Written By: - Date published: 11:17 am, November 27th, 2011 - 22 comments
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I agree with Anthony Hubbard in today’s SST “Turning the spin around” – not yet on-line. The most outrageous piece of spin in the election was Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem’s justification for allowing the Treasury to refuse to release documents relating to asset sales as requested by TV1, the Greens and Labour. National’s arguments for its unpopular policy twisted and turned during the campaign, with Key  promising that 85-90% of New Zealanders would continue to own the assets. Yeah right. The Greens and TV1 rightly asked to know what advice lay behind this claim.

Hubbard writes:

The worst bit of spinning in the election campaign was arguably done by a bureaucrat, not a politician. Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem upheld the government’s decision t o suppress Treasury advice about the plane to sell down state assets. Wakem issued an astonishing 15-page document defending this indefensible decision.

Wakem faced the problem that her predecessor John Belgrave, had set a troubling precedent. Just before the 2005 election he ruled tha the government should issue official advice about the costs of Labour’s proposed student loans scheme.

Here was an exact parallel. Wakem weaved and spun for 86 paragraphs and decided that the two situations were different. Her action got the government off the hook and disgraceful decision but one that will be seen for what it was: a cop-out and a cave-in.

Wakem’s argument in dismissal of the public interest is here. 100448

The suspicion of course is that the politicians were just making it up as they went along. Treasury’s argument that the release of the information might prejusdice the price to be obtained for the assets has to be discounted – any specific provisions to restrict ownership will automatically affect their price.

Hubbard’s piece reminded me that in 1981 I wrote a script for Morning Comment about violence and the Springbok tour when Wakem managed Radio New Zealand. After I had refused to remove a direct and critical reference to Muldoon and substitute “some people” the script was not broadcast. I protested and met with Beverley Wakem and Geoffrey Whitehead in their office where they said my language was too vivid and my assertions exaggerated. I was shown my script – written in the margin were the words “politically sensitive.” That at least was the truth.

It seems to me that thirty years later nothing much has changed. It is a worry when those charged with safeguarding the public interest appear more concerned with safeguarding the political interest. New Zealand felt like Poodlestan under Muldoon; I don’t want us to go back there.

One thing is true though – just like the debate on the Springbok tour in 1981, the debate on asset sales in 2011 won’t go away.

22 comments on “Ombudspin”

  1. ghostwhowalksnz 1

    We have seen the new Auditor General go all waffly when dealing with Government politicians in the last few years as well.
    Now its the Ombudsman
    Im wondering if they are ‘outsourcing’ these sort of enquiries to private entities or former bureaucrats ?

    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      Seems to me that they’re outsourcing them to the National Party Research Unit. They come with about the same level of spin and lies that is characteristic of everything that National says.

  2. dazed & confused 3

    I think it is rich for any columnist of the SST, who doggedly used the very flawed and most unscientific HORIZON online polling to bloster months of viewpoints, to talk of the spin of others.

    The media are the public face of politics and where 99% of people go for their information. The spin from the media and the consequences of same is what interests me. I believe that had it not been for Guyon Espiner allowing Winston on the’minor parties’ debate and whoever it was who supplied him with the tea party transcript, I believe he never would have got over the threshold. That to me is Labour’s loss – nearly 7% of the protest vote of which 5% was probably Labours went to Winston.

    If you want to start on the subject of manipulation look to the fourth estate.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.1

      Political parties, especially those on the right, are what started the manipulation and spin. As the MSM became ever more corporatised the more that they were willing to carry that spin as truth without digging into it and to also carry their own spin.

      If you want fact and truth – don’t go to the MSM.

  3. marsman 4

    The Ombudman needs to be investigated re political bias.

  4. Adam 5

    I was wondering about that decision until I found out who the current Ombudsperson is. John Belgrave was a public servant of the old school. Wakem is an Ayn Rand acolyte who will make things up to justify her world view. As will John Key.

  5. Anne 6

    I would suggest it’s not only the Ombudsman who needs to be investigated. What about the police? Two actions have been taken (or rather not taken in one case) so as not to upset the outcome of the election? Both of them would have had a pivotal influence on that out-come!

  6. Tiger Mountain 7

    “Spinning, spinning, spinning, in this magic land”

    Cone of silence descends on asset sale squiggling about. Office of Ombudsman bought into potential disrepute. Russell Norman is not widely known for the strong language he used this week.

    Meanwhile the Search and Surveillence Bill says “go for it boys” to the state and various bureaucrats and cops to snoop on the rest of us without warrant.

    • Brokenback 7.1

      Yes , the raft of Fascist legislation rammed through under urgency in the past term will be extremely handy countering the only recourse left to those who oppose any further sales .

      Back to the streets? Civil disobedience ?

      For those of you who need reminding , here’s a little list of the last rounds spoils for the corporate thieves:

      I dispute the disinformation re Petrocorp , Net return to NZ Govt was ~$350-400m , less than 10% of the proven oil reserves at point of sale.
      The greatest single act of thievery this country has ever known.

  7. hoom 8

    Haven’t ever read an Ombudsmans report before but this seems to be the key point:

    The information at issue is not about whether to pursue a policy of partial privatisation in respect of these particular assets.  The Government has already decided to pursue such a policy, provided it is returned at the election and subject to market conditions and the outcome of detailed scoping studies.  This information concerns preliminary thinking on the manner in which such a policy might be implemented. 

    Probably its a legitimate fact (& why they booked the profits of the sale already).
    Policy is not at debate here.
    There can be no public interest on ‘if the government should decide to take this policy route’ or not because its already decided government policy.

    Unpleasant & yet another example of the underhanded undemocratic way these guys do government.
    Key said he wouldn’t sell anything ‘this term’ & he didn’t.
    What he didn’t say (& probably cause for his dodgy smirk at the time) was that they would be actively setting up sales as government policy during the term rather than waiting till after the election.

    • Carol 8.1

      We need some big, anti-asset sales demos, and soon.

      • Anne 8.1.1

        It’s got to happen. Preferably organised by a collection of groups including the Labour, Green and NZ First parties. Could be a revealing exercise.

        • Misanthropic Curmudgeon

          I have an old NZPO phone box you could use.

          How about Labour also try a great leap backwards to tri-partitie style industrial relations from 1974 to match it?

          Oh, that right, Labour tried to campaign on that and got bitch-slapped for it.

      • Ianupnorth 8.1.2

        Don’t want to be cynical, it won’t happen. Everyone knew what Key et al planned today (or chose to block that from their brains) but they still got in.
        The reality is the message re. assets sales did not get across; the left leaning vote was fractured between Labour and Green, but also those that did a party vote for NZ First; with a greater collaborative agenda (a la Epsom) the likes of Waitakere, Epsom, etc could have easily had a different outcome and that would have really upset the apple cart.

      • bob 8.1.3

        You had your chance to protest Saturday – and didnt. (well not enough of you anyway).

        He has a mandate. They are going to be sold. Awesome result.

        • Richard Down South

          Yeah i can see Telecom going ‘Hey, lets sell our cellphone network, itll pay our small debts’… that’d be a BRILLIANT business decision… not…

          Why would a country do the same?

  8. In Vino Veritas 9

    “Labour’s proposed student loans scheme. Here was an exact parallel”.

    Yes, and exact parallel.Apart from the exception that the information requested included “documents relating to asset sales”, not just regarding advice given (or not by Treasury) and those documents are highly likely to be commercially sensitive.

    Documents that if released (and given Goff’s history would have been) could impinge on the sale price of the assets in question.

    So yes Anthony Hubbard, that would be an exact parallel with student loans.

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