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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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

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