Local democracy came to Island Bay this evening, and I – an undecided voter – joined the crowd at the local candidates’ meeting, in the Rongotai electorate. Candidates congratulated themselves on a well-fought campaign – as the National Party’s candidate put it, not a cross word had been spoken between any of them through all the various meetings they’ve attended together. Most of tonight’s meeting was like that. Most.
Over the years, I’ve heard nothing to suggest that the National Party’s candidate was other than an honourable and decent man. The Hon. Chris Finlayson is the 8th ranked Cabinet minister, minister responsible for the intelligence services, and Attorney-General. He appoints our judges. And as he described himself tonight, he is “the first law officer in the land”. You’d imagine he’d be at the forefront of defending the integrity of our democratic system and its institutions. But not based on his performance tonight.
The format of the meeting allowed questions from the floor. Each question had to be addressed to one particular candidate, but each other candidate also had a chance to answer. On almost all the questions, almost all the candidates took the opportunity to answer. But not on one question.
I got up and asked a question of Chris Finlayson, explicitly noting that I was not asking him as a minister responsible for the intelligence services (where I would have expected a fob-off) but as a senior National Party figure. My question ran roughly as follows:
“Mr Finlayson, last week one of the world’s leading newspapers, the Financial Times gave considerable prominence to a story about a New Zealand MP. That MP had been a member of the Chinese communist party, and part of the Chinese intelligence services. He never disclosed that past to the public when he stood for Parliament, and has never taken the opportunity to denounce the evils of the Chinese regime. Can you comment on why it is appropriate for such a person to be in our Parliament? And could you also comment on the new paper by Professor Anne-Marie Brady raising concerns about the extent of China’s attempts to exert political influence in New Zealand, and about the close ties of various senior National Party figures with Chinese interests?”
The question was greeted not with embarrassed silence, but with pretty vigorous applause from the floor.
Finlayson – our Attorney-General, first law officer of the land, senior National Party minister – got up, briefly. His answer ran roughly as follows:
“That was a Newsroom article, timed to damage the man politically. I’m not going to respond to any of the allegations that have been made about/against him. I think it is disgraceful that a whole class of people have been singled out for racial abuse. As for Professor Brady, I don’t think she likes any foreigners at all.”
And as I shouted back “the claim was about one man”, our Attorney-General sat down. He’d simply refused to answer, or even address, the question, at any level other than suggesting that anyone raising these quite serious issues was a racist or a xenophobe. Starting, presumably, with the Asia editor of the Financial Times, Jamil Anderlini a Kuwaiti-born Italian-American New Zealander who has spent almost 20 years in China, including more than a decade reporting from Beijing (and now is based in Hong Kong) through to Professor Brady, with all the other serious media outlets and China-focused commentators overseas who have reported the concerns somewhere in-between? It was preposterous. Plus, one couldn’t help thinking that he knew he was on weak ground. After all, if there was a clear, simple, authoritative and compelling explanation, presumably he’d have given it.
I hold the Attorney-General – first law officer of the land – to a considerably higher standard than other local candidates. And the specific question was actually about a National Party MP, National Party selection choices, and the ties of National Party figures to Chinese business and political interests.
And, as I said, on every other question this evening, all the other candidates rushed to the microphone to have their say, on everything from apprentices to housing to guidance counsellors. But not one of the others said a word on the Chinese government’s politicial influence seeking in New Zealand, or specifically on Jian Yang’s position. Not the Labour candidate – deputy mayor of Wellington, and sure to become a member of Parliament on Saturday. Not the quite highly ranked, and apparently very able, Greens candidate. Not the TOP candidate, or the Conservative candidate. Strangely, not even the New Zealand First candidate, who was presumably unaware that his party had taken a stand, both on Yang, and on the more general issues Professor Brady has raised about the activities in New Zealand of the Chinese government. Not a word, from a single one of them. It left me wondering about what our democracy was coming to.
As it happens, there was someone in the room who knew Professor Brady; in fact, this woman had done her masters thesis under Brady’s guidance. Noting that Finlayson had tried to claim that Professor Brady didn’t like any foreigners, she proceeded to point out that not only was Brady fluent in Mandarin, but that her husband was Chinese. Cue to guffaws and applause, and a rather grudging apology by the Attorney-General for his specific claims about one of our leading experts on China and its international activities.
It was a shameful performance all round. The candidates can congratulate themselves all they like on the bonhomie of the campaign, but when not one of them will even address a serious question, raising concerns themselves raised by serious international publications and respected experts – and Brady’s paper has been linked to and report quite widely – it rather gives the game away. As Professor Brady put it in her paper, the fear of giving any offence to the government of the People’s Republic of China – a brutal and aggressive dictatorship – seems to have been raised to a defining feature of New Zealand politics, and not just by National.
We saw it on display tonight, nowhere more so than in the despicable performance by our Attorney-General and first law officer. How safe is our democracy, our values and freedoms, our laws, in such hands?
34 thoughts on “The political cone of silence, with slurs”
No wonder you’re furious, Michael. It’s a stain on our democracy to have the Attorney-General shamefully pass off such a vital question as “racist”. I’m glad you asked it. I see Matt Nippert and David Fisher have followed up Newsroom’s (and your) pieces about Jian Yang and Professor Anne-Marie Brady in the Herald today. At least it’s getting some traction. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11924169
As an Attorney General, Chris Finalyson is also aware that in our system, the presumption of innocence takes precedence ie You are innocent until proven guilty. No matter what most of us might think he may do, he has not done anything that has not been in the best interest of New Zealand.
Perhaps closer relations with China is in our best interest.
As a reminder, that is (rightly) the standard in criminal proceedings. This is a political debate about the nature of a society and the standards of our politicians, present and past.
I would remove the ‘perhaps’ and assert closer relations with China is in our best interest but as independent countries not NZ subservient to the whims of the Chinese communist party.
As a reminder also, political debate in the parliament is subject to legal privilege. To expect an answer from Chris Finlayson in a public arena can be defamatory as Andrew Little found to his horror that he now has another $150,000 mortgage to pay when he opened his big mouth outside of parliament. A big rookie error and Chris Finlayson is no rookie.
You obviously haven’t any real idea of what has been insidiously happening – or is it in your interests not to care?
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Disgraceful but not surprising. Well done you in asking.
I met a friend whose very senior in the Indian Government recently and we discussed high-level contact with Australia – but it also applies here – he commented that the Australian government won’t commit to anything without first checking with Beijing. Their comments were all along the lines of “were not sure Beijing would like that” or “we wouldn’t want to upset Beijing”.
I fear we have already lost a considerable portion of our sovereignty through self-censorship and on current trends it’s not going to get better.
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Since a National party Minister can throw the racism slur around maybe he will explain why India seems to have had a raw deal with Entrepreneur Immigrant Visas; for the last ten years:-
1002 Great Britain
Surprising the UK had so many entrepreneurs (even the word isn’t English). But all things being equal you would suppose India with a similar population to China, Commonwealth ties with NZ, English as the main language for the highly educated and a long unbroken tradition for trading would be ahead of China not as these figures show trailing so badly behind. Certainly Indian immigrants have created successful businesses in the UK and the USA. So how would the National party explain these figures:-
1. just chance?
2. racism in action in the department of immigration?
3. Chinese donations to political parties in NZ?
4. A means of transferring dodgy money out of China that was unavailable to Indians?
5. Pressure from the government of the Peoples Republic of China insisting on supplying immigrants in exchange for purchasing from Fonterra etc.?
6. The most dynamic Indian business men/women prefer creating businesses in USA and Europe?
I suspect (1) and (6) myself but I’m not as hyper-sensitive to racism in action as Chris Finlayson. BTW are there any statistics showing the success of these entrepreneur Visas in creating long term jobs for Kiwis and boosting NZ exports?
In my opinion, the question was well above the ‘pay grade’ of everyone aside from the Attorney- General.
And you got his unequivocal answer – which is good – now we know. The current Executive Branch is complicit – the intention is to trade away our sovereignty for their collective power and their individual wealth.
What directorships and commissions do you imagine John Key will move on to in the future?
Time to change the Government.
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That is a unfair question targetting an individual. It comes across as a witchhunt and subject to defamation liabilities. Chris Finlayson is correct in setting aside such a question.
It was the way he set it aside. Yes, in light of Yang’s statement to media that, “He [Yang] also confirmed he would seek advice on whether to take legal action for defamation.”
The A-Gs best reply to my mind would be to explain that in respect of the individual, and because all individual’s have the right to pursue legal recourse for defamation, as Yang has indicated publicly he might exercise, no comment would be made on any New Zealand citizens.
But then he could have gone on to explain the National Party and the Government’s position on both local and geopolitical relationships with the PRC Government.
In other words, answer intelligently with transparency and integrity. The response given does not instill confidence. It suggests that at the very heart of our government there is uncertainty and (perhaps) a lack of knowledge/understanding. This is no way to address what is becoming a growing vulnerability.
You will also note that I deliberately framed my question about Yang using only facts which he has now acknowledged. He was a member of the Communist Party, he was a member of the Chinese intelligence services, he did not tell voters that in 2011 or 2014, and in (eg) his maiden speech he showed no sign of having disavowed his past support for and participation in the activities of those bodies, whose values are antithetical to those of most NZers and to the (at least stated) values of the National Party. I have not, and am doing so now, accusing him of doing anything illegal.
Yes, and oddly enough, the fact that the A-G did respond with a supposition of his own regarding an individual – “As for Professor Brady, I don’t think she likes any foreigners at all.” – it makes his response even that much more inappropriate given his position.
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Spot on Katharine. It’s all about self interest (as it almost always is in this world) and the People’s Republic has ample experience in co-opting the governing elite to their interests.
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The CCP is a Leninist authoritarian regime. Since the inception of the CCP, three basic lines have been established, i.e., the intellectual line, the political line, and the organization line. The intellectual line refers to the Communist Party’s philosophical foundation. The political line refers to setting up goals. The organization line refers to how the goals are achieved within the format of strict organization.
Prof Brady’s research has precisely described how these 3 lines have been implemented in NZ.
The Epoch Times documentary “Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party” is helpful to know the nature of the CCP.
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New Zealand needs to be careful its ‘she will be all right’ attitude and general naivety means it doesn’t sleepwalk into a hornet’s nest of problems. I think in NZ we have a particular problem with cognitive dissonance. We need more debate of the sort you are trying to engage in Michael -keep it up : )
View at Medium.com
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Thank you for raising that Michael. Well done. I am sorry you were treated like that.
Actually, I didn’t take it personally, and I think Finlayson probably intended his personal slurs for the FT people, the Newsroom people, Professor Brady etc, and not to someone who might just have voted for him.
(his ringing denunciation of the Island Bay cycleway in his opening address had had me thinking quite positive thoughts about him…..until question time)
Can someone please direct me to this (typically) dismissive comment of Finlayson’s I seem to have missed it – particularly the unforgiveable one about the brave Anne-Mary Brad, Thanks. email@example.com
Sorry- Anne-Marie Brady. (typo).
Well done documenting the response to your question at last nights gathering.
I would hope our intelligence agencies are following the respective commentries.
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Not sure if I am right but under FPP someone who held a position such as Finlayson would have been held to account by the electorate.
Cabinet Ministers that find themselves in powerful positions through MMP and list rating , escape the heat of the people.
Maybe Cabinet positions should only be held by electorate MP’s?
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I am dismayed at the shallowness of this whole event – it is demonstrated once again an oversees organisation does the heavy lifting for us – we don’t have the mechanisms in place to uncover this sort of stuff – just as happened with the Panama Papers – which was nicely papered over by John Sherwin who was an insider with serious conflicts – but the masses bought it and the elites got away with it
Here in NZ one person is singled out by the FT and the also-rans begin foaming at the mouth
Meanwhile over in Australia this was going on loud-and-clear while here in NZ it was ignored presumably on the basis that it couldn’t possibly be happening here – ever – never
Check out the quality and depth of the coverage and compare to NZ
ABC News 6 June 2017
Monday 5 June 2017
Four Corners program tracks the millions in opaque Chinese-linked donations to show how it buys access and influence in Australian politics
Power and Influence: The hard edge of China’s soft power.” They want to influence Australia. They want a stronger presence in Australia.” It’s a tale of secrets, power and intimidation.” ASIO are really quite alive and alert to these issues… of Australian national security.”
Watch the 45 minute program
The evidence and or warning signs are usually there
Did anyone ever wonder who Susan Chou was and what she was buying for $300,000
Interesting to note she is based in New Zealand. http://www.elections.org.nz/sites/default/files/plain-page/attachments/New%20Zealand%20National%20Party%20donations%202011.pdf
It doesn’t mean it’s not a concern – the concern here shouldn’t be foreign links per se, but her alleged links to the Crafar Farms buyers and thus the conflict of interest created for National if her donations were to have any influence over the Crafar Farms decision by the Overseas Investment Office (though it would be an awfully long bow to draw from what appears to be a commercially-motivated donation, to interference by foreign powers in government policy).
But if you read through the Electoral Commission’s records on political party donations you will find that
a) There are very few or no donations received that are *considered* to be overseas donations;
b) NZ political parties are actually not allowed to accept foreign donations over $1500 – they must be returned or forfeited to the Electoral Commission;
c) Overseas donations *under* $1500 are allowed but their total amount must be reported and it seems if you peruse recent years for National and Labour, they have not received large amounts of foreign donations.
It seems that direct overseas donations aren’t really the problem. Maybe the only real safeguard here is appropriate attention from media?
Re your final paras, I don’t think the Electoral Act provisions are that robust. There is nothing I can see to stop a NZ registered company donating whatever it likes to a political party, even if (say) its NZ operations are modest relative to a parent’s foreign ones and most of the shareholders are themselves non-resident. That looks like the story with Inner Mongolian Hourse – the largest acknowledged donor to the National Party.
Also, i gather most experts think our disclosure regime is too lax, and relatively easy to get round if you want to.
There is also the celebrated example of the $150000 “donation” to Phil Goff’s mayoral campaign – discussed in the Brady paper – which apparently didn’t have to be declared because it was a charity auction purchase (or something)?
It isn’t my field, but it does look as tho there is more we could and should do. And the mostly rather supine media should, as you say, do rather more.
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