Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

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Gordon Campbell on Maurice Williamson’s brand of after-sales service

May 2nd, 2014

Poor, poor Maurice Williamson. Why is everybody picking on him for simply doing his job….which appears to include ensuring that special treatment is afforded to major donors to the National Party. With that noble aim in mind, Williamson rang up the Police in January to remind them that the person they were about to prosecute for domestic violence was no ordinary Joe:

Maurice Williamson told a senior police officer that a wealthy businessman facing domestic assault charges was “investing a lot of money in New Zealand” and urged police to be on “solid ground”, according to internal police emails. The former National Party Minister, who resigned this morning following Herald revelations that he made the phone call, said that he “in no way was he looking to interfere” with the criminal case against Donghua Liu but just wanted to “make sure somebody had reviewed the matter to ensure we were on solid ground as Mr Liu is investing a lot of money in New Zealand”, according to Inspector Gary Davey.

Tui Billboard time. So, ringing the Police to remind them to be really sure of their ground before prosecuting a person who (a) has powerful friends and (b) is investing a lot of money in this country doesn’t constitute an attempt at interference…!! Williamson has now resigned his ministerial warrant. On past form, this will be only a temporary demotion. Previous erring ministers in the Key government who have transgressed and resigned (see Smith, N. and Dunne, P.) have served only a few months in the ‘time out’ zone before being re-admitted back into the ministerial fold, with full salary and perks. By contrast, section 116 of the Crimes Act indicates that if you or I had acted or conspired to “obstruct, prevent, pervert, or defeat the course of justice” we would be facing up to seven years in prison.

This intervention should have seen Williamson being asked to resign from Parliament, not simply to take a breather from his ministerial duties. After all, as the email/phone logs make clear, Williamson’s interference was described by the Police as being in his role as an MP. It was not his ministerial behaviour that triggered his resignation, it was the abuse of his role as an electorate MP. It stands to reason that since his fitness to represent his constituents has been compromised, the appropriate penalty should be for him to resign as MP for Pakuranga and leave Parliament altogether.

As with Judith Collins, Williamson has been less than credible in his account of the relevant facts. On one hand, he has denied having a friendship with Liu and has cited how often he’d done the same thing for other constituents, some of them very poor. On the other hand, Williamson successfully lobbied Immigration on Liu’s behalf to secure him a waiver of the English language requirements required for business migrants, and then held the immigration ceremony in his own office. On Campbell Live last night, Williamson further stitched himself up. According to his own account, Williamson went to a celebratory dinner with Liu and others, advised Liu on buying a holiday home next door to Williamson’s own….and personally did repairs on Liu’s property, which Williamson’s family then made use of while Liu was back in China. Yet we’re expected to believe no special personal relationship exists. Can we assume that beneficiaries all over Pakuranga are always having Maurice pop in to mow the lawns, and fix the spouting?

The Police emails/phone logs related to the Williamson phone call show that Williamson’s intervention did divert Police resources, even if it did not ultimately derail the prosecution. The email from Inspector Gary Davey dated 20 January 2014 says: “I was contacted by MP Williamson…could someone review this matter, and let me know the outcome as I will advise the MP.” Just why Davey did not tell Williamson from the outset “No comment, an investigation is ongoing” remains unexplained. That’s certainly what the media would have been told. Constantly, Williamson’s account seems to shift ground. Sometimes, he is ringing merely to ask whether the prosecution is proceeding. In others, he is suggesting that the Police be sure of their ground before they proceed. Maybe that’s why the Police described his inquiry as a “Complaint/Review.” Complaint?

Maybe someone can also explain why an incident that occurred in late January was not relayed to Police Minister Anne Tolley until – reportedly – April 4th. Why did Tolley then take weeks to advise the Prime Minister, who learned of this, we are told, only early this week? Was this entire affair put into slow motion, lest it should land on top of Judith Collins’ problems over Oravida?

Cases like this, where money appears to buy influence with our politicians are only likely to increase. Just this week, the South China Morning Post published a story which gives a useful backdrop to the Williamson affair. Under the online headline “The next Canada? Rich mainland Chinese push New Zealand migration to 11-year high” the SCMP explained how the system is already attracting wealthy Chinese mainlanders here, and indicated how the criteria could be lowered to attract even more:

New Zealand has been wooing wealthy Chinese after Canada, a top destination, restricted its immigrant visa scheme after it was overloaded by mainlanders seeking citizenship. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key recently said he wanted mainland and Hong Kong investors to spend money not on land, but on fixed assets, manufacturing or real estate projects like hotels. New Zealand’s “Investor Plus” policy allows those who invest NZ$10 million (HK$53.1 million) over a three-year period to gain residency. Applicants are not required to have English- language skills or business experience. A less expensive option, the “Investor” category, allows residency for those who invest NZ$1.5 million over four years, but who must also speak English.

Lobbyists for a relaxation in policy say New Zealand is missing out on a large pool of investors: those who have between NZ$1.5 million and NZ$10 million, but who have no English skills…

On the contrary however, Canada has just cancelled its investor immigration scheme, for these highly relevant reasons:

In the budget last week, the [Canadian] government announced an immediate end to the immigrant investor program – under which people with a net worth of $1.6-million lend the government $800,000 interest-free for five years in exchange for permanent residency – and cleared out a backlog of tens of thousands of applicants, many of whom are from China.

The government said many of the people who use the program have only “tenuous” ties to Canada, and even some Chinese-Canadians in Vancouver – where many mainland and Hong Kong investors live – have the impression that some of the investor immigrants buy houses and cars and bring their families over, then return to China and Asia to do most of their business.

In the US, the popular online magazine Slate also noted the SCMP/Canada/New Zealand story last week. It commented unfavourably on New Zealand’s pay-for-residency scheme in a story headlined “Why Thousands of Chinese Are Buying Residency in New Zealand…” That’s the point. Once you’ve chosen to sell the right to New Zealand citizenship in this very public fashion, why should we be surprised if the buyers expect – and get – special after-sales service from the politicians who brokered the deal?

No doubt, the willingness of some senior National politicians to go to bat for major donors to the party (see Collins J, re Ovavida) is giving an increasingly shabby, seedy look to the Key administration. The lines between lobbyists and government are being blurred – and not just when it comes to wealthy investors from China. This week’s moral panic over synthetic cannabis for instance, arrived hard on the heels of the government’s refusal to set a minimum price on alcohol – a substance that causes far greater problems to society, and among the young, but which is blessed with a far more effective business lobby.

Remember how quickly Judith Collins buckled to industry lobbying in 2012, over the promotion and sale of alcopops to the young? In the current case, price would be a useful lever against alcohol – as it has been against nicotine – but at the cost of alcohol industry profits. Ironically, the flurry of selective concern over the havoc being wreaked by synthetic pot was quickly followed by the selection of a former lobbyist for the tobacco industry as an election candidate for National in the safe, job-for-life seat of Southland. Another lobbyist for Big Tobacco is seeking to contest Trevor Mallard’s seat for Hutt South. As even the Dom-Post was moved to editorialise yesterday:

One tobacco lobbyist in the National caucus might be an accident. Two begins to make National look like a party whose anti-tobacco stance is hollow and hypocritical.

Hollow, hypocritical, and hyper-sensitive to the needs of its donors. If only Kim Dotcom had committed domestic violence or was selling booze to kids – rather than annoying Hollywood tycoons – the Key government would have come racing to his assistance.


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