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Selwyn Manning State Of It: Does DJ John’s Defence Stack Up?

Opinion – STATE OF IT by Selwyn Manning

State Of It: After a hellish week where the Maori Party threatened to walk, the PM John Key’s appearance as DJ John on Radio Live has been deemed allegedly unlawful under electoral law. Some people may think this is trivial. I disagree. Here’s why.

State Of It: Does The DJ John Defence Stack Up?

Analysis – By Selwyn Manning, Video by Glenn Williams

Syndicated by It may prove to be a late Summer of discontent for the National-Led Government.

On the back of a hellish week where its very close friend the Maori Party threatened to walk out on its executive government deal – the Prime Minister John Key’s appearance as DJ John on Radio Live (during the election period last year) has been deemed allegedly unlawful under New Zealand’s electoral laws.

Video interview recorded live on @RadioWammo by Glenn Williams.

Some people may think this is trivial.

I disagree. Here’s why.

When the Prime Minister and his media team decided to accept an invitation to appear on Radio Live on September 30, they clearly knew it would be pushing the parameters of the electoral law.

The evidence for this in my view is the pre-emptive position the Prime Minister took – that is to label the show a zero-politics-zone.

The label was an indication that he and his team were well aware they were about to embark on shaky (if not dodgy) legal ground.

The Prime Minister appears to believe he did breach the electoral law. But, with respect, it is not for him to judge. And surely, a Prime Minister must not just be seen to operate within the law, but also to embrace the spirit of the law – irrespective of whether or not he agrees with its premise.

By simple definition of his title, John Key is the most powerful politician in the land. His whole being is political, the public’s regard for his competency is connected to his political ability, his vision for New Zealand is political, the means of establishing that vision is political, as is his connection and relationship with the people of New Zealand.

Everything this man does, while assuming the role of Prime Minister, is political.

John Key cannot hide behind his popularity and say for convenience-sake that he turned up to Radio Live as an individual. He cannot rest on a claim that his Radio Live gig was legal due to him assuming his DJ John persona – a sort of John Key disguised as a non-politician identity.

To rest one’s argument on such a premise is incongruous.

It may be that these points led the Electoral Commission to determine the DJ John gig was allegedly unlawful, that it took place within the electoral law’s strict three month advertising control period, that these issues led it to refer the matter to the Police.

But, as it stands, the Electoral Commission laid a complaint to the Police against Radio Live, rather than lodge a complaint against the Prime Minister.

Now, in the fallout from this embarrassing affair, Radio Live may face a fine of up to $100,000.

So what do the politicians say?

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters suggests that the Electoral Commission should have referred John Key to the Police, as it did Radio Live.

Peters says the gig was a political stunt, and therefore John Key should also be investigated.

The Prime Minister did not attend question time in Parliament yesterday, rather it was left to Gerry Brownlee to defend Key’s position. But this is what was said…

During question time, the Prime Minister was asked by Labour’s Grant Robertson:

    See: Question Time – In The House 0:04 to 2:30

    Grant Robertson: Did he or his office seek or receive advice from the Electoral Commission on whether the “hour with the PM” show could breach electoral broadcasting law; if so, what did that advice say?

    Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am informed the Prime Minister’s office discussed the matter with the broadcaster. Radio Live, I understand, then sought advice from the Electoral Commission. After receiving that advice, Radio Live decided to go forward with the programme.

    Grant Robertson: Will the Prime Minister be declaring the value of an hour of free radio time as a donation, as required under the Electoral Act?

    Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Prime Minister has no obligations under the Electoral Act.

    Grant Robertson: Has the Prime Minister received any advice as to the value of an hour’s air time on Radio Live, and was this reflected in the declaration of donations for that period?

    Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am unable to answer that question at this point.

    Grant Robertson: If the show was an election-free zone, as the Prime Minister has said, and he was not there for the purpose of getting electoral advantage for himself and the National Party, what reason did he actually have for hosting the show?

    Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of New Zealanders find everything he says just fascinating.

    Grant Robertson: Has he or his office sought advice as to whether he has abetted a crime under section 66 of the Crimes Act by hosting the “hour with the PM” on Radio Live?

    Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: This matter is currently referred to the police. The police are investigating Radio Live in this matter.

What stands out is the answer: “The Prime Minister has no obligations under the Electoral Act.”

One can only guess the statement refers to “no obligation” to front on this issue to Parliament – it may be a different story should the Police knock on the Prime Minister’s door and seek an interview.

This week’s was hardly a commanding performance by a very popular and powerful Government. For National, the whole issue is embarrassing. But is it damaging?

What National will be most sensitive of is whether these irritations damage its populist brand.

Remember, for political strategists, the game-plan now is designed to affect the medium to long term brand, as opposed to short-term sensitivities that we were witness to in last year’s election year.

The National Party strategists (and indeed those jockeying within its caucus and Cabinet) will be evaluating whether Key’s popularity is, and has been, out of control. Certainly, this affair is an indication that popularity can be dangerous when used to the extreme. The question remains unanswered however whether the Prime Minister’s popularity will eventually lead to contempt, and if so, by whom.

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