Summer reissue: Has Michelle Boag finally gone too far? It won’t be the first time the question has been asked of New Zealand’s infamous right-wing PR consultant.
First published on July 9, 2020
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On Tuesday night, news broke that Michelle Boag had provided private Covid-19 patient information to National MP Hamish Walker, who in turn leaked it to the media. She had apparently been privy to those records owing to her role as acting CEO on the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, a position she has since resigned, along with her roles on National deputy leader Nikki Kaye’s electorate and campaign committees.
It’s a lot of drama. But Boag is rarely far from drama.
Boag has been a National Party activist since the 1970s, joining prime minister Robert Muldoon’s press office in 1976, and later being press officer for leader of the opposition Jim McLay. She later worked in public relations, founding Boag Allan SvG, a “strategic communications consultancy”, and has run (unsuccessful) mayoral campaigns for both Victoria Crone and John Tamihere. She also has ties to organisations such as the Salvation Army, Auckland Rugby, NZ Breast Cancer Foundation and the Eden Park Trust.
The following is a non-exhaustive collection of just some of the notable incidents that Boag has been involved with throughout her colourful career.
1994: Michelle Boag misleads the winebox inquiry
During the winebox inquiry in the 90s, Michelle Boag misled the Davison Commission over secretly filming then-and-current New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.
As a TVNZ board member and PR consultant for Fay Richwhite, Boag brought in a non-accredited television crew to be present at the inquiry. Her reason? Her clients Fay Richwhite wanted a filmed record of the court proceedings. “Every time Winston Peters said something, we didn’t know what he was going to say next – and we were intensely interested in what he was saying.”
In a speech to parliament in 2001, Peters revealed the crew was there to film a witness so that the opposing counsel would have an edge over that witness the following day. Peters later went after Boag when she was made president of the National Party in 2001 in a speech to parliament: “It says something about the National Party of today that they could even consider voting for someone who was found to have misled a Crown Inquiry and who deliberately sought to undermine the course of justice.”
2001: Michelle Boag is elected as National Party President
In July 2001, Boag was elected as the National Party President after she campaigned for the job with the slogan “stop the rot”. In an interview with the Herald a month after her election, she admitted she only got the job because the party wanted change. Her role, as she saw it, was “to rattle cages” and to remove the “dead wood”.
2002: Michelle Boag resigns as National Party president
After the National Party recorded its worst ever result – 20.93% of the vote – under Bill English, she resigned as president a year ahead of schedule. MP Maurice Williamson is said to have led the charge against her, saying it was “time to lance the boil on the bottom of the National Party”.
2006: Michelle Boag asks rescue helicopter to retrieve passport
One morning in February 2006, Michelle Boag realised that she had left her passport at her Waiheke home. With only a few hours until her flight to Australia, she called the Westpac Australia rescue helicopter to fetch it for her.
At the time, Michelle Boag was chair of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Foundation. The chopper, with its mandatory three-person crew, flew from Mechanics Bay to Waiheke and then to the helipad near the international terminal in Auckland.
The total cost of the flight was $4000, which Boag promptly paid.
2011: Michelle Boag acts as ‘support person’ to ACC whistleblower
In December 2011, Boag acted as a support person for whistleblower Browwyn Pullar during a meeting where the latter told ACC that there had been a privacy breach – namely that she had inadvertently been sent the details of 6500 claims. A report to then minister Judith Collins alleged that Pullar threatened to tell media of the breach, one of 45, if she wasn’t guaranteed two years on a benefit.
At the time, Boag said her recollection of the meeting was that an ACC staff member had suggested the arrangement; if Pullar returned the information, the benefit would be guaranteed. Boag said that she and Pullar had urged an investigation of the privacy breach “for the sake of your ministry, your board, your CEO”.
In a letter to Collins that was leaked to the Herald on Sunday, Boag said it was significant that ACC did not warn management or the minister until after the breach became public. “I am a supporter of this Government and I also call Nick Smith a friend. I don’t want him embarrassed. I have friends on the ACC board. I do not want them embarrassed.”
The scandal led to the resignation of then minister Nick Smith.
2012: Michelle Boag defends Bronwyn Pullar’s ‘List of 28’
Boag was back in the news when current affairs show Close Up got hold of a 2007 letter from Sovereign Insurance, again involving her friend Bronwyn Pullar. The topic of the letter was the pressure being placed on the company to pay an alleged $14m to cover injuries suffered by Pullar in a 2002 cycling accident.
The letter referred to a list of 28 people described as a Pullar’s “claims support/advisory team”, including then prime minister John Key and former prime minister Jenny Shipley.
Part of the Sovereign letter to Boag stated: “For nearly 18 months Bronwyn and her advisers, including yourself personally, have been saying to us that if we did not settle Bronwyn’s claims against us in a way acceptable to Bronwyn that she would ‘go to the media’. The inference we drew from this was that you would seek to obtain media coverage that would be detrimental to Sovereign.”
Boag explained the list of 28 people as a “safeguard” for Pullar, and told the NBR that the list of names was drawn up by Pullar on advice from an unnamed legal adviser. “It was simply a list of people who Bronwyn had at some stage talked to and who therefore were aware of her issues with the company.”
Sovereign eventually settled with Pullar for about $1m, according to Stuff.
2015: Michelle Boag involved in ‘agrihub’ Saudi sheep scandal
In 2015, Boag was drawn into ongoing controversy about the National government’s dealing with Saudi businessman Sheikh Hamood Al Al Khalaf. In her role as director of the Middle East Business Council, she introduced foreign minister Murray McCully to George Assaf, the business partner of Al Khalaf. McCully was at the time attempting to set up an “agrihub” in Saudi Arabia, and eventually arranged for the government to pay $6 million to build it on land owned by Al Khalaf, and another $4 million “facilitation payment” for the “intellectual property” he brought to the deal.
Boag later said, “I met with George, I was not paid to meet with George, all I said was, ‘I will try and help you, what would you like?’ He said, ‘I would like to meet with the minister.’”
2016: Michelle Boag covers ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ at a party fundraiser
During a party fundraiser for the National Party, Michelle Boag rapped a self-adapted version of Coolio’s ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ entitled ‘John Key’s Paradise’.
According to the NZ Herald, Boag was not a fan of the original and did not own a copy of it. YouTube video of the performance appears to have been scrubbed from the internet, but a transcript of some of the choicer lyrics follows:
Thank heavens for our lives
living in John Key’s paradise
We wanna spend our lives
Living in John Key’s paradise
Keep spending most our lives
Living in John Key’s paradise
We’re happy in our lives
Living in John Key’s paradise
They think Andrew Little is the way to win
But he’ll never do it, he has a weak chin
The parliamentarians have let them down
They’d be more supportive if they looked like scary clowns
Why are they so blind to see
David Dinosaur Philosophy
The right have the money
The right have the money
Minute after minute
Hour after hour
Your turn, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
2017: Michelle Boag utters the phrase ‘barely coffee coloured’ to a Māori TV journalist
In 2017, Auckland woman Lara Bridger posted a video on social media claiming that Sir Peter Leitch (aka The Mad Butcher) had told her Waiheke was a “white man’s island”. Leitch later expressed his extreme disappointment “that a young woman had misinterpreted some light-hearted banter”.
Enter Boag, who told Māori Television that Bridger came forward because she wanted to be famous. During a conversation which she believed to be a casual chat with a journalist, and didn’t realise she was on speakerphone, she said Bridger’s claim was “ridiculous” as she was “barely coffee-coloured”.
She later said, that “if I had my time again, and those were the circumstances then no, I wouldn’t have said it.”
2019: Michelle Boag supports Vernon Tava’s troubled Sustainable NZ party
Last year Boag threw her support behind Sustainable NZ, a “green-blue” party, when it launched under Vernon Tava, a former Green candidate who had abandoned the party as “too socialist”, then failed in his bid to be selected as the National candidate for Northcote. Sustainable NZ hasn’t gone great so far.
2020: Michelle Boag speaks on Covids 1 through 18
During her regular slot on RNZ’s The Panel, Michelle Boag tried to put Covid-19 “into perspective”. She said: “Remember, this is Covid-19. Presumably, there’s been 18 other coronaviruses on the way to get to 19.”
Covid-19 is an acronym for “corona”, “virus”’ and “disease”. It was formerly referred to as the “2019 novel coronavirus”. There have not been 18 previous coronaviruses.
Yesterday Panel host Wallace Chapman said that Michelle Boag will not be appearing on The Panel “anytime soon”.
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