by Dr. Muriel Newman
Elections should be a contest of ideas. Once every three years political parties are given an opportunity to pitch their ideas to voters on how they would run the country. The campaign period gives voters a chance to carefully examine the policies of the parties, and to decide on the sort of government they would like to see in charge of the Treasury benches.
This election campaign has, however, been effectively stolen from voters. Left wing activist Nicky Hager clearly planned to dominate the campaign period with the publication of his book of hacked emails. He has done this before. He knows how the media works and how they feed on a diet of scandal and sensation. He knew releasing private emails would overshadow the campaign and give him unprecedented publicity.
Opposition politicians love government scandals too. Â Scandals not only enable them to score multiple points against the incumbents, but they provide them with an opportunity to claim their own image is whiter than fresh snow. Their innocence and purity is of course fake. Politics is not called the âdark artâ for nothing.
Politics is and always has been a very tough business â tougher than anything else. To survive and thrive politicians have to learn to play hardball. Those who canât or donât want to play, generally do not last in politics.
It has never been any different. In fact, those politicians who have been bleating the most loudly about how dreadful it all is and calling for inquiries â pretendingÂ theyÂ wouldÂ neverÂ conspire with others to try to discredit their opposition â are simply playing the game. They are gaining easy publicity from a scandal obsessed media that wants to keep the story running for as long as they possibly can.
But while this whole affair has been played ad nauseam, the elephant in the room is the question about how it can be that Nicky Hager can receive stolen goods and knowingly profit from them by selling the hacked emails in his book, without being charged by the Police for the crime ofÂ receiving. Under Section 246 of the Crimes Act 1961, âEvery one is guilty ofÂ receivingÂ who receives any property stolen or obtained by any other imprisonable offence, knowing that property to have been stolen or so obtained, or being reckless as to whether or not the property had been stolen or so obtained.â
According to Section 247, the penalties for the crime of receiving, depends on the dollar value of the goods received. If the goods do not exceed $500, then the maximum penalty is three months imprisonment. If they are valued between $500 and $1000 then the maximum penalty is 12 months imprisonment. And if they are valued at over $1000 then the maximum penalty is seven years imprisonment.
Hager clearly sits in the latter category.
But it isnât just the owners of the confidential emails who are the victims of Mr Hager and his partners in crime â it is also New Zealand voters. The mediaâs fixation on the scandal has meant that they have largely ignored their crucial Fourth Estate role of reporting party policies and asking tough questions. This means that the full implications of key policy agendas have not been revealed.
This is a potentially dangerous situation.
In case anyone needs reminding, it was the former Labour governmentâs policy agenda of tax and spend that pushed the country into a recession in early 2008, months ahead of the onset of the global financial crisis. The government had become bloated and profligate. Excessive government spending had forced up interest rates to amongst the highest in the OECD. Even though there was a serious shortage of unskilled workers, the welfare system was failing to move beneficiaries into jobs. The economy was out of balance, the labour market was inflexible, the bureaucracy was stultifying, and small businesses were going to the wall. Â Read more »