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The Herald soils its pulpit

Written By: - Date published: 9:16 am, July 31st, 2009 - 52 comments
Categories: human rights, law and "order", Media - Tags: ,

Thundering from the pulpit is a fine old editorial tradition, and The Herald has often held forth on the rule of law. Starting with the basics:

The law must be upheld…

The law matters, as The Herald feels perfectly comfortable pointing out to those it feels need the advice:

If the law is enforced impartially and professionally, people feel confidence in, and allegiance to, a state. If, however, [it isn’t] the rule of law is undermined, and anarchy is a logical prospect.

The law applies to everyone:

…those who make the laws should not break them – any of them.

And a very timely reminder:

But public opinion does not decide whether the law has been broken: the courts do.

This one isn’t an editorial, but it certainly makes an important point:

But the law is the law and the failure of the responsible authorities to comply with the letter, let alone the spirit, of the act raises the question of “who regulates the regulators”.

You get the idea. Ten minutes with Google will turn up many more examples. It’s Motherhood and Apple Pie stuff. Who could disagree? Which is why I was so surprised and disappointed when The Herald soiled it’s pulpit so badly on Wednesday:

Minister right to give public all the facts

There you go. Minister right to break the law. Easy as that (for a National government of course). And it gets worse:

The crux of this issue is whether the information now released by Ms Bennett is relevant to their case, or merely an attempt to intimidate, as critics say.

Ahh – no. The crux of the matter is, did the Minister break the law. And it certainly seems that she is in violation of the Cabinet Manual, the Privacy Commission guidelines, and the Privacy Act. So shame on you, Herald editorialist, for your cavalier disregard for the law, and for your mealy mouthed sucking up to National’s excuses. That editorial was a disgrace.
–r0b

52 comments on “The Herald soils its pulpit ”

  1. vto 1

    I read that editorial and thought it made a lot of sense.

    But laws should certainly not be broken – and no doubt if it transpires that a law was broken Bennett will suffer the consequences (unless Key performs as Clark often did at times like this)

    • snoozer 1.1

      And you will vehemently oppose him if he does.

      But I’m trying to think of time when a Labour minister was found to have broken the law and wasn’t sacked… any clues?

      • Gosman 1.1.1

        Dalziel wasn’t sacked because of a breach of Privacy. She was sacked due to the fact she was caught out in a lie regarding leaking of information.

  2. Gosman 2

    This is not playing out how you on the left would like it.

    You might very well be right about the legality of the issue but politics is about more than legal issues.

    Bennett might very well get found out by the Privacy Commisioner to have breached the law but if she increases the popularity of the government as a result of her actions then it is unlikely she will get anything more than a slap on the wrist.

    You might not like this, and by all means keep pushing the line that this is somehow the end of democracy as we know it in NZ, but unfortunately for you the reality is this is not something that will cause much long term problems for the Government.

    • snoozer 2.1

      So, breaking the law is OK as long as it suits your political agenda. Oh, OK!

      • burt 2.1.1

        Yes tha appears to be how it works. Partisan people support it in their own team and go crazy when the other team do it.

  3. Maggie 3

    Expecting a newspaper to support an individual’s right to privacy is like asking a fox to vote for stronger chicken coops.

    An interesting spin from the Right this morning: Doesn’t matter if its legal so long as its popular. Gosman has a very low opinion of this current government, it seems.

  4. Relic 4

    It will be interesting to revisit Gos prediction in a few months time. Bennett’s apparent offending should be pursued to the end of all available processes and forums.
    a) because it is the correct thing to do in any event and..
    b) precisely to demonstrate to the squawk back hordes and online snipers that objective reality does matter

  5. The Herald shows it has grasped at the core issue but that it is unable to navigate the ethics and jurisprudence.

    I have just blogged on this issue myself, the core issue is that the state is not above the law. The state must follow the Privacy Act and keep the promises it makes in its contracts. If it does not like a law or a contractual term then there are proper steps to deal with this – unilaterally breaking the law is not acceptable.

    It doesn’t matter is Labour did it/would do it using some other method. If it wrong then it stays wrong when Labour does it too – someone else doing it does not make it right.

    The other issues are all secondary to this fundamental one.

    I am somewhat libertarian. I do not share the political views of the writers at the Standard. I am opposed to state funded welfare, I absolutely agree that the amount people on benefits are paid is information the public, who is paying for it, should have access too but I will not overlook a government acting as if it is above the law because it suits my politics.

    Feel free to stop by MandM (my blog) and read what I have to say on the matter. Sadly,you will not find many right wing bloggers saying the same thing.

  6. vto 6

    I been away and no doubt this issue has been thrashed to bits on here. But some 2c says that, as Gosman says, whether or not a law has been breached is quite immaterial to most all NZers on this matter.

    This issue slices right to the heart of the nature of the welfare state in NZ today. This glimpse confirms what many people get very irate about – namely those on welfare often getting more money than those who work to pay for those on welfare. It exposes what is an inherent unfairness. It grates. And it wont go away until certain unfairness in the system is purged, despite the extreme left bleating on about beneficiary bashing and talkback radio punterness.

    • Derek 6.1

      It won’t be immaterial when the next Labour government uses this precedent to release IRD information on anyone who complains about their tax policies, or releases the medical records of people who complain about the health system.

      • vto 6.1.1

        I’ve got it! They should simply retrospectively change the law to make that which is illegal legal. I seem to recall a Helen Clark precedent along those lines…

        no?

        • Derek 6.1.1.1

          So now you’re descending to burt’s level of argument. I’ll take that as an admission you’ve got nothing to bring to the debate other than to run cover for National’s abuse of power.

          • vto 6.1.1.1.1

            exactly. it is a waste of debate given that ALL parts of the political spectrum indulge in it.

            Helen Clark. Paula Bennett. all the same..

          • SJ Hawkins 6.1.1.1.2

            Actually Derek you just used the exact same argument.

        • roger nome 6.1.1.2

          vto/Burt:

          Labour bad, National good? btw – the Auditor-General changed the conventional interpretation of the law, Labour simply restored the convention by closing the loop hole which was unpicked by the AG’s judicial activism.

    • Relic 6.2

      Uninformed mob rule by talk back bears little resemblence to well informed majority decision making. I for one am not going to be voted off the island by such oafs. That is why the Herald editorial is a shocker. It is a laugh when righties call for no welfare and a minimal state, they always draw the line at cops, jails and armed forces to protect their sorry arses. Abolish welfare? fine, I hope you enjoy your next car jacking at the traffic lights.

      • vto 6.2.1

        what are you on about mr relic? your post is a horrible tangled morass of assumptions and smelly generalisations.

        in fact you sound like talkback yourself

    • snoozer 6.3

      most people on welfare do not get this much. These women have several kids (in fuller’s case several chronically ill kids) to raise, that’s why they are entitled to extraa. Unless you would have the kids starve.

      And I note that she gets $35K a year to support herself, 3 daughters, 2 of them with medicial conditions, and try to do training to get off the benefit. it’s hardly a fortune

      • vto 6.3.1

        I realise that but you miss the point. Point being people who work to pay for these women very often get less themselves. With similar stress points in the fambly budget.

        • Pascal's bookie 6.3.1.1

          Very true vto.

          Does that mean though, that they(we) are right to think that beneficiaries therefore get too much?

          • vto 6.3.1.1.1

            In some cases yes absolutely. Others I’m sure not.

            When a working family gets less than the same family not working then yes.

            And imo it is this point which is causing the public to not mind Bennetts transgression. The bigger issue of who’s paying and who’s getting what and the relative equity has risen to the surface.

            • Pascal's bookie 6.3.1.1.1.1

              Could it not be that wages are too low?

            • SPC 6.3.1.1.1.2

              What a lot of nonsense – this perpetuation of the myth that there are more generous amounts paid on the benefit as compared to wages. That may have been true back in the 1990’s when minimum wages were low, but Labour changed that. .

              The minimum wage is $12.50 an hour – so the minimum wage is $25,000 for any single worker.

              If that worker has a partner and/or children they are eligible for WFF support which is GREATER than that available for a person on a benefit.

              Advocates for beneficiaries note that it is in families where there is no working adult that child poverty continues to exist because they are excluded from the MORE generous WFF provision.

              It is however hard to quantify a case by case comparison because of variables. The level of accomodation allowance (also available to working families) and support for sick children are not specified in the bald figures $500 (no more than the minimum wage for a single person and to support a parent + child/children) or $700 (a parent and 3 children – 2 sick).

              I think I can say that any adult on the minimum wage and renting a house for them and their 3 children would be on more than $700 under WFF.

        • roger nome 6.3.1.2

          Really? Can you please show me an example? I find that very hard to beleive.

      • Pat 6.3.2

        $35K net, after tax, in the hand etc

        Whilst I would agree it is not a fortune to try and raise a family on, it exposes the wider welfare debate.

        1. As vto points out, it grates with people in similar family circumstances but who are working fulltime and earning similar or less.
        2. Does such a person end up being welfare dependent because her prospects of getting a job that earns more money than this are slim (e.g. the original training allowance issue).
        3. Where are the serial sires i.e. fathers and do they escape financial liability too easily.

        At the butt ends of the debate spectrum are Douglas and Bradford. It is best to ignore both of them and let the normal humans engage in the debate to find a way forward.

    • Maggie 6.4

      What’s the “certain unfairness” vto? Are you arguing that anyone on welfare should never be paid any more than the lowest paid worker?

      Is the politics of envy at work here? I thought that was a crime of the left, not the right.

      This argument is based on the belief that people on welfare don’t work and contribute nothing to society. A solo Mum bringing up three kids isn’t a worker, apparently. It is the simplistic belief that the only valuable work in society is paid work.

      This is the argument that people on welfare are lesser human beings than those who are not on welfare. That a beneficiary has no entitlement to either dignity or privacy.

      • vto 6.4.1

        No maggie that is not my point at all. The unfairness is when, all else being equal, the working family gets less than the non-working family. Its very simple.

        • Maggie 6.4.1.1

          So, vto, your position is that a family on welfare with three kids should never be paid any more than the lowest paid working family with three kids.

          Why? Because its unfair.

          Why is it unfair? Because people paid to work are more valuable than people who do unpaid work.

          Sounds like a straight lift from the ACT handbook.

          • vto 6.4.1.1.1

            sheesh maggie, of course. And who said anything about “doing unpaid work”?

            A man gets disgruntled when he toils all day and finds that his pay packet is raided to pay for his neighbour, who is not working and is in the same circumstances, and his neighbour gets more then he does

            I’m not sure how else to explain such a basic human trait. Do you think this disgruntlement is not a reality?

          • vto 6.4.1.1.2

            one other thing maggie. Value is measured in many many ways, not just financial remuneration. For example, Mums are pretty much the most valued members of society (along with some others). Their value is reflected in many many many ways. It would be a sorry day if the value of Mums was solely exhibited through money money money.

            • Pascal's bookie 6.4.1.1.2.1

              I’m sure we’ve all noticed the love, over these last few days..

            • vto 6.4.1.1.2.2

              ha ha, quite so mr bookie

            • roger nome 6.4.1.1.2.3

              “Mums are pretty much the most valued members of society (along with some others). Their value is reflected in many many many ways.”

              Such as? would you be happy to accept these forms of remuneration for the paid work you do?

            • vto 6.4.1.1.2.4

              Have you not got a mum mr nome?

              noodle

  7. burt 7

    did the Minister break the law

    Ask the minister if she did. I hear lots of support comes from this site for minsiters who decide they didn’t break the law and that we should move on.

    Ha… Who needs the courts when parliament is the supreme law maker and understands the intent of the law much better than any court.

    • snoozer 7.1

      ” I hear lots of support comes from this site for minsiters who decide they didn’t break the law and that we should move ”

      examples?

      or just what you want to believe to justify your own support for someone who has broken the law and trampled on people’s rights?

      Bennett is not all of Parliament. Parliament hasn’t ruled on whether or not Bennett broke the law, and it’s not that institution’s role to do so.

      By your logic in the second paragraph, which directly contradicts the first paragraph, an MP could never break the law, which is clearly not the case.

      • felix 7.1.1

        burt’s pretty sure that everyone here said “move on” about some horrible thing once but he can never seem to remember where when asked.

        It definitely happened though.

  8. gobsmacked 8

    The news cycle moves along in days, or hours.

    The legal process does not. It takes its time. Paula Bennett is in serious trouble with the law. Not being today’s lead story makes no difference to that fact.

    But, to make things easier, here’s a cut-out-and-copy-later comment for the dittoheads. Feel free to use this when Bennett loses her job:

    “John Key … decisive leadership … Bennett liability … had to go … high standards … something about Winston Peters … stupid woman … never liked her anyway … outrageous behaviour … well done John Key for sacking her …”

    (You’re welcome).

    • Gosman 8.1

      Bennett is not in serious trouble with the law unless you are saying that the penalty for a breach of the Privacy act includes jail time and she is likely to be given the maximum for her actions.

      Now putting on your sensible and rational hat here, (a bit of a stretch for some I must admit;-)), do you really think Bennett is going to get anything more than a strongly worded telling off if it is proved she broke the law?

        • Pat 8.1.1.1

          Exactly Gos. If required Key will wet the bus ticket to give her a good old slapping, but he isn’t going to sack her for this.

          BTW – Good to see you fighting in the same trench for a change.

          Pat (ex SM Michael)

        • Gosman 8.1.1.2

          So a liberal law lecturer posts an opinion that Bennett could be sued and suddenly it becomes a fact?

          If it did happen it would just feed her support because it would paint the person suing her as more of a money grubbing individual.

          BTW Didn’t Lianne Dalziel get sued for her actions with that Sri Lankan woman? What happened in that case.

          (Nice to see you too Pat/Michael)

      • Maggie 8.1.2

        Well, Gosman, I guess what sanctions are applied to Paula Bennett if she has found to have broken the law will depend on the integrity of the current government.

        In other words, don’t hold your breath.

        • Gosman 8.1.2.1

          Yeah keep up with that line and perhaps you can convinced a couple of hundred people of the correctness of your view. In the meantime Bennett will have got the support of many many more who, while not agreeing with her methods, think she was right to highlight the amount of money these two women were receiving from the state.

    • SJ Hawkins 8.2

      Hmm, here’s the other version for the dittoheads should the privacy commissioner find Bennett not guilty.
      “We told you so”

  9. dave 9

    perhaps we can have a law that means that politicians can break the privacy act, but specify in that law that police have discretion as to whether to prosecute if it thinks that such lawbreaking should not attract the attention of prosecutors. But to do that police will have to prosecute ministers and, at least until Nov 2008, they have been above the law.

  10. Draco T Bastard 10

    If the law is enforced impartially and professionally, people feel confidence in, and allegiance to, a state. If, however, [it isn’t] the rule of law is undermined, and anarchy is a logical prospect.

    We wish.

  11. SPC 11

    The Cabinet Minister Paula Bennett (approved of by the PM) behaved in the breach of privacy matter in a similar way to the former government when they used Leaders Funds during the 2005 campaign.

    As we know the Herald supported the Auditor General in upholding standards for the party in government (and other political parties) on that occasion.

    I guess the Herald only believes in the operation of standards applying to all only some of the time. Or in other words – they support some of the people being above and beyond accountability, some of the time.

    This has parallels to the issue of provocation – apparently it’s a matter of how dare people on benefits challenge their betters/bosses in government (this being the provocation). The Herald is as reliant as the government for prejudice against beneficiaries for acceptance of their party line. Just as the provocation defence before a jury often only works where there is prejudice against the victim.

    Normally the media takes issue with any sign of hypocrisy and exposes this to the public. But here where a Minister is posed as a former DPB recipient now in a successful career, and a case of the government preference for a hand up not a hand out has worked – decides to take away the MInisters own career path the TIA. This very Minister presided over the change in policy.

    Now imagine what would happen if the ex state house tenant John Key was PM of a government which decided to return to market rents … and those unable to afford this and in state houses protested. Would his Housing Minister release details of the tenants involved as part of the political debate.

    If a company asks for a lower tax rate, will it’s IRD details be released to the media or are some details protected by privacy because National respects them, but not those dependent on the state for income or housing support.

    If that does not declare a double standard of citizenship before the law in this country and accepted by the media estate (Herald and Dom Post), what does?

    It smacks of discrimination based on employment/class status (and lets note the Law Commission itself supports age discrimination against voting sovereign citizens of age 18 and 19). Instead of being affirmed the Bill Of Rights/Human Rights Act of this country is being continually challenged.

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