From unpaid teachers to match fixing and rogue clamping, these are the news stories that outraged New Zealand in the 2010s.
The decade in NZ scandal started out strong thanks to TV and radio host Paul Henry (for the edification of younger readers, he was like Mike Hosking, but with a louder laugh and quieter suits). In October 2010, on the subject of who should succeed departing Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand, Henry asked PM John Key “Are you going to choose a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time?” The uproar was instant, and TVNZ announced it was suspending Henry for two weeks without pay. But his troubles weren’t over. When people pointed out an older clip of Henry ridiculing Indian politician Sheila Dikshit’s name, Henry was a goner. He resigned four days later.
For a brief moment, it seemed like a run of the mill sex scandal. All the elements were there: the cocksure politician, the dutiful wife, the allegations of an “inappropriate relationship” with a female employee. But the Colin Craig saga turned out to be far grimmer than that. It was bad that the Conservative Party leader was alleged to have sexually harassed his press secretary Rachel MacGregor, but it might have all ended with a $17,000 settlement and a confidentiality agreement had it not been for Jordan Williams. In September 2016 the Taxpayers Union director sued Craig for defamation after Craig claimed Williams had lied about Craig being a sexual harasser, and so began an interminable series of legal claims and counter-claims. Stuck in the middle of it all: Rachel MacGregor, a blameless woman forced back into court over and over thanks to two truly ghastly men.
Payroll isn’t something most of us give much thought to – until it goes wrong, and then it becomes life-shatteringly important. Just ask the tens of thousands of teachers and school staff whose lives were made a misery by Novopay, the Ministry of Education’s craptacular $182 million payroll system. Finally launched in 2012 after years of delays, it was clear from the start that the MoE had been sold a lemon by Australian human resources company Talent2. The problems with Novopay were no mere glitches. One teacher was overpaid $39,000, paid it back, and wasn’t paid again for two months. A principal reported that Novopay had taken $40,000 directly out of the school bank account to pay teachers who had never even worked at his college. By February 2013, over 14,000 teachers and school staff were owed nearly $12 million in backpay. The Novopay debacle took years to fix at a cost to taxpayers of $45 million. Thanks Australia!
Willy Moon & Natalia Kills
You’ll find this hard to believe, but there was a time before the name Willy Moon was synonymous with televised bullying. In the years before The X Factor, Moon was a rising music star whose song ‘Yeah Yeah’ soundtracked an international campaign for the Apple iPod, and who made musical appearances on shows like Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Later with Jools Holland. But that was the Before Times, before he and his wife Natalia Kills were hired as judges on X Factor New Zealand; before their tirade against poor, sweet-faced Invercargill singer Joe Irvine. He called Irvine “disgusting” and “creepy”, she called him a “laughing stock” who made her “sick”. And don’t forget Irvine’s worst crime: that he had copied Moon by wearing… a suit. By morning the couple were national pariahs. They were fired that afternoon, and headed to the airport soon after. In the words of an eagle-eyed Spinoff reporter, “The flash of a single camera bounced off their glasses, his like Lennon’s, hers like Kim K’s. Into the check-in lounge they went, as if it were the lobby of a fine hotel.” And neither were ever heard of again.
It began with a 3 News story in November 2013 about a Facebook page where a gang calling themselves the Roast Busters posted videos of themselves having sex with intoxicated, underage girls. But the story didn’t really begin then. The police had known about the group since the first victims made complaints in 2011, it soon emerged, but repeatedly chose not to prosecute. The revelations caused widespread revulsion and prompted protests across the country. None of the Roast Busters were ever charged over the scandal. As for the victims? In an interview earlier this year, ‘Laura’ put it simply: “I’m still living it.”
Let’s state for the record that Chris Cairns denies all allegations. Which is just as well. Because if one of the finest all-rounders in history, scorer of 200 test wickets and 3000 runs for this country (and just shy of 5000 runs in ODIs), not to mention the son of a legendary cricketer – if he had been involved in fixing matches while playing for the Indian Cricket League, well that would be an indelible stain on our nation’s sporting soul. The allegations were first made in 2014 by fellow ex-Black Cap Lou Vincent, who admitted to match fixing the ICL, fingered Cairns as a co-conspirator, and was backed up by Brendon McCullum, a former Black Caps captain who said Cairns had tried to recruit him into the match-fixing ring. Then there was the libel trial and the perjury trial, both of which Cairns emerged from victorious.
The Spinoff’s Decade in Review is presented in partnership with Lindauer Free*, the perfect accompaniment for end-of-decade celebrations for those looking to moderate their alcohol content (*contains no more than 0.5% alc/vol).
How do you begin to summarise the five-alarm shitshow that was Dirty Politics? Nicky Hager’s 2014 book originated with a leaked eight gigabyte USB of emails to and from Cameron Slater, the bullshitter-in-chief of right-wing attack blog Whaleoil. Many of the worst revelations contained therein involved PM John Key’s spindoctor Jason Ede, who joined Slater in a caper involving the “access” of a Labour Party database, but there were also numerous shady dealings with then-corrections minister Judith Collins, Food & Grocery Council head Katherine Rich, and PR consultant Carrick Graham. And remember Mark Hotchin? He’s the one who secretly paid Slater to write attack posts about Adam Feely, boss of the Serious Fraud Office, which was investigating Hotchin’s company, Hanover Finance. The attacks on Feely eventually led to Judith Collins’ resignation (she was later exonerated), but many of the key players emerged relatively unscathed. In November, the nation went to the polls. National won.
The thing about the Aaron Smith scandal was that the scandal wasn’t really that the All Black had sex in a Christchurch Airport toilet cubicle, a tryst that was recorded by a couple of bystanding creepers and passed onto Stuff for publication. And neither was the scandal that the woman in the cubicle wasn’t Smith’s girlfriend at the time. Both Smith and his toilet partner were consenting adults, after all. No, the real scandal was New Zealand Rugby’s handling of the fallout from Smith’s “huge mistake”, which showed they’d learned approximately nothing from their botched response to the Chiefs stripper-party scandal just two months earlier. Also a scandal: Smith allegedly asking the woman involved to swear an affidavit stating that the two didn’t have sex, which would have been a lie, since it later emerged that the two had in fact been having an affair for two years before that fateful day.
OK, sure, it wasn’t the scandal of the decade, but my god, was the story of the clamp-happy Auckland antique dealers juicy. We could try to recount all the twists in David Farrier’s crazy tale which began in 2016 with a story that would become a three-year, six-part investigative saga, but we could never do it justice. The latest instalment was published just last month, and we highly recommend clicking through and reading the whole thing, start to finish. With the Bashfords having fled town, and the government announcing strict new rules for private car clampers, has this bizarre story finally drawn to a close? We wouldn’t bet on it.
In October 2018, a politician stood before reporters and accused National leader Simon Bridges of being “a corrupt politician” who had committed “multiple breaches of electoral law.” Worse, it was one of Bridges’ own MPs making the accusations: list MP Jami-Lee Ross, who at the same time accused his leader of electoral law breaches that if proved, would possibly send Bridges to jail. The media standup was just the latest salvo in a war between the two politicians that began with the leaking of Bridges’ expenses, took a detour along SH1, absorbed allegations of sexual harassment, stopped while Ross was treated for a mental breakdown (which isn’t at all funny), and burst into a giant political fireball with Ross’s utterly astonishing press conference. Now that was a great New Zealand scandal.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.