Concerning behaviour from Labour minister’s attempt to waive the law for a friend

Matthew Hooton writes on Facebook: Quote:

This scandal is far, far worse than the previous government’s dealings with Warner Bros, Sky City or the Saudi sheik because – on the face of it – there doesn’t appear to be any argument the public interest was involved.

It seems that an attempt was made to insert a clause into a government bill solely and specifically to favour a property development being led by a friend and business associate of the Economic Development Minister.

One of the lobbyists who successfully secured the clause was, until a few months ago, actually working as Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister.

Congratulations to Speaker Trevor Mallard for putting a stop to the scam by refusing to allow the clause to be considered by parliament and put into law.

If this involved, say, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, and one of his friends and business associates, with Mark Unsworth doing the lobbying after, say, Roger Sowry had spent five months working as Chief of Staff for John Key, and Speaker Lockwood Smith intervening to stop it, it would be by far the major news story in New Zealand for days, there would be demands for Auditor General, Privileges Committee, SFO and police inquiries, and we would still be hearing about it months or years later, and rightly so.

But I suspect it is unlikely you will hear much about it in the daily media because the Prime Minister is having a baby soon. End quote.

He is referring to the revelations on Politik website by Richard Harman:?Quote:

Questions are being asked about how a group of Labour MPs on a Select? Committee agreed to grant an exemption from the? overseas buyers? ban to a luxury Northland property development where sections are valued at up to $4.5 million each.

The exemption has now been removed for procedural reasons? but?how it? got where it did raises some intriguing questions.

They are accentuated because the inclusion is so unusual, particularly for a Labour Government, to grant what in effect was a special favour to wealthy property developers.

Labour disputes that and says it was actually granting a favour to the local iwi who stood to be substantially disadvantaged if the development did not go ahead.

But POLITIK has found that the iwi have only a minority interest in the development.

On the face of it, the exemption flew in the face of everything Labour has been saying about property development since it became the Government.

For example, only 12 days ago, the Minister in charge of the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill, which implements the ban, David Parker, said this:

“We want the prices of New Zealand homes, whether it be a lakeside station, the best houses in the Bay of Islands or the modest homes in our?towns and cities, to be set by local buyers, not on the international market,” he said.

“It’s also a matter of values. We believe New Zealand homes should not be traded on an international market and New Zealanders should not be outbid by wealthier foreign buyers.”

But that is precisely what the developers of Te Arai are intending with their building lots which have rating valuations of up to $4.5 million each being offered on the international market.

Also worrying was that the exemption was granted to only one development; a point the Speaker was later to fasten on pointing out that the possibility of an exemption had not been offered to other developers.?End quote.

Yes, Trevor Mallard referenced this when he sent the bill back to committee to have the amendments expunged.

It seems that Richard Harman was the only gallery journalist awake when that happened and so he went digging. Quote:

Speaker Trevor Mallard has ruled that the inclusion of the exemption for Te Arai was improper for procedural reasons.

There were other ways the exemption could probably have been granted, he said.

But even though the Committee was advised what it was doing in recommending the exemption was improper and even though the Opposition opposed it, the Committee went ahead and recommended it.

Mallard, however, appeared to excuse them.

?I appreciate that the amendment was made by the Finance and Expenditure Committee at the request of the landowner in order to preserve the value of the land purchased as commercial redress following Treaty of Waitangi settlements,? he said.

?The committee was motivated by a desire to assist and to be fair to the landowner.?

It would appear that Parliament was under the misapprehension that this development was essentially an iwi development when in fact it was a high priced luxury development 75 per cent owned by a property development company that boasts of having completed $2 billion of developments.

There is another casual link between Te Arai and the Government — Te Arai?s public relations consultant is David Lewis, a former press secretary to Helen Clark and business partner of Gordon-John Thompson who filled in as Jacinda Ardern?s Chief of Staff when the Government was being formed.

What all this adds up to is what Parliamentary insiders would call an ?untidy? process

Was it because Parliament misunderstood who really owned Te Arai that led to the exemption being granted and did Parker know what was going on.

Did he know people he knew were deeply involved in getting the exemption?

In a way, it doesn?t matter because Mallard has struck the exemption from the Bill.

But the opposition may not see it that way, they may well want to pursue this matter further.?End quote.

And they should pursue it, because it smells very whiffy indeed.