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Gordon Campbell on the Key style of crisis management

September 27th, 2016

First published on Werewolf

Obviously, anyone paying much attention in recent weeks has been serially appalled/amazed/cynically amused by The Great Fish Dumping Fiasco, and the evidence of top Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) officials being caught in email flagrante saying such stuff as… how they don’t dare to enforce the official policy because they’d put half the industry out of business and/or would get offside with the skippers they’re supposed to be monitoring – which could be fatal for keeping a regulatory contract that’s subsequently been
(a) handed over to a company with ownership links to the industry and
(b) where the monitoring role is seemingly awarded on condition that the regulator doesn’t do anything likely to earn the disfavour of the industry they’re supposed to be regulating.

Incredibly, the MPI cameras installed on boats were put there to detect and deter the unlawful depletion of the nation’s fish stocks – but MPI then concluded that this footage could not subsequently be used in court to clinch the prosecution of those caught on camera actually depleting the nation’s fish stocks. In fact, having the MPI cameras on board ship seemed to create a virtual immunity for anyone violating the rules that the cameras were there to spot… In fact, it has transpired the cameras were there in an entirely passive monitoring role, and not an active enforcement one.

Ultimately, the legal advice to MPI was that they couldn’t use the footage compiled for one purpose – assessing the health of the fisheries – for the allegedly different purpose of prosecuting the people putting that health at risk. At least that’s assumed to be what the legal advice given to MPI actually said. In the final absurdity, the relevant legal advice is being kept under wraps, lest the government set a precedent by divulging the legal advice on which it supposedly acts. (This secrecy convention also enables the government of the day to conveniently hide the occasions when it chooses for political reasons to diverge from what it has been told it should be doing, under the law.)

Enter Prime Minister John Key. At yesterday’s post Cabinet press conference Key was in his finest wide- eyed “ Problem? What problem?” mode. No, there wasn’t really a problem that top MPI officials had been at odds with each other over the meaning of the fisheries policy and how that policy should be pursued. Nor was there a problem that some former top MPI officials were being critical of prior decisions not to prosecute. Yes, Key still has confidence in MPI and its officials – and Minister Nathan Guy, who’s apparently doing such a good job.

Here’s Key, yesterday : “MPI erred – [as Mike Heron said in the Heron Report on the fish dumping issue earlier this year] in that [MPI] believed the camera footage wasn’t admissible. Now that’s because the footage as I understand it, was taken for one reason and they were theoretically applying it for another. I think some lessons have come out of that. Certainly a multitude of changes going forward.” No, Key hadn’t seen the legal advice in question. He’s just read the Heron Report.

Key was then asked about the claims by former MPI officials that it wasn’t actually the legal advice so much as other imperatives – eg the desire to curry favour with the fishing industry – that had driven the decision not to prosecute. This line of questioning took Key deeper into re-assurance mode. “Like all of these things, there’s always a judgement. Its not new news that a government or department isn’t releasing legal advice…there’s a precedent that says we don’t do that. Like all advice, its advice, its not definitive…there are no guarantees. If MPI had thought they could take a successful prosecution I suspect they probably would have, although I haven’t been in any discussions with them about it.”

As in all of these exercises in explication, Key’s job is to personally re-assure, while simultaneously being careful to put considerable daylight between himself and the events and decisions in question. Did he think it was unfortunate that those who had been dumping fish hadn’t been prosecuted? Maybe yes, maybe no, but to repeat: “I think there was just a difference of opinion, as a I understand it, whether the case would stack up, and whether the footage they had recorded would be admissible.” Should heads roll at the Ministry? “I’m not aware of that. You’d have to ask [MPI boss] Martyn Dunne about that.” And Nathan Guy? “Oh, I think Nathan has done a very good job. I don’t think there’s any question about the Minister. In fact, he’s making a lot of changes in terms of toughening up…in everything from cameras to observers. The fact that someone might have a legal view that you’re not on as strong a ground as you might think is the nature of decision-making that happens in departments every single day. There are numerous prosecutorial bodies that have to make a line call on whether they can take an action or not.” Take the Police for instance, Key said expansively, when they’re going down the opposite route : “Sometimes they’ll take a case on evidence they believe, and the judges will throw it out.“

And finally, no, he didn’t necessarily believe the leaks now coming out of MPI that the reason MPI didn’t prosecute wasn’t the legal advice – but because they didn’t want to upset the boat skippers involved. [Note the careful distancing that now follows.] ‘I haven’t seen the emails. I don’t know the people in question. I wasn’t around the event. People often have their own interpretations. Its true in government departments: one person will have one view, one person will have another. And often they’ll express the view that that’s the reason they believe to be the case…and just because someone else has a counterview doesn’t mean they’re correct. That’s their interpretation. Go around this building and on any particular event you’ll get series of different opinions ..It doesn’t mean they’re right.”

But surely these were top MPI officials – and presumably were in a position to judge? Not necessarily, Key argued. “They often are people who have their own particular perspective, or their own axe to grind. Its not as if they’re right or wrong. I simply don’t know. But what I’m saying is I don’t think MPI had a particular reason not to take a prosecution if it can successfully take one.”

So there you have it. This wasn’t a case of a Ministry being intimidated by the industry it was supposed to regulate. Nor of a Ministry riven with dissent and confused about what it was supposed to be doing, and terrified of getting offside with its captains of industry and with its Minister. It was merely a case of hardworking people having firm opinions about the causes of a course of events, whereby in his view – and not that he’d know for sure – but it seemed as if MPI might have been acting on inconclusive legal advice that could have advised erring on the side of caution.

I give this example at some length because its indicative of what Key does day in, year out. Like a soothingly sprinkled monsoon bucket, Key is there to dampen down the political fires that have been lit by his bumbling colleagues ( today Nathan Guy, yesterday Nick Smith) while ingenuously deflecting the questions meant to hold him and his government to account. Key expertly muffles the potential for public outrage. No problem here, move on. Just hard working, well meaning people doing stuff that’s really difficult – even when there’s clear evidence to the contrary of callous neglect, and of harm being heaped on the vulnerable.

It is quite a skill. Faced with similarly embarrassing evidence as the fisheries fiasco, a Labour-led government would probably have gone into a defensive crouch, shut down, and made the political fallout even worse. Key exudes a frank confidence, even when – or especially when – his government has landed itself in big trouble. It doesn’t have a plan for this country, or for its manifest problems. Its happy with that. It invites you to feel that way, too.
Fish and Politics As this early 70s soul hit by former Motown maestro Lamont Dozier says, the fish ain’t biting, and life’s so frightening. He’s hungry, broke and crumbling…while meanwhile in DC, Tricky Dick is trying to be slick. Hey, Tricky Dick/Honest John, stop that shit, Dozier says.

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    1. 15 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on the Key style of crisis management”

    2. By Alexandra on Sep 27, 2016 | Reply

      There is no self regulation, how can the Crown agents investigate itself and call this coverup process “independent” or fair? The Crown ignore the Crown’s crimes and cover up when it breaches of its own legislation and policies.

      That is the whole real purpose of the legal system, as we see it is not for justice but for commerce.
      The plan.
      That has been the plan and still is, as long as everyone (with a sleeping mob mind) consents by continuing to believe, obey, pay taxes and vote.

    3. By Pat on Oct 4, 2016 | Reply

      and it is truly frightening how effective it appears to have been….are we really so dim?

    4. By Alexandra on Oct 8, 2016 | Reply

      @Pat or “Have our minds really so conditioned”?
      But on a positive note we can wake up and see the failures of the Crown system, a system based on the desires of the banking cabal who own the corporations, control the economy through the central banking system and have imposed the Crown nz govt on us .
      In the Crown ” partnership” which says one group of earlier boat people( Maori) were “indigenous” and that only one group of boat people (Maori) granted the Crown, as the ” people of NZ, a written constitution – but this is not the case .

      The Govt also do not tell you your voting give them consent to govern you, but if this is so and we are not told this all voting is “uninformed”.

    5. By Mikey on Oct 11, 2016 | Reply

      @Pat looks like it, did you not see the WCC Green&Red electoral spins with the same old NWO agenda and its subsequent placement in local govt?
      Are people that vote just dim? “Keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result” that is defined as insanity.
      Then afterwards came all the (pat yourself on the back) media election hype using words such as “majority” and “democracy” with a WCCMayor with 6,000 out of 402,000 in an STV system.
      That in an election with a less than 50% turnout is a vote of “no confidence”.

      @ Alexandra unfortunately for change to happen people first need to be aware that change is needed.Voting for the same clowns and failed governance system is insane.
      We are dealing with a pretty unconscious population that has an attention deficit easily distracted by govt propaganda. If the Govt that creates poverty covers up the fact it is responsible and it uses emotive ideas to make us look the other way such as calling poverty ” Child poverty” and obesity “Child obesity” or “Maori Obesity” it then it formulates more problems with costly bureaucratic plans on paper. Doing everything except ending the poverty it creates, the govt spends more money on its ” solutions” than it would to pay the poor on welfare more/I,E actually ending poverty. These half ass govt “solutions” including funding lots of expensive stupid research that fails to even know the cause .
      Free Drs visits doesn’t end poverty, subsidizing house insulation for landlords and property investors does nothing for poverty.
      The Crown’s ( anti)”social welfare” polices, MSD not providing full and correct entitlements to poor beneficiaries, benefits in such a low amount that is not high rent or inflation adjusted causes poverty. poverty is not “child poverty” as its parental.
      The buzz word ” Child” this and that is enough to shutdown critical though process that is why the Crown govt uses it.

    6. By pat on Oct 16, 2016 | Reply

      @ Mikey

      “Are people that vote just dim? “Keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result” that is defined as insanity.
      Then afterwards came all the (pat yourself on the back) media election hype using words such as “majority” and “democracy” with a WCCMayor with 6,000 out of 402,000 in an STV system.
      That in an election with a less than 50% turnout is a vote of “no confidence”

      As wth central gov elections opting out could equally be described as dim (or insane if you prefer)…..we get the government we deserve.

    7. By Mikey on Oct 17, 2016 | Reply

      We sure don’t get the govt we deserve.
      That dogma is a govt propaganda, tell the peasants that they deserve the funding decisions that make them feel unworthy of love, trust and respect. Tell them that they deserve to have their public assets stolen and sold by the govt.Tell them that they deserve to be kept as ignorant debt slaves for the oligarchy that controls the political system and owns the media monopoly.
      Pat What you are suggesting is called a mind f*ck, you are planting a false idea.
      The people of New Zealand deserve wise and kind leaders.
      Not corrupt and selfish fools.

    8. By Pat on Oct 17, 2016 | Reply

      @ Mikey

      Name a current political party in NZ who would implement the policies you believe would improve the lot of the country as a whole?……done that?…if the 22% who didn’t vote in the 2014 election had voted for that party at the last election what policy priorities would our current Parliament have?

      No mind f**k…..we get the government we deserve

    9. By Mikey on Oct 17, 2016 | Reply

      @ Pat
      Sorry but you are a fool , voting doesn’t change the Crown.
      No matter who you vote for the same Crown ( Bank of England’s entity) gets voted in.
      You believe in dogma.

      You might feel like you got the govt you deserved, and that would mean you feel you deserve to be lead by corrupt and selfish fools.
      I certainly don’t buy into all the bullshit propaganda and post election dogma that they hand out as a ‘hangover pill’ for the believers that voted.
      Yeah doing the same thing over and over that really changed… nothing.
      Post election hangover when we discover AGAIN that nothing changes when we vote the govt then says to us that we deserve the corrupt shit sticks.

    10. By Anabel on Oct 17, 2016 | Reply

      Definitely its a post election mind f’ck Pat.

      What the hell did I do to deserve Key, Brownlee, Collins and all the slimy bast*rds in parliament?

    11. By pat on Oct 17, 2016 | Reply

      @ Mikey

      A fool I may be, but I am a fool who votes in the expectation if enough who are dissatisfied with the current join me then we might just effect change….your alternative?

      @ Anabel

      I have no idea whether you personally have done anything to deserve Key and co, i do know however that of those that voted unfortunately a majority (in effect) decided we do deserve him.

    12. By Mikey on Oct 18, 2016 | Reply

      @Pat Yes indeed you are a crazy fool with foolish expectations of how to ‘effect’ change.
      Did you ever even wonder why you continue to do the same thing over and over, again and again the same thing when you keep say you wish to change it?
      Your actions are not only foolish but they are the very definition of insane .
      As that is your state of mind I understand why you feel you deserve an insane bunch of banksters.

    13. By Helen S on Oct 18, 2016 | Reply

      The govt always uses the same election hangover emotive mind f*cks . The govt tells you that you deserve John Key and they also like to lie that the majority of people in NZ voted for him. Fact is Key did not have and does not have majority support. And then comes the “democracy” dogma so that you will not go against the flock and deny this govt propaganda,you will not question anything or challenge the govt’s stated outcome.

      Democracy in the Crown nz govt( central and local ) is a lie, it is nowhere to be found in the Crown NZ govt.But they pay people to spread the pro voting lies, “democracy” and other popular govt propaganda.

    14. By Pat on Oct 18, 2016 | Reply

      no alternative to offer then Mikey?

    15. By Mikey on Oct 18, 2016 | Reply

      @ Pat you insane fool, quit your job as Govt propagandist, that would be good
      alternative. No more $400 a head ratepayer funded parties for you.

    16. By Pat on Oct 18, 2016 | Reply

      Exhibit “A”

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