Q + A
PANEL DISCUSSION 3
Hosted by SUSAN WOOD
In response to THE LEN BROWN SAGA
SUSAN As we mentioned at the top of the programme, the political news of the week - the revelation Auckland mayor Len Brown had a two-year affair with a woman 25 years his junior. There is an inquiry underway, and questions about whether he received a free hotel room from Sky City, Michelle, that is the question. Now, the affair is almost yesterday's news. Did he receive any sort of free payments from anybody, and did he provide a reference for her?
MICHELLE BOAG - Former National Party President
Indeed, and looking at the timeline that was published in one of the Sunday papers this morning, it appears as if she put his name on her CV as a reference, that the Art Gallery contacted his office and said did he know her, would he recommend her. According to this timeline - we're not sure if it's correct - the 'relationship' did not start in a physical sense until after that. If that is the case, then I think he's off the hook.
SUSAN What, though, Matt, about the hotel room at Sky City?
MATT McCARTEN - National Secretary, Unite Union
Yeah, well, that's why the investigation's on, and I think it's moved from the sexual scandal, as you say, to now was there any inappropriate relationships in terms of Sky City, because of the convention centre and freebies and so on and so on. So I'm still not sure that that would take him down. I think it would be embarrassing still. My thing, which I wrote in The Herald on Sunday this morning, was that my concern was that if he had done- and the timeline up until now has been he did give the reference after the affair started - if that is not the case, I think he's fine. As my advisor tells me this morning, he will survive, but he will not thrive.
MICHELLE There's one issue here, though, over this conflict of interest question. If he had received a free hotel room, then he should have declared it.
MICHELLE And that's the issue - that he failed to declare it, because every politician has to declare gifts, and that would have been a gift.
SUSAN And will this inquiry cover- one is assuming that it will cover his declarations and be-
CORIN Yeah, but what happens tomorrow? So he goes back to work. When is he going to start talking to the media again? When is he going to start answering some of these questions? This is the problem he's got when he finally does front up. He can't avoid them forever, especially he's going back to work-
SUSAN I mean, Corin-
CORIN What happens when we say, 'Well, did you take the hotel room or not?'
SUSAN 'There's an investigation underway, and that will answer all those questions.'
CORIN But that's not going to suffice, and he has-
SUSAN And he'll just keep repeating, 'I've got a job to do. I'm getting on with my job now. There's an investigation underway.' Don't you think that's what he'll hide behind, Michelle?
MICHELLE I think that he may well stand down while the investigation's going on. I mean, really, what he should do is be sworn in, have Penny Holst as deputy, then stand aside while the investigation goes on, and then at that point, Penny Holst is acting mayor. She has the confidence of everyone. She's done a good job. She's got re-elected by her-
CORIN But this comes back to the issue of where it does start to become a problem for central government when they're trying to do things like the housing accord and the actual functioning of the council.
MICHELLE But if you have an acting mayor, all that stuff can continue.
CORIN But they're not going to be able to do anything, are they?
MICHELLE Of course they can. Of course they can.
SUSAN It also depends how long he stands down for, doesn't it, Matt?
MATT Oh, well, it would be, I imagine, for a short period.
MICHELLE Yeah, probably only three weeks or something.
MATT You know, about whether he steps down now is a moot point. I mean, I suppose his opponents would like him to step down because it implies some wrongdoing, and his advisors might say, 'No, you can't.' But what Corin is saying is right, is that, well, then he's in the position; he's going to have to- 'I will answer the questions.' But-
SUSAN But can't-
MATT If all the revelations are now out, I don't think there's enough to take him down.
SUSAN What has been interesting, Claire, now, by Tuesday this thing breaks and we go, 'Oh my goodness, who would have thought Len Brown.' By yesterday, you're thinking it's a massive right-wing conspiracy, and everybody's muddied. Everything that's been thrown has stuck on everybody.
DR CLAIRE ROBINSON - Political Scientist
And this is the thing with sexual political scandals is that when they come out, people are outraged and they think that it's something morally wrong. But very quickly, and they only tend to last seven to 10 days, these things, it moves through a phase where people are saying, 'Well, actually, what is going on here?' And it tends to be something else, like it's either the media's relationship with them, which was the case with Don Brash. Don Brash - it was the Labour Party that came out with the allegations. And then it moves to, in this case, the opposition. Then now we've got in the space of five days that it is, in fact, a conflict of interest scandal that is coming through. So- But it will only last seven-
MATT I think it's this weeks' news, but I think it's what the public now focus on is something sinister has been happening.
CLAIRE Yeah, but the other thing is that what happens is the public is very empathetic and sympathetic towards people who are the victims of a sexual political scandal, so there's no appetite for pursuing Len Brown or his family or his wife or even Bevan Chuang at this stage, actually. People really want to say, 'No, let's get back to business very quickly.' The really fascinating thing is that it always tends to bounce back against the person that came out with the information in the first place. It bounced back against Labour in the Don Brash situation. And the Bill Clinton situation, it was that people didn't like Kenneth Starr, who was pursuing him. And in this case, it's the Slaters and it's the Palinos and people like that that's the focus.
SUSAN I want to get you in on that, Michelle Boag, because there seems to be certainly in the past day or two this suggestion, this right-wing conspiracy that somehow it was going to be brought out, Len was going to be made to stand down.
MICHELLE Yeah, I think the first thing to make clear is - and I as a National Party person want to make this clear - that whatever was going on with John Palino and the Slaters is nothing to do with the National Party, and I think John Key's been very careful to distance himself from that. Now, what Matt and I were discussing earlier is is it possible that they were clever enough to be aware of this scandal, knowing that if they brought it out before the election, Len could still win and then they've lost all the impetus. If they wait until immediately after the election until the result- before the result is final and Len has to resign, John Palino automatically becomes the mayor.
SUSAN Do you think they're that clever?
MATT That was the strategy.
SUSAN Do you think they're that clever? Because no one's that clever.
MICHELLE If you had to look-
MATT We thought of it.
SUSAN You did.
MICHELLE In hindsight, you could say, in fact, that was a potentially good strategy, because there's a very good chance, in my view, that if this had come out before the election, Len would still have won, maybe with a reduced majority. So the issue is now, and this is why I think people want Len to stick around until the vote is final, if he decides to stand aside and let-
SUSAN There's been no indication of that.
MICHELLE No indication, but if he does, if there's pressure from the council, saying, 'While this investigation's going on, you stand aside.' The council gets on with its business, Penny Holst would have the support of everyone to continue, and then he's free to come back if he's cleared of anything during the investigation. But it is possible that this whole thing was planned to hit when it did.
MATT I would just, for the viewers - we get a bit jargonised about these things - is that we understand is that the election night result, then there's the swearing in and the confirmation. If the winner has to pull out for any reason, dies or resigns, then who comes second takes the place without a new election. And if you take that as the conspiracy, it was very clever.
SUSAN Mm, Corin, I'm not sure about that at all, and, in fact-
CORIN It's a pretty interesting theory.
MATT Well, why did Palino meet with Chuang the day after the election result.
SUSAN In his car park and say, 'We can't be seen together.'
MATT 'We can't be seen together.' And he said, and I believe her, 'We have to have him out by the end of the week before he's sworn in.' Now, I'm not saying he's clever, but his advisors could be.
SUSAN No, but I'm also- and I'm going to say an extraordinary thing - I believe Cameron Slater. I think he saw a great story and wanted to get it online.
MATT I think that's true with him.
SUSAN So that's where it all falls apart.
MATT No, no, no.
SUSAN I absolutely believe Cameron on that.
MATT There's always conspiracies within conspiracies.
SUSAN Conspiracy or cock-up. Anyhow, it hasn't worked, and everybody is damaged.
MICHELLE But the fact is it could've worked. It could well have been-
MATT If it had been run by the National Party, right, you would have made it work.
MICHELLE Wish I'd thought of it.
MATT These amateurs.
MICHELLE I tell you what, if I had thought of it-
MATT He's one of the amateurs.
MICHELLE &there would have been a different candidate, let me assure you, to come in second.
MATT It may not be a National Party conspiracy, but half of them are in the National Party, aren't they?
MICHELLE Yes, well, we're a broad church.
MATT And one was the former- actually, had your job.
MICHELLE Well, yes, but I beat him.
SUSAN But you can't mind your volunteers and all those other people around you. You can't manage them. We know we've had problems with this from both sides. What happens now, Claire? It cycles out? Corin's right - Len Brown will be out at school tomorrow morning. He'll be asked questions. I think he'll say, 'There's an investigation underway. I'm getting on with my job.' I'll send him my bill for that bit of PR advice. What happens? It cycles out?
CLAIRE So the last bit of the chapter will be Len Brown's wife appearing a little bit more frequently with him in public. So we saw in the newspaper this morning that they were photographed-
SUSAN For coffee.
CLAIRE &going off for coffee. That was an important - very important - symbolic move. I think we'll see a little bit more of her over the next few weeks. Yes, the investigation has to be quite quick. I think the longer that that's drawn out, then it's going to be quite damaging for him. But people just really want to get back to business and get these new councils underway and get things happening, so I think that the public interest in it will just die down.
MATT I suspect he'll- yeah, I suspect he'll do his term, you know, not in the way that he'd like it, but I do think it'll raise up about whether he'll stand again.
SUSAN But he can be a functioning mayor, can't he?
CLAIRE Oh, look how many people who have had sexual political scandals keep standing for politics.
SUSAN And in six months we're talking about something else, and he'll still be the Mayor of Auckland, most likely, it seems. Quickly, Corin, we've got Meridian coming up.
CORIN Yeah, we do. Wednesday we should get some details on the Government's book build - how they'll shape it, the price that we should get. I think one thing we can be sure of - I think John Key's made it pretty clear they'll get that 85 per cent Kiwi ownership. So politically that's the most important thing for them, but the price will be interesting.
SUSAN It will. Very good. Thank you, Corin and panel. Extra long panels today. Extra good.