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Andrew Falloon at a National Party roading announcement several weeks ago (Radio NZ, Nate McKinnon)
Andrew Falloon at a National Party roading announcement several weeks ago (Radio NZ, Nate McKinnon)

The BulletinJuly 21, 2020

The Bulletin: The Andrew Falloon scandal: what we know so far

Andrew Falloon at a National Party roading announcement several weeks ago (Radio NZ, Nate McKinnon)
Andrew Falloon at a National Party roading announcement several weeks ago (Radio NZ, Nate McKinnon)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: What we know so far about the Andrew Falloon scandal, finance minister shuts purse strings on billions in spending, and Cameron Slater before the courts.

The National party has lost yet another MP to scandal, with the latest casualty being first term representative for Rangitata Andrew Falloon. Multiple outlets have reported that it is because he allegedly sent an unsolicited image of a pornographic nature to a teenage girl in her first year of university – a development first broken by the NZ HeraldRadio NZ also reported that, with the additional information that the pictures are understood to have not been of Falloon himself. Falloon will remain as an MP until the election, at which time he will retire. Stuff has reported that police investigated the matter, but concluded it did not meet the threshold for prosecution.

It is very important to note that the above version of events may not be the correct version. Over the course of the afternoon and evening, significant elements and details of the story changed, or were contested, or turned out to be wrong. One very important change to the story came from this NZ Herald report, in which it was understood that Falloon’s version of events was “that acquaintances at a party sent the offensive message.” In other words, he insisted that he did not personally send the message, but offered his resignation to Collins regardless, and she accepted it.

How did it come to light? Initially, information about the incident was sent to the office of PM Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday last week. At a press conference yesterday, she said that her chief of staff sought the permission of the complainant to send it on to the leader of the opposition Judith Collins. That then took place on Friday. Collins is then understood to have met with Falloon on Monday, at which time it was agreed that he would leave politics at the election. In the intervening time, there was no indication from the party about the news that was about to break, and Falloon continued to attend events in his capacity as Rangitata MP – and he presumably will until the election. As this biography on the Timaru Herald suggests, he was widely regarded as an effective local MP.

Very little of this information was included in the initial press releases, from Falloon and Collins respectively. Those statements focused significantly on mental health issues being faced by Falloon, with his statement also referencing significant grief at the recent suicide of a friend. “I have made a number of mistakes and I apologise to those who have been affected,” was his only reference to what subsequently came to light. “Andrew is suffering from significant mental health issues and his privacy, and that of his family, must be respected,” said Collins in her much briefer statement.

All of that is no doubt true, and mental health issues must be treated with caution and sensitivity. But there has been significant disquiet about the fact that this was the angle taken by National to introduce the issue, rather than discussion of the actual incident that forced the resignation. As Newstalk ZB political editor Barry Soper concluded in his daily column, “to muddy the mental health waters in his way is simply unacceptable.” On Newsroom, political journalist Laura Walters argued that “using one of the country’s biggest social and health issues as a tool for political management further erodes public trust in the party.”

Speaking on the AM Show this morning, Judith Collins said she was personally first notified on Saturday. She also said that Falloon confirmed to her that he had sent it, and said the party had ensured he was receiving professional mental health support. She also said that Falloon had been drinking heavily at the time the incident took place. Collins also suggested that Falloon should resign from parliament immediately.

The Spinoff would like to invite Bulletin readers to a special event with Breast Cancer Foundation NZ. 

The effects of Covid-19 are often hidden from everyday view. Writing on The Spinoff, Breast Cancer NZ ambassador Stacey Morrison spoke to Chloe Irvine about her experience with breast cancer through lockdown.

To support Breast Cancer Foundation NZ’s vital work, The Spinoff is holding a Pink Ribbon Breakfast. Hosted by Stacey Morrison at Kind cafe in Morningside, Auckland, on July 28 from 7.30am, the breakfast will hear from women about their breast cancer journeys and foundation advocates about the work they do.

Limited tickets are available here, including breakfast. If you live outside Auckland or are unable to join us for breakfast we still welcome your support for Breast Cancer Foundation NZ.

Finance minister Grant Robertson has closed the purse strings on $14 billion worth of the Covid recovery fund for the foreseeable future. Initially an envelope of $20bn had been put towards that fund, but he now says that much of it won’t be spent unless needed, to avoid having net debt blow out. More details can be found in our live blog, including the quote that sums it up – “If it’s not needed the money will not be spent. It will not be borrowed and we will have less debt to repay. This is the fiscally prudent thing to do.” He also appeared to take a dig at other parties who appeared to want to spend that money on other projects, saying the fund had been set up for very specific uses.

A fascinating case is currently underway at the High Court regarding posts made by former Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater. The NZ Herald’s Kirsty Johnston was there to see evidence given by Slater, in which he denied attack posts against public health academics were written in exchange for cash – rather, he contends that they were simply an expression of his political beliefs. The academics in question allege that they were defamed in a series of posts, with lobbyist Carrick Graham accused of arranging payment for the posts from ex-National MP Katherine Rich through her employer the Food and Grocery Council.

Another update in a particularly odd political saga: Stuff reports that NZ First has confirmed it has signed a contract with several political operatives behind the Brexit campaign, to help the party in the upcoming general election. The story was the subject of two pieces on The Spinoff (first this, then this) which prompted an angry attack by Peters against this outlet. As always with these matters, I will leave it entirely up to the reader to determine whether the deputy PM was honest with the public about it.

We had some strong support for the proposed CovidCard last week, as a better technological solution than the government’s contact tracing app. So for balance, here’s a piece that tests the claims made by CovidCard’s backers, and whether they stack up. Writing on The Spinoff, Richard Easther argues that the “brutal truth” about both solutions is that neither will be a miracle solution. An excellent line from the piece: “Like a “self-driving car”, these may be technical innovations that can be described in a couple of words, work well in favourable environments, but are far harder to deploy in ways that are genuinely transformative.”

Seasonal migrant workers who were allegedly abused by their employer are worried that they won’t get justice, reports Newsroom’s Dileepa Fonseka. They have been moved from Hawkes Bay up to Auckland, so won’t be able to see the accused have their day in court. As well as that, there are questions about whether the government acted swiftly enough on the matter – a key audio recording was sent to immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway almost two weeks before the story broke, but no reply came back.

NZ First leader Winston Peters has been ordered to pay court costs of $320,000 after his failed action regarding his superannuation details being leaked, reports Sam Hurley for the NZ Herald. Peters had been trying to get damages and a declaration against former cabinet ministers Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley, and two top public servants, but the case was dismissed. He has said he’ll appeal against the decision on costs, but Bennett has argued that the costs are “entirely appropriate”. Incidentally, if the payment does go ahead, it would go back to the Crown.

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One big happy family (Photo: Getty Images/Tina Tiller)

Right now on The Spinoff: get angry about a political consensus forming around the idea that returning NZers should pay for managed isolation. Professor Andrew Geddis writes about a case that shows how unjust the three strikes sentencing law can be. Going West’s producer James Littlewood explains why the country’s oldest literary festival is putting its massive back-catalogue online. Catherine Woulfe shares several stories that shows how complex and fraught maternal mental health is. And Linda Burgess goes on a long search for that rarest of political creatures – a middle child who becomes an MP.

For those not following the ongoing situation around protests in the US, there have been some very worrying developments. In the city of Portland especially (but likely others soon) the Federal government has started sending agents in unmarked vans out to arrest non-violent protesters. As vastly experienced security analyst Paul Buchanan writes at Kiwipolitico, such policing has some disturbing precedents. Here’s an excerpt:

For those of us who remember the Argentine “dirty war” and the role of unidentified men in unmarked Ford Falcons in the “disappearance” (desaparicion) of thousands of people, this is a chilling and sinister development. It is particularly so because unlike Argentina there are no armed guerrilla groups seriously challenging government authority in Portland or elsewhere, especially from the Left. For all the rightwing talk of Antifa being a threat, they are neither heavily armed or organised as effective guerrilla fighting units. Instead, what irregular militias exist in the US today are predominately rightwing supporters of the president and his political project who reject government authority because it is ostensibly part of the “Deep State” and who have histories of violence in support of their beliefs.

Here there is another parallel with the Argentine “dirty war.” In the years leading up and then during the early days of the dictatorship that came to be known as the “Process” (Proceso), rightwing death squads roamed the country with impunity, targeting “subversives” and other “undesirables” with murderous vigilante justice. The death squads were both a complement to and a justification for the official repression meted out by the unidentified men in Ford Falcons, whose uniforms were grey suits and black ties. After all, with murderous bands of unidentified armed men stalking the streets, the State needed to step in to restore order.

In sport, back to back titles for the country’s premier jockey. The NZ Racing Desk newswire (republished on the Stratford Press) reports the TAB is now paying out bets made on Lisa Allpress winning the National Jockeys’ premiership. There’s still a bit of the season left to run, but her lead is now unassailable. It’s the fourth time she’s won the title over a career lasting decades, and her third since the 2015/16 season.

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