Dirty Politics won’t die

Nicky Hager
Last year’s Dirty Politics bombshell keeps going off. The ruling by the High Court against the Police for raiding Nicky Hager’s home is an important judgement in yet another busy year for the various Dirty Politics characters. 
Yesterday’s landmark judicial ruling against the Police for raiding Nicky Hager’s house is just the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of Dirty Politics. For the best coverage of the ruling, see David Fisher’s Police house raid on investigative journalist Nicky Hager found to be unlawful.
For an explanation of why the judgement is so important for democracy and the public, see Regan Schoultz’s Hager decision: Why you should care and Matt Nippert’s Nicky Hager police raid ruling a win for journalism. Both pieces make significant points about the need to have properly functioning mechanisms that hold the powerful to account, and say the police raid undermined that mechanism.
But for the hardest-hitting criticism of the Police, see Gordon Campbell’s On the Police harassment of Nicky Hager. His short must-read column paints a picture of the Police acting as blatant stooges for the political Establishment, to take out a critic. And he warns that it will continue to happen.
Hager spoke about his victory and the “strange” actions of the police in a five-minute interview with Alison Mau – see: Hager: Police raid ‘weird overkill’.
Attention is now turning to the question of how the Police could get this case so wrong. Various politicians and partisans are pointing the finger at the National Government’s role in the saga – see Greg Presland’s blog post, What was National’s role in the police raid on Nicky Hager? and Sam Sachdeva’s Nicky Hager case ‘raises questions’ about political pressure on police – MPs.
To understand the case properly it’s worth going back and looking at some of the material from the court case in July. Alastair Thompson of the Scoop website used the Official Information Act to obtain the various court documents relating to the case – see: Inside The Hunt For Rawshark – Hager Raid Court File and Inside The Hunt For Rawshark – Hager Raid Court File Part 2. This includes my own affidavit, which you can read together with other Dirty Politics material.
The court case itself was also covered in depth by Jon Stephenson – see: Nicky Hager Case – Breaking News Reportage. See also Giovanni Tiso’s essays, The Life and death of the political author and The raid.
Of course, it’s also worth remembering the way the Police carried out their investigation, using controversial methods – see my October column, Libertarians against dirty politics.
And for more on the police investigation of Rawshark, see Paul Buchanan’s latest blog post, The Impunity Files, Police Edition: Trolling for Rawshark, and Juha Saarinen’s Hager, Whale Oil, Dirty Politics, Rawshark, and what the police should have done.
Cameron Slater’s ongoing Dirty Politics
You probably shouldn’t trust anything written in this column. At least that’s what Cameron Slater would have you believe. Slater has just launched his latest project with co-conspirator Simon Lusk, which includes an evaluation of political journalists and commentators. The first issue of their monthly Incite newsletter came out on Tuesday, and it labelled my work as “Not to be trusted” and gave me an evaluation of two out of ten. Other pundits and journalists fared worse – Richard Harman got 8/10, followed closely by Barry Soper on 7/10. At the other end of the scale, Rachel Smalley would have been very happy with her 1/10.
For an amusing review of the new publication, see Danyl Mclauchlan’s blog post, Why You Need Incite in Your Life – a Review of Cameron Slater’s $35 Monthly Newsletter. See also Pete George’s Incite review. For a more favourable spin, published on Slater’s Whaleoil blog, see Inside Incite (and why you should subscribe).
Pete George blogged that Slater’s Whaleoil blog could be in a perilous state – see: Conflict at Whale Oil. This blog post reports a testy exchange between Slater and the blog’s apparent co-owner, and in the comments section there are further revealing discussion from former Whaleoil volunteers.
Part of Whaleoil’s decline is financial, and the latest advertiser to pull the plug is entrepreneur Rod Drury – see Matt Nippert’s Xero boss withdraws advertising from Whaleoil. According to this article, “Rodney Hide has confirmed he was probably behind a series of Whaleoil posts attacking Xero that led Rod Drury to suspend advertising on the controversial blog.”
Not all is going badly for Slater however. He has was the first case of complaint for the new Online Media Standards Authority, and he won – see David Farrar’s OMSA rules in favour of blogger.
Slater also brought out a slim book this year about trade unions, titled “Dodgy Unions”, which got a very positive review on Amazon by a certain “B Edwards”, explained by blogger Pete George in his post Which B Edwards? This was followed by a more legitimate evaluation: Dodgy Unions – review. And it got the usual endorsement from Scott Yorke – see: Why you should get Cameron Slater’s book.
Slater also got some heat from his National rival Michelle Boag, who made further Dirty Politics-style claims about his activities – listen to RadioLIve’s Are Kiwi bloggers taking payment to stay silent? Slater categorically denied the allegation – listen to: Cameron Slater denies Michelle Boag’s claim he takes payment for silence.
The “Exoneration” of Judith Collins 
The reappointment to Cabinet of one of the main politicians in Dirty Politics has irked Nicky Hager, especially because of accompanying claims she had been exonerated – see Hager’s blog post, Spinning the return of Judith Collins.
Collins herself explains why she feels “pretty damn vindicated, frankly” in Tracy Watkins’ article, Judith Collins – ‘exonerated, vindicated’ and on the comeback trail. Watkins also reports on the various objections that might be made about her claims of exoneration.
For an examination of the official “Chisholm inquiry into Allegations concerning Judith Collins”, blogger Peter Aranyi has used the Official Information Act to obtain all of the witness transcripts, testimony and evidence for the inquiry – you can read all 60 of them here: Judith Collins Lester Chisholm Inquiry evidence.
Aranyi has commented on these files at length in follow up blog posts such as Who was actually on trial? and ‘Taking one for the team’. In the latter he discusses the transcripts of the inquiry, as well as Slater’s lessened financial situation, and concludes: “Maybe he could get an honest job. Does Mrs Collins need a press secretary?” He also highlights an extract on how Slater’s wife felt about the Dirty Politics controversy.
Celebrating the return of Collins, Matthew Hooton declared “It’s good to again know with certainty there is at least one right-wing minister in John Key’s cabinet” – see his NBR column, Collins’ return a good signal to the right (paywalled).
In this column he reflects on how Collins might yet become National Party leader: “Her moment comes if and when the public develops fatigue with Mr Key’s blancmange style of politics and perceives his government’s lack of a serious reform programme will only ever deliver slow relative economic decline”. Hooton argues that “the idea of a future Collins leadership is no longer as fanciful as it was 15 months ago, when the media mob so disgracefully drove her from office relying on the unsubstantiated testimony of a blogger.”
And for a faux-women’s magazine exclusive on Collins’ return, see Andrew Gunn’s Crusher Collins awakens the Force. Here’s John Key on why Collins had to be let back into Cabinet: “Judith’s always been really good at projecting the National-led government’s core philosophy. And I’d much rather she was inside the tent projecting out than outside the tent projecting in”.
Simon Lusk’s dirty politics
The most shadowy figure in Dirty Politics was self-declared political hit man Simon Lusk, who Duncan Garner profiled and interviewed last month on TV3’s Story – watch the nine-minute item: Shadowy political figure’s motto: ‘Dominate, intimidate and humiliate’.
The story involved claims by Lusk that he paid “people, on behalf of clients, to get a certain voting outcome”, which Garner examined in a follow up item, Lusk goes public on ‘koha to vote’.
There were also allegations of Lusk targeting and befriending Labour politicians. The supposed links to MP Stuart Nash were then examined in the six-minute item, Nash embarrassed by links to Simon Lusk. And a threatened campaign against another MP was explained by Isaac Davison in Phil Twyford won’t be intimidated by smear campaign.
All of these issues were then examined by RNZ’s Mediawatch – see: Dirty Politics players back in the frame.
Earlier in the year Lusk also published a book – see David Farrar’s Lusk: A Campaign Professional’s Guide to Winning New Zealand Campaigns.
Rachel Glucina and Scout
The gossipmonger at the centre of Dirty Politics, Rachel Glucina, has made plenty of news herself this year. For a good backgrounder on Glucina and the controversies she caused, see: Rachel Glucina: the queen of gossip.
Much of her notoriety in 2015 came out of her coverage of Ponytailgate for the Herald, which received criticism from the Press Council – see the Herald’s story, Press council rules against Herald on ‘Ponygate’ interview.
The Prime Minister’s Office was also caught up in the controversy, especially after it “declined to make public conversations or messages with former New Zealand Herald writer Rachel Glucina over Auckland’s Cafe Rosie” – see Andrea Vance’s Ponytailgate correspondence with gossip columnist probed.
Glucina left the Herald for a new job at Mediaworks. Upon this announcement there was a raft of humorous tweets and speculation on Glucina’s likely influence and future with the TV3 company – see my blog post, Top tweets about Rachel Glucina going to TV3.
The new project for TV3’s Mediaworks was announced as Scout. Not surprisingly, the actual scouting movement was very quick to distance itself from the new TV3 product – see Brittany Mann’s ScoutsNZ distances itself from Rachel Glucina website, seeks legal advice.
The site soon ran into all sorts of trouble, detailed in MediaWorks staff turn on Scout, Rachel Glucina’s new gossip site, and analysed on The Standard in the blog post, No Friends: The One about Rachel.
The Other players
Carrick Graham became known as Cameron Slater’s paymaster, and in June North and South magazine published Peter Newport’s excellent feature about him and his PR activities, which is now available free to read online: Carrick Graham: Without Apologies. Similarly, see my column Dirty digital politics.
Jordan Williams and David Farrar are still very actively running their lobby group, which David Fisher investigates in The Big Read: So what’s this Taxpayers’ Union, which purports to represent us all? Earlier in the year, the group was also in the spotlight for their focus on author Eleanor Catton – see the Herald’s Kiwis have been generous to Catton, says Taxpayers’ Union.
But is the group partisan? Not exactly. And David Farrar has the figures to prove it – see his blog post, Taxpayers Union critical regardless of party.
Ben Rachinger, another mysterious figure who was, for a time, close to Cameron Slater, also created some minor news about Dirty Politics this year which I covered my column, Dirty Politics “done dirt cheap”.
For an update on him see Keith Ng’s illuminating and indepth investigation The Whaledump Saga: Scooby-Doo Edition. Or for the main points see Danyl Mclauchlan’s Shorter Ng/Rachinger/Slater/Key.
There was another more high profile figure who related to Dirty Politics in some curious ways. In July, the then Conservative Party leader Colin Craig published his booklet Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas, which was aimed at Cameron Slater, Jordan Williams, and others in his own party.
Craig explained this in a guest post on the Daily Blog, drawing parallels with Hager’s 2014 book – see: Dirty Politics, why should we care? But last month, in a typically bizarre twist, TV3 reported Colin Craig unveiled as ‘Mr X’.
Of course the character who has come out best from the Dirty Politics saga is Hager himself. Hager continued to publish vitally important research on New Zealand politics which I covered earlier in the year in three columns: Who cares about the #SnowdenNZ revelations?Should John Key resign over ‘mass surveillance’? and The ramifications of the spying scandal.
For more on Hager, see his essay about his investigative journalism, Loose lips, and his interview with Toby Manhire, “A Kick Back Against Government Intolerance” – an Interview with Nicky Hager.
Finally, for one of the best reads about Dirty Politics and how it played out for a television journalist covering last year’s election campaign, read Nicola Kean’s academic chapter on #PeakCray – Making Current Affairs TV During NZ’s Strangest Election.
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Dr Bryce Edwards
Lecturer
Department of Politics
University of Otago
Dunedin, New Zealand
Work: (+64-3) 479 5091
Mobile: (+64-0) 21 225 2295
Twitter: @bryce_edwards
Skype: bryceedwardsnz