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Chris Ford: Dirty deeds - Dunne dirt cheap!

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

 In the wake of Peter Dunne's resignation as a Cabinet minister I can't but help think of the old AC/DC classic song Dirty Deeds. This song contained the immortal lyrics "Dirty deeds - done dirt cheap!" I know, it's lame to substitute the word "done" for "Dunne" but almost blogger and journo has been having fun by punning Peter Dunne's name today.

I thought to myself why not join in the fun?

Seriously, Dunne deserves to be lampooned for his behaviour this past week. It has been so unbecoming a man whom, until recently, was a fairly decent bloke by parliamentary standards (and that's saying something.)

First off, he gets accused, in a classic act of political utu (that even Aaron Gilmore couldn't manage) by Winston Peters of leaking the Kitteridge Report into illegal spying at the GCSB. Then came the news from the Electoral Commission that Dunne's party is officially no longer a party. It's more a one person band and shrinking at that by all accounts. 

Second, upon hearing this news, the Nats agreed to help poor old Dunne out by continuing to recognise his party for parliamentary purposes. Actually, this harks back to what National did in recognising former Alliance MP, the late Alamein Koopu's, Mana Wahine Party back in 1998! At that time, the Nats majority was precarious too and they decided to keep Alamein sweet by recognising her endless coterie of spin doctors! The Nats, even then, tricked Alamein into believing that she was an important political figure when, really, she wasn't. It was a sad but torrid affair that helped cost National the next election.

When compared with Koopu, though, Dunne is no fool. However, he has even let his supposedly angelic political standards slip this week. I and every other New Zealander who follows politics am hard pressed to believe Dunne's explanation that he simply 'considered' leaking the GCSB report to Sunday Star-Times journalist Andrea Vance. Come on, Peter, either you did or you didn't? And the text of those 86 emails from Dunne which had, as David Henry's report on the GCSB report leak states "considerable" content about the case contained within them? Frankly, I'm hard pressed to believe Dunne's denials any further on the basis of the evidence now emerging into the public arena.

What does get me though about the leak is that it's not so much the leak itself, but the fact that he (or his minions) have been so amateur about it. I say on this several counts. First, other politicians (including Cabinet ministers) have done this for years and, in many cases, have gotten away with it! Second, the high profile and sensitive nature of the GCSB's spying activities have caught Dunne out too but still he should have been more careful if he wanted to play modern day Wellington's version of Deep Throat. Third, within this context, the Government should have spared Dunne the trouble, been more transparent, and released the report in full. Fourth, at the end of the day, if Dunne was the leaker, then it may have been that keeping the report (compiled with taxpayer money after all - and Dunne was Revenue Minister) under wraps could have been the thing that pissed him off the most. In that case, I would have sympathised with Dunne's rationale. I would also have sympathised with the fact that (if he was the actual leaker) Dunne was taking a risk in trying not to be caught red handed with all the legal implications this could have for him.

Overall, though, Dunne has mishandled everything badly from start to finish - the handling of the leak, the handling of the implosion of his party, the handling of the Speaker's ruling. I'm sure that this is not the way he envisaged his political swan song but due to, as even he admitted this afternoon, his "poor judgement" that's the way it's going to end. And Dunne could even be forced out prior to the election (perhaps within the next few months) if his party fails to re-register. This could happen as National could administer the last rites by asking Dunne to vacate his seat, especially if the Nats feel they could win it in a (close) by-election.*

Whatever Dunne's future now, he may have fully exposed the dirty deeds of the GCSB - but he's done this dirt cheap and to his own cost!

*The Nats, if they could gain Dunne's Ohariu in a very close by-election fight with Labour, could gain one extra seat to take their number from 59 to 60. I would guess that most of Peter Dunne's vote could go to National in what was once (until Dunne took it for Labour in 1984) a safe Tory seat. When Dunne's vote is added to Katrina Shanks' strong electorate vote, this could tip the balance. Furthermore, the Nats polled 49% of the party vote in Ohariu and this could strengthen its claim to return to the Tory fold. Conversely, Labour would (if they fielded a strong candidate) keep the margin as close to National on the electorate vote as Charles Chauvel (who left Parliament earlier this year) did for them at the last election. For this reason, the Nats may choose to keep Dunne happy for another year but this will be to their electoral cost!



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