The Jones and Liu report

March 12th, 2013 at 2:37 pm by David Farrar

The Auditor-General has reported their findings into the decision by to grant citizenship against official advice. This is a matter of discretion for the Minister so it never has been about whether the decision was legal.

Here are some extracts from the report:

Mr Barker acted properly in deciding that he could not make the citizenship decision for Mr Liu, but we do not consider it was wise for him to have signed the letter – at least in that form. We appreciate that the letter was one of many pieces of correspondence that a Minister has to deal with in the course of a busy week, and that it related to procedure rather than any substantive decision. Nonetheless, it created an impression that Mr Barker would be taking a personal interest in Mr Liu’s file. 

Mr Barker would have been better either to amend the letter to make clear that he would not be personally involved in the file or to arrange for someone else to sign the letter.

It is worth noting that signing a letter on an issue regarding someone you had a personal connection with, was sufficient grounds for Nick Smith to resign as a Minister. Of course Barker was defeated at the 2008 election.

Mr Jones had significant concerns about the advice he was given, but did not take steps to clarify that advice with other officials. He also knew that both the New Zealand Police and Immigration New Zealand were still actively investigating Mr Liu, but did not consult those agencies before making his decision. In keeping with his usual approach for ministerial decisions, he wanted to make a final decision.

A serious mistake.

He did not record the reasons for his decision, and Mr Liu’s advisers were notified of his decision before the Department was notifed.

That is appalling. Liu got told before the Department was even told! This shows he had special access.

This effectively deprived officials of an opportunity they might otherwise have had to correct the misunderstandings on which Mr Jones’ decision was based.

I still can’t believe he told Liu before he told his own department.

One recommendation is:

We recommend that the Department of Internal Affairs and the Minister record the reasons for any significant decisions they make on citizenship applications, particularly when the decision involves a departure from normal policy or procedure. 

Recording the reasons for decisions is important to ensure transparency. It also provides an important protection if  concerns are raised that the decision has been made for an improper purpose. 

This has always been my major criticism of Jones. If you are going to go against a recommendation, a semi-competent Minister should do a file note and state why.

Now Jones did produce a three page file note to the Auditor-General. But because it was not attached to the official files, and not recorded in any official way, it is impossible to know if the file note was written at the time, or written some time later after the story blew up. The fact that the DIA official involved states the file note is inaccurate in parts damages the credibility of this claimed file note. The whole purpose of a file note is to attach it to the file.

We recommend that a Minister considering making a citizenship decision against the advice of officials should explain their reasons, and give officials the opportunity to respond, before finalising the decision. 

Although ultimately the decision is for the Minister to make, this additional step would give officials the opportunity to confirm that the proposed decision is within the terms of the Citizenship Act 1977 and is not based on any misunderstanding of relevant policies or the facts.

And it goes without saying don’t tell the mate of your mate before you tell your own officials.

Some interesting stuff also on the Cunliffe decision:

The advice provided to Mr Cunliffe by officials, in particular the advice provided by the senior legal adviser in August 2007, conveyed, in reasonably strong terms, that it was open for the Minister to revoke Mr Liu’s residency. We were told that Immigration does not usually provide advice that strongly advocates that the Minister should make a particular decision. The strongly worded advice on this occasion was not common.

In other words, it was not a marginal call in the eyes of the Department.

In our view, this decision was made in an appropriate way. It represented a sensible way in which the difficult decisions arising from unproven allegations could be addressed. The reasons for the Minister’s decision were made clear, and were formally recorded on the file in the way that was understood. 

Also, although the Department’s effective recommendation was not being followed, the decision-making process shows that Mr Cunliffe addressed the issues with considerable thought and care. There was no evidence of favouritism or that the Minister made the decision for improper reasons.

And this is the key difference between Cunliffe and Jones. Cunliffe documented his decision. This sounds a minor thing, but as the AG says is very important. When there is no reason given, and the person is a donor to your political party, then how can we know it was not because Dover told his mate Shane that this guy was a donor and they should look after him?

The detailed conclusions around the decision are:

We acknowledge that Mr Jones gave considerable thought to Mr Liu’s application, and that, in his view, it was important to make a decision reasonably promptly. 

However, in our view, he made his decision too hastily and without ensuring that he had a full understanding of all the relevant information. In particular, Mr Jones either did not understand or did not accept the Department’s advice that neither section 8 nor section 9 of the Citizenship Act were applicable.

A Minister who made decisions based either on ignorance or refusal to listen.

In our view, given that he knew there were ongoing investigations by Immigration and the New Zealand Police, he should also have consulted them before making his decision, as the Investigator’s note of the first meeting suggested he was intending to do.

Absolutely.

We also consider that Mr Jones should have recorded his reasons for authorising the grant of citizenship. He was making a decision against the Department’s recommendation, and the basis for his decision and reasons for departing from normal policy would not have been obvious from the papers. Indeed, on the face of the decision-making papers, it was not even clear under which section of the Citizenship Act he had authorised the grant.

Shane Jones is incredibly talented, but also notoriously lazy and sloppy. He has the potential to make a significant contribution to NZ Politics, and may get that opportunity to do so again as a frontbencher for Labour. But to succeed, he is going to have to make sure there is never a repeat of a situation like this.

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20 Responses to “The Jones and Liu report”

  1. Chuck Bird (4,913 comments) says:

    Two strikes – one to go.

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  2. Colville (2,318 comments) says:

    A Minister who made decisions based either on ignorance or refusal to listen.

    Or a strong desire that the flow of funding for his Party not be stopped.

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  3. Manolo (14,179 comments) says:

    Shame Jones will be feeling blue today. Time to watch a few videos of the same colour.

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  4. oob (192 comments) says:

    This report is a whitewash. A tortuous cover up of obvious corruption.

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  5. Chris2 (775 comments) says:

    Now that the AG’s report has been released the proper thing would be for the Government to revoke Liu’s citizenship, which it has the power to do.

    Is this discussed in the report?

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  6. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    It is worth noting that signing a letter on an issue regarding someone you had a personal connection with, was sufficient grounds for Nick Smith to resign as a Minister

    Isn’t Smith the Minister for Conservation and Housing?

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  7. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    Suggestions have been made that Mr Jones’ decision was influenced by Mr
    Liu’s connections with some of Mr Jones’ colleagues and associates, or by his
    investments in the fishing industry (an industry with which Mr Jones has longstanding
    associations).
    We found no evidence to support this. There is no evidence of any direct
    association between Mr Liu’s investments and any interests Mr Jones might have,
    or that Mr Liu’s connections with Mr Jones’ colleagues and associates played a
    particular part in the decision that was reached.

    Hmmm that’s contrary to what DPF and others have suggested was the case. It’s nice to have that matter cleared up.

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  8. backster (2,196 comments) says:

    There seems an extremely strong circumstantial case of corruption to me, still no stronger than that in the Bain murder case I guess., so perhaps there is a chance that yet another David could make the Labour Front Bench.

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  9. eszett (2,450 comments) says:

    Funnily enough, you left out this extract, despite it being on page one:

    We found no evidence that there was any improper motive, collusion, or political interference in the decision to authorise citizenship for Mr Liu. However, the combination of unusual circumstances and decisions associated with this case meant that it was not surprising that questions started to be asked. We found reason to criticise most of those involved in different aspects of the decision-making process. In the public sector, decisions not only have to be right, they have to be seen to be right.

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  10. James Stephenson (2,268 comments) says:

    We found no evidence that…

    Translation: We, like the police, would really rather not make any difficult calls around allegations of corruption, so we made sure not to find any difficult evidence.

    How overdue does an Aussie-style Independent Commission Against Corruption have to be before we get one?

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  11. mara (770 comments) says:

    ” is notoriously lazy and sloppy …” I agree David Farrar, so why is this sloppy person still on the public teat? Could it possibly be because he is part Maori, and is comfortable using l..o..n.. g words .. Some other useless “ethnic folk” we could all name slip into the “forget the quality, check the racial quotient” category. Just heard Jones on Larry Williams radio program 5.10 pm . Potential? Yep, he is middle aged and we are still waiting.. waiting .. waiting. for the maturity. Will he burst out of an egg or cake when he is finally worth the expense? How will we know?

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  12. SPC (5,678 comments) says:

    Jones on TV informs us about himself in the third person – so soon his high opinion of his vindicated personhood is revealed.

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  13. mara (770 comments) says:

    SPC it took me a life time to realise that all aspirents to power are assholes by the very nature of their wanting to control others.

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  14. Reid (16,740 comments) says:

    What I love is the disingenuous way Jones in his press conference on Stuff is blaming the officials who aren’t allowed to give their side of the story. Through subtle but clearly deliberate language the guy is trying to pretend the officials didn’t really tell him that someone who has multiple identities and criminal convictions is NOT a suitable candidate for citizenship and therefore he isn’t really responsible, even though he’s man enough to take it on the chin, just like a real leader does.

    This is the OAG’s section that reviews the INZ inputs.

    Notice the Aussies declined his residency application. Notice that he had two passports. In Immigration, lying about your identity is extremely serious because it goes to the heart of the integrity of any decision immigration makes. Two passports is normally sufficient to decline an application, because why the heck would you run 2 passports unless you have something to hide? So Liu had an interpol alert out on him, the Aussies turned him down, and he had 2 passports.

    The advice provided to Mr Cunliffe by officials, in particular the advice provided by the senior legal adviser in August 2007, conveyed, in reasonably strong terms, that it was open for the Minister to revoke Mr Liu’s residency. We were told that Immigration does not usually provide advice that strongly advocates that the Minister should make a particular decision. The strongly worded advice on this occasion was not common.

    This may be, and who knows, but may be, because the information they had from intelligence from Interpol etc, indicated serious wrongdoing and backed up the allegations. This may be, and who knows, why the Aussies turned him down.

    It was a clear case of: this guy is very very very very sus, don’t do this. And Cunliffe didn’t.

    Then check out Internal Affairs.

    Then check out what happened when Jones got involved:

    6.9 The submission and file were delivered to Mr Jones’ office on 14 July 2008 by the Investigator who had largely been responsible for managing Mr Liu’s file and for drafting the submission.

    6.10 The Investigator told us he wanted to hand-deliver the submission and file because they contained classified information, but that he was not expecting to discuss them with Mr Jones (other than perhaps providing a short briefing). He told us it was not part of his normal role to brief the Minister. If the Minister wanted to discuss an application, the officials who would normally be called to the Minister’s office were the General Manager of Citizenship or Head of Legal.

    6.11 However, as matters transpired, there was a more extensive briefing. The meeting between Mr Jones and the Investigator lasted about one hour. It was the first of two meetings Mr Jones had with Department officials about Mr Liu’s application.

    Dept officials who were no doubt saying more or less the same thing: don’t give this guy residency or citizenship, he’s a crook, no we don’t have proof because he hasn’t yet been tried in a recognised court but the Aussies knew it this is why they turned him down and this is the classified information which you can’t talk about but here it is.

    And the rest is history. Read the whole report if you want a genuine look at corruption in our political process. Jones, who I used to admire for his formidable political skills, isn’t morally fit to be a public attendant in a toilet block.

    And Jones has the bare-faced cheek to sit there today in media interviews and try to spread the blame onto the officials. Which just proves my point.

    IF we have a decent media, and we all know we don’t but IF we did, they’d be all over this report like a rash picking it apart in column after column and they would hound Jones from office and expose the warped and corrupt thinking in the 5th Liarbore govt which resulted in this decision. This isn’t big enough to be a watergate, although it could be, if that corruption reaches to the PM, which who knows, it might.

    But will they do that? Of course not. By next week, it’ll have just died away as the news cycle moves on but mark my words, IF we have any decent media in this country, there is extremely fertile ground for a huge story, in this little report, released on a quiet Tuesday so it disappears down the memory hole by this coming weekend.

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  15. Johnboy (17,051 comments) says:

    I haven’t really being keeping up with the news.

    Did the Auditor General say Shane wasn’t a wanker after all?

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  16. Reid (16,740 comments) says:

    Did the Auditor General say Shane wasn’t a wanker after all?

    I understand that was in a early draft Johnboy but they made her take it out.

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  17. Urban Redneck (234 comments) says:

    It just goes to reinforce the notion of how massively standards of expected behaviour by our MP’s has slipped. Huge errors of judgement in this Bill Liu debacle coupled with beating himself off to grubby movies paid for by “us” and he still gets a pass. What a disgrace. The man has a Slateresque utter lack of shame.

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  18. TMC (64 comments) says:

    Reid – I heard Shearer on the radio this morning placing half the blame on bad advice from “Jr officials”. Why can’t they comment on the issue? Would be good to get their side – even if they agreed. Shearer and Jones are just following a well scripted PR routine. “Cite a casual, loose but energetic personality…people can relate…no one likes draconian processes…take the hit…move on…people will forget….” But to blame the officials was a bit of a surprise. That’s a Clark move isn’t it? And then they can’t even comment, even to agree and shoulder some of the blame???

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  19. alex Masterley (1,538 comments) says:

    I have dealt on a professional basis with one of the “officials” that Mr Jones criticises. The individual in question is a concientious person who undertakes his duties in a concientious and effect manner and unusually was a pleasure to deal with.

    What ever spin is put on the AG’s report by Mr Jones’ supporters, the reality is that spin simply shows it is not possible to polish a turd.

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  20. pearlgal (25 comments) says:

    So what now? This Chinese criminal gets to keep his citizenship because of some stupid slip ups of Shane Jones?
    How is this fair for the genuine and honest people who want residency in New Zealand? What message is New Zealand sending to the rest of the world? John Key is gutless and a coward because he doesn’t have the balls to revoke Bill Liu’s residency just because he is a millionaire? Why have Immigration Laws but the law makers themselves are not abiding by them? What a joke!
    Being an immgrant, I cannot get over what the politicians can get away in this country and have no accountability. Who is going to listen the rest of us who are not politicians? I really hope the media will help to promote justice in this country and deal with John Key who is gutless to make a decision to send this Chinese criminal packing! What kind of leader is John Key?
    Media please help and not let this matter laid to rest. Thanks.

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