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Openness and transparency

Written By: - Date published: 12:20 pm, June 8th, 2021 - 116 comments
Categories: chris bishop, democracy under attack, democratic participation, Media, national, Parliament, same old national - Tags:

On the weekend Andrea Vance gave the Government a bit of a serve about its openness and transparency.  She said this:

In my 20-year plus time as a journalist, this Government is one of the most thin-skinned and secretive I have experienced. Many of my colleagues say the same.

Even squeezing basic facts out of an agency is a frustrating, torturous and often futile exercise.

She also said this:

Take the last week. Two senior Stuff journalists attempted to interview Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, at a time when the China-Australia-New-Zealand relationship is under intense international scrutiny.

It didn’t happen. Not because of any geo-political sensitivities. Nor something as trivial as a diary clash. The paranoid and hyper-sensitive minister objected to taking questions from two journalists at once.

In the same week, Mahuta released detailed reports on the country’s creaking drinking, waste and stormwater infrastructure. They paint a dire picture and the issue needs urgent public debate.

She did not seem to comprehend that the same week that Mahuta was planning to release reports on the future of the Country’s drinking water may not have been a great time to seek time for an interview about China.

I suspect it was not planned.  It was just that Mahuta did not have enough hours in the day to contemplate an interview.

Vance then complained that the Government wanted to shape the narrative about developing stories.  Well blow me down but can anyone think of an instance in the past 100 years when this was not the case?

She then said this:

My OIA request – which by law should be answered within 20 working days – was delayed, and eventually took five times that length.

The Ombudsman agreed the hold-up was unacceptable, and I got an apology. It made no difference – MBIE still delivered the information on Wednesday, the date it had originally chosen.

I understand why it was obstructive. Hundreds of pages of emails reveal muddled, confused and dogmatic officials under pressure to justify a controversial decision. But much of the crucial information still appears to be redacted.

It’s now very difficult for journalists to get to the heart and the truth of a story. We are up against an army of well-paid spin doctors.

And this:

Since the current Government took office, the number of communications specialists has ballooned. Each minister has at least two press secretaries. (Ardern has four).

In the year Labour took office, the Ministry for the Environment had 10 PR staff. It now has 18. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade more than doubled its staff – up to 25.

MBIE blew out from 48 staff to 64. None of those five dozen specialists could give me those figures for many weeks – and again I was forced to ask the Ombudsman to intervene.

Vance does not mention the fact that Labour has proactively put a whole lot of information into the public domain.  Like Ministers diaries.  Previously this information had to be eeked out by way of LGOIMA.

She also does not acknowledge the huge stress on Ministers offices that has been caused by multiple questions.

The number of written questions put to Ministers from the opposition over the past few years have looked like this:

  • 2021 so far – 23376
  • 2020 – 19732
  • 2019 – 45626
  • 2018 – 40203
  • 2017 – 20563
  • 2016 – 15680
  • 2015 – 16180

Anyone notice a pattern?  See what happened when National was relegated to the opposition benches?

These are not simple questions to answer.  A quick check through Chris Bishop’s 1,482 questions made so far this year include the following:

  • Who paid for the afternoon tea at Government House for Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha, and how much did it cost?
  • How many COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in New Zealand to date, broken down by day?
  • Has the COVID Immunisation Register gone “offline” since it has been operational; if so, for how long in total?
  • What was the coding error in the software used in a local Canterbury medical appointment system for COVID-19 vaccines?
  • What risk assurance process, if any, was used for the software used in a local Canterbury medical appointment system for COVID-19 vaccines?

Turnaround for these questions is meant to be five days.  No wonder the OIA system is under pressure or that extra staff are being hired.

Gerard Otto has an interesting take on Vance’s claims:

Did you know that by the 2nd half of 2018 – 95% of all Official Information Act requests were completed on time, compared with only 91% in 2015/2016?

Me neither.

Who would know that sort of statistic – unless you dug into the numbers and searched around for the overall context – about open and transparent government – and just exactly what Andrea Vance was complaining about in her article titled ” This Government promised to be open and transparent, but it is an artfully-crafted mirage.”

I have not been able to confirm his futures but Otto is normally a very accurate and careful commentator.

His conclusion is pretty scathing:

Vance’s article did not provide statistics – about all the state sector departments and how they are responding, nor what was redacted nor the reasons why information was redacted. She did not detail all the complaints made under this government – nor the answers to those complaints made by Peter Boshier.

In other words – it was Vance who was spinning an artfully created mirage in her article based on a few anecdotal experiences she had over the past year.

Some people say she made excellent points and it was a good read – while others said – it was not Jacinda’s fault – it was those idiots in the public service. Truth is – Vance wrote a lazy article for lazy minds who do not think critically and who are easily mislead by any old opinion from a bitter, twisted and vengeful media.

The overall facts were missing – but some readers formed a view without them.

The situation has been going on for a while.  As noted by Radio New Zealand in 2018:

Auckland University Emeritus Professor Barry Gustafson said the exercise appeared to be more of a fishing expedition than anything to do with policy.

“They cast a hundred or thousand hooks into the sea and hope that they’ll pull up one fish.”

The opposition was searching for inconsistencies in ministers’ answers or something they could develop to embarrass the government.

“It’s getting well away, when you do that, from the original intention of written questions – which was to hold the government accountable on major policy matters and actions.”

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said his office had requested additional staffing to deal with the high volume of written questions and official information requests.

“This was unavailable so the office restructured to employ a staff member to coordinate responses,” he said in a statement.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said the KiwiBuild unit in the new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development had to hire someone with the primary job of answering opposition questions.

Mr Twyford said he was committed to answering questions properly as they were an important part of the parliamentary process.

But he said “there’s no doubt that the volume and the trivial nature of some of the questions is a deliberate tactic by the opposition to tie up government staff resources.”

If we are going to have a discussion on performance then more detail is required.  And attacks on the Government without providing very important context is not something an independent media engages in.

Updatehere is the confirmation of Gerard Otto’s statistics.

116 comments on “Openness and transparency ”

  1. dv 1

    Gerard Otto has an interesting take on Vance’s claims:

    That is very good read.

  2. Anne 2

    Quote from Ms Vance:

    The paranoid and hyper-sensitive minister objected to taking questions from two journalists at once.

    The boot's on the wrong foot. It's the likes of tabloid raised Vance and her fellow tabloid raised colleagues who are paranoid and hyper-sensitive.

    They were trained not to research the actual facts – because facts are boring – but rather to hyperventilate and to add to the ever increasing demand for clickbait viewing.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 2.1

      Yes. Vance was happy in the Key era of being a favoured recipient of his 'leaky faucet' of government information ( like much of the gallery). |He knew that they are transaction journalists who would do him favours if they got his 'no surprises' briefings from the public service.

      And on top she seemed to be getting 'special information' from Dunne – who lost his job rather then reveal the contents of his emails to her.

  3. Gosman 3

    Ummm… the given objection that Andrea Vance stated that was given by Mahuta was not that she was too busy but she objected to two journalists being involved in the interview process.

    • Louis 3.1

      That was Vance's take on it, no evidence to say that was the reason. The minister was busy, as MS pointed out;

      "Mahuta was planning to release reports on the future of the Country’s drinking water may not have been a great time to seek time for an interview about China. I suspect it was not planned. It was just that Mahuta did not have enough hours in the day to contemplate an interview"

  4. Gabby 4

    You know, if the various ministries stuck all non confidential info online, they could respond to a lot of requests by referring Basher Bishop to their website, and he could pull finger and dig out the answers.

    • McFlock 4.1

      Still takes time to properly read the request and then confirm that all the requested information is actually available. And then linking to a website homepage would be another cause for complaint, if there are millions of possible information permutations available on that website.

      So a precise link would have to be generated for an OIA response, if transparency were done in good faith.

      • Gabby 4.1.1

        Or someone could sit Bashyer down and show him how a keyword search works.

        • McFlock

          Yes I'm sure the nats would love that policy to be OIA-compliant if they're ever part of a government again.

          The binary equivalent of the douglas adams bit:

          “But the plans were on display…”
          “On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
          “That’s the display department.”
          “With a flashlight.”
          “Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
          “So had the stairs.”
          “But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
          “Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

          • Gabby

            Big difference between that and putting the stuff online in searchable form, as you probably were aware.

            • McFlock

              only if you know the right search terms, and the responses aren't flooded with subtly different terms from completely different fields.

              And only if it's in a discrete publication, rather than being available within a large data repository like statsnz have.

              But ignoring those and one or two other caveats that might lead to an information overload, sure. If someone has the time and resources to spend. And that's the main difference: OIA shifts the onus onto the department to actively supply the official information, whereas referring someone to a website places a workload barrier between people and that information.

              • Gabby

                Data entry typists are surely cheaper than pr goons. Net saving.

                • McFlock

                  OIA requests are not answered by "PR goons".

                  Not all comms people are even remotely close to "pr".

                  Data entry typists, in this instance, are unneeded, as the information might already be online.

                  I'm not sure you have even the most vague idea of what any of these jobs can entail.

                  And making information accessibility a thing for only the most tech-literate people seems to me to be a bad idea for democracy. Only a few days ago someone in this site was unable to find information on a government website. Finding the tab for table 5c in a downloaded supplementary data file for a multi-hundred-page, blandly-titled report in an imprecise subject area covered by a department that I didn't even know collated such information was not, for them, readily apparent from a "keyword search".

                  also: I wonder if some of these staff are employees that replaced the work done by private contractors under previous governments?

              • Gabby

                I think Bashyer Bishop could probably find someone to type in some keywords for him.

  5. AB 5

    Anybody who was inclined to take at face value the output of an ideological worker like Vance is a tad naive.

  6. gypsy 6

    Otto may well have a point about National gaming the OIA process, but how does that excuse the obfuscation and manipulation that accompanied Vance's own OIA experience? And how does that excuse the rapid rise in the number of PR personnel? PR personnel don't research answers to OIA requests, that's left to back room civil servants.

    • mickysavage 6.1

      The overall stats for responsiveness are pretty good and improving. Bishop's antics are relevant because the more clogged the response system is the longer it will take to provide responses.

      • gypsy 6.1.1

        They are not relevant to the number of PR employees, or why a Minister of the Crown will not take questions from more than one journalist, if indeed that is the case.

        • weka

          It's classic Labour. They do good things over here, but let's not mention the beneficiaries under the carpet. Ardern is a superb communicator, of course she's going to control information to Labour's advantage.

          (sorry micky, that sounds like a dig at your post, but it's meant to be a dig at Labour)

        • McFlock

          One of the strengths through a number of important issues facing this government and the previous coalition has been its communication. Covid, volcanoes, whatever. Not perfect by any means, but generally timely and good enough for the majority of people.

          Now the complaint is too many comms staff. lol

          • gypsy

            It depends on whether PR staff are communicating or spinning.

            • McFlock

              "Spinning" is often one of them irregular verbs:
              I communicate, you spin, they lie.

              Which comms staff do you think are "spinning" as opposed to actually "communicating"? No names, the office they work in would be sufficient.

              • Drowsy M. Kram

                Would political comms staff who didn't endeavour to put the best possible 'spin' (that they thought could be justified if challenged) on announcements be doing their job? ‘Spin’ is a subset of political ‘Comms’ – presumably there have been impartial analyses done as to which points of the political compass make the most use of spin, artful and otherwise.

                I spin occasionally, you spin often, they live and breathe spin.

                Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” – George Orwell

                I (would like to) think that Ardern, Robertson, Davidson and Shaw only spin occasionally, but it might be a minority opinion.

              • gypsy

                Yes you first point is well made. Let me put it to you this way. This government is no busier than any others in recent history. Yet they have employed a significant number of (additional) communications/PR specialists. That could mean a number of things. Andrea Vance is of the view that this is part of the government tightening it's "iron grip on the control of information". She has also given specific examples of the concerns she has, including a cabinet minister refusing an interview because she won't be interviewed by more than one person at a time. Now Vance may be wrong; she may be misrepresenting the situation. I guess we'll get some idea if other's come out and support or contradict her position.

                • Drowsy M. Kram

                  This government is no busier than any others in recent history.

                  Gypsy, is there some impartial analysis supporting that contention, or is it (just) your (or Vance’s) opinion? Could attempts to address pent-up unmet need(s) involve a bit of extra work.

                  And there's complications from the COVID-19 pandemic – might they make more work for at least some politicians – consider, for example, Simon Bridges' role as chair of the Epidemic Response Committee.

                  • McFlock

                    I guess I'm biased. Every day in town more progress is being made on a billion-dollar hospital. The last lot promised one and delayed making a decision on where to build it. That tends to make me think Labour are more talky because they're more do-ey.

                    • gypsy

                      Like most governments, the talking has well exceeded the doing thus far. I well remember my nat friends complaining that Key talked a big game but in the end flattered to deceive. It’s quite humorous listening to my lab friends now saying the same thing about Ardern.

                    • McFlock

                      Ditching the DHBs is a pretty big move.

                      Stuff is being built that the nats promised then ignored.

                      The covid bailouts were done spectacularly well – compare that with the chch "whatever it takes".

                      The focus on child poverty will yield long term structural changes. That's a massive change from ten years ago.

                      Maybe the government doesn't have enough comms staff to get through to your mates.

                    • gypsy

                      "Ditching the DHBs is a pretty big move."

                      That's an announcement, it hasn't actually happened. It really is a stretch to argue that this government is actually doing any more than either the Key or Clark governments.

                      "Maybe the government doesn't have enough comms staff to get through to your mates."

                      The point Andrea Vance is making is that the PR staff are not being employed to get through to anyone's mates. They are being employed to control information. If she's right, that should worry us all, dont you think?

                    • McFlock

                      "Ditching the DHBs is a pretty big move."

                      That's an announcement, it hasn't actually happened.

                      The DHB removal started happening almost immediately from the announcement. First noticed some folks having their emails transition to "@health"… rather than "@[dhb]"… within days.

                      That's a full health restructure planned with a phased implementation to start visible changes alongside the announcement. You think that just magicked itself into existence? That's at least a year of planning, oh wait, you think they started that during a pandemic? Or did the pandemic interrupt that process, ya reckon?

                      The point Andrea Vance is making is that the PR staff are not being employed to get through to anyone's mates. They are being employed to control information. If she's right, that should worry us all, dont you think?

                      If. I have yet to see any evidence of that if. I do see a plausible argument that an existing gatekeeper of information (a political reporter) might have a vested interest in arguing against more effective government communication with the population. It bypasses their role.

                  • gypsy

                    This government has faced significant issues (including in it's first term), but then the incoming national government in 2008 faced a looming recession, global financial crisis, Christchurcch earthquakes, Pike river and so on. That is the nature of government.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      If you're suggesting that the workload of Government varies over time according to external and internal events over which it has little-to-no control, then that makes sense to me.

                      One of Vance's current 'concerns' appears to be an increase in the number of government PR staff. I wonder – did the number of PR staff used by the National government remain static during the period in which NZ "faced a looming recession, global financial crisis, Christchurcch earthquakes, Pike river and so on."?

                      That would be a useful comparative analysis, imho. Would Jason Ede count as PR staff, or just a "black ops" spin doctor?

                      I'll worry about the number of PR staff a government uses if they're shown to be up to no good. Vance's opinion piece is a bit lightweight in this regard, although I can understand why she would assume that government PR staff must be up to not good.

                      Truth is – Vance wrote a lazy article for lazy minds who do not think critically and who are easily mislead by any old opinion from a bitter, twisted and vengeful media.

                      The overall facts were missing – but some readers formed a view without them.

                  • gypsy

                    "I'll worry about the number of PR staff a government uses if they're shown to be up to no good. "

                    You make some good points. As to your comment I have quoted, depending on who you credit for what they do, Vance is very clear what she thinks about that. She says this:

                    "The Government’s iron grip on the control of information has tightened."

                    "And it is now harder than ever to get information."

                    "In my 20-year plus time as a journalist, this Government is one of the most thin-skinned and secretive I have experienced. Many of my colleagues say the same."

                    "Even squeezing basic facts out of an agency is a frustrating, torturous and often futile exercise. "

                    She says it is "very difficult for journalists to get to the heart and the truth of a story. We are up against an army of well-paid spin doctors."

                    There's plenty more. You may not agree with her, but if those comments reflect reality then someone most certainly is up to no good.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      "The Government’s iron grip on the control of information has tightened."

                      Indeed, if Vance's “comments reflect reality“. The purpose of the imagery of an already "iron grip" being tightened further is to alarm.

                      If this supposed tightening of an already iron grip is real, might it be response to the rise of 'gotcha journalism' and 'gotcha politics' – a type of journo-pollie evolutionary arms race? [“…an army of well-paid spin doctors.“]

                      Who's to blame for the abuse on Andrea Vance?
                      [Tim Watkin; August 2013]

                      Three times as many New Zealanders chose to watch The Big Bang Theory over 3rd Degree. It's depressing, but it's also indicative of how and why some public servants and politicians have lost sight of some of the core principles of democracy and decent accountability.

                      The public doesn't have the same appetite for eternal vigilence that they used to. Modern lifestyles don't allow for it, other alternatives are more appealing and the media has in part given in and played along. So we must take our share of the blame.

                      So when Vance complains about weakening press freedoms, we as her colleagues must look at our own role in that and the way journalism has changed in the past generation.

                      Hopefully this might be a teaching moment, when we can stress again some of the reasons for the principles we as journalists are trying to uphold. The profession and the whole country could probably do with a reminder.

                  • gypsy

                    " If this supposed tightening of an already iron grip is real, might it be response to the rise of 'gotcha journalism' and 'gotcha politics' – a type of journo-pollie evolutionary arms race? [“…an army of well-paid spin doctors.“] "

                    Who knows. But the finger is being pointed specifically at this government, not previous governments.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      Imho when a finger is pointed there's value in examining not only what's being pointed at, but also the 'who' and 'why' of that 'pointing'.

                      I doubt many would deny that politicisation of the media is real and increasing. But what might be driving that trend – maybe something to do with the privatisation of media outlets?


                      Trust in news in New Zealand 2021 [pdf]
                      Reasons for not trusting the media
                      Some participants mentioned that they have lost trust in the media, especially in talkback radio, because of political bias or politicisation, or because the media pushes a specific agenda. Some respondents say news outlets offer opinions rather than factual news and well-researched information, hence reducing their trustworthiness.

                      the problem with the news is that it is no longer the news. It is one side of an opinion and the other sides are left out of the story.

                      journalists appear to want to own their stories by selectively reporting to a predetermined plan.

                      Just curious – has "the finger" not been pointed at previous NZ governments, and wouldn’t Vance be in an ideal position to inform?

                  • gypsy

                    "has "the finger" not been pointed at previous NZ governments, and wouldn’t Vance be in an ideal position to inform?"

                    Good questions. But Vance puts her concerns into perspective in her opening paragraphs:

                    "From the moment she took office in 2017, Jacinda Ardern promised her government would be the most open and transparent New Zealand has seen. In her first formal speech to Parliament she pledged: “This government will foster a more open and democratic society. It will strengthen transparency around official information.”"

                    Vance is writing about this government specifically, because it is this PM that made those claims.

                  • gypsy

                    " Gypsy, have you examined the two links embedded in Vance's opening statements? "

                    Thanks – yes that is true, I can't find any reference to the PM making those remarks herself, but I doubt it matters. 1. Clare Curran certainly made the comments on behalf of the government (Curran was the Associate Open Government Minister), and it would be extraordinary for her to make such a claim without the PM's ok. 2. In the wake of Curran's demise, the PM appears to have affirmed that pledge.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      Thanks – yes that is true, I can't find any reference to the PM making those remarks herself, but I doubt it matters.

                      Sloppy work by senior journalists matters, imho. Why did Vance include those two Stuff links in the first two sentences of her opinion piece? It would have been trivially easy to provide links that supported her assertions, for example the ‘1 News’ link you found.

                      The Prime Minister admitted today the Government has not lived up to the commitment to "be the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had", after being questioned by Simon Bridges over the chief technology officer saga.

                      Former Associate Open Government Minister Clare Curran made the commitment in November last year [2017].

                      And of course you're right, it most likely doesn't matter to those lapping up Vance's attempt to join the dots between an increase in the number of communications/PR staff, and the long wait for a response to her OIA request.

                      But I do empathise with Vance's frustration – I retired years ago.

                      It also keeps journalists distracted and over-burdened with a rolling maul of press conferences and announcements, which are often meaningless or repetitive and prevent sustained or detailed questioning.

                      Published : 04 March 2021

                      Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes today released the Official Information Act statistics for the six months to December 2020.

                      The latest statistics cover 116 agencies that collectively completed 25,332 official information requests between June and December 2020, a sharp 27% increase in volume on the previous six months.

                      In the six months to December, 54 agencies completed 100% of their OIA requests within the legislated timeframe. Overall, agencies responded to 24,631, or 97.2%, of requests on time, compared with the 97.3% in the January to June 2020 period.

                      Since 2015 when the Commission started collecting OIA data there has been overall improvement in OIA requests being completed on time. In June 2016, 91.1% of OIAs were completed on time compared with 97.2% today.

                      “In the context of a 27% increase in volume, maintaining a high level of timeliness is a satisfactory result,” said Mr Hughes.

                      “During this period the Public Service has and continues to be at the forefront of implementing the Government’s COVID-19 response and economic recovery effort.”

                      Of the 116 agencies, 54 have published OIA responses on their websites, up from 46 in the previous six months. In total, 1876 OIA responses were published, a 52% increase on the previous period.

                      “While this result is particularly pleasing, we know we can do better,” said Mr Hughes. “Agencies are working hard to make official information more freely available.”

                      In the six months to December 2020, the number of complaints to the Ombudsman notified to agencies decreased 18%, down from 192 to 158. A total of 20 final opinions were made by the Ombudsman against agencies, a 39% decrease on the previous period (33 during the January-June 2020 period), which represents less than 0.1% of all OIA requests responded to by agencies.

                      The Commission now publishes additional OIA information on the data.govt.nz website, which contains all OIA statistics since 2015, as well as proactive release locations for OIA responses and Cabinet papers.

                      The latest Ombudsman’s data is also available.



                  • gypsy

                    "Why did Vance include those two Stuff links in the first two sentences of her opinion piece? "

                    Well the second link refers to Ardern's speech from the throne. That quote is entirely correct.

                    The first link goes to an article about hiding data. I suspect it is the wrong link, but the reality is Ardern's Associate Minister of Open Government coined the phrase "most open and transparent New Zealand has seen".

                    And that's the point. Vance is pointing her (and by all accounts other journo's) experience with this government back at the PM's own words. She may be right, she may be wrong.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      And that's the point. Vance is pointing her (and by all accounts other journo's) experience with this government back at the PM's own words.

                      Perhaps Vance is at the end of her tether if she's choosing to label an experienced senior politician "paranoid and hyper-sensitive". Maybe she's wrong; maybe she's right – a 50:50 proposition?

                      They [the public] see a prime minister that has captivated the world with her ‘authentic’ communication style, intimate social media postings, daily Covid briefings and proactive releases of Cabinet papers.

                      It is an artfully-crafted mirage, because the reality is very different.

                      This reads like a highly-personalised tall-poppy hit-job, because our PM really has captivated the NZ public, and the wider world. That's the reality – there is no "mirage", imho, and that is what Vance finds so confounding, and confronting.

                      When Jacinda Ardern speaks, people listen. Why?
                      Jacinda Ardern has been thrown into the global spotlight over the last week and has spoken with composure and compassion. Her response to New Zealand’s worst ever mass-shooting has sparked interest internationally, as people watch and seem captivated by her balance of authority and honesty.

                      10 things we can learn from the way Jacinda Ardern communicates

                      Jacinda Ardern: The best leader the world has – Liberal Article

                      Nevertheless, I wish Vance well in her endeavours to chip away at this supposed "artfully-crafted mirage" on the way to her next exposé to expose – what, I wonder? Another 'gotcha'? The ugly truth? Incompetence? Malfeasance? Must all be there, because 'politicians'.

                      But credit where credit is due tooat least she hasn't descended to muck-raking.

                      The grapevine gazette: How NZ media handled the Clarke Gayford rumours

                      TVNZ political reporter Andrea Vance called it “a sad, sad day for journalism”.

                      We are all going to justify following the story telling ourselves: ‘It’s now about how the PM reacts.’ I’m sorry, but this is why everyone hates the media,” she said on Twitter.

                • weka

                  Nice summing up. Would be great to look at what she is saying and examine it rather writing it off via sound bites. Micky had a go, but I think was still too dismissive.

      • Stewart 6.1.2

        Yeah, Otto's misunderstood those stats, which weakens his argument significantly. The measure was deliberately chosen by Peter Hughes and his good buddy Boshier to enable the public service to look good while masking a decline in quality and responses within 20 working days. The 'on time' measure in the stats is for all requests responded to within even extended periods. They don't break out how many requests are responded to within the 20 working day limit, and how many within the extended limit they create for themselves. It creates an incentive for departments to extend the time for responding to requests, instead of asking Treasury for more resources to respond to the requests within 20 working days. Responding to each OIA request is like a mini project, and the same '3 iron laws of project management' apply: time, quality and cost. If you can't get more resources (cost), you either have to push out the date for responding, or drop the quality. Note also that the Ombudsman is formally investigating these complaints far less often – he goes for 'informal resolution', which also jukes the stats.

        This was blogged about 3 years ago, and No Right Turn has covered it lots.

  7. Patricia Bremner 7

    Vance and Bishop. "Nuff said!!

  8. Stuart Munro 8

    In the very ancient time, a certain semi-barbaric prince was accused of very serious crimes, by a priest probably acting to secure the throne for his younger brother.

    The judicial process was simple – the prince himself had to pull a grape from a pouch containing one black and one white grape. If he pulled a black grape he would be put to death. The priest however, was a neoliberal, so the prince was certain the trial would be rigged, and the pouch would contain two black grapes.

    The problem then, was how to produce a white grape from a pouch that did not contain any. In the event, the prince pulled out his grape, and, loudly thanking the gods, ate it before anyone else could see it.

    "What colour was it?" the priest demanded.

    "It was white of course," the prince replied, "If you look you'll find the black one is still in the bag."

    Vance has come up a white grape.

    • mac1 8.1

      I've heard a similar story but with black and white pebbles. The black stone got spilt by the prince onto a path made of both coloured stones and then showed the black stone still in the bag as proof it was a white one….

      The other moral of that story is always to leave an out for the powerful deceiver so that he is not backed into a corner. The very transparency of the process, even though it had been fiddled, finessed the deceiver.

      The same with Trump's vain attempt to allege electoral irregularities. The system that he as President and his fellow Republicans oversaw turned him down, making charges of voting fiddles against himself rather difficult to believe.

      • Stuart Munro 8.1.1

        In fairness to Vance though – the entire raison d'etre of MBIE is to cover up their myriad failings. False technocracies, of which MBIE is practically the archetype, have an infinitude of ass covering to do.

        • mac1

          " the entire raison d'etre of MBIE is to cover up their myriad failings". Such a statement does not do much fairness to yourself, being somewhat of a blanket, sweeping and unfair generalisation.

          • Stuart Munro

            The ministry of everything, is necessarily responsible for everything.

            • mac1

              As are we responsible for the accuracy of our statements……..

              • Stuart Munro

                To what extent do you believe a country with rapidly growing inequality can rate the ministry that declares its object is "to grow NZ for all" a success?

                • mac1

                  I am querying your statement that I regarded as cheapening my response to your good story of the prince by inviting me to accept a huge generalisation that you made. I'm not trying to defend the MBIE. I'm asking you to either acknowledge your generalisation for what it was, or to justify with evidence that its sole reason for existence is to cover its 'ass' (sic).

                  • Stuart Munro

                    Created as a 'super ministry' in 2012, it serves eighteen portfolios and 14 ministers. This is not happenstance – individual ministers have less chance of constructive or representative input to MBIE than any other civil service entity. That was the whole point of Joyce's reform – MBIE was his version of the End of History – and the premise of the amalgamation was every bit as fundamentally flawed as Fukuyama's.

                    As for burden of proof, with the exception of the Covid response, I'm hard put to find anything in which MBIE has been involved that has reflected credit upon it. MBIE oversaw (or overlooked) the myriad wage theft immigration scams that had Indian expat fraudsters import hundreds of unskilled workers and secure residency for them, and clearly had NFI of their suitability, or the local labour market, and no functioning system for checking whether their policy settings were appropriate. These clowns were drawing professional salaries – the public have every right to expect a professional performance from them, including dismissal for their many failures.

  9. Muttonbird 9

    Thanks MS.

    It's shame you have to spend so much time pushing back against, as Gerard Otto accurately puts it, "a lazy article for lazy minds who do not think critically and who are easily mislead by any old opinion from a bitter, twisted and vengeful media".

    • weka 9.1

      still going for the cheap ad homs I see.

      • Muttonbird 9.1.1

        Meh. Some got taken in by Vance’s article.

        • weka

          again, can't argue the points, just making ad homs.

          • ghostwhowalksnz

            It was the feminist Carol Hanisch who popularised the phrase "The Personal is Political" but that was from a slightly different angle.

      • Red Blooded One 9.1.2

        Genuine question. Is it fair to criticize someone if they have clearly quoted someone who is criticizing the media. Surely Muttonbird agreeing with and referencing someone's quote, which is aimed at an article, it's readers, and media in general, is not a cheap ad hom. If it technically is, my apologies.

        • weka

          Context from yesterday. The piece is bad because Vance wrote it (and probably because it criticises Labour), rather than the piece is wrong because x, y, z.

          • Muttonbird

            Ok, the piece is wrong because it's sensationalist, it's lazy, and it's driven by personal grievance.

            • Anne

              Which goes back to what I said @ 2.

              I'm not indulging in politics and I don't think Muttonbird is either. Them's the facts. I can think of some excellent journos in days gone by who clearly tended towards National in their political views but who were nevertheless always worth a read. A good example, Ian Templeton.


              • weka

                are you saying that the pieces is worthless because it was written by Vance?

                • Patricia Bremner

                  Short answer "Yes". IMO She lost all credibility in her dealings with Bow Tie. Her reckons leave me cold. The discussion points are valid? Not if they are based on a falacious premise. “This Government is hiring people to do nothing” Just rubbish.

                  • gypsy

                    But that isn't the premise at all. The premise is that the government is hiring people to (deliberately) impede the free flow of information. In a democracy we are entitled to know if that is true or not.

            • weka

              Something can be sensationalist, lazy and driven by personal grievance and be right, so you still haven't made the case.

              • Louis

                Thought Gerard Otto, link in MS piece, made a case for where he thought Vance was wrong.

                • gypsy

                  " Which is not true. See Sacha @ 13 "

                  That is a personal opinion provided based on someone's experience. That has value, but it is certainly not definitive.

              • ghostwhowalksnz

                This is part of what she did write..

                'The paranoid and hyper-sensitive minister objected to taking questions from two journalists at once.'

                Paranoid ? Oh that right its OK when Vance does it and everyone else has to make the case on what she wrote. Pleeeese

                • weka

                  No one said that. You just made that up because sarcastic mockery is easier or more satisfying than making actual political arguments.

                  I’d shrug except this is serious. What you just did there is why the left can’t have nice things. We don’t know how to talk about the shit that matters and we’re shedding debate skills. Look at how many people are rejecting what Vance said because its Vance.

                  I get it. I’m on Twitter, I have to resist the impulse to mockery and sound bite wit all the time. And it’s more obvious there that people are struggling to debate. We should be protecting TS robust debate culture, not treating the place like social media.

                  • ghostwhowalksnz

                    I just showed her statement was ludicrous… called the minister paranoid.

                    I didnt make it up

                    I dont see how the people pointing it out have to justify any comments that are directed AT her rather than finding fault with Mahuta

                    • weka

                      This is the bit you made up and that I was responding to:

                      "Oh that right its OK when Vance does it and everyone else has to make the case on what she wrote"

                  • Incognito

                    Your last paragraph is spot on and I’m guilty as accused 🙁

                    • weka

                      We all do it. Many of us. It’s been jumping out at me lately. Seeing the inability of people to debate on Twitter, making me grateful for TS, then seeing this shit happening here too. There’s solid debate happening here as well so am thinking about the dynamics and what we can protect. But the dismissal is bothering me. Maybe we’re tired. Or maybe we’ve got a culture now if it, colonised from Twitter

                    • Incognito []

                      Speaking for myself, as always, I’ve been working hard, which makes debating here during the week an arduous task, at best. I have to confess that I do react like anybody else to the vibe du jour here, which is not a positive one, to say the least. There just doesn’t seem to be willingness at present to have genuine good faith debate, maybe because it is hard and takes considerable effort or maybe because people have succumbed to cynicism. There’s some good stuff, but it’s like gold dust that has to be carefully sieved out.

                  • Sacha

                    In general rather than this specific thread, please do not see refusal to countenance some stances on topics as 'struggling to debate'. People are simply over having to justify their existence and recognising how treating speech as a 'marketplace' reinforces power imbalances. Some loudmouths refuse to listen.

                    Ridicule can be the most sensible response. Thankfully on Twitter it is also easier to screen out the worst braying dumbarsery.

                    • weka

                      you're missing the point. It's nothing to do with countenancing stances. If you think a stance is bullshit then say so. If you want to say why, great. If you don't, fine. But the whole way of debating that's about ad homs and underming people instead of addressing issues is harming debate culture.

                      eg, GW said "Oh that right its OK when Vance does it and everyone else has to make the case on what she wrote. Pleeeese"

                      Which means that if the debate is to be had, I have to then explain why that's basically a lie and misleading. Rather than talking about what the actual problems are.

                    • weka

                      and you know, massive fucking irony, to be taking potshots at Vance for being shitty at presenting her position.

                      I often enjoy your mocking/sound bite approach on twitter. It's witty and fits into the fast flow of what happens there. Here it doesn't work so well where it's part of a general dismissal. If someone thinks Vance's piece is shit, then sure, say that, but it doesn't need to be said over and over again if that's all that's being contributed. And the tendency on the left to ad hom is a problem where it's replacing robust debate.

                    • Sacha

                      it doesn't need to be said over and over again if that's all that's being contributed

                      Certainly becoming a problem here. Too much noise, not enough signal. Does not encourage others to bother joining in.

                • Gabby

                  Why were the 2 journos so keen to pair up?

            • Louis

              +1 Muttonbird.

  10. mac1 10

    Vance wrote, "Many of my colleagues say the same."

    Has she elaborated on that? Who? How many? References to what they said?

  11. mac1 11

    Vance writes, "In my 20-year plus time as a journalist, this Government is one of the most thin-skinned and secretive I have experienced." This century there have been three governments. In 22 years, Labour 1999-2008, National 2008-2017, Labour 2017-2021. Not a lot of comparison to be made, to make a judgment worth noting that this is one of the most secretive and thin-skinned…….

    • Sacha 11.1

      She also worked in the UK. News of the World, etc..

      • mac1 11.1.1

        OK then, British Labour party was government from late 1990s to 2010. In NZ from 2010 onwards, two governments. Still three governments of which she says the current Labour government is one of the worst…..

        One of three…… could even be the second worst, out of three.

        Not a really elucidatory comparison.

        Of the three wines I have ever drunk, two reds and a white, this red I'm drinking now is one of the worst! You don't get to be a master of wine with that tasting experience.

    • Anne 11.2

      mac1 @ 11
      Vance shows her ignorance of NZ's modern political history. The thinnest skinned government would have to be that between 1975 and 1984 when Muldoon reigned supreme. He held grievances against individuals simply because they criticised him in some way. He conducted vendettas against groups based on perception rather than reality.

      Don't lets forget what he did to Bill Rowling's teenage daughter who committed suicide based in part on the jeers, sneers, dishonest and demeaning claims he made about her father for no reason other than he was the Leader of the Opposition. After her death a scrap book of hers was discovered containing all the newspaper stories of Muldoon's vitriol towards her father.

      This tyrannical bully was surely the thinnest skinned NZ PM ever.

      • Louis 11.2.1

        Didn't know that. That's terrible, so tragic. There's that same irresponsible disregard for the consequences in the current line up of the National party, where obvioulsy nothing has changed.

        I see a fascinating book in you Anne, I hope one day you write it, you would have no issue in getting it published.

        • Anne

          Yes, there is a story to tell. Its one of mischievous political shenanigans and cover ups. It started back in the early to mid 1970s and continued for 10 plus years. As a young and naive newcomer to politics in the 70s, I was unwittingly being used by someone who years later I realised was mixed up in the 'shenanigans'. There were some serious consequences for me further down the track so I have been slowly trying to gather the threads together ever since.

          Its a bit like a large and complicated jigsaw with a few stories within the main story and some of the pieces are still missing.

          One thing I can tell you… the bully I mentioned above was donkey deep in the cover-ups in particular.

          • Louis

            Even more intriguing!

            "the bully I mentioned above was donkey deep in the cover-ups in particular"

            That wouldn't surprise me one bit.

      • gypsy 11.2.2

        Hi Anne. I well remember in 1978, as a teenager still too young to vote, attending a Bill Rowling rally at the town hall in Auckland. I know my view may have been rose tinted form the time, but Bill was a thoroughly decent New Zealander, who was treated abominably by Muldoon. Your description of Muldoon is almost too polite.

      • mac1 11.2.3

        In 1972 Muldoon came to Blenheim. At question time a man asked a question, standing at the back about where I, a 23 year old, was. He was asked to come to the front. He did and asked his question.

        He was then left standing at the front so he made his way back down the aisle, as it was rude to stand where he was. Halfway down, as Muldoon was now answering his question, he accepted the offer of a man who saw his need to be seated and put his knee out into the aisle and tapped it with his hand. "Sit here" style of thing.

        The questioner sat on this man's outstretched knee.

        Mulddon's response was to draw attention to this in a homophobic and mean way, even for those times. I knew then he was wrong. But from then on, Muldoon had demeaned himself as a mean-spirited and cackling homophobic bully who saw political capital in taking a cheap shot. The Moyle affair was a worse example of the same bullying behaviour.

        This was particularly why I enjoyed David Lange's wit when, on assuming the Labour leadership, he met in Parliament bully Muldoon's 'plum tum' sally with the choicest riposte I ever heard.

        From memory it went, "The member for Remuera may refer to me as ‘plum tum’ but viewed from side on the member looks like he has secreted about his person the entire contents of a Hawkes Bay orchard."

        • Anne

          Member for Tamaki. 😉

          The choicest Lange quip I remember was when some British lady with an aristocratic title was sent by Maggie T to basically give Lange a right telling off over our Nuclear Free status. As she was walking away from the PM's Office, Lange yelled after her “Hey Baroness, you’ve left your broomstick behind”.

          The Moyle Affair was a set-up from the start and I know the identities of two of the people who were implicated.

  12. If only Vance could drop her love affair with the National party and be the journalist we deserve , you know the one who is interested in the truth despite it being red or blue and reports and writes without any political bias.

    Sure have a dig at Adern's social democrats but don't stay silent when people like that shyster Key and his colleague's got away with so many things that were never scrutinised between 2009-2017 while Vance and her ilk turned a blind eye to the worst excesses.

  13. Sacha 13

    Because journalists deal mainly with govt PR people I guess it is easy for them to think that is what all 'Communications' staff are. Not so.


    • Muttonbird 13.1

      I touched on this in my own shortened, time-poor way on Sunday. I said:

      In reality, the media landscape has changed, the demands are ever increasing and in real time, and governments' response to that naturally changes too.


      Not good enough for some, though.

    • Louis 13.2

      +1 Sacha. Vance didnt like Steph's suggestion that she should "reach out to the @PR_InstituteNZ to see if she can be buddied up with a comms mgr in a govt agency to find out what day-to-day life is actually like. I guarantee it’s not what she thinks"

      See Sacha's comment @ 13 for the link.

      • Sabine 13.2.1

        when you 'embed' journalists with government owned stenographers you expect to get the truth?


        oh well, all its good propaganda when Labour does it, i can't wait for the howls of indignation should a National led or an Act led government demand the same. 🙂

        Embedded journalism, the practice of placing journalists within and under the control of one side’s military during an armed conflict. Embedded reporters and photographers are attached to a specific military unit and permitted to accompany troops into combat zones. Embedded journalism was introduced by the U.S. Department of Defense during the Iraq War (2003–11) as a strategic response to criticisms about the low level of access granted to reporters during the Persian Gulf War (1990–91) and the early years of the Afghanistan War (which began in 2001).

        The point is, non of the government stooges need to do the job. If they don't like being answerable to the public they can go and get a job in private industry, surely they can get a decent pay there too doing fuck all all day long.

        • Louis

          Some would disagree with your opinion Sabine.

        • Muttonbird

          All the major outlets embed journalists in the National Party. The relationship is fraught with sycophancy and potential for abuse.

          Tracy Watkins, Stacey Kirk, Claire Trevett, Audrey Young, Derek Chen, are all current or former National Party reporters. They are those who cover the National Party, and as such are beholden to the National Party for their column inches.

          I prefer government and opposition deliver to all journalists equally and impartially.

    • Media presenters, desperately short of something to (breathlessly) present information advance themselves and their opinions as "news".
    • I am not picking on Vance most of them do it, from time to time.

    Hey there are deadlines to meet. Bugger the truth.

  14. Jackel 15

    Thin-skinned and secretive, an odd combination of terms. So if they spill their guts their whole world will fall apart. Vance grossly misjudges and underestimates Labour if she thinks they are like that.

  15. cricklewood 16

    No Right Turn follows OIA stats etc closely, various articles on his blog over recent times seem to outline a less than desirable trend away from open govt.

    He's nothing if not consistant on issues around the OIA

    • Incognito 16.1

      The OIA is in dire need of a major overhaul. However, technocratic rules and regulations are not going to fix the core problem, which is the attitude and mentality of both recipients & requesters. Unfortunately, anti-egalitarian attitudes are rife in our society down to the smallest ‘fiefdoms’. Hiding behind ‘confidentiality’ or ‘commercial sensitivity’ should have a high hurdle, as high as name suppression by a Court, for example. Remove or make it really hard for a ‘vexatious litigant’ such as the National Party to game and clog up the system. The fact that this Government has given it a low priority and put it in the fridge tells you everything you need to know.

  16. tc 17

    Whining spun dried entitlement from someone who got played during DP and is about as clued up as any neo lib hack is.

    20 years in the same owned media system and it shows Andrea.

  17. K C 18

    I see the thin skinned are everywhere here too……

    Parliamentary questions are/were needed because of a government who refuses to release set real targets or release information to protect its continuous failures. That is even worse now Labour hold a majority.

    What about the denial about running out of COVID vaccines? Earlier this week they confirmed that the numbers of doses were as reported, delivery as reported, and when confronted with the reality that we would run out the answer was "no". Now Hipkins has had to admit the truth. Too much of this goes on and shows either a lack of competence or transparency. You choose which.

    This is a government of spin, so much BS almost every day, we're drowning in it.

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