and principle. Voters have been weighing up whether to give the once-failed leader a second chance. But now Ethical Bill looks a whole lot less ethical.”
. . . Ethical Bill, ORLY? FFS. The idea that English has “fallen from grace” carries the implicit assumption that he was in a state of grace to begin with. He never was. His “devotion to social policy issues” is nothing of the sort. Its more of a blind devotion to the imaginary Invisible Hand which will cradle us all if only we leave The Market to do its job. You know, like, there are so many homeless New Zealanders only because of an accumulated present time imbalance in the supply and demand dynamic actioned to self correct when market variables deliver stakeholder incentives. Yadda yadda yadda. The sort of principles espoused by English are that poor and hungry children scamper off to school without raincoats in winter because their parents made bad choices. But, hey, as the governors of society, we can deliver those vulnerable kids to The Market as an additional vector for the transfer of wealth from the state to the corporations. Wottaguy.
That’s just two easy-to-gather examples. Yet, this meme that the principled man of substance, Bill English, has only recently and only by a coincidental connection to Southland become embroiled in Barclay issue is all over the place. And its a lie. So far, “Ethical Bill” has lied by omission every day for year since Barclay told him he had recorded a staff member. He lied when he said he couldn’t recall who told him there had been a recording. He lied to Parliament and to New Zealand when he said he had reported the matter to the police. He lied by omission to the police by deliberately not mentioning Barclay’s offer to play the recorded conversations. He lied when he said no one realised Barclay had committed a crime. More lies will be exposed as we go on. The Board of National Ltd™ is now being exposed.
Heather du Plessis-Allan is correct in her contention that the rot in National Ltd™ goes right to the top. The rot has become its defining feature. It can be observed every where, from the bully-boy grunt MPs like Shane Reti, cabinet member oiks like Simon Bridges, up past senior thugs like Gerry Brownlee, through English, up to Peter Goodfellow, and out into the public membership. Among that latter group are individuals happy to express more concern about having to select another candidate for Southland than for the well-being and delivery of justice to an emotionally brutalised servant of their party who dared speak truth to power.
It doesn’t matter which National Ltd™ Minister is asked the question posed by Pete Hodgson about upholding the highest ethical standards because the answer will always be “yes” and it will always be a lie. That’s because National Ltd™ really is rotten to the core. The only sure fix is to dismantle the whole thing, burn all its structures, and salt the earth upon which they stood.