From “Secret Power”
- by Nicky Hager
In 1996 Nicky Hager wrote “Secret Power”, the book that blew the lid off the Waihopai spybase and the role that it and NZ’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) place in the US-led international spy network. You can read Murray Horton’s review of it in Watchdog 83, December 1996. That book had, and continues to have, a major international impact.
A decade later Nicky wrote “The Hollow Men” (Jeremy Agar’s review is in this issue), a book that had such an explosive impact in this country that it led to the immediate demise of Don Brash as Leader of the National Party. There were many common themes between those two books. The Anti-Bases Campaign thought it entirely appropriate to invite Nicky to speak in Blenheim as part of its January 2007 protest weekend at the Waihopai spybase, and asked him to tie together the themes of those books.
Hence this speech is unique. Having heard Nicky on his more recent book promotion tour for “The Hollow Men”, this is not the same speech. And at the time, this was Nicky’s first and only public meeting appearance since the publication of “The Hollow Men”. 100 people turned out to hear him (remarkable for a conservative provincial town in a traditionally National Party electorate, during the summer holidays) and it attracted major media coverage.
No written copy was available, he spoke from notes only. So this has been painstakingly transcribed (from video) by Frances Mountier, to whom is owed a big vote of thanks. Nicky then polished it up from the transcript. It does not include the equally long and fascinating question and answer section during which, incidentally, Nicky advised the audience to read Watchdog as a source for stories not usually covered in the mainstream media. Ed.
Before I start, I would like to particularly welcome and thank people here from the National Party or who don’t automatically agree with what they’ve heard about the book because there’s been quite a campaign, particularly on the National Party side of politics, to stop people from reading the book. When I talk about it, it will become clear why that is, and I want to thank anyone who’s in that their group for your open-mindedness, and I welcome your questions later on. In a sense this book was written more for members of the National Party than for the rest of the country.
Tell The Public Nothing
This talk is going to be about my new book, “The Hollow Men”, but I’m also going to talk a little bit about the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB). It is fitting to spend some time on it because there are themes in my research and in that book which are relevant to this most recent book and so I’ll link the two things together. Many of you may not really know the Government Communications Security Bureau - it's twice the size of our SIS (Security Intelligence Service), the main known spy agency, and spies electronically on the communications of other countries. They are the people who run the base out at Waihopai. When I began researching the GCSB, the Government’s official position on it was secretive and deceptive. For the first 40 years of NZ involvement in that kind of spying, the country simply knew nothing about it. The Government’s position was that it was simpler that the public did not know that this sort of spying was going on. That’s the starting point for investigative journalism and for a lot of research, that there are things which it suits the people in power for the public simply never to hear about.
Then in 1983, the remarkable researcher Owen Wilkes discovered the GCSB’s then only station, which is up near Palmerston North at Tangimoana beach: a radio intercept station. It was intercepting long distance radio from inside the (former) Soviet Union and from Russian ships across the Pacific. It could listen practically right around the world because of the nature of high frequency radio. He discovered that facility and, by finding out about that station, he worked out that NZ had a major big spy agency which no one had been told about.
Because it had been revealed, the then National Government presented a Ministerial Statement to Parliament on the existence and work of the GCSB. This very same statement was given a few years later by the Labour Government. They explained that, yes, New Zealand had been doing this kind of spying since World War Two, but that the public could be reassured that the GCSB never spied on New Zealand’s friends in the South Pacific. Which leads me to my next lesson, which is that most of us have this trusting belief that if we are given a straight, clear statement by the authorities, then it is probably correct, or it is more or less correct.
In fact, at the time they made those statements, the GCSB had three K sections. One was spying on Russian communications; one was spying, strangely enough, on the Japanese, spying on Japanese embassies and consulates around the world because the United States had shared all the main Japanese consulates and embassies between its four main allies and itself; and the third of the three K Stations was spying on all New Zealand’s friends in the South Pacific – all of the different countries which New Zealand purports to support and be a big friend of in the South Pacific. The reason we were spying on those countries was because we’d been allocated a little piece of the globe in the very secret intelligence agreements that New Zealand is part of and has been part of since the end of the Second World War. Any countries that fell within that area – which began with French Polynesia and went down to the Solomon Islands – but not Papua New Guinea – were targets of the New Zealand spies. They spied on the Prime Ministers and their officials, and the other Ministers, and the Opposition politicians. They spied on the United Nations agencies, they spied on the South Pacific Forum, they spied on the aid agencies, and they spied on companies.
The reason they did that was not because New Zealand needed to spy on all those people for our interests, but because we’d been allocated that part of the world to spy on by the United States. We were just faithfully doing our bit of the job. Now, many New Zealanders would think that that was a strange contradiction with the rest of our foreign policy: that we would be spying on those countries and sending away their intimate economic and political secrets to the big outside powers. And that’s why you have this kind of secrecy. The reason we weren’t told about it – in fact we were told the opposite – was that it was convenient for the politicians not to have to answer why the spies were doing that. So the next lesson in this is that when people in authority believe it’s necessary, or their duty, they are prepared to mislead the public. That’s something I’ve found in my subsequent work and which is a major theme in “The Hollow Men”.
Then later, whilst I was in the middle of my research for the book “Secret Power”, there was the announcement of the Blenheim base. I was later told by people who worked inside the spy agency that David Lange and the (1984-90 Labour) Government were told that the reason why we needed a new intelligence base spying on the satellites above the South Pacific, was that New Zealand had been thrown out of the American intelligence alliance when we introduced our country’s nuclear free policy. Many of you will remember this time – there were many debates and headlines and foreign visitors making this point that New Zealand had been cut off from foreign intelligence. Once again, it was completely untrue. The New Zealand GCSB’s relationship with, particularly, the American and the British intelligence agencies had not been changed at all. And the reason they’d set up this station was not what they told the Labour government at the time – when they said it was to make New Zealand more independent – it was actually to make New Zealand more integrated into the international alliance.
Waihopai Spies Automatically For The US
When they set up this base, what happened was that, rather than New Zealand just helping to spy on our part of the world and handing the information on, they were setting up a spy station in New Zealand which automatically spied for the United States and the other allies. If you visit the Waihopai station and walk down the drive to the side of the building, you’ll see a long, flat wall with windows in it. This is the wall facing Blenheim almost – the right hand wall. That’s a long operations room containing rows of tall electronics cabinets. Underneath each dome there’s a large satellite dish, and they are pointed at one of the two main satellites above the Pacific that carry the normal, public email and other communications within the Pacific. One satellite dish does each. The satellite signals are channelled underground into that big room, and the long rows of cabinets break down all those signals into individual faxes, banking communications, data communications, phone calls, emails, and so on. They are fed through a series of computers, which are at the left hand end of the room, which are called the Dictionary Computers. This is quite well-established technology now; but they were ahead of the rest of the world when the systems were developed. All of those messages stream through the computers in what they call “real time”, instantaneously, and there are lists of words they are looking for. That might be “Kiribati, Kiribati Fishing Corporation, Kiribati Police Force, Kiribati Military” as part of the collection of Kiribati intelligence and that would be sent off to Wellington, because New Zealand had the job, as I explained earlier, of processing the South Pacific intelligence and sending it off to the allies.
Many of the categories of intelligence it is searching for are not for New Zealand. At the time I was researching there were ones on Japanese embassies, and Russians, and trade negotiations, and “people we don’t like” in different countries around the Pacific. For instance, an e-mail might come in and be captured by the computer after being identified as “people we don’t like” in the Philippines or whatever the key word was there. The computer puts a special stamp on it, a four digit stamp, before it is sent down the wires. The intercepted e-mail would pop up not in Wellington, but in Washington DC or another allied agency, where it would get processed. And so the New Zealand base, right now, functions every day pretty much as a United States base, and a British base, and an Australian base. It is also a New Zealand base, because we get the intelligence for the subjects upon which we are supposed to be reporting for the alliance.
Now the point I’m making here is that the Labour government had been told that this base was to make us more independent because we’d been cut off from the American alliance. What was actually happening was that we’d been even more closely integrated into that alliance. And we would never have known that. They would still be saying that this was an independent base that helped New Zealand make its way in the world – except for the fact that there were insiders in the GCSB who over a number of years did interviews with me. They drew me pictures of the interior, the layout of the building, showed me which bit was which, gave me diagrams of the information that they were getting, told me which intelligence sections they went to in the Wellington Headquarters, told me what kind of intelligence they were collecting -- all of which is now written in ”Secret Power”.
I will just quickly say a few words about what the GCSB has been doing in the last few years. I can only do this by little snippets I’ve been hearing from the agency because I haven’t worked on it properly for ten years. But what I can tell you is that after George Bush was elected, and after they began what they call the “War on Terror”, a huge restructuring happened inside the GCSB. They didn’t make a complete secret of what they were doing, because I’ve got their early annual reports from during this period under the Official Information Act. The Ombudsman intervened on my behalf and got sections of them released.
Waihopai Is NZ’s Biggest Contribution To “War On Terror”
What they said straight after September 11 (2001) was that they had redeployed a large part of their resources to helping the “War on Terror.” By the next year’s annual report, they said it was the main thing they were doing. It partly sounded reasonable at the time, because after all at that stage it sounded like maybe they were trying to capture Osama bin Laden, or the people who were responsible for doing something like that. But as has become clear in the years since, the “War on Terror” has become something different and decidedly grotesque. And what’s been happening at the GCSB is that those people who were previously focussed on other targets have been retrained. There have been people coming in from the overseas agencies - I particularly know about the British people coming in – who’ve been training them in Arab languages.
So what New Zealand has been doing, unbeknown to the public or the media or to Parliament, is to redeploy our intelligence agency to help the United States spy on whoever they believe is a target in the “War of Terror”. And that means of course, that if somebody gets grabbed off the street when they’re walking through a town in the Philippines or Indonesia, and finds themselves with their hood over their head in a US detention camp in Kandahar in Afghanistan, and gets flown to Guantanamo Bay, we may have helped to do that. Because intelligence is the way that you do these operations - you have to collect the intelligence so that you can catch the people, or trace the people, or bomb the people – all the different aspects of fighting a “War on Terror”.
And so, what’s currently going on. I saw the Anti-Bases Campaign’s leaflet called “Waihopai: New Zealand’s main contribution to the War on Terror”. I think that that is correct. And the sad thing is that none of us have the faintest idea of what the GCSB is doing – me included. But from what little I know, I think that’s a perfectly safe assumption. If they were doing reasonable things, tracking really bad people who want to hurt other people - they might be – but we won’t know anyway; but if they are tracking people, or helping to capture or kill people just because the Bush administration (who are the far Right of politics, even in the US) don’t like them at the moment, we also won’t know, because we’ve got no access to what they’re doing at that base.
Shoot The Messenger (Or, At Least, Call Him A Thief)
Now to “The Hollow Men”. As I said when I was thanking and encouraging questions from any National Party people here, there’s been a very strong campaign to discourage interest in the book which I’ve just published. The campaign has used the familiar public relations damage control techniques. I’ll run through them, because we all need to be literate about how politicians do what they do or they get away with it. And when you’re in trouble -- when for instance you’re the owner of the chemical factory, and it’s just blown up and it’s sent a big cloud of gas over the township and everyone’s screaming about what you’ve done -- there are a variety of steps that you do. There are manuals on this; they are published by public relations companies around the world (and Nicky would know, because he’s written the book on the PR industry’s dirty tricks also: “Secrets And Lies: The Anatomy Of An Anti-Environmental PR Campaign”, by Nicky Hager and Bob Burton, 1999. Ed.).
And the first thing you do is you try to blame someone other than yourself. And so in the chemical company case, there are cases all around the world which have been documented tricks like leaking to the media that they’ve been having trouble with the unions and they suspect that maybe someone sabotaged that pipe that broke. This is known as “painting yourself as the victim”. So, please, no one be surprised that when I am given information which makes the National Party look bad -- and particularly bad to its own members, most of whom would have no idea about the stuff I’ve been told and what’s in the book -- they very badly need to paint themselves as the victims. We have all seen it, then and in the time since, which is: ‘These emails are stolen” “this is my personal stuff”, “this is my private life”, “how dare anyone do this to me?”. The idea is to focus attention on supposed offences done to them rather than what they have done to the country. And let us all be aware of such tactics and not take them too seriously.
Another part of crisis management is to create diversions. An interesting example of this was the resignation of Dr Brash when the book came out. It was my belief that Brash would have to go when the book came out because he had told so many undeniable lies in public and in writing. But I didn't expect him to go that quickly. It appears that the sudden resignation was pushed by other senior National Party people who wanted to protect themselves by sacrificing Brash. The way they did it was forcing Don Brash to resign, and calling a new leadership vote a tiny number of days later. You may remember the order of it. They put an injunction on the book, and then removed the injunction on the same day that Don Brash resigned. This was of course is the best timing to divert attention off the contents of the book, and to move more media attention onto who was going to be elected a few days later. It was an example of careful media management and I think you could definitely say “Murray McCully” on that particular move.
The next thing they do, of course, is to attack me. The objective of that is once again to try to stop people reading the book. And the final thing that they do – and please remember this list, because people use these sorts of tricks all the time -- the fourth thing you do when you’ve been caught out and you look really bad is you duck down. You don’t hear Murray McCully commenting on the book. You don’t hear Gerry Brownlee. John Key says: “We’ve moved on, I didn’t open the email from the Brethren, lets move on”. Instead they arrange other people to do the attacking for them. This is a classic approach in the public relations world. And so the fourth thing that they did was that they got their old mates to do all the attacking against me. “He’s a thief”, “this is New Zealand’s first Watergate" (Watergate being me, the thief breaking into the Watergate Hotel) and so on. And those people, I’m afraid to say, were Jane Clifton in the Listener, Michael Bassett, Richard Long, Matthew Hooton , who you may have seen in the newspaper or heard on the radio. The second, third and fourth of whom play major roles in the book, but didn’t declare what they were doing. I’m pleased to say that despite this the book became the number one best seller before Christmas; people are reading it.
The main thing I want to try to achieve tonight is not to tell you everything that’s in the book because it is 300 pages plus 50 pages of fascinating footnotes of all the things I couldn’t cram into the text. Let me just give an overview of the main themes. My investigation began with seeing Dr Brash, ex-Governor of the Reserve Bank, using his first major speech as National Party Leader to put the boot into Maori. I thought: “Who’s behind him and what’s going on here?”. And so I put it onto my list of subjects that, if I could somehow get the right sources, I would like to write about. At that stage, my main interest was things like the Orewa speech and what was going on behind it. And I’m pleased to be able to say that there is now a chapter of the book which goes through in detail what their strategies were and what they were thinking and who wrote the speech for Brash and how they tried to dodge questions afterwards about what their evidence was for what they were saying. The whole gory story is there and I feel a sense of achievement about that.
Inside Sources Gave Him “Hundreds And Hundreds” Of Internal Party Papers
But it went way beyond that, because, as I always find with this work, and I think we should all take this as a kind of maxim about life, you should never make assumptions about other people and what they believe in and who they are. Because it would be easy for someone like me who is personally, in my own private politics, on the Left, to think: “National Party people will never talk to me”. In fact, I’ve seen a whole world of National Party politics that has fascinated me ever since, of people who are concerned as much or more about integrity and honesty and decency in politics as you will find in any other party. In fact I would suggest that you could go to any party, and you will find people who you wouldn’t want to share your tent with and people who are really fine people. And we shouldn’t be mistaken into colour coding humanity by political beliefs.
The book would never have happened, but unbeknown to most of the country, the apparently united and successful National Party was an unhappy place. The caucus had been silenced by success, is how it was put to me. Essentially if Brash had been going down in the polls, people could have expressed their misgivings about what they were seeing on the inside. But when they’re going up, nobody really wants to rock the boat. And they don’t want to look like they’re spoiling it when “Maybe We Could Become Government Next Time When We Never Dreamt That We Could”. And so there was this party which on the outside looked happy and going places, and on the inside contained unhappy people who didn’t like the direction it was going and who didn’t like some of the tactics they were seeing.
I gradually met some of these people, and over a period of two years, got to know them well. It is a very intimate relationship built up between people who have to trust each other for the rest of their lives. At first I was hoping that I might get some interviews, that I might get some interesting internal documents. Eventually, I got given more internal party papers than possibly anyone has ever had about any political party in the world. I’m talking about hundreds and hundreds. In fact, my main problem when writing the book was how to deal with the bulk of it, how to make sense of it. I could have, after three years, been working on something else because the National Party investigation went nowhere, but it had gone incredibly well.
So that’s what the book is; I had this huge source of internal documents which I had to make sense of, and figure out the story of. Sometimes I might have a document – this is like meeting minutes, and strategy reports, and even itineraries, and lists of people who were at meetings – and sometimes I’d just get one name and think: “who’s that person and how do they fit into this?”. And I’d search through the papers and I’d find that person’s name and that particular part of the story was about to unfold. And so I had this fascinating journey through these papers, which I try to tell through the story which is this book, which is why I’m very keen that other people have the opportunity to read it.
Unholy Relationship With Exclusive Brethren
What kind of things did I find? I found some things that were pure accountability issues. For example, the National Party entered into its now well known unholy relationship with the Exclusive Brethren Church. The links were built up mainly by Don Brash and John Key with the rest of the campaign team fully aware. National had been tempted by the $1.3 million dollars that the Brethren were talking about spending over a six month period. They wanted that extra boost to the campaign but they didn’t want anyone to know what was going on. And they went to major efforts to hide it.
Then news of the relationship started to come out during the election campaign and all the main people, like John Key, and Don Brash, and Gerry Brownlee were telling huge lies day after day. And they weren’t just telling huge lies; but you can see them being written by Richard Long each evening. What they did each night was to calculate: “The media seems to know this much. It looks like they don’t know that yet, we might get away with this over here” and they tried to figure out which lie might fit with the facts enough to get them out of a difficult place. And the next day when more news had come out, they forgot those lies there and they figured out a new set of lies which could maybe get them out of it. It is likely that National lost the election because of this obvious evasiveness, but even then the public didn’t even know half of what had gone on.
The main importance of the book from my point of view is that it is a case study of how politics really works. How National Party politics works, but not only the National Party for some of it. And the reason I think that this is important is that, although we are lucky enough to live in a safe, stable democracy, we find many people, and especially younger people, dislike politics more and more. They dislike politicians, and don’t want to be involved -- leaving politics to the politicians, to the likes of Gerry Brownlee. This kind of discouragement and cynicism occurs for specific reasons. It’s a product of the way that people conduct politics. That’s the next huge value I see of people being exposed like this.
For example, the Orewa speech. At the time people were uncomfortable. It felt like maybe Don Brash was saying some things that had a grain of truth in them. Some people thought – well I don’t really like the idea of these people getting all that extra privilege, and it took time before their common sense caught up with them and they’d just seen some Maori people fixing the road and they didn’t look very privileged.
At that time, it was an open question: Was Don Brash a nice, though perhaps naïve, man who was prepared to talk about race issues because he believed it was an important issue for the country, or was he a very ambitious man who was happy to let his cynical advisors try to find out a way to “Out-Winston Peters” Winston Peters, and get a lift in the votes so that the new leadership looked successful? Well, if you want to know which it was, you can now read that chapter in the book because the documents are all laid out there.
What was Don Brash talking about when he got caught out trying to get closer to the United States and getting rid of the nuclear free policy "by lunchtime" -- what was actually going on? I have to say I didn’t get to the bottom of this story, because a lot of it happened face to face in meetings. But a lot of the story is now clear -- it’s in one of the earlier chapters -- of who they were meeting, and who their links into Washington were, and what was actually going on.
Cynical Media Control Of “ Punter Land”
But the main cynicism you see in the book is the constant media control. Whatever issue came up, there often weren’t politicians thinking up an answer but a bank of spin doctors. This is the American disease of politics where the politics is not being run by politicians, whether crafty or sincere, but primarily by an unaccountable group of advisors whose job is to manipulate events or the appearance of events in the media to the benefit of their party. What you see in the book is that whatever issue comes up – Exclusive Brethren, or tax, or something going wrong or a politician in trouble -- there will be a bank of people who strategised the right “lines” (which, where necessary, meant lies), spins and twists to use to deal with the problem. The most crafty of them was Richard Long, who you can now see being a supposedly independent commentator in the newspapers.
As a little aside – and you may have seen I wrote this in the Dominion Post just after Christmas – I think New Zealand has got to do a big think about who we tolerate as commentators. Commentators, if you look at the New York Times, or British newspapers, or even Australian newspapers, does not mean spin doctors for a particular party or interest group. Real commentators should be independent and, whether on the Left or Right, the public should be confident that they are hearing that person's considered views. However, in New Zealand, many people who write commentaries in our newspapers and speak in other media have undeclared alliances with the parties or issues they are writing about. Like Michael Bassett who was helping to write Brash’s Orewa speeches and lost his job at the Dominion Post when I exposed that (but retains his weekly column in the Christchurch Press. Ed.). Likewise Richard Long, who still appears regularly as a columnist, and the same Matthew Hooton who you’ll see woven through the book as one of the most cynical advisors.
Hooton had this great idea for Brash after Orewa, that they could organise a conference at Parliament, a special, huge hui at Parliament, where they would invite all the iwi of the country and have the powhiri-to-beat-all-powhiris, he said, and lots of hongis, and go inside and “listen” to their views – he put inverted commas on it – and take great notice of them and then as he said: “From then on you wouldn’t change anything you do, but you can say you’ve listened to them and they’ve been consulted”. All terribly cynical and you can read it in their own words.
And then you get into the election campaign where they were planning to win over the votes of what they called “the punters” or what Brash called “the punters out in punter land”. And here you get a sense of the cynicism of this little leadership group, planning a campaign which the rest of the National Party had nothing to do with. Even the rest of the National MPs had little idea what was going on. They brought in their Australian experts, a company called Crosby Textor. You can see the way that these strategy advisors – I've got the reports – planned the language that could be used by Don Brash and the other MPs, to win over these supposedly “dumb” middle voters. They weren’t targeting the people who might be sympathetic to National normally, or who might be sympathetic to Labour, they were targeting the people who they believed weren’t interested in politics. And they were figuring out what they called “mantra” of words that might get through to the prejudices of those people or might get past the more conscious beliefs of those people and turn them around to voting for National.
They conducted focus groups, and said things like: “So what do you think of the current Labour government?”. “Oh they’re quite good, I’m quite happy at the moment”. “Well, say you were just saying any things where you’re not happy with Helen Clark and the Labour government, just even the vaguest…if you were trying to say anything where you were not quite happy with Helen Clark, what would you say about this?”. And they’d harvest these vague, tentative ideas. They actually said in their reports that these ideas do not exist yet in the public, and they’re totally tentative, but with watering and nurturing, we can build these ideas into stuff which will be used against the Government. So you see the tactics they use and then remember the “Iwi Kiwi” ads and the “Taxathon” ads. The book documents the internal discussions and the strategy meetings where they planned why they would use particular words and how they were doing it. At each step of the election, the focus was on these “dumb people” who they were manipulating into voting National.
The Legalised Corruption Of Huge, Secret Political Donations
The other reason I think a book like this is very important and it should be read is to do with the kind of legalised corruption that arises from election funding in New Zealand. We’re a lucky country where I think it is a very rare thing or almost none existent for crooks to turn up with suitcases of money and buy police officers and public officials. We’re lucky we don’t have that kind of corruption. And yet we’re too complacent about business people turning up and offering tens of thousands or even a million dollars to a political party because they want that party to become government and implement its preferred policies. In other words, we may be able to suppress corruption at the few thousand dollar level affecting individual public officials, but we have not done enough to stop the kind of corruption which can influence who’s in governments and what policies they have. We’ve got things all the wrong way up.
What you’ll find when you read the book is that there were all sorts of unseen relationships between different lobby groups and the National Party. There are many of them: the private health lobby, the private education lobby, the tobacco industry; they were all busy in there, and the door was wide open to them. Wide open to them because the National Party assumed that no one would ever find out what was going on. Because you can hide these things so easily.
But there were weird things going on, like the Talley family. And you may have heard this in the media but I’d like to repeat it again because it’s such a weird story. That is that Peter Talley and his brother invited Don Brash and his advisors to visit them at their headquarters in Motueka. And they said to them: “We think you’re going to lose the election the way you’re going, there is some dumb staff around you, you haven’t got the right kind of advisors, but we could help you win”. And what they came up with – and they luckily put it in writing, so you don’t have to believe me on this, you can read it in the book – they came up with this plan that Don Brash would agree to hand across the organising of the campaign to a handpicked paid set of advisors that they bought in from other countries or other places, and basically have this separate campaign team who ran the campaign for Don Brash to win the election. And if Don Brash would say yes to that – which he went along with for a while – they would spend a million dollars in paying for it all, and basically have a million dollar campaign team that would run the election for Don Brash. Now in my view, that is corruption. You should not have fishing industry magnates offering a political party a million dollars, to help get someone into power in an election. We have no way of knowing what, if anything, the Talleys were hoping for in return. That’s really, really dodgy – and it’s totally legal, I might add – but it is legalised corruption. In fact this wouldn’t have been entirely legal, because in the amazing document which explains the plan, the lawyer who was working with them, a man called Nick Davidson (not Nick Davidson, QC, in Christchurch but a Nick Davidson in Tasman) had drawn up a proposal where they would bypass the National Party accounts and not have to declare the money at all in the election. So if it had gone ahead, it would quite possibly have been illegal. The reason it didn’t go ahead was not because it was illegal, or really dodgy, or terribly compromising for the Government which was elected because they’d been indebted to Peter Talley and his campaign team. It was stopped, as far as I can see, because the people in the existing campaign team were annoyed that someone else was trying to take over their job and they wouldn’t have gone along with it. But isn’t it incredible that the leader of a party and his staff would contemplate accepting a million dollars like that? And more to the point, that a high up business man would think he could use that million dollars in that way.My hope is that, in part as a result of these revelations, we will have a change in the electoral laws in New Zealand by the end of this year and it will no longer be possible to do this kind of thing. We’ll see, it will depend on how bold Labour is. They sometimes start off gung-ho and then end up backing down on their plans. But in the meantime it's sounding hopeful that we might be able to clean this out of the system in New Zealand once and for all. Just a quick word on that – the way to clean-up election finances is not just openness. You can have a system like the American system where every single donation has to be declared. You can go to the United States and you can find out who from Nowhere, Wyoming gave $20 to their Congressman. But that doesn’t stop it being a country which is dominated by millionaires and billionaires and money in the elections. Finding out about it doesn’t seem to stop it.
My argument in the book is that, as well as transparency, the only way to take the Peter Talley millions out of the election and to take away the influence of the Peter Shirtcliffes, Rod Deanes and others who were the main backers of the National Party -- and who are listed in the book, for the first time ever -– is to spend a little bit more public money instead. What’s needed in New Zealand is what’s happened in some other countries, which is you put a cap on the amount of money which people can donate -- you can say for instance that an ordinary person in New Zealand can afford a thousand dollars, and no one will give more than that -- and then as a compensation for that, you say we’re prepared to spend an extra $5 million or whatever it takes to eliminate all the big donors from making donations to the parties. It’s common sense for a country; unless you hear it through the talkback voices: “Oh I don’t want to give more money to those horrible political parties”. But the reason why we’d give that money to the horrible political parties is because it stops it being Roderick Deane, and Peter Talley giving that money instead, for the unseen and unquantifiable influence that it buys.
Far Right Clique In The Frame
The final interesting thing I'd like to mention is a little discussed far Right clique which has a strong influence over the way politics works in this country. They’ve grouped themselves around something called the Centre for Independent Studies. It’s a far Right think tank which has its main headquarters in Sydney. It’s inspired by US think tanks. Many of the advisors, and Don Brash himself, are members of that think tank, but so is Ruth Richardson, and the millionaire donors who I named in that book, as are the people who set up and still run the Act Party. It's a grouping of only a few dozen people but they have a large influence over politics in this country.
They are the ones who helped Don Brash into leadership in the National Party. It was, in many ways, their coup. Ruth Richardson had the idea of encouraging Don Brash to go into politics and believed that he might be able to become leader of the National Party -- once there, getting on with the “unfinished business” of the 1980s and 1990s new right reformers. Other members of that Act grouping gathered around him, including Michael Bassett, and helped him win the leadership in October 2003. That grouping can be seen in the background right through the three year period from when Don Brash became leader until the book came out and Don Brash resigned. They’re not only the people who set up the Act Party; they’re the same people who set up campaigns for the privatisation of ACC and the anti-MMP campaign, and all kinds of things. We’re talking about approximately 25 people and millions and millions of dollars. I am pleased that their activities were documented properly for the first time as a side story in “The Hollow Men”. The public should be vigilant about where their influence will appear next.
And so for all those reasons, and because I don’t believe I will ever get this kind of information again, I encourage you to look in the bookshop or in the library and find a copy of the book. And if you do like it, and find it valuable, please encourage others to read it who at the moment might be thinking its just "Don Brash e-mails" and not realise what a unique picture it gives of modern politics. There may never be an insight into New Zealand politics quite like this again.
Return to Watchdog 114 Index