Tuesday 15 November: the little black bag

by Toby Manhire / 15 November, 2011
Green co-leader admits billboard defacer link. Key faces questions over the teapot tape.


“More political intrigue with two controversies swirling around the election campaign,” runs the opening pep-talk on One News at 6pm.

We start on the tape recording, with Guyon Espiner reporting from what appears to be the roof of the TVNZ building in Auckland. “There may have been derogatory remarks about older New Zealand First voters,” he confides, adding that he neither has a copy of the tape, nor has heard it.

Espiner says he does not believe it will be greatly damaging for Key, but that it could be beneficial for Winston Peters. Funny old world.

Next it’s the Green party and the defaced National billboards. Jolyon White has “dug a massive hole for the Greens”, says the reporter. Didn’t catch his name.

Then back to Zac Guildford and all that.

Later in One News, 35 minutes in to be precise, the story National would prefer to have seen leading the bulletin crops up: their welfare policy (see 2.05pm).

That policy doesn’t get so much as a mention, however, over at a teapot-tape-toploaded 3 News.

They start with Winston Peters saying that on the tape Key “insults elderly New Zealanders”. This story, Duncan Garner tells us, “threatens to overshadow the rest of the campaign”. It gives Winston Peters “something to latch on to, a direct lifeline back to his supporters”.

The second item is more Peters – no wonder he appears to be bursting with the joys of spring. Patrick Gower is in Tauranga with the NZ First leader, who is telling his elderly audience “what some young Turkey thinks of your efforts and your sacrifices ... Some people think they’re superior to you, just because you’re going grey.” Joys of spring.

Next up is an item on the security oversight that let that little black bag sit on the table for most of the Key-Banks dialogue – “worse than irresponsible” in the words of one expert. Key, however, takes personal responsibility for it. That piece segues into the comments by the Dowler family’s lawyer (see 3.50pm).

Fourth in line is the Greens and the defacing of National billboards. Then off to Zac G.

At 7pm on One, Close Up has enlisted a lip-reader to examine the video of the Banks-Key chat. Teapot tapes? Forget that: the teapot lips! This is going to be good, right? No, it’s rubbish. She tells us Key says “Brash”. And that’s about it. Panic. Is Guyon still here? Bring on Guyon!

Guyon says it sounds as though the tape contains material that is embarrassing rather than scandalous. Had it been all that interesting, “I think the media organisations who had it would have released it by now.”

Close Up then have an interview with Jolyon “billboard punker” White. He doesn’t regret what he’s done. “I think it was worth it in terms of engaging in the political conversation.” But everything is still incredibly unfortunate (see 5.15pm).

Perhaps Campbell Live had a lip-reader too but decided to ditch the concept when it yielded zilch. For they lead on the recording, too, but it all feels a bit thin. First Tristram Clayton looks back at the footage of the incident in a sort of CSI Teapot, asking whether or not it looked like a private meeting, and that’s followed by a load of readers’ emails, read aloud and printed on the screen. “We have not seen feedback flood in like this,” says Campbell.

That’s all for now. Another engrossing day. Thanks for your company.

5.45pm: An astonishing remark by John Key to reporters today, appealing to a point of principle in opposing the release of the recording of him speaking with John Banks in Newmarket last Friday. Here's the quote in full:

What I'm concerned with here is the principle, and, yes, anyone can say, “well, look, politicians and the prime minister of the day are fair game in what is a private conversation.” But what happens when that starts moving to other high-profile New Zealanders, having conversations with their wives about personal issues?

What happens if a couple of high-profile New Zealanders that are married have a conversation about their son or their daugther being suicidal, a Sunday paper reports that, and that child takes their own life?

And here's the audio:

5.15pm: Jolyon White, the billboard-stickering partner of the executive assistant of the Green co-leader (got that?) has been on Checkpoint. He doesn't seem that publicity shy. He answered "that would be incredibly unfortunate" to just about every question - from whether harm had been done, to whether his partner might lose her job, to whether National might lay a complaint with the police. He says it's satire, and people are "lacking a sense of humour". He says he doesn't know how many other Green party members were involved in his group, who together embellished about 700 signs across the country.

Russel Norman appears afterwards to say White is "certainly entitled to his view". Others might say White's partner is certainly entitled to thump him. Norman says they are still in talks with the National party to see how they can help return the signs to their original state.

5.00pm: POLICY

National's defence policy contains nothing new, as far as I can see. It promises to implement the existing White Paper and Defence Capability Plan. (Release here; policy document in PDF here.)

As one observer noted, National's release about defence policy, in the name of defence spokesman Wayne Mapp, arrived within minutes of a press release in the name of the minister of defence, Wayne Mapp, announcing the sale of the remaining Skyhawk aircraft.

The National party has also put out its generality-heavy policy for Maori affairs. Release. PDF policy doc.

4.55pm: The iPredict political betting site has opened a "contract" on what is containted in the teapot tapes.

4.45pm: AUDIO

Here's Jane Clifton on John Key, the tapes, and the Greens' own banana skin. "Key has massively overplayed this one," she says. "And I think I know why."

4.20pm: According to Radio New Zealand, Jolyon White has resigned as a member of the Green party. His partner has been stood down as Norman's executive assistant. And National has lodged an official complaint with the Electoral Commission. No complaint with the police yet - but they clearly know their number.

4.05pm: Stuff has some background on the cameraman who captured the secret Banks-Key conversation, aka the teapot taper. It's gobsmacking, but not necessarily relevant. The story begins:

The cameraman responsible for the teacup tape is a former police constable who was suspended from the force while connections with a militia leader were investigated.

3.50pm: The lawyer for the family of Milly Dowler, the teenager whose phone was hacked by the News of the World after her death, has dismissed suggestions that the Teapot Tapes are analogous to the UK tabloid's hacking. Indeed, Mark Lewis has told 3 News the tapes should be published. From 3News.co.nz:

"There is a difference between the News of the World hacking into someone's phone to find out private information and seemingly - whether accidental or on purpose - effectively a journalist investigating some political statement,” he says.  “That's something that is in the public interest and sounds like it should be reported without the unfavourable comparison to what was clearly a criminal act” ...

He says Mr Key’s comparison to News of the World tactics was a “cheap shot” with little relevance to the British scandal.

2.05pm: POLICY

National have released the second part of their welfare policy. The emphasis is on cracking down on benefit fraud - that perennial welfare policy pledge - including by greater sharing of data, and a crackdown on drug users. From the policy: "If a person doesn’t apply for a job because a potential employer asks them to take a drug test, or if they fail such a pre-employment drug test, their benefit will be cancelled."

Release here; policy document in PDF here.

1.45pm: Vernon Small assesses the damage caused to the Greens by the revelation that the partner of Russel Norman's assistant was behind the defacing of National billboards.

It is a measure of how much the Greens have changed that their new moderate mainstream image is now so at odds with some of their grass roots who germinated in protests like this.But with their poll rating above 10 per cent, and starting to pick up more and more middle-class voters,  the last thing they need is a controversy that highlights the party's protest wing.

According to Radio NZ, Jolyon White has now resigned from the Green party.

12.30pm: New Zealand through a Twitter-lens:

12.15pm: In 1989, Joanne Black accidentally recorded an exchange in which PM Geoffrey Palmer was "castigated" by his press secretary. That recording was never aired - but its contents were leapt on by the National opposition, and it is thought to have played a role in Palmer's downfall. Joanne's account of the incident, published in the Listener in 2005, is a fascinating read - especially in light of current events.

11.50am: BLOGGERS

Cathy Odgers, who blogs at Cactus Kate, is a longtime ACT supporter – she even came close to being on their party list. So her excoriation of Don Brash this morning matters. “If according to Brash, Brand Hide was toxic what has happened since proves Brand Brash is nothing short of Pallor mortis,” she writes. “The public just hate him but more importantly core ACT voters aren't too keen on him and like it or not politics is a popularity contest.”

At Scoop, Gordon Campbell looks at the legal and political implications of the teapot-tape episode.

The aftertaste though is already damaging National’s best asset – the perceived integrity of its leader. (If Key’s got nothing to hide, he’s got nothing to lose by releasing the tape.) The government shouldn’t be willing to sell down this state asset quite so readily.

By comparing the Herald on Sunday’s behvaiour with the News of the World’s phone-hacking, John Key “seemed like he is faking empathy”, says John Pagani.

Jon Johansson considers the impact of, and enthusiasm for, a single-party government, at Pundit.

Dylan Reeve, a TV editor, sheds some light on the technical questions around the recording. “Yes, it's a little unusual that he'd have recorded for 8-9 minutes uninterrupted unless specifically trying to record something that whole time,” he concludes, “but it certainly not impossible or even all that unusual for some people.”

11.10am: Emboldened, perhaps, by the teapot hoopla, Labour appear to be going all Jay-Z. "National has 120 points but still no plan," it says, countering National's release of economic points from yesterday with its own six-point plan for growth.

10.55am: More on the Greens and the defacing of National campaign billboards (see yesterday, 11.05am). Green co-leader Russel Norman says the "vandalism" is the work of Jolyon White, the partner of his executive assistant. He said he knew nothing of it until this morning. "I am incredibly disappointed by what they have done," he said in a statement, "especially given my and the Green party's preference for a positive and clean campaign." Norman has called John Key to apologise. More here.

10.20am: Felix Marwick, chief political reporter at Newstalk ZB tweets:

Green Party may have been behind sabotage of National Party billboards. @RusselNorman to front media soon

If true, this would be a real blow to the Greens - and, paradoxically, a blessing for National.

10.05am: Michael Laws has been spending much of the first hour of his rabble-rousing show on RadioLive laying into the media. The secret recording is just the latest example of a moral void in journalism, he says. New Zealand journalists will routinely "lie, cheat, deceive" to get a story, without a thought for "ethics or honesty". The press gallery is populated by "misanthropes" who are far too "opinionated". Indeed: "It's like they want to be politicians but they'll never have the guts to go into the political arena."

And a little bit of venom reserved for Duncan Garner and Guyon Espiner, the political editors of the two main networks: "We're not talking about intelligent people here. They probably haven't been to university, and, if they have, probably to a pretty average university."

9.50am: The embellishment of images continues. A couple of recent efforts:

9.35am: The teapot tapes, and especially John Key's News of the World comparison, have been getting some pick-up overseas. The Guardian's media blogger Roy Greenslade writes about the row here; an AFP report is here.

9.00am: That Firstline interview (see 7.35am), very adeptly done by Rachel Smalley, is now online here.

8.50am: In the Dominion Post this morning, Matthew Hooton, a friend to the National party, is quoted as saying:

Given that it's almost certain that the Herald on Sunday will publish this transcript in five days' time and given that there will be something in it which is inelegant enough that it can be beaten up, John Key is probably better to just say now he doesn't really care whether or not the transcript is released.

The ramifications of the row over the teapot tapes tops the papers' election coverage this morning. Read Philip Pinner's review of the papers here.

8.10am: A quick recap on a couple of other interviews on Morning Report this hour. Grant Robertson of Labour and Metiria Turei of the Greens appeared to talk teapot. Turei says that Key is "entitled to protect his privacy", but he should consider fessing up and moving on. Involving the police was an "overreaction". Perhaps, she adds, this experience will help him understand better the opposition to police surveillance.

Robertson takes the same line as his leader does on Breakfast (see 7.50am): stunt-distraction-asset-sales. Key, he says, is "hiding behind the fact it's now under investigation" (though he didn't do that in his TV3 interview, see 7.35am).

Next up is Brent Edwards, RNZ's political editor. The National response has been "heavy handed", he says. "It smacks of bringing the police actually into the election .. He has reason to think he has been the victim of a secret recording", says Edwards, but he had other avenues of response.

Steven Joyce is in the studio next, to talk about his party's road-building plans (more of that later today; a few policy items fell through the net yesterday, for various reasons). First a few questions on the teapot tapes, however. Would all of this derail the National campaign? No says the manager of that campaign. "We can walk and chew at the same time ... I'm not all concerned." The prime minister has "made his call", says Joyce. Is it excitable to point out that he says Key has made his call, rather than "we have made our call". Probably it is.

7.50am: Key is on TV3, Phil Goff is on One. Is it only Tuesday? "It's a circus," says Goff on Breakfast. "Don't you think the police have got better things to do with their time?" This was "a media stunt" - it was hardly "News of the World stuff", he says. "For heaven's sake, if it was a bland conversation, why are we wasting the police's time. Why doesn't he come clean?" He's taking the same line as Grant Robertson has moments earlier on Morning Report (more on that soon) and it goes like this: 1. Say it was a stunt. If it's bland set it free. 2. It's a huge distraction from the real issues. 3. Real issues such as asset sales ... and so on.

Goff is evasive on NZ First, saying he won't make any decisions about coalitions until the vote is done, but that he is concerned about the "stability" of Winston Peters.

Have you got any big policies left? "The women's refuge one was important," says Goff (see yesterday). It sounds like there's not a lot to come. Asked on a transaction tax, he says "we'd follow how it happened in Europe, if it was successful, fine."

And that's that: someone presses the button on the remote that forces Phil to smile out, "Thanks, Corin," and we're done.

7.35am: Here's John Key on Firstline. Do you have a clear conscience about what's on the tape, asks Rachel Smalley. "I have a totally clear consicence about what I've done; I think it's the Herald on Sunday and the cameraman that may not have a clear conscience, and in the end they'll have to answer to the police," he says. He says the HoS has been "in cahoots" with the cameraman. If the Hos and the cameraman are able to prove it was accidental, they should be considering a libel action here, it occurs to me.

Key: "At the end of the day I don't care about the contents of the tape ... my recollection is it's pretty bland, but I care a lot about the principle." He finds the News of the World's action "abbhorent". It's different to the now folded British tabloid, says Smalley: they hacked into a dead child's phone. "No it's not, no it's not," says Key: the principle is that a private conversation was illegally intercepted.

"I'm privy to what's on the tape," says Smalley. Key holds her stare. "I take your point it's private, but it's not personal though, it's political." Key: "Well, we're politicians." Given the nature of the deal in Epsom, can Key really claim an ethical argument to stop the tape being aired, Smalley asks. But Key takes the opportunity to take a side road here into the deal in Epsom: remarkably, that subject now is a refuge for him.

Smalley then changes tack and asks Key, interestingly - significantly? - about the demographics of the support for NZ First and Winston Peters. He looks a little taken aback. "Older New Zealanders." Why do you think he is losing support? "Why is he losing support," says Key, repeating the question. "He is, I think, a not terribly stable politician in terms of what he says he'll do."

If you win, do you want Don Brash as part of your coalition up to the next election? "That's not a matter for me," says Key. Who would you prefer to work with, Banks or Brash? It's about the ACT party, says Key. Doesn't he even an opinion? Of course, again, it's a matter for Act; he is leading the National party just days before the election.

But the relationship with ACT does throw up so many problems for you, says Smalley. "That's MMP ... You do your best."

Smalley finishes by asking the question lots of people have been asking. What about your security men: will they be looking a little closer at the table next time you have a cup of tea? "I'm sure they will." He's smiling but my sense is his fists are clenched under the desk. "I'm sure everyone else will to. Personal responsibility - that's the party we're of."

Interesting: I half expected him to palm off all questions of the tape with a blanket "It's a matter for the police now, I'm not going into it", but he didn't even attempt to do so.


"Political pressure builds over teapot tapes," tops the hour at 7am on Radio New Zealand's Morning Report. Labour says the prime minister "appears to be panicking", it reports, by taking a complaint to the police over the recording of his meeting with John Banks on Friday. That's followed by the Royal Commission on Pike River, with Department of Labour representatives appearing today, and then by the imminent standoff between police and protesters in Auckland's Aotea Square.

Later in the bulletin, Morning Report covers the defaced National campaign posters (see yesterday, 11.05am), over which National is considering going to the police or the Electoral commission. The person behind the "alterations" tells RNZ it its "satire" and "valid political commentary".

On One's Breakfast, Zac Guildford remains top of the bulletin. Next is the teapot tapes, followed by the Rena salvage operation.

Firstline on TV3 begins with the teapot tapes; that's followed by a New Zealand crime story, then an Australia crime story.

6.45am: Good morning. It's all about that little black pouch again today.If you don't know what I'm on about, or just want to relive a remarkable day in the campaign, click here.

Key will be on TV3 this morning. I'll be watching that. We'll also have the morning bulletins, the morning papers, and the morning.

Get in touch through the comments, on twitter to @listenerlive, or email listenerlive@listener.co.nz.
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