Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8 am: Barclay probe relaunched; Labour's intern mess; Govt soft on competition reform

The start of question time was again dominated by the Todd Barclay affair - and Prime Minister Bill English hitting back at Labour over its intern scheme. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

In today's email we detail the latest in the political dramas dogging both National and Labour, and look into plans to allow the Commerce Commission to conduct market studies.

1. Police probe re-launched

Any hopes Todd Barclay and the Government might have had that the secret recordings affair might drift off into the news ether were dashed yesterday by both the police and fresh revelations from Newsroom.

Assistant Commissioner for Investigations Richard Chambers announced the police had "commenced a re-investigation of allegations that the private communications of an individual were intercepted by Mr Todd Barclay."

Chambers said the decision came after the assessment of a range of information put out in public over the last week and that police had already started talking to about number of people about the case.

He declined further comment and would not put a time-frame on the re-investigation.

Then Newsroom's Melanie Reid reported later in the day that Parliamentary officials knew details of the Barclay tapes and confirmed their content to the lawyer of the woman he clandestinely recorded.

Labour Leader Andrew Little picked up the article in Parliamentary question time, asking Bill English: "Given the contents of the tapes have now been revealed to concern Todd Barclay and sex and drug matters, does he accept the tapes exist, and when was he aware of their contents?"

English responded: "I have no comment to add to what comments have been made. But the member should, I would hope, be as forensic with his own statements about the free foreign labour."

English repeatedly attacked Little over Labour's foreign intern scheme in answers to questions about the Barclay affair.

2. Labour's intern mess

Little was also in the firing line again in his pre-caucus news conference over Labour's foreign intern programme, which was organised by Little's former chief of staff Matt McCarten.

Little described the programme as embarrassing for the party and said that it had gotten "wildly out of control."

He said the idea was raised with him at the beginning of the year, but had been left to the Party and McCarten.

"The next thing was when the complaints came in and I was briefed probably 10 days ago about that, and I said that if there were issues abut their wellbeing and this was being done in the name of the party, we step in and we take responsibility and take control, and that’s what we spent last week doing," he said.

Little described McCarten's plans to bring in a US reverend to unify the Ratana and Pasifika churches as "fantasy world" stuff.

He said Labour Council member Paul Chambers had voluntarily stepped down over the issue and a party investigation was now going on.

Party Secretary Andrew Kirton announced late yesterday that two of the interns had not obtained working holiday visas and chose to leave the programme last week. The rest have valid working holiday visas, he said.

3. Govt bails on Section 36 reform

Elsewhere in actual policy news, the Government quietly announced plans to allow the Commerce Commission to conduct market studies, but also rejected advice from the Productivity Commission about toughening section 36 of the Commerce Act to improve competition.

Three years after launching a review of section 36 around the misuse of market power, new Commerce Minister Jacqui Dean (a minister outside cabinet) announced that the Government would continue reviewing Section 36.

"While the consultation process has demonstrated that Section 36 does not work perfectly for some types of conduct, it is not yet clear whether an alternative test would benefit competition or consumers," Dean said.

“Officials will continue to look into this and will report back in mid-2018 before decisions are made regarding section 36,” she said.

The Government has been reviewing Section 36 since June 2014. The Commerce Commission has recommended reform to toughen up section 36, which deals with abuse of market power. The way the courts have interpreted the law has made it very difficult for the Commission to prosecute those abusing market power because of the use of a counter-factual test.

4. Numbers and names of the day

$50 billion - The size of the Maori economy, as referred to in a Chapman Tripp report out today on trends and insights on the sector - Te Ao Maori.

$103 million - The trade surplus for the month May, as measured by Statistics New Zealand. This was smaller than the consensus forecast for around $420 million, due to stronger than expected oil imports.

6 - The number of founder incubators awarded one and two year contracts by Callaghan Innovation in an effort to expand them into regional New Zealand. They include The Icehouse, ZeroPoint Ventures, SODA Inc, Creative HQ, BCC and ecentre.

5. Quote of the day

A Southland Times Editorial on the Barclay saga and the damage to Bill English's standing:

"Politics is not a game in which bluffing and misdirection are to be placidly accepted as tactical necessities. Especially when straightforwardness is such an important part of your brand. It's a brand English himself has perceptibly debased."

6. While you were sleeping

Relations between America and China appear to be souring.

After an early positive start when Donald Trump and Xi Jingping met at Mar-a-lago, the glow of better relations is fading. Trump tweeted last week that China had not helped with North Korea and overnight Congressional sources told Reuters the United States plans to place China on its global list of worst offenders in human trafficking, which is expected to heighten tensions between two of New Zealand's top four trading partners.

Officials also told Reuters that America was also considering trade sanctions against China, including tariffs on steel imports. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asked our Trade Minister Todd McClay about New Zealand's own inquiry into Chinese steel dumping when they met earlier this month, as Sam Sachdeva reported at the time.

Trump's agenda suffered another blow overnight when Republicans were forced to delay a vote to repeal Obamacare after a revolt against a senate Republican bill from both ends of the party.

7. Coming up...

Newsroom's Foreign Affairs and Trade reporter Sam Sachdeva will be covering the formal handing over of credentials today by the new US ambassador to New Zealand, Scott Brown, who will also hold a news conference. Here's Sam's profile on Brown on Newsroom Pro.

Universities New Zealand's executive director Chris Whelan and Auckland University Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon will be appearing before the Education Select Committee this morning. Newsroom's National Affairs Editor Shane Cowlishaw will be covering the select committee.

8. Two fun things

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards
tweeted in this jest this morning after the EU fined Google 2.4 billion euros for anti-competitive practices:

"I've been underpitching my calls for stronger regulatory powers!"

The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold reported that Donald Trump hung fake Time magazine covers up as pictures in four of his golf clubs.