Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On asset sales and the Mallard ticket saga

February 17th, 2012

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Way back at the start of this week, the government was in deep trouble on at least three fronts. First, came the bombshell court ruling that Ministers had been mistakenly advised to accept the Chinese bid for Crafar farms. Secondly, Finance Minister Bill English hinted publicly that the government may not be able to sell the entire 49% stake in the state energy companies previously earmarked for the private sector, thus undermining at least some of the $5-7 billion returns that comprised the government’s basic rationale for the selldown. Thirdly, came news that many of the cheap railway wagons purchased by the government from China – at the cost of workplace redundancies, lost opportunities in skills and expertise at the Hillside railway workshops and a sorely needed stimulus for the Dunedin economy – were already in need of significant repairs.

All these issues focussed on the government’s weak point, its readiness to sell out New Zealand’s long term interests to foreign ownership, for short term gain. Unfortunately, the Labour opposition then lost most of this traction – and all of the moral high ground – thanks to Trevor Mallard, who decided to screw some teenage students for a few extra hundred dollars on the price of tickets he held to the sold out Homegrown music festival. At some time in the future, the saga of Trevor and the Traded Tickets should be taught in classrooms, as a textbook example of why politicians are held in such contempt.

As a simple morality tale this one was hard to beat. Here was a veteran MP earning about $170,000 a year (plus perks) selling tickets at above cost price to a group of teenage students who dearly wanted to hear their favourite bands. Leave aside that this same MP had spearheaded the legislation that criminalised ticket scalping at other events. Leave aside that Mallard reportedly used his parliamentary email and electorate office to conduct this transaction for his personal profit, thus making the taxpayer – who helps to fund these facilities – something of an accomplice in this shabby little scam. Wasn’t Pansy Wong’s parliamentary career brought to an end amid a swirl of allegations that she’d mixed up her parliamentary and personal business? What’s the difference in this case, exactly?

One could go on. The last Labour government had thrown a lot of resources into supporting the local music industry – remember Helen Clark going to the annual music awards ? – and Mallard now appeared to be cashing in on the enthusiasm this had generated. Not for the first time either. Reportedly, Mallard has sold tickets to Homegrown and the Sevens rugby on Trade Me and Facebook in years past. There was, of course, never anything to stop him – if he had bought those tickets in good faith, with any real intention of attending – from selling them at face value. As someone from Ticketek pointed out, that’s what the tickets have printed on them – that resale at a profit is not permitted.

Leave aside the simple morality for a moment. From the instant this story went viral, any sane politician would have immediately got out their chequebook and given the kids back the balance, or else quickly donated the profit portion to the SPCA or some other charity. And if Mallard was too greedy or stupid to realise that’s what he needed to do, you’d think his party leader would have been on the phone straight away to set him straight. Instead, the story ran for nearly 48 hours, virtually unimpeded.

Yesterday, as the story finally ran its course, the end game was just as instructive. During Question Time in Parliament, the National Party treated Mallard’s discomfort merely as a joke. No surprise there. Mallard’s own closing gambit though, was interesting. Did he pay the kids back the excess he’d charged them? No. Instead, he offered to buy back the tickets. You can almost hear Mallard and his dickhead advisers working this one out. ‘Look, they paid you the price, Trev. They can obviously afford it. The only reason they’re pissed off is because you’re an MP. So screw them. Offer to buy back the tickets. It’s a win/win. If they refuse, you keep the money. If they use the tickets and go to Homegrown it shows everyone they were willing to pay the price…And if they accept the buyback – which they won’t – at least the little bastards won’t get to go to Homegrown.” Dismayingly, RNZ carried a sound clip of David Shearer saying that this offer from Mallard was the only right thing to do.

Well, it wasn’t. There was always another option. As the students involved told the NZ Herald, Mallard should donate the profits he made to charity. He still should. Yet clearly, Mallard and the Labour leadership have learned nothing from this grubby little saga. Maybe the electorate has, though. Because any young voter has been given a very simple political lesson in terms that they can readily understand, Namely, that if you want to change the government, vote for the Greens. Because Labour are a party who’ll screw you over ticket prices for any music gig, any chance they get.

Already, the political carnival has moved on. Bill English – Mallard’s doppleganger in the government ranks – has come rushing to Labour’s rescue by saying publicly that Treasury $6 billion estimate of the returns from the asset sales programme is only “a guess”. Right. So, a year down the track on this proposal, the government is selling these prize assets on nothing more than a hunch that they might get back more than it would have cost them to keep the assets and borrow the difference. Do we really get the politicians we deserve? What on earth did we do in a past life to deserve Mallard and English ?


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    1. 10 Responses to “On asset sales and the Mallard ticket saga”

    2. By ffs on Feb 17, 2012 | Reply

      Gordon, can’t let this one go:

      Wasn’t Pansy Wong’s parliamentary career brought to an end amid a swirl of allegations that she’d mixed up her parliamentary and personal business? What’s the difference in this case, exactly?

      The difference is that Pansy was using public money via her travel allowance to further her husband’s private interests. Private profit and public expense and a huge conflict of interest.

      here, none of these features. Trevor may be a bit dumb, and the “optics” are not good as they say (gag), but this is an issue of private vs public morality, not policy, and does not involve deceptively misusing public funds.

    3. By TerryB on Feb 17, 2012 | Reply

      Spot on Gordon especially your final sentence.

    4. By Joe Blow on Feb 17, 2012 | Reply

      The change from English comes after they’ve won the election. It really annoys me that most of New Zealand voters bought the National government’s speil hook line and sinker on their numbers being accurate. Key was tearing Goff’s numbers to shreds, but few people questioned accountant Key’s calculations on the benefits of partial asset sales.

      We’ve been swindled!

      As for Mallard, time to go! Out with the dead wood I say. Shearer should show some leadership and demote him at the very least!

    5. By gerald on Feb 17, 2012 | Reply

      Gordon, it was nothing we did in a past life, it’s what we did in this one.We voted both these lying turds back in after having plenty of evidence of how venal and shonky they both were.
      That of course is the hall mark of all NZ politicians. Just look into shonkey, donkey John Key’s background and there is enough evidence there to educate on the ethics of this money manipulator. Check out the two firms he worked at in USA, Bankers Trust, (a glaring misnomer if ever there was one )and Merrill Lynch, the latter of whom had to pay $100 million in fines, a fraction of the thefts carried out. Yes, NZers do get the politicians they deserve, by continuing to re-elect people we know are unfitted for any position which involves money or entities which is not theirs. We, collective had the opportunity last election to bring some new blood into the house of ill repute,i.e. the Conservative Party, but instead stuck with the like of charlatan John Banks and retread Peter Dunne? The racist Maori Party, and though equally racist, the preferable Hone Harawira. NZ really is a politically uneducated electorate. English claims the Govt expects to be in suplus by 2014-15. Utter BS, he dosen’t know what state we are going to be in next week, yet he and shonkey JonKey are making claims they know to be lies. We need a new and written and binding Constitution, and binding referenda, with a much lower threshold. If Switzerland, the most stable democracy in the world can do it, why not us. Because we settle for the most base instead of demanding the finest inour represenatives. We are to blame.

    6. By Jum on Feb 17, 2012 | Reply

      Nothing quite like treating Mallard like the evil twin yet just accepting National’s lying, and theft of future public asset dividends as being somehow the same.

      You must really hate Labour, Campbell – who needs enemies when you have … Campbell, Chris Trotter…

      I don’t think you morally upright commentators on the political spectrum actually have noticed the Americanised sewer that National/Act has engineered in New Zealand, since Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson took over.

      You help Labour and the left to lose elections every time (trust me they don’t need your help to do that) and while I agree that Mallard was hoist on his own petard in no way do you really attack in any brutally concrete way what Key and English, etc have done.

      Sure you’re disappointed; sure you’re hating that media now can attack Labour once more and Key gets a pat on the back for distraction.

      But you and Trotter are equally to blame when elections come along and all the rightwing killing machines go into action against the left and you just help.

      I just think there is something far worse than Key and co attacking the left and that is so called principled journalists hitting the right with a strap and the left with a baseball bat, especially in 2011 when you knew that our assets were going to be stolen from us. What a stupid time to be objective when the rightwing mainstream media was not.

      The only blood on the ground I see in your column is Labour’s. Thanks Gordon.

    7. By Solly on Feb 18, 2012 | Reply

      With the weak response you’d almost think the Nats were overjoyed to have Mallard featuring so prominently in the ‘main’ opposition party…

    8. By Livingday2day on Feb 19, 2012 | Reply

      A great article! It seems to me that there are many died in the wool I will support labour at any costs. However I will never vote Labour again while this bunch of deceitful trough feeders remain in the party. They are in no way representative of the Labour culture of looking after the working man or woman. Not only do they spit in the face of their constituents by ripping them off, but also blatently lie about it. Unfortunately we may not agree with National, however they are only doing what they stand for and have intimated they would do at the election. There is not longer a party of the left they have turned into a party of do what I say and not what I do. They are only about themselves. Mallard, King and the other bludgers have to go and Labour needs to get back on track.

    9. By Robert Webb on Feb 20, 2012 | Reply

      What we shoud all question is the system of so called representative Democracy.
      Once elelected, these self serving overlords serve no one but themselves and their cronies. The resultant mismanagement of public funds and distortions in repressive and regressive laws and enactment of illegitimate rules become apparent
      The present system perpetuates increasing parasitism and unsustainable social philosophies such as as we now see all over the “free World”

      The solution is really quite simple.
      Review and rescind all illegitimate laws and start afresh with referendums instead of dictates.

    10. By richarquis on Feb 20, 2012 | Reply

      Jum – Where does it say that Gordon or other journalists must direct their criticisms of politicians in partisan manner? Just because they question the right’s actions and motives, should they thereby overlook the left’s? The issues of the asset sales and other National party directives have all been covered in other postings on GC’s page, so why must this particular one rehash them all?

      Personally, I find it refreshing to have a forum of commentary that will lay equal criticism where and when it is deserved. Subjective analysis, whichever way it leans, is in no-ones interest except those it discusses. I’ve seen you comment on GC’s articles before, so I know you read him regularly. Why the sudden selective memory as to his frequent and consistent discussions on National and ACT? Anyone who reads his work knows he is anything but lenient on them. Your strap vs baseball bat analogy doesn’t strike me as accurate. I agree with many of your past sentiments regarding the morality, or lack thereof, in NZ politics, but I can’t agree with your above comment. People like Garth George are the ones guilty of that kind of partisan behaviour.

    11. By Elyse on Feb 20, 2012 | Reply

      @ Robert Webb
      you say :The solution is really quite simple.
      Review and rescind all illegitimate laws and start afresh with referendums instead of dictates”

      Govt by referendum is nothing but mob rule and he who has the most $$$/can buy the most signatures, wins. Then the results are overturned by courts, US style. A ridiculous and extremely expensive way to run a country.

      I cannot believe the overreaction to Mallard selling a couple of tickets at a profit.
      Compared with what Key & Co get away with it’s laughable.

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