Trotter on Labour’s ham-fisted attacks off the back of the Panama Papers

Chris Trotter is unimpressed with Labour’s Panama Papers “all in” strategy:

Labour’s response to the “Panama Papers” has left me cold.

The Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Little, lacking hard evidence of criminal behaviour – of any kind – has opted to unfurl his party’s banner on the moral high ground.

He has accused the law firms involved in servicing foreign trusts of participating in a “grubby little industry”.

He’s probably right about that. Shielding rich people from their tax obligations hardly constitutes a noble calling.

My problem with this approach is that it all sounds a bit like a student union SGM, where the deployment of high-flown rhetoric is inversely proportional to the debaters’ command of useful facts.

And Andrew Little’s outrageous claims in recent days have earned him a defamation action.

Moral tirades are all well and good when delivered from the pulpit, but they give voters pause when bellowed at them by a potential prime minister. One person’s moral convictions are, as often as not, another person’s bigoted opinions.

In the 1950s American crime drama, Dragnet, the hero’s catchphrase was: “Just the facts.” For someone aspiring to be Prime Minister that’s a good rule of thumb.

The facts arising out of the Panama Papers are reasonably simple to summarise:

  • New Zealand is not a tax haven in the generally accepted definition of that term.
  • Changes to New Zealand legislation have put this country at risk of being perceived as a tax haven.
  • The Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, took advantage of our legislative laxity to promote New Zealand as a politically stable and corruption-free hiding place for their clients’ assets.
  • The National-led Government’s responses to IRD warnings that New Zealand was at risk of losing its corruption-free reputation were wholly inadequate.
  • The entire problem can be solved easily: simply by toughening-up the disclosure provisions of the relevant legislation.

If Labour had been willing to assess these facts dispassionately, and with an eye to presenting itself as a credible alternative government, its handling of the Panama Papers would have been very different.

Labour got briefings from Nicky Hager and still went full retard on the Panama Paper despite them proving only that lawyers do trust work. This has all the hallmarks of yet another Rob Salmond/Matt McCarten hit job.

From the outset, it would have made it very clear that its number one priority was to protect New Zealand’s international reputation. That being the case, it would have been very careful to avoid calling their country a tax haven.

Their treatment of the Prime Minister would also have been different. Rather than attempting to associate him with the dubious behaviour of Mossack Fonseca, they would have acknowledged that the offending legislation had evolved gradually, under both Labour and National, and offered to make its remediation a bi-partisan effort.

Having sought out and obtained the best advice available from tax lawyers and accountants about how the legislation might best be rewritten to eliminate its usefulness to entities like Mossack Fonseca, Labour would then have approached the Government with an offer to rush through the necessary changes under urgency.

If all of the above has a faint ring of familiarity to it, that’s because my suggested responses are modelled on the way John Key handled the so-called “Anti-Smacking Bill” back in 2007. Rather than exploiting the mounting toll of damage the issue was inflicting on Helen Clark’s Labour Government, Key arranged for the bill to be passed overwhelmingly with National Party support.

And that is why John Key is Prime Minister and likely to remain so.

The electorate was startled – but impressed – by Key’s magnanimous gesture towards his political opponent. Here was a man who was prepared to forgo petty partisan advantage for the wider public good. As he strode into the media conference alongside Helen Clark, the television audience saw not a political opportunist, but a future prime minister.

Clark’s right-wing opponents were furious with Key for rescuing her from the anti, anti-smacking backlash. Key just shrugged. He knew that at the perceptual level that truly mattered, he had just made huge gains. In his own, and his party’s, audition for the role of wielder of state power, National was now in front.

Andrew Little preaches a mean sermon, and his finger-wagging is second-to-none. But in that all-important audition for political power, his handling of the Panama Papers has done Labour no favours.

Andrew Little just sounds like a union boss hating on the very people who pay his members their wages. One thing about union bosses is that they are never happy, ever.

Little is destined to be the fifth Labour leader seen off by John Key.


– Fairfax


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  • Jude

    Labour under the leadership of Andrew Little are giving all New Zealanders a very clear insight into the lack of knowledge within the party.
    The fact that a former Labour leader is allowed to cross the floor to vote for the TPPA shows how dysfunctional Labour are.
    The Panama papers showed that Little in fact mistrusts business, trade and Professionals, like lawyers and accountants.
    If voted in, it scares me that the advice he would follow would be based around the unions and what Matt MCCarten thought.

  • Christie

    A well thought out piece by Trotter – we never seem to see any cross party co-operation in Parliament these days, but once upon a time, it happened regularly. The Left are simply out to do the government as much damage as possible – but what they don’t see is that most of the damage is actually done to themselves.

  • Boondecker

    “Andrew Little preaches a mean sermon, and his finger-wagging is second-to-none”.

    That, right there, is the 1970s, 1980s and 2000s Labour Party leadership behaviour the voters got heartily sick of in droves – time and time again. The left and their ‘I know more about how you should live your life’ nanny-state pontification and finger-wagging attitudes don’t work anymore. It just scares people.

  • Time For Accountability

    “the deployment of high-flown rhetoric is inversely proportional to the debaters’ command of useful facts.”

    Candidate for quote of the week – surely.
    I have a situation I can use that in.

    I always read and respect Trotter for the honesty of his convictions even although I disagree entirely with his politics.

    He is a good bell weather guide to the way the Left for Life regardless faction think.

  • Vutekno

    Well presented argument by Chris Trotter. Unfortunately for him & fortunately for us Little, McCarten and the NZLP are unlikely to heed his wise advice IMO. THey have demonstrated clearly now for almost two years that they have one manic objective- to get rid of John Key!

    In following this insane strategy they demonstrate to their dwindling supporters that they are clearly unfit to Govern this fine country. If iPredict were still operating it would be safe money to back Labour for a huge loss at the next election. They are a lost cause and will be extinct hopefully to be reborn with a new bunch of intelligent Lefties who can offer an effective Opposition.
    Edit corrected word

  • lyall

    The anti smacking bill was a slick move for Key in the eyes of the emotional public fresh from another dead baby splashed all over the media. However it is one of the stupidest pieces of idiot legislation ever created and has caused a youth crimewave that is in its infancy and the real effects of which will only truly be felt in decades to come!

    • stephen2d

      What?? How did it cause a youth crime wave? Please elaborate.

      • lyall

        just wait and see, juvenile offences are recorded very differently if at all, and these kids are growing up!

        • stephen2d

          So has it happened already or is it about to happen? You are confusing me. And will it be because parents can’t beat the bejesus out of the kids that the youff will go wild? My head hurts.

          • STAG

            Go and spend some time in a school and see what entitled little brats our children are becoming, they blatantly refuse to follow orders and directions.

            A corrective smack is a long way from “beat the bejesus out of the kids”

            Corporal punishment is harsh but previous generations of children at least knew how to behave.

            Young people these days dont have to grow up, we have a generation of man babies prowling the world in men’s bodies but with children’s minds.

            Young men and woman used to respect authority, because it could influence their lives.

            Now? Just look at the news and see for yourself what namby pamby softly softly, everyone wins a prize, PC attitude has done to this country.

          • Effluent

            ‘His uncle came on Franklin Hyde
            carousing in the dirt
            He shook him hard,
            from side to side
            and hit him till it hurt
            Exclaiming, with a final thud,
            “Take that, Abandoned Boy
            for playing with disgusting mud
            as though it were a toy!’

            Hilaire Belloc

          • Effluent

            ‘His uncle came on Franklin Hyde

            Carousing in the dirt
            He shook him hard,
            From side to side
            and hit him till it Hurt
            Exclaiming, with a final thud,
            “Take that, Abandoned Boy
            for playing with disgusting mud
            as though it were a toy!’

            Hilaire Belloc, Cautionary Tales for Children

          • stephen2d

            It has happened before the law was introduced and it keeps happening after. Nothing new unfortunately.

          • lyall

            There is a perfectly good system to leave your opinion here, you don’t need to reply to me to show how witty you are, but it is my opinion from what I have witnessed in my last 7 years in the bop that youth crime is skyrocketing the police have often verified this as they constantly say offenders get younger and younger and they are shocked by the crimes young people are committing these days , I know this because it is sometimes my job to ask them for comment, you don’t have to agree with me but at least don’t reply if you don’t have anything compelling to change my mind

          • stephen2d

            I am not trying to be condescending, but youth crime is worse, correct, but I doubt it has anything to do with the anti smacking law. Especially in BOP. It will take too long to discuss here as I am in and out of the house, but we could do it tonight in the general chat topic?

          • Martin

            But some parents can and do beat the bejesus out of their kids while most good parents are potentially criminalised for the inevitable smacked bottom and kids develop the idea that the state is more powerful than their parents earlier, which is a communist wet dream. Behaviour deteriorates etc.

  • Left Right Out

    Trotter gets it….. I think he understands how middle NZ thinks…….. the great news is, Labour doesn’t…. but they’ll sort out a petition for us to sign

  • one for the road

    The thing about union bosses is that they are going rapidly the way of the dinosaur, cannt wait for the metorite to hit Little right between the eyes….

  • Nechtan

    Chris Trotter is correct Andy preaches a sermon, all that is missing is the Yorkshire accent of seemingly every second union leader here in NZ back in the 50s, 60s and 70s which is where perhaps Labour’s present ideology (and methods) was born and belongs.

  • GoingRight

    My guess is that expert advice from the best tax lawyers and accountants were beyond the reach of Labour due to their dire financial situation.

  • Nige.

    [MOD] Its been a hard enough week without extra work.

    Please go back to making quality comments instead of work for us or your next sideline will be permanent

    • Muffin

      i stand by the sentiment of my comment but will flesh it out next time to keep you happy.

  • Nebman

    Ever get the feeling that each of these attacks, the main instigators rush off to prepare their acceptance with heavy heart speeches as they envisage themselves taking high office on behalf of the scorned masses who have just raised the revolutionary flags over the Beehive only to be horrified that it just is not happening ,”no matter what they say, no matter what they do”?

    I’d kill to be a fly on the wall when they have their first get together to review just why the revolution failed to fire!

  • earthyundertones

    Its an odd day when Chris Trotter makes sense – and there has been a few of them recently. The problem is that the left are so committed to the concept that Key is the anti-Christ they “over egg the pudding” (damn I love that phrase) at every opportunity. It means that every time there is a minor news item they blow it so far out of proportion that any sensible person ends up defending John Key. The left are effectively the creators of their own roadblock.

  • zotaccore

    I’m wondering if MccccCarten is on the national party payroll. No-one in their right mind as an advisor to a potential PM would surely be giving Little advice on how to take on the govt without dismembering themselves. Then again, perhaps the galactically stupid masochists of the left wing enjoy this particular strategy(?).

  • Keanne Lawrence

    The really crazy part is that Captain YFront will look back and call it “a good week”. Far somebody who is reportedly well educated it does raise the question. “If reading is such a passion just what is that gets his attention between the covers?”

  • Wayne Peter McIndoe

    Good analysis by Chris Trotter, Little also had the chance to work constructively with the Government over the flag refendum and missed the opportunity. And I think he is right finger pointing and moral tirades do not go down well in the long run