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Key: Left-wing has 'given up' arguing policy

Tuesday 19 Aug 2014 8:43 a.m.

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Prime Minister John Key says the Opposition has given up fighting the Government on policy, so has decided to "play the man, not the ball".

As the fallout from Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics dominates the election campaign, Mr Key continues to deny the National Party has done anything wrong.

"We started last week with burning effigies and 'F-you John Key' videos and billboards being destroyed and parody songs and a book from Nicky Hager – this is all part of a left-wing [smear campaign]," he said on Firstline this morning.

"I'll tell you why it's happening, and it's this one single reason – the left have given up on the policy argument. They don't think they can beat the National Government on the issues of the economy, law and order, health, education, welfare reform and the environment, so what they've decided is they'll play the man, not the ball.

"Fair enough, but we're going to keep talking about the ball. Other people can keep talking about the man, and in the end we'll see who they vote for."

No polls measuring the public's intended party vote have been taken since the release of the book, but the latest 3 News-Reid Research poll – conducted the week prior – shows the gap between the left and right tightening.

Yesterday 3 News revealed Judith Collins appointed Aaron Bhatnagar to a $20,000 job on the board of the Real Estate Agents Authority. Mr Bhatnagar is accused in Dirty Politics of being the first one to find the security hole in Labour's website, and tipped off Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater, who then teamed up with Mr Key's office staffer Jason Ede to download the party's private information.

Ms Collins, already under fire for leaking the name of a civil servant to Slater, who later received death threats, is now facing increasing calls to resign.

Mr Key, who hasn't read the book, says he doesn't know if Mr Hager's accusations are true but is seeking to put some distance between Mr Bhatnagar and National.

"I'm not sure Aaron's part of the National Party these days – he might be, he certainly at one point was trying to run. I actually think he ran for ACT, actually… He was promoted actually into that role, or suggested by John Banks."

Mr Key says he doesn't know the relationship between Mr Bhatnager and Slater, but as for the blogger's connections with National – particularly the close links he has with Mr Ede detailed in Dirty Politics – Mr Key says Slater has the same connections with journalists and Labour.

"Apparently he talks to half of the Labour Party caucus. He'll be talking to journalists at TV3. Now you can make the same case. Now at the end of the day he runs his own ship. We don't control him… This is a free world. I can't stop people having blog sites."

Because Slater allegedly has connections with Labour, Mr Key says the fact Mr Hager chose not to publish any of the blogger's emails that would look bad for the Opposition proves it's a "left-wing smear campaign".

"If Nicky Hager wanted to go out there and write a book about 'dirty politics' and he wanted to include Mike Williams, the Labour president, going off to dig dirt on me; if they wanted to include the secret taping of our cocktail party; if they wanted to include going through my financial records and doing all sorts of things, which the left have been running a campaign for 10 years; you'd at least be able to say well, it's a balanced perspective. But the reality is they don't."

Yesterday saw the release of screenshots taken from Slater's email, via a Twitter account called @whaledump. The images were hosted on cloud storage site mega.co.nz, which was founded by Kim Dotcom.

"Kind of spooky, isn't it?" says Mr Key.

Dotcom no longer has any involvement with the day-to-day running of mega.co.nz – in fact, the largest shareholder in the company is a Hong Kong-based National Party donor, Shen Zhao Wu, according to the National Business Review – while former National Party president Michelle Boag is on the payroll as public relations advisor. 

Dirty Politics reveals 'new low' for NZ - Cunliffe

Labour leader David Cunliffe says voters will get more smear campaigns if National wins re-election.

Mr Cunliffe says he does speak to left-wing bloggers, but it's a clear contrast to what he calls "systematic smearing and denigration of individuals" outlined in Dirty Politics.

"I trust New Zealanders to understand the difference between what we are trying to do here, which is to make life better for them, and the machinery which has been exposed on the right of politics which I think is a new low for New Zealand," he said on Breakfast this morning.

"And if New Zealanders don't stand up to it and say they don't want it, then they'll get more of it and it'll get worse."

As for Ms Collins' actions outlined in the book, Mr Cunliffe says it is "completely inappropriate and unbecoming of a minister, let alone the Minister of Justice... it beggars belief that she is still in office."

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