Friday, June 02, 2006


I'm sorry, but that's the only way to describe Michael Cullen after his latest outburst. While I can understand his exasperation at the constant chorus for tax cuts regardless of affordability or sanity, venting it on camera is simply stupid. It's the sort of mistake I'd expect from someone like John Tamihere, not an experienced politician like Cullen.

As for the substance of the issue, the reason the media is devoting so much space to talking about tax cuts is not because of the personal pecuniary interests of the Parliamentary press gallery. It's because the Opposition keeps talking about them, and the government steadfastly refuses to make the argument that those taxes are paying for roads, hospitals, and schools. Instead, they seem to think they are just "logs floating down a river", with little ability to shape the political conversation (to use the words of Jordan Carter). National's success in shaping public opinion and keeping tax cuts on the agenda shows how wrong that thinking is.

Politics is a participate or perish game. Those who don't stand up and strongly advocate for their interests tend to get walked all over by those who do. Unfortunately, Labour's sheer passivity means that it is lying down in the middle of the road with a "place foot here" sign on its chest...

If Labour wants a chance at a fourth term, then it needs to convince people it deserves one. Since it obviously needs pointing out, you do not convince people with silence - or with petulence. The worst that can happen if Labour bothers to stand up publicly for its policies is that they could lose the argument. But that's guaranteed to happen if they continue to remain silent. Shouldn't they at least try to win, rather than sleepwalking to defeat in 2008?


I/S I think they may be smarter than you think. they could well be baiting the national party. National has a low IQ message that it rants on about day and night, a single issue. what if labour cuts it out from under their feet just before the election by targeting tax cuts at the middle and low voters?

A ecessison would be bad for labour BUT even if there is a recession labour gets a new weapon "you wanted tax cuts because we had money and now you want it because we dont - are you idiots?"

The last possibility is that they think they have a natural majority- and they are right, without a recession of some sort they should win another election because the average voter is a marginal labour voter.

Posted by Genius : 6/02/2006 08:22:00 AM

But what if Cullen's complaint is correct? I actually agree that the media has largely picked up the mindless droning about tax cuts and is repeating it ad nauseum and without analysis.

And Guy Espiner gives me the creeps as well, what a little toad.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/02/2006 08:25:00 AM


So you're seriously going to argue that Cullen hasn't had ample opportunity in the media to put the counter-argument? Or that National's tax policy was greeted with uncritical hosannas from the media during the campaign? Yeah right...

I/S is right - you don't win an argument, in life or politics, by having a paranoid hissy fit.

While I'll acknowledge Cullen is a very smart man, with a taste for the waspish one-liner, like a lot of very smart if catty men he has the intellectual arrogance to go with it. That can turn an academic into a beloved 'eccentric', but is more of a liability in a politician.

Nope. I think you've missed the central problem Labour would have doing any such thing: When you've spent basically the last fifteen years arguing that personal tax cuts are tanamount to sacrificing live babies to Moloch, pulling such a stunt just before an election is waaay too transparently cynical even for Labour.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 6/02/2006 09:00:00 AM

Watch that space.

Posted by Unknown : 6/02/2006 09:09:00 AM

Espiner's behaviour was completely unethical. The formal interview hadn't started and Cullen clearly believed his remarks to be off the record. On top of that, John Key was allowed to comment on the clip! It seemed to me that Espiner had a personal grudge against Cullen. Hardly a good reason to break standards of common decency.

Posted by praising_idleness : 6/02/2006 11:31:00 AM

Anon: then he's still stupid for raising it, because it simply provides his opponents with ammunition.

I know the natural defence is to play "smear the media" on this, but that doesn't change the fact that Cullen behaved like a dumbarse. He let his frustration get the better of him in a way that was highly damaging to himself and his party. It's not a big fuckup in the scheme of things - its not like he's been incompetant or corrupt in his job, say - but its the sort of thing which sticks in people's minds and ultimate loses elections.

Praising Idleness: No more than reporting on Jenny Shipley's "off the record comments" about making things up. In both cases its highly newsworthy, and deeply informative about the politicians involved.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/02/2006 12:08:00 PM

Praising Idleness:

I've been a journalist, and frankly your talking crap.

I'll stand by this comment (slightly edited for sense and flow), I made over on Kiwiblog earlier today:
[T]he sight of Cullen trying to spin this as some kind of hidden camera ambush, at best, displays a degree of naivete I find hard to believe in a very senior minister in an admistration I respect (however grudgingly) as highly media-savvy. At worse, well yes, it's a spectacularly disingenuous weapon of mass distraction from the exposure of his bizarre temper tantrum.

Now, is there any evidence that that Espiner obtained this footage deceptively (i.e. told Cullen the camera wasn't live when it was) or broadcast comments he had given a clear and explicit assurance would be 'off the record'?


Those are pretty serious ethical breeches - and, practically, a damn good way to FUBAR your credibility with everyone else in your contact book. Every bit as serious as Cullen's allegations that journalists are slanting coverage because of their own pecuniary self-interest. (Especially when directed at TVNZ, a media outlet Dr. Cullen happens to be a shareholding minister in.)

I have worked as a journalist, and on occasion talked to sources 'off the record' - but only after setting the ground rules explicitly and specifically beforehand. The flip side of that is I've had people try and declare parts of interviews restrospectively OTR when they've *ahem* said things that seem unwise in retrospect. And in one case, I had one local body politician claim I'd taped a formal interview without permission - when the first minute or so of the record was of me asking her if the tape machine was in her way!

So, pardon me if I think this is one of those rare occasions where the media isn't in the wrong. And, yes, I'd be equally unsympathetic if we were talking about John Key or Don Brash. :)

If Key had behaved like this, I'd be cringing rather than trying to defend the indefensible. I know it's frustrating when the stupid peasants don't get on message and stay there, but one would think a politician (who in part has to be a professional communicator) would resist the urge to patronise and abuse to the very people he's trying to convince.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 6/02/2006 12:24:00 PM

*blush* That first sentence should read, "I've been a journalist, and frankly YOU'RE talking crap.

I'm a recovering hack not a sub-editor. :)

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 6/02/2006 12:26:00 PM

Well I'm a journo as well and I have to say that if Cullen thinks we're a bunch of overpaid, greedy bastards, then he should have a look at my pay slip sometime. The attitude of Labour to journos in general is a concern. I was once singled out by Pete Hodgson when he was Minister for Hardship as an example of what was NOT needed in this country, which certainly convinced me that the converse was the case. Mind you, he had the grace to look embarrassed when I asked him how much HIS university education had cost compared to mine....

Posted by Anonymous : 6/02/2006 12:53:00 PM

> It seemed to me that Espiner had a
> personal grudge against Cullen.
> Hardly a good reason to break
> standards of common decency.

WTF? Cullen personally insulted him, calling his own professionalism into question, the professionalism of his colleagues, and his profession in general.

I disagree that airing the clip was a result of a grudge, but had it been, could you really blame him?

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 6/02/2006 01:09:00 PM

Long tenure in govt leads to hubris. Cullen the historian should know that.

Especially long successful govt. Cullen's presided over the best economic times of any NZ Minister of Finance ever. History will treat him kindly for that. But if he wants to be thanked, he'll need to retire first. He forgets that voters really are ungrateful towards govts in power: they really will forget last year and be asking "but what have you done for me *today*".

Meanwhile Cullen's caught. He needs to maintain a large part of the surplus because a large part it has come from a commodities boom, and only a fool would gamble that will continue (you should save during the boom, ready for the bust). But if he admits that he'd have to admit that a part of the economic growth under his govt has been because of the random fluctuations of international commodity prices.

Posted by Icehawk : 6/02/2006 02:55:00 PM

I think you make a good point Craig. If those are the set standards, then the media savvy interviewee should've known better. I still have a problem however with the way in which the interview was handled. It really did seem like a personal spat which was broadcast out of spite. Yes, it allowed us to see the side of a politician which we are not usually privileged to. But it was just so bloody petty.

Posted by praising_idleness : 6/02/2006 03:45:00 PM

I/S, you're quoting me out of context. My point with that quote was that compared with the past, political parties are more like logs floating down the river.

I don't accept your general point that Labour isn't having the argument, but we're not doing it right. That is as far as I would go.

Posted by Jordan : 6/02/2006 04:03:00 PM

The public do seem to fall for these strategies. After all the wider game is as Ice hawk notes, is largely about trying to get credit for things you don’t control (and avoid blame).
Besides it is Nationals call for tax custs that is in the front of our minds not labours rejection of them which seems more like just an attempt to change the subject.

Posted by Genius : 6/02/2006 06:58:00 PM

The reality is that what we have got in this case is a media outlet changing the rules when it suits them. TVNZ would have looked at the material and gone "Fuck the agreement, this is to juicy, and they can't touch us anyway - we control the news!"

Which is fine and dandy, thats their privilege. But this is also the same media that whines and snivels for privileged treatment as the valued "fourth estate."

The media in NZ do not understand that with privilege come responsibility. You cannot behave with long term unethical behaviour for purely short term rating driven stories and expect to be granted the respect and trust of politicians and the public.

TVNZ news in particular arrogantly thinks it is too powerful and dominant to be held to account for its patronising and tabloid news coverage - the 6pm news bulletins are nothing but hour long sneering acts of cynical condescention to the people of New Zealand.

But the thing is, the more the likes of TVNZ insult the intelligence of its audience with tawdry tricks the more people are abandoning TV in favour of the internet and other mediums.

Posted by Sanctuary : 6/03/2006 12:30:00 AM

NZ Media has demonstrated total and complete incompetence on this issue. Laziness and self-interest are the only rational conclusions you could possibly come to and as politically risky as it is, Cullen has at least had the balls to say it to their faces.

The headlines have been nothing but tax cuts...and at the SAME fucking time the call for MORE spending on health, education and infrastructure. Even when the Maori Affairs Minister shows restraint in his spending...they still call for more spending...and tax cuts at the same time!!!

And all of this is supposed to come from this $9b OBERAC surplus number that no-one in the media has actually demonstrated the slightest understanding of. Ignorance and complete. Not one of them has published or explained what the number means and what it's major components of it are. At least $1b of it for example is capital gains...not cash. Another chunk is retained earnings in SOE's to fund their own operations.

A relatively small amount of about $500m has been derived from "fiscal creep", ie people paying more PAYE due to increasing incomes. Another large chunk is from excellent business profitability, the highest in decades, which is the main component that is always exceeding Treasury estimates.

And another chunk is coming from the fact that we have reduced our public debt repayments to relatively low levels...we are no longer siphoning off 1/3rd of all our taxes to repay debt.

Yet NONE of this is given any weight by our media...the headline is just taxcuts, taxcut and more taxcuts. And over in the next column, calls for more spending.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/03/2006 11:49:00 AM