Mike Williams was Labour Party President, and I have had a lot to do with him over the years. Mike and I have a deep love of politics. We both have a heap of friends in different parties. We share with them the joy of debating ideas, and often agreeing to disagree. Then having a drink to celebrate our differences.
Talking of drinking to our differences. I won a bottle of red wine off a Tory mate of mine recently. He was convinced that Todd Muller would not win the leadership battle. I had inside info that he would. I have another bet with him about another political matter, so I might have to hand the bottle back to him. If I lose, I will hand it back minus the lid, which I will stand on in his presence. These political debates can be great fun. The fact that we are able to disagree, remain in different parties, and stay friends, is a fundamental right.
Anyway, Mike wrote this article for the media which summarised the last week really accurately:
The events of the last ten days have given us a rare insight into the culture of the National Party and a measure of how Todd Muller, the party’s new leader, might behave under pressure and manage his caucus team.
The drama began with an odd press statement released by the National Party’s Clutha Southland M.P. Hamish Walker.
There had been speculation about using the mostly empty hotels in Queenstown as quarantine venues for New Zealanders currently scrambling to get home in large numbers.
Hamish Walker criticised the government for failure to consult on this proposal and raised the possibility of 11,000 returnees from “India, Pakistan and South Korea”.
It is unlikely that Walker has racist attitudes personally as he recently married his Maori partner, but the statement was condemned as racist and “dog whistle politics”.
It was an extremely silly statement as all the returnees at present are all New Zealand citizens and the only explanation for Walker’s outburst was an attempt to appeal to the minority of backwoodsman who think that kiwi only means Pakeha.
Party leader Todd Muller expressed his “disappointment” at Walker’s statement but there was no attempt to discipline him beyond that weak slap on the wrist.
I was surprised at Muller’s mild response as National is unlikely to win an election without at least a degree of support from the Asian New Zealanders that Walker implicitly insulted.
The plot thickened a few days later when three media outlets, NZME, Stuff and Radio New Zealand were sent copies of lists of Covid19 sufferers. This was a blatant breach of the privacy of these patients and though these media outlets published the fact that they had received the lists, no personal details were published.
This exemplar of journalistic integrity is the sole positive aspect of what is otherwise a desperate and sordid saga.
Party Leader Todd Muller and National Party health spokesperson, Michael Woodhouse, both condemned the leak and attacked the government citing the disclosure as evidence of “shambolic” handling of the Covid19 pandemic crisis.
Later developments suggest that at this point, Woodhouse had a good idea of the source of the leaks as he had been getting similar lists from Michelle Boag after she’d called him to learn of his private (non-parliamentary) email address.
It is impossible to believe that Woodhouse did not tell his leader that a former National Party president was sending him exactly what had been leaked.
Perhaps Woodhouse, who’d been lampooned for claiming (with no supporting evidence whatever) that a “homeless” person had slipped into quarantine and scored a fortnight in a luxury hotel, thought that he could brazen out this matter if the real source became public.
Following this episode, Walker approached his leader, Todd Muller, admitted to being the source of the leak and presented a letter from a QC which said that no law had been broken.
Muller then took a full day to consider the situation before writing to the National Party Board to urge then to remove Walker’s nomination for the general election.
It is hard to justify Muller’s delayed response. I cannot imagine Bill English, John Key or Helen Clark doing anything other than firing Walker on the spot.
At this point it became public that Michelle Boag, in her role as Acting Chief Executive of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust – an essential medical service – had been receiving lists of Covid19 patients and passing them onto Walker who she had mentored before his election. Somewhat later the Woodhouse connection also emerged.
For many years I regularly rubbed shoulders with Michelle Boag, and I came to regard her as a friend of sorts.
She struck me as intelligent, so I am stunned at the developments of the week just past.
As Labour Party President, my first memory of Michelle Boag is a cold July election night in 2002 at the old TVNZ studios at Avalon.
She had become National Party President that year having won in a noisy campaign in which she promised to “end the rot” and “cut out the dead wood”.
I came to develop a degree of respect for her that night. She kept a brave face as news got worse as the night wore on and her National Party lost twelve seats from the opposition – an unprecedented disaster for any party, which ended up with less than twenty-one per cent of the party vote.
Now disgraced and resigned from her beloved National Party, it is a tragic end to forty-seven years of service from which there can be no return.
With Todd Muller compromised by events she initiated and the Michael Heron QC report into the whole sorry saga to still come, Michelle Boag’s final legacy is a gift to the Labour Government that is likely to keep on giving.