This is a hit! How strange it is that only Jordan Williams from The Taxpayers’ Union, has felt moved to observe: “Winston Peters has either been the victim of a political hit-job, or there is a serious flaw with the Ministry of Social Development’s systems which saw Mr Peters accidentally overpaid”. Clearly, Mr Williams recognises “dirty politics” when he sees it – so why can’t this country’s leading political journalists?
THIS LATEST POLITICAL “SCANDAL” involving Winston Peters
reminds me of The Godfather. Not the
famous scene in which Sonny Corleone is assassinated at the toll booth, but the
earlier scene in which Michael Corleone realises that there are no staff on
duty in the hospital where his wounded father is being treated. The empty
nurses’ work station, the silent corridors, the overwhelming sense of something
being “off” – all of it communicates a single, unmistakeable message to
Michael. This is a hit.
Unfortunately, New Zealand’s mainstream news media lacks the
instincts of the fictional mafioso. Thrown a large chunk of red meat by … oh,
that’s right, the scandal-mongers have told us nothing about the source of
their accusations other than he/she/they operate “within a concerned public
service apparatus” … the media dogs have all, as intended, started baying for
more of Mr Peters’ blood.
How strange it is that, at the time of writing, only Jordan
Williams from The Taxpayers’ Union, has felt moved to observe: “Winston Peters
has either been the victim of a political hit-job, or there is a serious flaw
with the Ministry of Social Development’s systems which saw Mr Peters
accidentally overpaid”. Clearly, Mr Williams recognises “dirty politics” when
he sees it – so why can’t this country’s leading political journalists?
We must hope that the answer to that question is not the
same in 2017 as it was in 2008. Nine years ago, when Mr Peters was similarly
under fire for alleged financial irregularities, there was open collusion
between the NZ First leader’s political opponents and members of the
Parliamentary Press Gallery. Politicians on the Right wanted Winston and his
party out of Parliament. Political journalists were desperate for the sort of
information that keeps the punters coming back for more. A biologist would call
it a “symbiotic relationship”.
Is the need to preserve and nurture that symbiotic
relationship the reason why our leading political journalists have not reacted
to the inflammatory “Co-habiting Peters billed $18,000” headline, by demanding
to know from which “concerned public service apparatus” that $18,000 figure
originated? Is that why the two most obvious suspects: The Ministry of Social
Development, which administers NZ Superannuation; and the Inland Revenue
Department, which processes New Zealanders’ superannuation payments; have not been
pressured for answers?
Because, for those of us with no skin in this game, that is
the question that must not only be asked, but answered. If the information
comes from MSD, then a scandalous breach of a citizen’s privacy has occurred. But,
if Mr Peters’ communications with Inland Revenue have been leaked by someone
working inside that particular “public service apparatus”, then whoever
received the information has made themselves party to a serious criminal
Always, the critical journalistic question arising out of
this sort of political hit is: “Cui bono?” (Who benefits?) Which political
party would benefit the most by embarrassing Mr Peters and driving down his
Richard Harman, proprietor of the Politik website, has (almost certainly unwittingly) identified one
possible beneficiary in his latest posting, “National Sees Path To Power”
(28/8/17) in which he states: “National is now going to target Winston Peters
and NZ First in the hope of winning one or two per cent of his vote back off
him. They believe that will be enough to hold on to power.”
If it is even remotely possible that the so-called “scandal”
of Mr Peters’ superannuation overpayments could have been set in motion by
persons either within, or aligned to, the National Party (which is certainly,
as the party in government, best placed to organise such a “hit”) then why
isn’t that the story?
After all, no one is disputing that, upon learning of the
MSD’s overpayment of his pension, Mr Peters’ responded by repaying the sum of
the overpayment (plus interest) immediately. Also undisputed is the claim that
Mr Peters and his partner visited the MSD together in 2010, and that Mr Peters’
details were entered into its database by a senior MSD staff-member. It
stretches credulity to suggest that the de facto relationship between the NZ
First leader and his partner could somehow have been missed – except by accident.
Certainly, Mr Peters is clear that any such “accident” was the MSD’s – not his.
What we have, therefore, is the story of a senior politician
who, as a simple citizen (Mr Peters was not an MP in 2010) and accompanied by
his partner, registered for NZ Superannuation in person at the Auckland offices
of the MSD, and soon thereafter began receiving his pension. Seven years later,
that same senior politician is informed by MSD that he has been incorrectly
designated and, therefore, overpaid his pension. Immediately, the senior
politician makes good the overpaid amount.
And yet, we see the same media dogs who tore Metiria Turei
to pieces, now bounding after Mr Peters. They are demanding that he release to
them all personal financial records pertaining to his pension. His comfortable
personal circumstances are being waved before the public, as if he was some
sort of latter-day Marie Antoinette. Once again, Mr Peters is being showered
with mud by politicians and journalists bound together in what can only be
described as an ethically deficient political symbiosis. And, as we all know,
In the movie, Don Corleone survives because his son
convinces the hit-men sent to kill him that he is under the protection of men
who will not hesitate to fight back. If Winston is looking for a way to both
relax and rearm himself in the midst of this politically-motivated and
media-driven “scandal”, then he should, perhaps, sit down in front of the
nearest TV, with a decent-sized measure of single malt, and take some lessons
from The Godfather.
This essay was
originally posted on The Daily Blog
of Monday, 28 August 2017.