Good to see

The Herald reports:

Jailed former Heart of the City boss Alex Swney is teaching fellow inmates how to read and write.

Swney, 59, was jailed for five years and seven months in June 2015, after being found guilty of tax evasion and “sophisticated” offending spanning more than a decade.

The crimes involved more than $4 million.

It is understood he will be eligible for parole in May.

New Zealand Howard League for Penal Reform chief executive Mike Williams, a former Labour Party president, yesterday told the Herald on Sunday of Swney’s work with fellow inmates via one of the organisation’s peer-to-peer literacy programmes.

Good to see some good come out of Swney’s offending. Once he is released, I hope he can continue doing good.

Government scared of online voting

The Herald reports:

Today’s Mt Albert by-election could – and should – have been New Zealand’s first online voting trial, claims a veteran Auckland councillor concerned change is being held back by political fears of activating young voters.

Experienced Waitakere councillor and former deputy mayor Penny Hulse says Auckland Council has been ready to trial online voting for some time and been pushing for it happen.

And she told the Weekend Herald that today’s Mt Albert by-election was the latest opportunity to go begging.

Government pulled the plug on online voting for last year’s local body elections over online security fears. There have also been frustrations within council that this month’s Howick by-election still didn’t have the option of online voting either.

I’m very cautious of online voting for parliamentary elections as our current system is extremely secure. But for local government elections, it should definitely be trialled. The current postal voting system is incredibly insecure. And all the concerns over e-voting security can be easily handled by merely using the Internet to deliver the vote, instead of count them. Imagine a system where you simply cast your vote over the Internet and its prints out you completed ballot paper in a secure room at the Returning Officer’s office. So you have a full audit trail, and the ballot paper now only has all the details of if it had been posted in, but all the additional info such as date and time completed, IP address etc which makes fraud detection much easier. Also you can notify the voter their e-ballot has been received so if it isn’t them, they know.

Council documents declare Hulse and Mayor Phil Goff “will be pursuing this” while a survey of 1259 people was overwhelmingly in favour of modernisation, with 74 per cent preferring online voting to a traditional postal system.

Hulse said the postal system is antiquated and the democratic process is being hamstrung by what she describes as “resistance” to making the voting system as relevant and accessible as possible.

The resistance appears to be the Government. If you want e-voting for local body elections, then the only way to get it might be to change the Government.

TVNZ fronting an election year show with a Labour candidate

Missed this announcement late last year:

Rotorua’s Tamati Coffey says he gets approached constantly with ideas for new television shows, but he leapt at the chance to tackle an issue close to his heart.

Mr Coffey, co-owner of Ponsonby Rd Lounge Bar, is set to host a new TVNZ1 show Moving Out which is planned to screen mid next year.

The show is being produced by Faultline Films’ Amanda Jones who said the show would follow Kiwi families as they chose to move from Auckland’s rat race to the provinces.

Incredible. They hire someone who is an active Labour Party candidate to front a show that will air just before the election. Another reason to sell TVNZ.

The Intelligence and Security Bill

11Stuff reports:

Changes to proposed spying laws have tightened the rules around obtaining warrants and placed more responsibility for the actions of New Zealand’s spies directly on the responsible minister. 

The details have been released in a report from MPs sitting on Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Select Committee, to Minister for National Security and Intelligence Bill English. …

The report from select committee recommends a number of key changes, following a process of hearing submissions from both experts and the general public. …

“One of the most significant changes is a two-pronged approach to national security in the warranting regime.” 

MPs have recommended that both the authorising Minister and the Commissioner of Intelligence Warrants must be satisfied the spying warrant is necessary for the protection of national security.

It was a change from the original requirement, which would have seen the Attorney General provide one half of the sign-off, instead of the Minister. 

“Being responsible for issuing warrants would ensure that the responsible Minister is aware of the day-to-day business of the agency, of which warrants are a significant component,” the committee said in its report. 

A Type 1 intelligence warrant authorises a spy agency to carry out what would be otherwise illegal activity, to collect information again New Zealand citizens and residents. 

Following that two-part sign-off, the warrant would also have to be deemed necessary to “identify, enable the assessment of, or protect against” one or more of a specific list of harms.

They included terrorism or violent extremism, espionage or other foreign intelligence activity, sabotage, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, serious crime and interference with information or information infrastructures of importance to the New Zealand Government.

I have to give full credit to Labour and Andrew Little here. They have constructively engaged submitters to come up with changes to the bill that will enhance protections, yet allow the security agencies to perform their jobs. It is nice to see there are still some areas where we get sensible bipartisan co-operation.

The full report of the select committee is here. Well worth a read to understand the complexity of the issues.

Sadly nothing could shake the Greens from their insistence that we should abolish the SIS and the GCSB. Despite them saying they recognise the changes being made will enhance protections for New Zealanders, they maintain their ideological opposition to even having dedicated security or intelligence agencies. To quote from their minority report:

The Green Party views terrorism as a criminal offence rather than a national security threat. It regards national security as a political goal, not an inherent individual right.

There you have it. The Greens do not believe in national security. Now imagine having them in Government with that view!

Ardern vs King

Stacey Kirk writes:

Against a new National leadership team in Bill English and Paula Bennett, Labour leader Andrew Little and veteran Annette King will forgo any arguments of tiredness that most Oppositions would expect to be able to level towards a third-term Government. 

It should be pointed out, Ardern has taken the utmost care to never utter the words she wants the top job, or even the deputy, but no politician has ever sat four seats away from the top of the table and not taken count. 

Conversely, it’s understood King has been none too subtle about her views Ardern is not up to her job. 

King is not alone in that view in the Labour caucus. If the Deputy Leadership was an open vote in caucus, King would win around 25 to 28 of the 32 votes.

But the wishes of the Leader are often given a lot of deference in the selection of Deputy. If Little concludes he is unelectable, he may ask King to fall on her sword to bring Ardern in, hoping that she can increase the party vote for Labour. However he would run the risk of being upstaged by his own Deputy, as never a healthy situation if the main reason people are voting for a party is the Deputy Leader, not the Leader.

Foster-Bell to retire

Stuff reports:

National list MP Paul Foster-Bell will not contest the selection for Wellington Central and will stand down from Parliament at the 2017 general election.

His announcement follows reports of a major bid by corporate high-flyer Nicola Willis to challenge Foster-Bell for selection. Willis has been an advisor to former Prime Minister John Key and is understood to have his backing. 

Foster-Bell said he informed local National Party members of his decision on Sunday.

I’ve known Paul since he was a Young National, and it would be hard to find a more likable guy. Paul and I used to share an office in Parliament when we were both staffers, and we were both on the respective national councils of the Republican Movement and Monarchy NZ, which led to some great conversations. Paul went on to a distinguished career in MFAT and to my good fortune was First Secretary in Iran when I was doing a holiday in the Middle East. So Paul hosted me in Iran, which was the start of my love affair with the country and its people (not the Government).

Paul has been an MP for only four years but managed to get a law change through Parliament, allowing RSA clubs to serve alcohol on ANZAC Day without needing a special licence – a very popular change that was supported unanimously in Parliament.

While sad to see Paul retire, I am delighted to see Nicola Willis (also a former colleague and friend) standing for Parliament. I think Nicola will be an excellent MP. She was a very forceful and respected staffer in Parliament, and since then has risen up the ranks in Fonterra, where she is currently the General Manager of Nutrient Management. Nicola is also the mum of four young kids.

Party Health

Isaac Davidson looks at the state of the parties in 2017:

  • National: Recovering well from major surgery.
  • Labour: Steady, but with self-inflicted wounds.
  • Greens: In a stable condition.
  • NZ First: New lease of life, but elixir of youth needed.
  • Maori Party: In a serious condition.
  • ACT: On life support (National)
  • United Future: Terminal.
  • Mana: May pull through.
  • The Opportunities Party: In need of a miracle cure.
  • Conservative: Comatose, seven months to live.

Pretty good summary.

Banned parliamentary terms

Patricia Greig at NZ Herald has a list of terms ruled unparliamentary over the years. A good read.

My favourite is:

Energy of a tired snail returning home from a funeral

Other good ones are:

  • Kind of animal that gnaws holes
  • Could go down the Mount Eden sewer and come up cleaner than he went in
  • Frustrated warlord
  • Financial Frankenstein
  • Idle vapourings of a mind diseased
  • His brains could revolve inside a peanut shell for a thousand years without touching the sides

Brand Key

Tracy Watkins writes:

So what to read into the latest poll? All this while we thought it was Key who kept National freakishly high in the polls. It may be a washover of goodwill toward Key. English’s honeymoon gift. Or maybe the whole truly was always greater than the sum of National’s parts.

Key has had a very powerful and popular brand. The challenge was always whether Brand Key would become Brand National, and so far it looks like it has. There was more to Key than his likability and communication skills. It was also that he was seen as moderate, competent and trusted. These are the attributes that he has left National with.

Key has been almost invisible since his return to the back bench. There is some strategy behind that. Transitions are awkward and Key doesn’t want to hog any of English’s air.

But it is also personal. Key’s relationship with the media dramatically soured over the holiday season when a news outlet ran paparazzi supplied shots of the former PM and wife Bronagh poolside on holiday in Hawaii.

There are very few times over the years when I have seen Key genuinely, blazingly, angry.  

The ‘teapot tape’ debacle was one when Key’s usual pragmatism deserted him and the secret recording of him and John Banks blew up into a bigger story than it needed to be.

It seems this paparazzi intrusion is another – though rather than blow it up Key’s response this time has been to retreat from the media instead.

The NZ Herald paid a paparazzi to stalk Key in Hawaii and take long distance photos of him and Bronagh in their togs, and even him filling up a car with petrol. It was shameful behaviour from the Herald – of course he was angry. I doubt they would have ever done it while he was actually Prime Minister as they knew he would find it an appalling intrusion of privacy.

We should all hope it doesn’t last. Key is one of the world’s most respected politicians (for all that his opponents dwell on pony tails and the John Oliver show). He will be in high demand on the international speaking circuit, his next step after he leaves here in just a few weeks time.

But we also need his voice here, helping us interpret and navigate the new world order. And not just Key – Helen Clark too.

Like Key, Clark has been in retreat since her shot at the United Nations top job. It goes without saying that Clark commands international respect.

Theirs are the sort of strong, rational voices the world needs now, more than ever.

Former Howard government advisor and Australian political commentator Terry Barnes wrote a thoughtful piece this week comparing Canberra and Wellington.

“If only toxic Canberra could copy New Zealand’s ways,” he lamented in the NZ Herald.

The Barnes article is an interesting one, which I will blog on separately.

Could the US join the Commonwealth

The Herald reports:

The Royal Commonwealth Society is making plans to open a branch in the United States, with a view to one day bringing America into the fold as an “associate member”.

The project, which is said to be backed by the Queen, has come about in part as a result of Donald Trump’s fondness for Britain and the royal family.

It comes amid efforts to develop the Commonwealth as a tool for building relationships on everything from foreign policy to trade, following Britain’s exit from the European Union.

“The UK rather left this treasure in the attic, and forgot about it because people were so glued to Brussels,” said Michael Lake, the director of the Royal Commonwealth Society.

The Commonwealth of Nations comprises the UK and (mostly) former British colonies. Well the US was a colony, so they would be eligible.

More calls to sell TVNZ

John Drinnan writes:

All media firms are in upheaval, but in my opinion, there are particular questions about the role of the state in advertising.

For example, why are taxpayers taking the risk of owning a company that offers unexciting returns in a sunset industry?

TVNZ is legislated to provide a commercial focus, and public broadcasting ventures such as the Sunday morning non-commercial shows are commissioned only when taxpayers pay most of the costs.

On Wednesday, TVNZ announced an interim profit of $12.9 million, up 1 per cent on last year, on advertising revenue of $159m, down 5.1 per cent.

Beyond these modest returns, what is the point of TVNZ?

Former Broadcasting Minister Steve Maharey says there appears to be no point in state ownership as a way to deliver public broadcasting.

He says one option is to sell TVNZ and use the interest from a (guesstimated) $200 million pricetag to fund a new public broadcasting platform. It would also need some taxpayer funding,

I agree. A few years ago we could have got $1 billion for TVNZ. Today $200 million. a Few years time – even less. We should sell asap.

Maharey acknowledges there will be opposition to selling a public asset. But he believes commercial instincts are so entrenched at TVNZ that it could not adapt to a public broadcasting focus. “We tried that and it did not work,” says Maharey.

Yep. You can be a commercial broadcaster or a public broadcaster but not both.

Mt Albert By-Election Results

As expected by everyone, Jacinda Ardern won the by-election after unsuccessful electorate candidacies in Waikato in 2008 and Auckland Central in 2001 and 2014. She goes from being a List MP to an Electorate MP and Raymond Huo will enter Parliament for a few months as a Labour List MP. His chances of remaining past the general election are not great due to the gender quota rule.

The preliminary results are:

  1. Jacinda Ardern 10,000 votes 77.1%
  2. Julie-Anne Genter 1,489 votes 11.5%
  3. Geoff Simons 600 votes 4.6%

Not a great result for The Opportunities Party when you can’t get 5% in a by-election where there is no National or NZ First candidate.

The number of votes cast was 12,971. This is:

  • 34.7% of the votes cast in the 2014 election
  • 27.9% of the enrolled voters (in 2014)
  • 21.4% of the electoral population

No doubt National not standing a candidate was part of this. But of interest in the 2009 by-election David Shearer got 13,260 votes.

Regardless a good result for Jacinda Ardern who now has a safe seat for life, and is no longer dependent on list ranking. Warren Freer was MP for Mt Albert for 34 years and Helen Clark for 27 years. It is quite possible Ardern could beat both those records.

Why not preventive detention

The Herald reports:

An Eastern Bay of Plenty self-styled Mongrel Mob president who terrorised and intimidated a woman over 16 years has been jailed for 18-and-a-half years.

Justice Sarah Katz stepped back from the preventive detention sentence the Crown requested in the High Court at Rotorua today but stipulated Hoani Chase, 54, of Te Teko, must serve half his sentence before being eligible to be assessed for parole.

After a judge-alone trial in October, Justice Katz found Chase guilty of 28 violence and sexual abuse charges including rape.

Other charges were withdrawn during the trial and Chase admitted possessing explosives and receiving.

At sentencing, Justice Katz described Chase’s conduct as a desperate 16-year campaign of terror and intimidation.

She outlined how Chase had, during that time, duct-taped the woman to a chair for three days and repeatedly raped her, as well as how he’d again raped her within days of giving birth to twins by caesarean section.

She was so badly injured she had to be readmitted to hospital.

On another occasion, he had roped her to the back of his car, dragging her down the road.

Justice Katz recounted how at times he knocked the victim unconscious, kicking her with steel capped boots.

So why not preventive detention? Surely 16 years of offending should qualify. 18 and a half years is not a light sentence but the poor victim will have to start worrying in nine years time that he may get parole.

Fake news from Australian Labor reports:

Trent Hunter appeared alongside Evelyn Kathner at a press conference with Labor leader Bill Shorten to talk about the Fair Work Commission’s decision to slash Sunday and public holiday penalty rates for hospitality, restaurant, fast food, retail and pharmacy workers.

“My name is Trent Hunter. I am a retail worker … I rely on Sunday penalty rates … I will now lose $109 a week,” he said.

Mr Hunter said he worked every Sunday at Coles and relied on the money to “make ends meet and to pay for my fuel, my rent and to pay for my food”.

But the supermarket giant confirmed to that Mr Hunter would actually not lose a dollar.

“Store team members at Coles are employed under an enterprise agreement and therefore are unaffected by today’s decision,” the company said.

It’s since emerged that Mr Hunter is a member of the ALP and he has posted photos on his social media accounts attending Labor functions, including a photo with Mr Shorten.

They do this in NZ all the time. Get a party activist to pose as a disinterested person claiming they are badly affected by a Government decision.

A good idea by Trevett

Claire Trevett writes:

National will be hoping for a miracle and in 2014 the miracle came in the form of Kim Dotcom.

The more Dotcom railed against Key, the closer National edged to the 50 per cent mark. Dotcom’s Moment of Truth was the Moment of Salvation.

Dotcom has already made rumbling noises about getting involved in this election as well.

Should an extradition decision go before ministers before the election, they may well be tempted to refuse it just to ensure he is around to offer his unique destruction attempts this time round.

I can think of nothing better for National than Dotcom campaigning against them again.

A great idea for Centreport

Stuff reports:

Quake-hit CentrePort’s should be repurposed as a transport and entertainment hub, a Wellington developer says. 

Ian Cassels has called for the port, which suffered substantial damage after the 7.8-magnitude Kaikoura earthquake on November 14, to become like Oriental Bay with bars and transport interchanges.

A great idea, I have long advocated.

Cassels described the quake as a hidden blessing, allowing Wellingtonians to re-think how the city and the port were best aligned.

“I’m standing in my building looking at the containers on the eastern edge of our port, and nothing could be more inappropriate for the other half of our inner harbour,” he said.

If possible, I’d move the container operation to Seaview.

“It should have magnificent stuff going on. It should look a bit like Oriental Bay. There should be entertainment and bars and water taxis should scoot across there late at night to other parts of the Harbour.”

Water taxis from the port land to Oriental Bay to Shelley Bay. Love it.

90% of rivers and lakes swimmable by 2040

Nick Smith announced:

The Government today announced a target of 90 per cent of New Zealand’s lakes and rivers meeting swimmable water quality standards by 2040, alongside releasing new policy, regulations, information maps and funding to help achieve the new goal.

“This ambitious plan to improve the water quality in our lakes and rivers recognises that New Zealanders expect to be able to take a dip in their local river or lake without getting a nasty bug,” Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith says.

“The plan is backed up by national regulations requiring stock to be fenced out of waterways, new national policy requirements on regional councils to strengthen their plan rules on issues such as sewage discharges and planting riparian margins, a new Freshwater Improvement Fund and new maps that clearly identify where improvements are needed.

“This 90 per cent goal by 2040 is challenging and is estimated to cost the Government, farmers and councils $2 billion over the next 23 years. It will make us a world leader in water quality standards for swimming, and that’s important for New Zealand’s growing tourism industry. It will return our rivers and lakes to a standard not seen in 50 years while recognising that our frequent major rainfalls mean a 100 per cent standard is not realistic.”

$2 billion over 23 years seems a reasonable cost.

Worth also reading this interview with Nick Smith where he debunks the claims made about the new standards with some good examples.

More sanctions for exploiting employers

The Herald reports:

Employers who exploit migrant workers will be banned from taking on further migrant workers for up to two years under new sanctions from April.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse announced the new measures this morning, saying allowing bosses to take on workers from overseas rather than locally was a “privilege not a right” and if that was abused, there should be consequences.

“It is simply unacceptable that those employers who exploit migrant workers are still able to recruit from the international labour market and disadvantage those employers who do the right thing.”

This is a good move.

I’d go further. Many of employers who exploit migrants are themselves migrants. If they do not hold NZ citizenship, I’d have them near automatically lose their residency status and face deportation.

Yardley slams fire response

Mike Yardley writes:

Just as we saluted and decorated the vast army of community heroes who shone throughout our earthquake sequence, it goes without saying that the firefighters, helicopter crews and fellow first-responders who have slogged their guts out since Monday last week must be royally recognised for their gallantry, tenacity and extraordinary duty, when this nightmare is finally over.

Amazing job from those on the ground.

Hundreds of residents vented their increasing dismay and disbelief at the apparent failure of the Selwyn and Christchurch mayors to get to grips with the enormity of the ever-billowing threat.

Individuals were pleading with Mayor Dalziel and senior city councillors, via their Facebook pages, to urgently declare a state of emergency. It took a further two hours after Westmorland was suddenly evacuated at 4pm, before the declaration was issued.

I guess the Government could have in theory declared a state of emergency if the local authorities had continued to delay doing so – but that is something that has never happened in recent history.

Some hillside residents had packed and were ready to self-evacuate at 1pm. They could see the situation gravely deteriorating, first-hand. The fact that officials struggled to grasp the gravity of the gathering crisis, even after Minister Brownlee phoned the two mayors to establish their positions, is lamentable.

Not only would a declaration issued much earlier in the afternoon have mobilised the likes of Defence Force resources and the power to enforce road cordons far sooner, but, most importantly, it would have sent a clarion message to the community about the scale of the crisis.

Instead, many residents in the firing line of the blaze were left in a state of relative complacency, only to be propelled into a blind panic by police officers barking orders that they only had five minutes to evacuate their houses.

An extra two hours notice would have made a huge difference.

Then, of course, there is the alarming claim from the Firefighters Union that 10 properties were needlessly destroyed because urban fire brigades were stood down prematurely on Monday, only to be called back later.

Very alarming, if true.

Definitely should be an inquiry into the response to the fires.

Teen solo mums on welfare down over 50%

The Herald reports:

The number of teen mothers on welfare has more than halved since 2009, the Government says.

There were 1836 teenage mums on “main” benefits at the end of last year, down from 4263 in 2009 – a fall of 57 per cent.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said teen parents had some of the highest lifetime costs of any group on welfare. On average, they spent more than 17 years on welfare.

“If we can give young mums opportunities to be independent and successful then that will mean better lives for their children,” she said.

“We know that kids who grow up in benefit-dependent homes are more likely to go on to a benefit, are more likely to be notified to CYF and are less likely to achieve NCEA Level 2.”

This is a great outcome, and a really important one. Preventing people from decades of welfare dependency is essential.

Of course Labour has opposed almost all the reforms that achieved this. Cynically you’d say that is because the more people dependent on the state, the more people likely to vote for parties promising them more money.

Former EMPU lawyer selected for Auckland Central

Stuff reports:

Labour has put forward Helen White as its new candidate standing in the Auckland central electorate after Labour MP Jacinda Ardern left the area to campaign in the Mt Albert by-election. 

The seat has been held by Kaye since 2008.

White is an employment lawyer in private practice. Before that she worked for the EPMU, when it was led by Andrew Little. If she gets a high enough list ranking to get into caucus, that will be another vote for him.

White moved to Freemans Bay when she was three years old and continues to work in the area.

She lives in Morningside with her three children, two attend the University of Auckland and one attends Mt Albert Grammar.

“My family live in the Auckland central area, which gives an accountability to me. 

This is a subtle way of admitting she doesn’t live in Auckland Central herself.

Does Hone regret the Dotcom deal simply because it failed?

The Herald reports:

If Hone Harawira could do it all over again, he would not get into bed with Kim Dotcom.

As he launches a bid to return to Parliament, the veteran community activist and politician has offered an apology to supporters about the deal he struck with the German entrepreneur last election.

“It was a failed strategic relationship,” says Harawira. “The aim was to engage with another entity to help with the party vote, to get someone else into Parliament.”

Would he do it again? “In hindsight, no.”

Harawira says he would not do it again because it failed and he lost his seat. But nowhere does he show any understanding of why it was a bad move for him. He spent decades fighting for workers rights and the poor and then he takes millions from a guy who is accused of paying slave wages to his staff.