Monday 14 November: Teapot tape row goes nuclear

by Toby Manhire / 14 November, 2011
TV3 reveal they have copy of recording as Key lays police complaint and cameraman speaks out.


Leading Checkpoint at 5pm is the police complaint laid over the teapot tapes by John Key. That’s followed by the Royal Commission inquiry into Pike River. Third is the future of the Whanau Ora scheme.

On One News, disgraced All Black Zac Guildford tops the bulletin. That’s followed by the teapot tapes (One News is actually using those words now, too - see here, 11.30am) and John Key’s official police complaint. Guyon Espiner says he understands a copy of the tape is in the hands of another media organisation, which we know now all about (see 6.25pm). Then to National’s road building plans.

On 3 News it’s Zac again, and then the big we-got-the-tape revelation. I stopped watching after that, and hurriedly scrawled down the update below – see 6.25pm – before getting mired in technical problems, which almost certainly had something to do with the CIA.

On Campbell Live at 7pm on TV3 Don Brash turned up (they invited half the country, it sounds like, but only Don was available - you rather sense if you invited him to watch you sort the recycling he'd bowl along, thrilled by the interesting opportunity). He said of Banks and the tape: "He has assured me there is nothing that might embarrass me or him on that tape." Winston Peters was also interviewed, cheerfully implying he knew what was on the tape and that it would tell us something we didn't know about John Key. Campbell outro-ed that clip by saying those were Peters' "suppositions".

On Close Up, there was "Meet the Goffs", in which we strolled around their home with his wife, Mary, and - well let's say no more about it except that it was an embarrassment for them, Mary especially, and an embarrassment for viewers. John and Bronagh Key declined an invitation to do something similar, we are told, and good for them.

Native Affairs - the country's finest current affairs show - has just signed off on Maori TV, with Julian Wilcox saying that there had been much concern that the kowhiri - featuring Te Tai Tokerau candidates Hone Harawira, Kelvin Davis and Waihoroi Shortland - would be rancorous and ad hominem but had proved otherwise. It had been about wero te kaupapa rather than wero te tangata, he said.

And that's a good note on which to say goodnight. What a day it's been.

6.25pm: A full roundup of the 6pm TV bulletins and Checkpoint headlines soon, but let's not muck about. TV3 have confirmed something Barry Soper implied on Newstalk ZB earlier: they have a copy of the teapot tapes - which answers the "curious" question I raised earlier (see 7.30am). The newsreader tells us they have been "warned by the police not to play [the recording]" (see 5.35pm). Political editor Duncan Garner confirms he has listened to it, and it "raises questions".

And then we're off to a taped item in which John Banks and Don Brash are both asked questions about what Banks might think about the future of Don Brash as leader of the ACT party. TV3 at no point comes out and says the tape contains discussion of what to do about Don. But if you asked, say, Eisenstein, he'd probably bang on about his theory of the uninflected image - when you juxtapose two different ideas, they can create another. TV3 will be treading carefully. Note the police warning earlier:

This offence is punishable by up to two years imprisonment where any person discloses the private communication, or the substance, meaning, or purport of the communication or any part of it, or discloses the existence of the private communication if he knows that it has come to his knowledge as a direct or indirect result of an offence against s216B Crimes Act

Here's Garner:

We can't tell you what's on it because that would break the law. If we break the law and get prosecuted we'd face a maximum fine of about $200,000 or two years in prison.

Politically, this is quite a distraction for Key. Some have called it a game-changer. I'm not sure it's that great, but it's certainly interesting and raises some questions for Key and Banks.

He then mentions the 2002 Corngate scandal, which dented Helen Clark's lead, going on to say:

This certainly clouds Key's campaign a bit and it may actually do some damage in the next fortnight.

5.50pm: Tariana Turia has appeared on Checkpoint to respond to questions on the future of Whanau Ora (see 12.10pm). She said Paula Bennett had been good to work with, and it was no surprise that she refused to guarantee the scheme's future. "In the end it is our policy, not hers," said the Maori party co-leader - and it was up to her party to push for a roll-out. Was a bottom line for supporting a government? "Cetainly we have a big expectation that it would continue to be rolled out."

5.35pm: The police have issued a statement confirming an "active investigation". It reads:

Police have confirmed that the this afternoon we have received a formal complaint from the Prime Minister Right Honourable John Key concerning an allegation that a private conversation between himself and the Honourable John Banks has been unlawfully recorded.

This is potentially an offence under s216B Crime Act 1961 carrying a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment. Media outlets are advised that it is an offence to disclose private communications unlawfully intercepted. This offence is punishable by up to two years imprisonment where any person discloses the private communication, or the substance, meaning, or purport of the communication or any part of it, or discloses the existence of the private communication if he knows that it has come to his knowledge as a direct or indirect result of an offence against s216B Crimes Act.

Police have indicated that they have commenced an active investigation into this complaint.

NB the "media outlets are advised". That's a pretty clear shot across the Herald on Sunday's bow.

5.15pm: The teapot taper has been on Checkpoint, too. He refuses to tell Mary Wilson about the precise exchange with the Herald on Sunday that led to him handing the tape over to them. Presumaby "they were interested in hearing what was on it", asks Wilson. Ambrose refuses to say. You thought there might be something on it, though, she asks. "No, I didn't think that at all."

The cameraman says he did not receive any payment from the HoS for the recording. He refused to say whether they had agreed to cover costs for legal advice.

Update: Here is the interview:

5.05pm: Radio New Zealand has launched a special section on its website on the various parties' policies. They have put questions in different categories to the parties. There are still a number of "[party] has yet to answer this question" gaps, but under "National" for each and every question it reads: "Declined to answer this question."

4.45pm: The camerman who recorded the Teapot Tapes, Bradley Ambrose, has been speaking to Newstalk ZB's Barry Soper.

Bradley Ambrose says he was filming the meeting in Epsom between John Key and John Banks when Mr Banks started answering questions.

He says that's when he put his microphone on the table.

"I had enough time and enough space just to reach my arm and drop it on the table to try and get his questions," he told Newstalk ZB.

"I wasn't able to get a shot so I backed off and while I was backed off trying to get other shots we were basically hustled out of the room, told to get out."

Mr Ambrose says he completely forgot about his microphone as he struggled to get a shot of the pair.

You can hear Soper's account of his conversation with Ambrose here, on the Danny Watson show. I'm told by my spies in Wellington that Soper's appearance on the Larry Williams hosted ZB programme there that the exchange was much tastier, with the two men seething at one another. Sadly I can't find that online.

4.30pm: A poll for Te Karere puts Te Ururoa Flavell ahead in Waiariki by 56% to 22% for both Mana's Annette Sykes and Lois Te Kani of Labour. The DigiPoll results put Maori ahead in the party vote, too, at 40%. Labour are on 28%, with Mana on 15% and National 9%.

4.10pm: A tweet from lawyer John Edwards presents an intriguing possibility:

So the PM has filed a complaint with Police. Interesting tactic - what if they say no case to prosecute? Then definitely no prob publishing

4.00pm: Well this is something. According to this Herald report, the prime minister, John Key, is at this very moment meeting police to officially lodge a complaint over the taping of his conversation with John Banks. Storm in a teacup, you were saying?

3.10pm: In the new Listener, on a newsstand near you:

The cover story is an extensive feature on New Zealand and the global economy, including an interview with John Key. He has some interesting things to say on wealth:

Does Key …. think it is right that the top 10% in New Zealand hold more than half the wealth, or is that too unequal? He doesn't answer directly. "The most important thing is that New Zealanders can have a decent standard of living. In the end, some people might want to take a lot of risk in their life, with their own capital or whatever it might be; others might choose to work at very stressful jobs, and others might want to work longer hours. It's not for me to dictate to them what they do with their lives. What's important is to give everyone the same opportunity."

The editorial defends National’s plans for partial asset sales. “To sell just 3% of the Crown assets, which is the proposal, should be acceptable as long as the money is used to fund other assets.”

Jane Clifton’s politics column argues that this is not necessarily the National cakewalk it’s cracked up to be.

My internaut column salutes a couple of satirical efforts online, including the Dim-Post, which has just this very minute posted its teacup screenplay. Terrrific stuff.

And online at the Listener, Hamish Keith assesses the arts and culture policies. "All three policies are mostly boast or waffle. Two glaring gaps demonstrate how out of touch they are – not a single mention of cultural recovery for Christchurch and not a word about the devolution of cultural decision making."

2.50pm: Phil Goff has pinged a missive the way of the Australian bank tasked with preparing for the sale of assets. "My message to these Australian bankers is simple – hands off our assets,” Phil Goff says of his letter to the MD at Lazard. Here's the release.

2.40pm: On Morning Report just after 6.30 this morning, all of the political parties gave their assessment of the progress towards a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. All except the Mana party, who could not be contacted. Which is pretty astonishing on their part: of all the parties, they should be the most vocal in opposition to this trade agreement, I thought to myself. They've now tried to right that by putting out a press release, demanding the release of all negotiations and condemning it in the strongest terms. "Maori will never forget the devastating job losses caused by Rogernomics, and the TPPA will cause even more havoc in Maori communities already suffering massive unemployment rates," says Hone Harawira.

Mana is also demanding an apology from National for "misleading voters" over tax claims in their promotional material.

2.30pm: Bob Jones refuses to collect national super, he tells DPF in an email.

1.50pm: Labour has released its Maori development policy, which looks vague. They've also announced they will "reinstate almost $700,000 of annual funding to Women's Refuge cut by National".

1.30pm: More on Don Brash: he's making international headlines. Well, in Fiji, at least, following his enthusiasm for closer relations with the country (see yesterday, 8pm). The report describes him as "Acting Party leader".

1.20pm: Philip has been watching a bit of Brash chat (see 12.15pm) over lunch. He was asked whether he regretted closing the door to a Rodney Hide return. "History both in New Zealand and elsewhere suggests that when party leaders leave that role, they are best to leave parliament," said Dr Brash, the former leader of the National party.

Not surprisingly, he said the teapot tapes are unethical and shouldn't be released.

Asked about his religious convictions, Brash said he is a fan of Bishop John Spong. Who he? Why, a liberal, progressive American Christian. And what sort of things does he promulgate? Here he is, from his personal site, on capitalism:

A socially-sensitive, community-oriented capitalism that refuses to allow too much wealth to accumulate in the hands of the super rich and too little opportunity provided to break the bondage of the chronically poor is, I believe, the best economic system for stability. At this moment in America, the gap between the rich and the poor is dangerously wide.

Have we got the right guy, Don, because - never mind.

12.40pm: Has all the attention on the Herald on Sunday Teapot Tapes distracted our attention from a more important cash-for-influence scandal reported in the paper? That's what some observers (here and here, for example) are saying, pointing us in the direction of this story about Pita Sharples' electorate manager allegedly asking for $6,000 in exchange for exerting political pressure over the sale of a Black Power HQ.

12.15pm: Act leader - or is that ACT leader, I can never stick with one style - Don Brash is livechatting on Stuff this very minute. On the Herald site, Judith Collins is the chat-guest.

12.10pm: Midday Report on Radio New Zealand National leads on a line from the welfare debate that I failed to pick up in my 10.50am roundup: Paula Bennett failing to guarantee the future of the Whanau Ora programme. Whanau Ora is the flagship initative introduced byt the Maori party, which puts mentors in troubled family homes. King said she would "have no problem" continuing with it, but criticised "shiny policy ideas".

Next on the bulletin is the Greens' transport announcement (9.50am). Then they tell us that the police are not investigating the Herald on Sunday secret tape, because they have not received a complaint. Knowingly taping or acquiring a tape of a covertly recorded private conversation apparently carries a penalty of up to two years' imprisonment.

11.50am: BLOGGERS

At the Dim-Post, Danyl Mclauchlan reckons the Teapot Tapes focus suits Key nicely. “Hell of a lucky break for National – that’s another day or two they can beat up on the media instead of talking about their policies or record in government.”

Russell Brown addresses the row over the non-published tape at Public Address. He writes: “The sense of political fixing in the Epsom deal has been hugely amplified by the incident.”

Do we deserve to know what was said, asks legal blogger Scott Yorke at Imperator Fish. "If the pair said anything remotely controversial while all those cameras were near, then they are idiots, and it would in many ways be just desserts for their conversation to be published," he writes. "But I don’t like the idea of people’s private conversations being recorded without their knowledge, regardless of the legal position."

Yorke has also imagined how the conversation might have run.

As to the legal position, the must-read post is Steven Price’s at his Media Law Journal. Legally speaking, he says, intention is crucial.

It’s not all Teapot Tape related. In other blogging action:

At Kiwiblog, David Farrar disputes the “Holiday Highway” label.

Cameron Slater at Whaleoil cheers Farrar’s post. On the proposed road and the inner-city loop for Auckland, “both Labour Len and the Goffice have massively blundered through short sighted stupidity.”

“Farrar is the butcher who puts his thumb on the scales,” says one observer, pointing us in the direction of a page full of data on the proposed highway, from the Auckland Transport Blog.

In his Legal Beagle blog at Public Address, Graeme Edgeler is concerned about reports that a Phil Goff Labour government would unilaterally act to remove the rule under MMP that excepts a party from the 5% threshold rule if they win a constituency seat.

Also at Kiwiblog, an interesting summary of a study looking at how New Zealand might have fared under STV in 2008.

Rob Salmond’s valuable poll of polls is at Pundit.

11.15am: Labour's candidate in Waitakere, Carmel Sepuloni, has written a blog post accusing her opponent Paula Bennett's team of "breaking the rules" by removing her campaign signs.

11.05am: According to the Aucklander, hundreds of National party billboards have been defaced across the country.

Seven hundred National Party billboards across the country were altered by activists in a co-ordinated operation overnight.

The activists fixed new slogans over the billboards which say: "The Rich Deserve More" and "Drill it! Mine It! Sell it!"

An un-named organiser of the operation says National needs to be more honest in its campaign, and the new slogans reflect the truth which National is neglecting to mention. "We decided to help the National Party spell out its plans in ways that every voter can understand.

10.50am: Kathryn Ryan’s excellent series of longform issue-based debates continues on Nine to Noon this morning with welfare and poverty. Gathered are Paula Bennett for National, Annette King for Labour, Metiria Turia for the Greens. And they don’t hold back, with Ryan on more than one occasion interjecting dramatically: “Ladies, one moment! Ladies!”

Bennett begins by confirming that there will be some more National welfare policy to come. As someone with a good ear pointed out to me last night, her intonation and style is uncannily similar to that of her leader’s. Lots of “look” and “so”, and noises that all mean “come on, be reasonable”.

Turei says Bennett’s approach is not about empowerment but “entrapment ... trapping people in poverty” – and that National is doing woefully little to encourage people out of the poverty trap. She adds: “The benefits currently are ridiculously low ... If we do alleviate the worst of the poverty crisis, we can help to alleviate the worst of the health crisis.”

More than a hint of animus enters an already heated exchange over the minimum wage and the 90-day trial. “Get in the real world,” says Bennett, arguing that an increase in the minimum wage or loosening employment laws would hurt small businesses. And again: “You say you’re in touch? Get in the real world!” Turei later attacks Bennett’s “little diatribe”, accusing her of knowingly misrepresenting Treasury advice on the impact of a rise in the minimum wage.

If someone new to New Zealand politics were asked to line up these three left to right, it would be Turei-King-Bennett. In the (admittedly unlikely) event of a teal deal, how long would Turei be able to hold her nose?

The debate rounds off with a question about cross-party cooperation on child poverty. King and Turei say they and the Maori party (who are absent owing to the unavailability of Tania Turia) have agreed to work together but been snubbed by National. Bennett say the green paper outlining strategy for the next decade is coming soon. And: "I'm not interested in a fancy photo-shoot with those two."

That was the last of this series. And that’s a shame, because they’ve been full of policy debate, and not the least bit dull.

10.00am: I only caught the end of Phil Goff’s “breakfast with Mike Hosking” on Newstalk ZB this morning, and the listen-again audio is patchy. They’re promising a full video version will appear here in good time, but what I can tell you is that the Labour leader refused to rule out working with Winston Peters, but reiterated that there would be no deal-making with Act or Mana.

Asked about his leadership post-November 26, he said: “I'm there with the unanimous vote of my caucus on a number of occasions. I've said many times, when I decide to go,I think I'll go of my own volition ... I'm not making any plans beyond election night - you wouldn't expect me to. If you take your eye off the ball of the election, then you're doing the wrong thing.

9.40am: The Green party has launched its transport policy for Auckland, pledging to fund 60% (10% more than Labour) of the Auckland "Len Line" inner-city rail loop, as well as putting $500m into buses and $30m for cycleways and footpaths. All the details here.

9.15am: A reminder that you can hear the version of the Teapot Tapes leaked to Listener Live here (scroll to 3.00pm). We're dubious about its authenticity, but judge for yourself.

9.00am: Read Philip Pinner's roundup of the election coverage from this morning's papers here.

8.20am: Bryce Johns, editor of the Herald on Sunday, is on Morning Report. He says there definitely was a story in the trasnscript of the hidden Banks-Key conversation. He says they decided not to publish because they expected that National would "run the line they are", and because they had fewer guarantees as to the integrity of the material given that the cameraman in question was a freelancer rather than a staff member.  But Johns says he is confident that the unnamed camerman is speaking the truth.

Where is the tape now? "It'll be on a computer, or a flash drive or a disk or something like that ... We've got one [copy] and we're in control of that." Isn't it in the public interest to print it? "Absolutely. And we were a long way down the track to that on Saturday." It was one of the toughest ethical decisions he'd had to make, he says, and he consulted senior people across the Herald papers and APN (disclosure: the Listener is owned by APN).

National say it was a deliberate act on the part of the HoS. "I've got disdain for that comment," says Johns - and that just makes him more convinced of the potentially explosive nature of the material the tape contains. Key yesterday had attempted to "deflect attention from what's said on to how it was gathered [which] makes me think it was even more serious ... It's breathtaking in that they've got the audacity to say these things within a meter of the media pack."

Johns does not rule out publishing the trasncript in the future.

7.50am: John Key has just had his weekly soft-bottom appointment on Breakfast. Corin Dann kicks off with the secret recording.

"I have no concerns at all about the contents of the tape, and you would know like I would know that if there was anything interesting in there, the paper would have published."

"They say there is, though."

"Ah, well, they would have published, wouldn't they? Well, the truth is, in my personal opinion, it was deliberate. There are so many inconsistencies in their story."

Nothing at all interesting there, Dann asks. No, all "bland", says Key. Would you injunct if they went to publish, Dann asks. Key insists he's not concerned about what's on the tape, simply about opening the door to News of the World tactics.

Later in the piece, Dann - who is doing a better job that the Sky News posse last night already - brings up the John Banks "prostitution/marijuana" clip (see Friday, 1.25pm). "No, I don't agree with that, in the same way I don't agree with Don Brash saying legalise marijuana," says Key, as if there is a moral equivalence between the two. "But the point is, we're a moderate/centrist government, and we have parties to the right and left of us."

Will Peter Dunne get a cup of tea in Ohariu, where he's in a tight race with Labour? Nope, says Key: he went to Dunne's campaign launch, which is about as clear a signal as you can get.

Next, on the referendum over electoral systems, Key - the man more than 50% of New Zealanders want as their prime minister - delivers music to the ears of the Vote for Change lot:

I'm going to vote no to MMP, and I'm going to vote yes to supplementary member. But I quite like the proportional nature of those systems. I'm not the hugest fan of First Past the Post; I mean, it hasn't reall helped David Cameron in the UK. The reason I like that kind of model is you get greater gender balance in parliament, you certainly get greater ethnic diversity. And that, I think, has made parliament more representative. But supplementary member is just slightly less volatile than MMP.

It's a lot less proportional, too. But the anti-MMP campaign will love that endorsement.


Leading the 7am news on RNZ Morning Report is the National party "considering its legal options" over the recording of the Banks-Key meeting - which even Morning Report is calling the "teapot tapes" now - that emerged yesterday. Next, the commencement of removing containers from the Rena, followed by the progress at Apec towards the TPPA.

On One's Breakfast, Zac Guildford still leads at 7am, followed by the TPPA. Third is the Teapot Tapes, with Phil Goff saying the release of the recording would be in the public interest. John Key says he isn't worried about the content, but about the principle - though Herald on Sunday deputy editor Jonathan Milne wrote yesterday that the recording, if released, would be a "game-changer".

Firstline on TV3 opens its 7am news with Italy after Berlusconi. Next is Syria. Then the TV3 poll from last night (see 6.40pm) and the ACT launch. Last night 3 News ignored the teapot tapes, and they do so again this morning. Curious.

Following the bulletin Bryce Edwards is in the pundit's seat from Dunedin. He suggests National have erred by doing the deal with ACT, but he does think the Key-Banks meeting will be enough to crowbar Banks into parliament. Still no mention of the teapot tapes. Expect Labour to adopt a high-risk strategy hereon, says Edwards, "throwing dirt".

6.55am: How does the NZ Herald deal with the story of the teapot tapes, which its Sunday sibling created a storm with yesterday? It's there, but in the second half of a story headlined "Act leaflet milks Key cuppa with Banks", bylined "Staff reporters". A full roundup of the morning papers soon.

6.35am: Morning. Last night's TV3 poll confirmed that, with less than two weeks to run, Labour need something unexpected - they need what the Americans would call an October surprise. It's been a hell of a year in New Zealand, so you wouldn't rule out something extraordinary dropping, but for now it's mostly smooth sailing for the incumbents. Last night's interview with John Key on Sky News did little to knock the skipper off course - they didn't even press him on the big story of the day: the Teapot Tapes.

You can scroll your way through all of yesterday's campaign carryon - the debate and the secret Banks-Key recording included - by depressing your mouse button here.

Thanks for your company. Get in touch through the comments, on twitter to @listenerlive, or email

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