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Former immigration minister Iain Lees Galloway (Image: Radio NZ)
Former immigration minister Iain Lees Galloway (Image: Radio NZ)

The BulletinJuly 23, 2020

The Bulletin: Minister sacked as chaos reigns

Former immigration minister Iain Lees Galloway (Image: Radio NZ)
Former immigration minister Iain Lees Galloway (Image: Radio NZ)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: PM sacks Iain Lees-Galloway, Winston Peters makes stirring contribution to day of chaos, and Tarras locals not thrilled about potential new airport.

By now, you’ll probably have heard the news that Labour MP for Palmerston North Iain Lees-Galloway’s political career is over. PM Ardern dismissed him from all ministerial roles yesterday morning, and he decided to not run again at the upcoming election. The reason for this is not necessarily because he had a consensual affair – as many have pointed out, half of parliament would have to resign if ‘don’t cheat on your spouse’ was the standard of conduct that had to be met. Rather, the crucial factor in the PM’s decision to sack him was that the affair was conducted with a subordinate staff member, presenting a clear imbalance of power and the potential for allegations of a ministerial office being misused, at a time that Lees-Galloway was the minister for workplace relations and safety.

He issued a statement after the sacking, saying he accepted the PM’s decision and had apologised for his conduct, along with an apology to his family, and to anyone else who had been hurt by his actions. For privacy reasons, the other party in the relationship has not been named.

To be clear, this was a consensual relationship. Many have speculated that the revelation means that it is now ‘open season’ on anyone at parliament who has been unfaithful. But as this Business Desk (paywalled) story outlines, there are more pertinent questions to be asked here. Parliamentary Services will be asked to look into whether any funds were used to sustain the relationship, and Ardern said “if there is anything that has financial implications then I would have no hesitation asking for that to be dealt with as well.” To the best of my knowledge, nobody is alleging that this did happen. But the fact that these sorts of questions have to be asked – well, he’s gotta go.

As with other recent political scandals, there will be questions raised about the timing and handling of it from the relevant party leader. Ardern said she discussed the matter with Lees-Galloway on Tuesday evening, after earlier in the afternoon receiving a tip-off from National leader Judith Collins that an allegation had been made to her office. Collins herself made that fact known (without going into any specific details) during her round of morning interviews yesterday. Following that, a surprise press conference was announced by the PM’s office, at which point Lees-Galloway was sacked. We’ll never know for sure, but one can always wonder whether the reaction from the PM would have been so swift had Collins not seeded the story in the public eye. Apparently the story was the subject of gossip at parliament for a long time as well. I personally can’t say I ever heard anything of the sort (clearly I’m poorly informed on these matters) but if that was the case, it also raises questions about why it came up now, and whether it was a well-timed political hit.

Lees-Galloway held significant ministerial portfolios, which have now been divided up. Carmel Sepuloni will take over ACC, Andrew Little will become minister for workplace relations, and Kris Faafoi will be the new immigration minister. Some will be sad to see him go, and others will most certainly not be. As this article on the Indian Weekender by Sandeep Singh, he made himself unpopular in some quarters through “unprecedented visa processing delays, abrupt changes in partnership visa rules that unfairly targeted Indian marriages causing forced separations and painful delays in unification as a family, and delays in the processing of Skilled Migrant Category in the last three years.”

And as for the perception of politics as a whole, good lord, where to begin? You’d be forgiven for wondering who will be next, and whether many of them at all deserve to stay on the public payroll. As Claire Trevett at the NZ Herald (paywalled) concludes in this scorching column, “the challenge for all leaders is to clean up their own house – not to point at the neighbour’s and say it was just as filthy. At the moment, all the voters see of parliament is a pigsty.” An excellent counterpoint is provided by Stuff’s Henry Cooke, who writes that “for every horrid incident you can usually find some backbench MP plugging away on a worthy issue a constituent has raised, with little media attention.” If only we heard more from that lot.

And if you want to get a funny take on it all, I can highly recommend this piece from Toby Manhire as one of the all-time great pieces of satire published by the site. Without giving it away, I think it pretty much sums up the tone of the news for the last while.

An exciting development for The Spinoff: We’ve now got merch for sale! You can check out everything we’ve got on offer here, but among other things we’ve got tea towels, pens, coffee cups, tote bags and T-shirts for sale. You can also buy copies of The Spinoff Book, which we released at the end of last year, featuring dozens of the best pieces of writing to appear on the site over our first five years. And of course, Spinoff Members get a discount on all of it, which you can sign up for here.

Today’s headline promised a day of political chaos, so here was the other big story: Radio NZ broke the news that foreign minister Winston Peters intervened to get two friends spots on a taxpayer-funded trip to Antarctica, against the wishes of Antarctica NZ. In case you were wondering, those friends say they had not donated to either NZ First, or the NZ First Foundation. However, National’s Gerry Brownlee – who has been pursuing the issue in parliament – questioned why they were sent on the trip “without any obvious benefit to New Zealand”. In response, Peters has said he was hoping the pair would donate to Scott Base, and the NZ Herald reports he described the story as an “appalling, racist attack” against those two friends, who are Malaysian-NZ dual citizens, and connected to one of the richest families in South-East Asia.

There were further shenanigans in parliament yesterday, with Peters using parliamentary privilege to accuse several people of leaking details of his superannuation overpayment to media in 2017. For those that don’t know, parliamentary privilege basically means that things can be said by MPs with protection against defamation lawsuits. Peters refused to repeat the allegations outside the house, but all accused have categorically denied it. Justin Giovannetti was unfortunate enough to be at parliament for all of it, fortunately for us he also wrote about it.

Locals in the small South Island town of Tarras aren’t exactly thrilled with the prospect of a brand new airport, reports Crux editor Peter Newport. Christchurch Airport went public yesterday with a long term proposal to put a new airport on a 750 ha site. Among the concerns raised by people living there is the persistent low cloud that blankets the area in winter – along with more quality of life related concerns around noise and activity. Tarras itself sits about 30kms north of Cromwell, and 30kms east of Wanaka – so if mass international tourism returns (and that’s a big if) it would become a significant bit of regional economic infrastructure.

A Taliban commander who was captured by NZ forces has alleged that he was subject to assault by the the SAS, and then transferred to Afghan secret police for torture, reports Jon Stephenson for Stuff. That contradicts official accounts of the conduct of the NZDF during the Afghanistan deployment, in which top brass have insisted that New Zealand soldiers were not responsible for or complicit in mistreatment of detainees. To do so would be a breach of both domestic and international law. The Taliban commander in question did admit to being involved in an attack on NZ forces that killed Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell, but that fact doesn’t change the NZDF’s legal obligations.

Tens of thousands of people who could be getting the Covid-19 benefit are currently on the lower-rate Jobseeker benefit, reports Interest. Around 33,000 people could be eligible for it, but as of mid-July only 16,524 were. Those who lose their job before October 30 are eligible to apply, so it is highly likely that when the wage subsidy finishes up more people will get it. But it has raised questions about whether MSD has been proactive enough in making people aware that they are eligible for it.

Some real improvements are being made in the number of students learning te reo in primary schools, reports the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Simon Collins. 32% of all primary school kids are now doing at least 3 hours per week of te reo, up from 26% last year. That’s considered an important milestone to get kids beyond the basics. The numbers are also improving at the other end of schooling, with Māori students at Māori language schools now slightly more likely to leave school with UE or NCEA Level 3 than the nationwide average – though the numbers are much lower for Māori students in English language schools.

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Right now on The Spinoff: One year to the day since the attempted eviction at Ihumātao, Justin Latif surveys where the situation is at now. Jihee Junn reports on the importance of a major genetic breakthrough in sunfish research by an Auckland-based scientist. Russell Brown talks to Auckland business RUSH about the challenges and rewards of being an ethical business in the competitive world of technology design. Tessa Guest tells the remarkable story of Julian Tanaka, a trans rights activist from the Philippines who now lives in NZ. Arihia Latham reflects on the epic long school term that came to an end recently, and the challenges of this year. Alice Webb-Liddall writes about the increasing risks of cybercrime as businesses pivot to e-commerce, and how they can protect themselves. And On the Rag is back for another episode, this one about media representation, and who is still being left behind.

For a feature today, a fascinating and insightful look at the political economy expressed in a popular game. A lot of people played a lot of Animal Crossing over the period of lockdown this year – it wasn’t for me, but I can see how it could act as a low stress respite from the various horrors of the outside world. As this piece from trans-Tasman socialist publication Overland outlines, it also provides a glimpse of how another, more utopian world could look. Here’s an excerpt:

Without work, there are no shops and only the most basic of amenities, and while the player is abstracted from the physical exertion of these tasks by a controller, this work still needs a real-world effort in the form of time and tolerance of repetition. The tools I use to do a job eventually break, requiring me to either buy new tools or mine the resources to make them for myself. I will fill my inventory then run across the island, to either sell or stash the things I’m carrying to make space for some more. These actions are not only a form of labour, but motivators towards future labour, too: I will mine from rocks to get a piece of gold ore to create the gold slingshot over the wooden one, creating surplus stone and clay which must be sold, crafted, or otherwise disposed of, depending on my interests and aptitudes.

The important part is that I always have a choice: not just to stop playing or put down the controller, but to stop the task, or change it for another one, an example of what Anarchist theorist Bob Black described in his 1991 essay ‘The Abolition of Work’ as ‘work turned into play’, or work where ‘the irrationalities and distortions which afflict’ productive action have been removed, while work continues to exist without compulsion.

The Phoenix have done their A-League chances no harm in their first two games back in the resumed season. After losing to table topping Sydney FC over the weekend, they picked up a crucial win against Perth Glory last night – the NZ Herald’s Jason Pine has put together a detailed match report. It leaves them in a comfortable 3rd place on the ladder, so almost certainly home and hosed for a playoff spot. You can watch the highlights here – the pass to set up the first goal in the 2-1 win was especially magnificent.

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