Archive for March, 2010

Support a Weta

March 31st, 2010 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Wellington Airport have not totally given up it seems on the Wellywood sign. They have said they are willing to consider alternatives that get across a message of “Wellington, “Film” and “Global”.

So unless enough people support an alternative, we may still end up with a Wellywood sign. So for those who like the idea of a giant weta, I’ve set up a Facebook page you can join to show your support.

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A welcome u-turn from Labour

March 31st, 2010 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Labour have announced:

Labour today announced it would support the Government’s Copyright Infringement File Sharing Amendment Bill but remains strongly opposed to some aspects of the Bill.

Labour’s Communications and IT spokesperson Clare Curran said the bill includes some sensible provisions, so Labour will be supporting it to select committee to make sure people have a chance to have their say.

However, Labour is strongly opposed to the provision for suspension of an Internet Service Provider (ISP) account.

This is excellent to see – both that Labour are supporting the bill to select committee (as it is a huge improvement on status quo), but especially that they have now declared their official policy to be against any provision for suspension of Internet access.

As the original S92A was introduced by Labour’s Judith Tizard, it has been a remarkable change in position to go from supporting the original S92A, to now opposing any suspension of Internet access as a response to copyright infringing.

Kudos is due to primarily Clare Curran for getting this policy change though. Also been impressed generally with Labour’s outreach on this issue – the meetings they hosted with stakeholders were a good example of genuine engagement.

What will be interesting is to see if the Internet suspension clause survives select committee hearings. The Commerce Select Committee has ten members on it – four Nats, three Labour, one ACT, one Green and one Maori Party.

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The Foreshore & Seabed proposals

March 31st, 2010 at 2:53 pm by David Farrar

The 65 page full consultation document is here.

The key aspects are:

  • repeal the Foreshore & Seabed Act 2004
  • no one to “own” the foreshore and seabed, placing it in the public domain
  • guaranteed public access to all, subject to certain limitations in discrete areas (such as health and safety restrictions around ports, or restrictions around urupa/burial grounds)
  • recognition of customary rights
  • protection of existing use rights to the end of their term
  • restore the right to go to Court to establish customary title, based on common law principles
  • customary title will not be able to be made into freehold title
  • no change to current private ownership of any parts of the foreshore & seabed
  • two tiers of rights can be sought – customary title and customary rights

I think this is a significant improvement over the current law. It passes the two critical tests of guaranteeing public access, and of restoring the right to go to court to pursue common law and other rights.

I also like the idea of the foreshore and seabed being in public domain, with no ownership at all. That means it can’t be sold without special legislation. It also means that the 30% in private ownership won’t increase.

I’m all for private ownership of most things – but not the foreshore.

A key issue unresolved is whether any claims should go to the High Court or Maori Land Court or both.

This issue is hugely complex and Chris Finlayson has done very well to get this proposal out there. Maoridom does not speak with a single voice, so doubtless there will be varying degrees of support for it, but I hope most will see it as an improvement over the status quo.

I also hope most non-Maori will agree that it is a bad precedent to have the Government remove the right of any group of New Zealanders to test their legal rights in courts, and that repeal of the FSA will be a good thing.

This is stage three of a four part consultation process.

The first stage was people submitting their views to the expert panel.

The second stage was people submitting their views on the recommendations of the panel.

This third stage allows people to submit their views on the proposals in the paper.

And after this consultation, a draft law will be drawn up, and the fourth stage will allow people to submit on the proposed law.

The process of genuine consultation can be almost as important as the substance of the issue. It was partly the then Government’s high handed nature with the FSA and EFA that galvanised opposition to them. The EFA was drawn up in secret and the FSA started life by having Clark and Wilson declare they would legislate no matter what.

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Compulsory Taxi Cameras

March 31st, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Transport Minister is pushing for security cameras in all city taxis and the taxi federation hopes they will be in place by the middle of next year.

Steven Joyce announced this morning that he would put to Cabinet the recommendation in May.

The move follows recent attacks on taxi drivers: on Saturday, two men held a knife to an Auckland cabbie’s throat for $30 in coins, and in January driver Hiren Mohini was stabbed to death in Mt Eden for a $15.20 fare.

Many Auckland cabbies have since said that they are now scared to work at night.

NZ Taxi Federation executive director Tim Reddish said the federation had been pushing for a Government mandate for security cameras for three years.

“We’re just delighted to achieve our objective and the fact that it will save lives,” Mr Reddish said.

If the recommendations gets through Cabinet, he expects the first cameras would be installed toward the end of the year and be complete by the middle of 2011, Mr Reddish said.

He expected a 24-hour distress alarm – that would let cabbies call for help – would also be part of the new legislation.

I’m confused.

The taxi federation say they are delighted and have been advocating cameras for years, as a safety measure.

So why haven’t they just gone ahead and done it themselves?

Why in God’s name do we need a special law for this?

It is a good idea to get the support of the Minister, sure. But why not just have the Minister write a letter to all taxi companies saying he supports cameras in cars.

Mr Joyce said the industry would pay for the cameras – a cost expected to increase fares by about 30 cents.

So why would individual taxi firms not decide to do this for themselves, without coercion? Wouldn’t drivers be demanding cameras be placed in their cars if the cost averages out to only 30c a trip.

And even if a few companies don’t implement cameras, then their drivers can choose to work for another company.

It’s sad that the NZ Taxi Federation thinks it needs a law passed, to be able to put security cameras into cars. Why don’t they just get on and do it.

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Brown endorses Williams?

March 31st, 2010 at 1:08 pm by David Farrar

NewstalkZB at 8 am reported Len Brown saying supportive things about Andrew William’s bid to be on the new Auckland Council. The item said:

Len Brown is showing his support for Andrew Williams intention to stand for election onto the new Council.  …

Manukau City Mayor Len Brown says he has worked well with Mr Williams in the past through the Mayoral Forum, and knows he has his community’s concerns at heart.

They also reported John Banks refused to comment – a much wiser strategy.

So far then, Len Brown has endorsed or said supportive things about both Sue Bradford and Andrew Williams being on Council.Is there anyone he won’t endorse?

I mean this is just after Williams puts up on his Facebook page a photo of Rodney Hide as Hitler (H/T: Whale).

Yes this image really is on the Mayor of North Shore City’s Facebook page – placed there by him.

Do I really need to even mention how offensive this is to actual survivors of the Holocaust. You might expect this behaviour from an anonymous troll on the Internet, but not from the Mayor of a major city.

And this is who Len Brown is supporting for Council – because he didn’t want to risk having Williams attack him, if he refused to say nice things about him.

This is one of the criticisms I hear about Brown. From all accounts he is a very nice guy, and quite personable. Someone you would find hard to dislike. Many people I know, from both National and Labour, say Len is a really nice guy.

But the criticism is whether he is tough enough to handle the job of being the inaugural Mayor of the Auckland Super City. You have to be able to sometimes call a spade a spade.

The job will involved both standing for 1.3 million Aucklanders to the national Government, but also being able to run a Council focused on regional issues and not be captured by the parochialism of the past.

And this is why Andrew Williams is unsuitable, in my opinion, for the Auckland Council. Even if you put aside his abusive and ranting style, he is also unsuitable because he seems only concerned with his local area – not Auckland as a whole. Of course you want ward Councillors to represent their communities, but you most of all want them focused on decisions that are good for Auckland as a whole.

It is almost impossible to see how anyone can think Williams would be a constructive member of the Auckland Council, and it does call into question Len Brown’s judgement, that he is effectively endorsing Andrew Williams.

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Good comments

March 31st, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

On most blogs the actual posts tend to be quite reasonable and well argued, and it is the comments that can sometimes go off the track and get hysterical.

But I’m pleased to report the opposite has happened on Red Alert. Carmel Sepuloni did a somewhat off the track post claiming:

Todd McClay says that beneficiaries are more likely to murder children

I thought this would set off a round of abuse of Todd, but in fact many of the comments were quite thoughtful, such as:

Rebecca:
Carmel I agree it was incredibly distasteful however, in many ways, while awkwardly put, Todd is right.

The bulk of the physical child abuse, neglect and maltreatment statistics comes out of the quarters of the lower socio-economic groups, most of whom are predominantly on benefits.

Lindsay Mitchell posted a useful link to some CYFS stats which “establishes that there is a statistical association between the two factors examined: benefit receipt and CYPFS notifications”.

Todd himself pops up and posts a draft of Hansard, with what he actually said:

And Lindsay again provides a useful point:

You have to understand that ‘are more likely to’ can co-exist with ‘most don’t’. For argument’s sake;

8 out of 100 beneficiaries abuse their children.
2 out of 100 non-beneficiaries abuse their children.

Therefore beneficiaries are 4 times more likely to abuse their children BUT most don’t.

However, inasmuch as child murder usually occurs at the extreme end of abuse, it is more likely to happen when the parent or other caregiver is a beneficiary.

So stop taking offence and start asking whether there is a link between welfare and child abuse.

Of course not all comments were high quality:

Olwyn said:

Furthermore, we did not have people regularly beating kids to death before we took up neo-conservative economic policies

Blame the neo-cons!

But overall I found the comments thread quite a useful wee debate. Someone also pointed out the difference between correlation and causation.

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An end to The Bill

March 31st, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

ITV in the UK have just announced that they will stop production this year of The Bill.

It has been on the air continuously since 1983 and I was at school when I first watched it!

My favourite character was the no nonsense DI Burnside.

I’ve never ever watched even one episode of East Enders or Coronation Street, but thanks to My Sky, have probably seen close to every episode of The Bill. They show both current episodes, and ones from the beginning.

No tag for this post.

No Wellywood sign

March 31st, 2010 at 10:44 am by David Farrar

Yay. Wellington Airport has backed down on their plan to erect a huge Wellywood sign on nearby hills.

Good on them for listening to the community. They want alternate ideas. I still like the idea of a giant weta – unique to NZ, and is a way we can promote the creative industry that has built up around Weta.

Two anti-wellywood sign Facebook groups got over 15,000 and 4,000 members.

In a sign of Facebook’s power, the Airport is calling for ideas to be posted to their Facebook page.

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Editorials 31 March 2010

March 31st, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The sacking of ECan is covered by The Press and the ODT. First The Press:

After years of simmering regional resentment of Environment Canterbury (ECan), the axe finally fell on its 14 councillors yesterday.

Despite a last ditch attempt by a majority of them to salvage their jobs through a face-saving compromise, they will be replaced by commissioners headed by public service trouble-shooter Dame Margaret Bazley.

Considering the drastic nature of this intervention, the Government acted relatively quickly following the damning report of the working party headed by former National deputy prime minister Wyatt Creech.

This speed was commendable, as it provides some certainty over ECan’s future. In turn, Environment Minister Nick Smith, often considered slightly erratic, deserves plaudits for the manner in which he consulted regional interests.

Ultimately the Government had little choice but to act decisively.

It speaks volumes that even the local newspaper is supporting the sacking. It is a pity Labour ad Greens are politicising it, when in the past more responsible Oppositions have supported similar actions, when a Council becomes dysfunctional.

And the ODT:

Comparisons between the actions of Fiji’s Frank Bainimarama “to solve Fiji’s” intractable problems and that of the present New Zealand Government to deal with the “institutional failure” of the Canterbury Regional Council (ECan) are inevitable. …

All the Canterbury district mayors, themselves democratically elected, had had enough of “dysfunctional” Ecan.

The regional council has had major problems since the mid-1990s at least, and it has failed time and time again to produce required water plans. Dissatisfaction is deep and widespread, and the Government’s review panel into ECan was unprecedented in its criticism.

Because matters were irrevocably and irreversibly broken down, temporary patch-ups would not work. …

Given the emphatic nature of the respected review team’s report, the Government would appear to have had little choice but to enact a selection of its central recommendations. …

Umm, no such comparisons are not inevitable, and I’ve not heard anyone but the ODT make them. In case they overlooked an essential aspect, one was a coup carried out at gunpoint, and the other is a democratically elected Government passing a law to put in place some Commissioners for one out of 14 Regional Councils, at the request of the democratically elected local territorial authorities who had lost confidence in it.

The NZ Herald sniffs around Andrew Williams:

There would be no point in Andrew Williams relinquishing the North Shore mayoralty over allegations that he urinated in public and drove home after drinking at a Takapuna restaurant.

With the introduction of the Super City imminent, a resignation would be a pointless distraction.

Nonetheless, the episode that prompted calls for him to step down, with several previous incidents, cast a considerable shadow over his plan, announced yesterday, to stand for an unspecified position on the Auckland Council.

Indeed, it suggests that one of the benefits of the Super City will be the demise of local-body mayors of his ilk.

Absolutely.

Mr Williams has sought to explain away such occurrences with talk, variously, of being on painkillers, of suffering from dehydration and of exhaustion from an overseas trip. This is unpersuasive.

A polite way of putting it.

And the Dominion Post reviews the coroner’s report into the OPC tragedy:

However, the tragedy is not a reason to deny other pupils adventure. As Mr Devonport says in his findings, taking risks and experiencing the outdoors is a part of growing up. That is particularly so in New Zealand with its mountains, rivers, forests and wide-open spaces. Children, teenagers and, for that matter, adults should be able to test themselves, whether it be by climbing trees, riding skateboards, scaling mountains or scrambling up stream beds wearing wetsuits, helmets and life vests. Life should not be lived in a glass bubble.

But providers of outdoor experiences have a duty to ensure all reasonable precautions are taken. The Outdoor Pursuits Centre failed abysmally to do that. Its staff did not pay enough attention to heavy rainfall in the gorge’s catchment area. …

The Mangatepopo Stream tragedy was a preventable tragedy. The lesson that should be taken from it is not that pupils should be denied adventure, but that those organising the adventure should take every possible step to reduce the danger to acceptable levels.

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Back on top

March 31st, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

10/10 in just 25 seconds this week. No guesses.

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NZ Ahead

March 31st, 2010 at 8:21 am by David Farrar

The NZ Institute has launched today the NZahead report card. It grades NZ in 17 areas, and will be tracking how we do over time with some targets for 2015. A very worthwhile initiative.

The initial grades are:

  • Life Expectancy B
  • Unemployment C
  • Inequality D
  • Assault Mortality D
  • Suicide C
  • GDP per capita C
  • Household Wealth D
  • Labour Productivity D
  • Innovation and Business Sophistication D
  • Educational Achievement B
  • Agriculture and Forestry Land per capita B
  • Water Quality C
  • CO2 concentration in the atmosphere D
  • CO2e emissions per capita D
  • Invasive Species C
  • Net migration of Citizens C
  • Overall NZI Grade C, with Effort a B-

Each grade, has an associated page with graphs on related indicators, background on why it is important etc.

It is interactive also. You can get to vote on how important a criteria should be overall, and also give your own overall grade.

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General Debate 31 March 2010

March 31st, 2010 at 7:41 am by David Farrar
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Superb Ads

March 30th, 2010 at 6:30 pm by David Farrar

The Age reports:

In one of the advertisements, a voiceover tells teenagers that every time they use mobile phones and drive, ”gingers get fresh with other gingers”, while showing two redheads in bed.

Another ad says that using a mobile while driving will cause an ”emo” to be born.

They will be the most effective road safety ads of a generation. Warning teenagers their actions could lead to more gingas or emos will be highly effective.

The videos are not set up for embedding, but you can view the emo one here and the ginga one there.

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They forget history

March 30th, 2010 at 5:13 pm by David Farrar

Brendon Burns blogs:

Today’s announcement violates that fundamental principle upheld by the Right that there should be no taxation (rates) without representation. It axes a democratically-elected body without any public input for the first time at least in recent history. It forces through this bill under urgency from later this afo with no chance for Cantabrians or anyone else to comment.

And No Right Turn exhales about me:

So you’d think that when the present government announced plans to sack an elected council and strip 560,000 people of their vote in regional council elections for four years, as a “defender of democracy”, he’d be similarly outraged about it, right?

But Burns is wrong. This is not unprecedented in recent history. From the Q&A:

Rodney District Council in May 2000
Local Government Minister Sandra Lee appointed a Commissioner, Grant Kirby, to replace the elected Council following a Ministerial review. The Government introduced and passed the Local Government (Rodney District Council) Amendment Bill which suspended elections of Councillors and
clarified the role of commissions, through all stages under urgency on 2 May 2000, with the support of the National Party and all parties in Parliament. This intervention was at the Council’s request.

So it happened under the last Government, and to a territorial local authority which has far bigger impact on people’s lives than a regional council. Also done under urgency, and also done at the request of local Councils – but in this case the ten or so territorial authorities.

What is the big difference?

National in Opposition supported Labour, because they put doing the right thing ahead of petty politics. If a Council has not managed a water allocation plan after 18 years, then it is a pretty sure sign than things are wrong and need fixing. Just waving a stick and saying “try to do better” has not worked.

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A teach tank

March 30th, 2010 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

John Ansell blogs:

Why should the Left have a mortgage on talking to the heart?

The big problem with the Right is that they don’t understand the emotional power of a few short words and pictures.

Especially pictures.

They think the force of their logic should be enough to persuade people to make sensible decisions. Logic laid out in longwinded articles, speeches and press statements.

Maybe it should be. But clearly it isn’t.

Our long history of socialist governments making shortsighted decisions (both Labour and National) shows that.

I’ve made the above poster to show how a punchy pictorial message can trump the most elegantly-crafted 1000-word article on the same subject.

Imagine the effect of this in your daily paper. Which would grab more readers: the poster or the article?

Not hard to work out.

OK, so what does this suggest about the way the Right goes about its job of converting the convertible (as opposed to preaching to the converted)?

It suggests to me that it needs a retail arm to distill and showcase the excellent work of its many policy wholesalers.

(Think the Business Roundtable, the Centre for Independent Studies and the Centre for Resource Management Studies – all of whom, despite their diligence, reach only a tiny fraction of the population.)

What these think tanks need to get their messages out to the 99% of people beyond the beltway is a teach tank.

A teach tank’s sole job would be to distill the essence of all that world class research into easily-digestible, posterised morsels that can be fed to the general public one bite at a time.

I am a huge fan of this concept. The above groups are all excellent think-tanks, and the like, but what is needed is a “retail” lobby group to complement them, and use their work.

The bites could be ‘nutshell’ newspaper ads, or posters slapped on walls (again, why should the Lefties control the streets?), or emails – whatever works best for the subject of the day.

Each nutshell ad would contain one fascinating factoid. Just one.

As they roll out day after day, naturally-curious people would come to trust the brand for giving them new insights into the workings of the world.

Factoids are powerful.

John mentions that the “right” does not in fact have unlimited resources to throw at good ideas, and he is seeking supporters/funders for the concept.

I’m not cash rich, but have offered my assistance for free on the “factoid” side.

If you think this is an idea worth supporting, contact John. As people have seen in the US, grass roots activism can be very powerful.

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VSM submissions due in tomorrow

March 30th, 2010 at 3:10 pm by David Farrar

If you want to advocate for the removal of the last bastion of compulsory unionism, submissions close tomorrow on the bill to have voluntary membership for tertiary student associations.

The Free Me website has a handy submission guide.

If you are a current or former student. I suggest you talk from personal experience.

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So how sick is he?

March 30th, 2010 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press reports:

A “predatory” sickness beneficiary who conned an elderly Christchurch couple had already been convicted of defrauding a pensioner.

In the Christchurch District Court yesterday, Stephen Gerard Mason, 53, pleaded guilty to obtaining by deception.

So he is too sick to work, but well enough to rip people off.

The court heard how Mason befriended Selwyn and Joy Bruce and, in 2005, began doing household appliance repairs for cash payments.

But well enough also to fix appliances.

I hope both WINZ and IRD have taken an appropriate interest in Mr Mason’s earnings.

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The Heatley Report

March 30th, 2010 at 2:40 pm by David Farrar

The Auditor-General has published her 20 page report into spending from Phil Heatley’s Ministerial Office.

We found that a total of $1,402 of Mr Heatley’s expenditure – $608 in Vote Ministerial Services and $794 in Vote Parliamentary Service – was outside the rules. In all cases, Mr Heatley thought that the expenditure was within the rules, but he did not understand the rules correctly. In the case of the expenditure in Vote Parliamentary Service, the Parliamentary Service was also administering a rule incorrectly for members of Parliament, and Mr Heatley is not the only member who will have been affected.

That is significant. There may be a few more reimbursements to come.

We found that Mr Heatley generally took care to account for his expenditure appropriately. His Senior Private Secretary took her responsibilities seriously in managing the ministerial office expenditure. On occasion, Mr Heatley’s ministerial office received a reminder from Ministerial Services to submit a late reconciliation of his expenses or invoices or receipts; these were standard reminders that are sent by Ministerial Services to many ministerial offices. The problematic expenditure that we discuss in this report was approved by the relevant officials and was never queried with Mr Heatley or his Senior Private Secretary. For some items of expenditure, it was not clear from the supporting documentation provided that it was outside the
rules, but it was for others.

As in the UK, there has been a culture of parliamentary officials not questioning claims.

We accept that the expenditure outside the rules was not deliberate on the part of Mr Heatley or his ministerial office, and that he had repaid a sum of money before we started our inquiry. He has also personally paid for expenses that are allowed under the rules.

And to be fair to MPs, many of them pay for stuff they could claim, but do not bother to.

Heatley has repaid $2,852, and the AG has ruled that only $1,402 was outside the rules. But

Notwithstanding deficiencies in rules or the systems for administering them, everyone spending public money – in this case Mr Heatley – has a personal responsibility to manage their expenditure appropriately with good judgement. In our view, even though Mr Heatley was sometimes operating under an incorrect understanding of the rules – for example, when his wife and family accompanied him on ministerial business – a more conservative approach that took greater account of how others might perceive his use of public money would have served him better.

I think that is a fair point.

They found five instances of spending outside the rules:

  1. $287 out of $929 spent travelling to Auckland And Queenstown accompanied by family
  2. $251 out of $2,677 spent travelling to Picton and Kaikoura
  3. $70 for wine out of $425 spent attending the National Party Conference
  4. $692 for a child’s travel between Wgtn and Queenstown
  5. $102 for a child’s train and ferry travel between Wellington and Kaikoura

This is a total of $1,402. Note a total of $2,852 has been repaid.

The OAG has clarified that a spouse’s meal and accommodation expenses should only be paid for, if they are attending official functions or meetings with the Minister, but not if they are just accompanying him. This soudns reasonable to me.

For the National Party conference, they ruled that accommodation and meal costs are legitimate expenses as that is part of the parliamentary role of an MP. There was no need to refund the meal. The wine explanation is:

He later wrote “food and beverage” on the eftpos receipt. This was his usual practice when it was not lunch or dinner – it was not necessarily a payment for food and beverage; merely his way of categorising food and beverage-related costs that were not technically lunch or dinner. His Senior Private Secretary assumed that the costs were for dinner and wrote “Minister and spouse – dinner” on the credit card reconciliation form. Mr Heatley certified this form as the card-holder. His Senior Private Secretary told us that there was no intention to misrepresent the situation on the reconciliation form – she had assumed that it was for dinner from what he had written and she did not check it with him. Mr Heatley told us that hedid not read the form carefully before he signed it and that it was a careless rather than dishonest act. …

From our review of Mr Heatley’s expenditure documentation, we can confirm his practice of categorising expenditure on his receipts as “food and beverage” when they were only for beverages such as coffee. However, in our view, Mr Heatley should have taken greater care in ensuring that the description of his expenditure was accurate.

The conclusion seems to be the description was inaccurate but not designed to be misleading.

As for the wine itself:

In our view, the two bottles of wine that Mr Heatley purchased for his table were more in the nature of entertainment costs incurred in the course of parliamentary business. We therefore concluded that the cost of the wine should not have been charged to Vote Ministerial Services. It would have been better to regard it as covered by the expense allowance.

Again I think this is a reasonable approach. This is partly what the expense allowance is for.

Notwithstanding deficiencies in rules or the systems for administering them, everyone spending public money – in this case, Mr Heatley – has a personal responsibility to manage their expenditure appropriately with good judgement. In our view, even though Mr Heatley was operating under an incorrect understanding of the rules when his wife and family accompanied him on ministerial business, a more conservative approach that took greater account of how others might perceive his use of public money would have served him better.

And that sentence is why it is unlikely, in my opinion, Phil will return to Cabinet immediately, or indeed probably this term.

UPDATE: I was wrong. Phil has been reappointed. While I am pleased for him personally, I actually think it is the wrong decision. The thing people hated about Labour was the revolving door nature of Ministerial stand downs.

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Editorials 30 March 2010

March 30th, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald has advice for the Catholic Church:

A Vatican newspaper claims the hailstorm of allegations of priestly sexual abuse is a conspiracy aimed at the present Pope and the Catholic Church.

Ironically, it targets the “media” as leading or cheerleading this conspiracy, the New York Times being the latest to publish a historical claim, from up to 70 young, deaf boys who allege abuse by an American priest now dead.

It is unfortunate the messenger is being criticised rather than the message heeded. There is much still to be done for the church to put this sin behind it. …

Some calculate the total number of priests and the relatively small number of offenders over many years and then compare that to percentages for the secular world.

Their argument is that church-linked offending is no greater than the sad reality of society’s norm. But it is a forlorn and defensive mindset.

As the Economist magazine has argued, if you preach absolute moral values you will be judged against absolute moral standards.

The church cannot accept relative failure or relative consequences, particularly under this Pope who argues forcefully for an end to relativism.

If it is true to itself, the Catholic Church cannot be satisfied with being as good as, or not as bad as, other parts of society.

If any conspiracy exists, it is the one in which sexual offenders were protected and victims abandoned by those in authority.

A new conspiracy is needed, one which confirms in deeds the Pope’s words to the Irish. Responsibility must be taken by those who hid wrong.

I’m just glad I was raised Anglican!

The Dom Post focuses on the Mary-Anne Thompson affair:

The most alarming aspect of the Mary Anne Thompson affair is not that a senior public servant falsified her CV, but that the former head of the public service halted inquiries into her falsehood years before it was exposed.

This is the point I made a couple of days ago.

But within minutes of Mrs Bell questioning her about the doctorate she claimed to have obtained from the London School of Economics, Thompson withdrew her application for the post.

Mrs Bell undertook further investigations on her own initiative and advised Mr Wintringham that there was no record of Thompson gaining a doctorate. But, instead of initiating a formal investigation, Mr Wintringham told Mrs Bell to stop her inquiries.

He was, he subsequently said, concerned that further inquiries could “damage both the defendant’s considerable professional reputation and the reputation of the commission as well”.

He was right about the first. He was wrong about the second. What has damaged the commission’s reputation is not Thompson’s fraud, but Mr Wintringham’s failure to properly investigate a matter of obvious concern.

Really it was a disgraceful decision – and one made worse by his failure to even leave a file note on the issue for his successor. You’d expect better from the most junior HR manager, let alone the State Services Commissioner.

The Press hails a triumph for Obama:

The United States health reform controversy continues to swirl with such intensity that it is difficult to decipher the dispositions of the antagonists. However, one thing is sure – President Barack Obama has won his place in history, if only because of the health bill’s emergence into law.

No other president has pushed through such important reform in this field and most have not dared to try. Obama’s handling of the process was less than stellar and it has united his opponents, but the result is legislation that will transform a fundamental foundation of American society.

Hmmn. I wonder if they have read the law change. It isn’t that dramatic.

And the ODT takes issue with Pita Sharples:

The thrust of his speech clearly implied that for tribal Maori, democracy does not work and does not sit comfortably with Maori cultural concepts.

Historical fact suggests this argument does not wash in national politics, since Maori candidates have long been elected to general seats and the specific provision of Maori electorates has ensured at least a foothold in Parliament.

The notable absence of Maori at local body level has been regrettable, but why that is so cannot merely be attributed to “prejudice, cultural arrogance, and institutional racism”.

Relatively few people are aware that in Parliament, Maori are over-represented in relation to their proportion of the adult population.

So I find it hard to see how the democratic system is failing Maori.

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Work Testing and the Bill of Rights

March 30th, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Colin James writes:

Paula Bennett says “most people” will see last week’s welfare changes as “fair and reasonable”. She is almost certainly right. But is that the limit of her ambition?

A majority doesn’t make something right. Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, a lawyer’s lawyer, ruled that, under the Bill of Rights, Ms Bennett’s changes are not fair: they discriminate on grounds of sex, marital status and family status in applying the work requirement to those on a domestic purposes benefit whose youngest child is six but not to those on a widow’s benefit or a woman alone on the DPB. Her new law does not qualify for exemption from the Bill of Rights either on the ground that it “serves an important and significant objective” or that it is “proportionate to that objective”.

I’ve been meaning to blog on this issue. It is important to understand that what the Attorney0General has said is not that work-testing beneficiaries is against the bill of rights, He has said, that applying the work test to the DPB but not the Widows Benefit is unjustified discrimination.

He’s right. But the solution is not to not implement work testing. It is to indeed apply it to the widow’s benefit and woman alone benefit also.

In fact I would go further. I would abolish those benefits. They were well intentioned benefits from the days when most women did not work, and relied on their husband’s income. Those days are gone.

I would grandfather in existing recipients, and have some sort of temporary allowance(say six to 12 months) for any non working person who relies on their partner’s income, and the partner dies. It should apply to both genders, and after a period of time, then they should be in employment or go onto one of the mainstream benefits.

The widow’s benefit and woman alone benefits are sexist relics of our past. They were necessary when we lived in a society where women were not encouraged to work, but as 50% more women are now going to university than men, those days are long ago.

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ECan sacked

March 30th, 2010 at 12:21 pm by David Farrar

The Press reports:

Environment Canterbury councillors have been given their marching orders by the Government and will be replaced by up to seven commissioners, possibly as soon as the start of May.

Government troubleshooter Dame Margaret Bazley has been appointed chairwoman of the commisioners, and the search is on for the remaining commission members.

ECan staff are being briefed on the sacking of the 14 elected councillors now, at the same time as Environment Minister Nick Smith and Local Government Minister Rodney Hide officially released their announcement.

For those who think this is all partisan politics, I would point out the ECan Chair who was just sacked is a former National MP.

A four person (not one person) review team concluded:

The Review Group acknowledges the significance of water and the complexities it brings to ECan in its management role.  However, the Group was struck by the ‘gap’ between ‘what needs to be done’ to appropriately manage water and ‘ECan’s capability to do so’.  The Review Group membership included some of New Zealand’s most experienced assessors of organisational capability.  In their experience they had not previously seen a gap between capability and requirement matching this particular situation.  In their view, the extent of the gap between the capability of ECan and what is required for it to adequately manage freshwater issues is enormous and unprecedented.

ECan was not just performing  bit below par. The capability gap was foudn to be “enormous and unprecedented”.

And this is not as simple as Wellington interfering. It is the elected local authority Mayors who called on the Government to intervene – something they had been calling for, for some years.

From time to time the Government has to appoint Commissioners, because a body is so dysfunctional. This happens to quite a few schools, has happened to a DHB, and in this case is happening to a Regional Council.

The choice of Dame Margaret is a shrewd one. She is 110% non-partisan, and has a excellent track record of sorting out dysfunctional systems.

The Government has said elections for ECan will be held by 2013 at the latest. This is the normal three year date. Obviously no elections later this year, but possibly in 2011 or 2012 if the problems get sorted out quickly.

The big challenge is to get a water plan in place – this is around 18 years overdue! Then water allocations will not be ad hoc.

The Q+A put out is very good. Especially the groups that called for change, which includes LGNZ, Ngai Tahu, Irrigation NZ, EDS, and the Mayors of Chch, Ashburton, Waitaki, Timaru, Mackenzie and Waimate.

My only criticism is putting the law change through under urgency. I see no reason it could not have a few weeks of submissions. However on the other hand, locals have had the chance to have input into both the review team, and to respond to the recommendations.

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Mining and incomes

March 30th, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

More mining on conservation land could add about $2.3 billion a year to national income, or more than $550 a person, a study by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) says.

The increased mining would mean economic benefits lifting gross domestic product about 1.3 per cent or more, NZIER says, based on figures from a 2002 study.

It’s good to have some figures around the potential benefits, because this has been lacking from the debate. All we have had so far is the estimate of mineral wealth, but I want to know figures for impact on GDP, balance of trade, current account deficit, crown revenue and debt, employment etc.

Ideally, one could have that data for each of teh areas proposed to be removed from Section 4.

The debate was not about a choice between mining and conservation, but getting maximum sustainable value from a limited resource, NZIER said. New Zealand was relatively well provided with protected areas, with 19.5 per cent of the total land in “large protected areas”, first equal with the United States. It was well ahead of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 12.4 per cent.

Opponents of the plans to open up schedule 4 land to mining argued that any encroachment on conservation land would damage New Zealand’s international reputation, to the detriment of tourism and other exports.

“There is little evidence to support this claim, aside from a limited survey commissioned by the Environment Ministry almost a decade ago,” NZIER said.

It would be a good time to survey tourists and consumers about how mining affected their views of New Zealand’s “clean green image”.

Indeed. We already have 84 mines on conservation land incidentally.

Among English-speaking OECD countries New Zealand has the highest proportion of its land in “major protected areas”, the NZIER report shows.

There is also a high level of protected land for each person, at about 1.24 square kilometres.

But New Zealand also has the lowest per capita income, which is below the OECD average.

While comparisons were fraught with definitional differences, the comparison showed New Zealand to be “relatively well provided with protected areas, but relatively poorly endowed with the income to maintain them”, NZIER said.

A very good point.

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Arial is bad for the planet

March 30th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

AP reports:

A US university has found a new way to cut costs with email – by changing the font.

The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay has switched the default font on its email system from Arial to Century Gothic. It says that while the change sounds minor, it will save money on ink when students print emails in the new font.

Diane Blohowiak is the school’s director of computing. She says the new font uses about 30 per cent less ink than the previous one.

That could add up to real savings, since the cost of printer ink works out to about US$10,000 (NZ$14,000) per gallon.

Blohowiak says the decision is part of the school’s five-year plan to go green. She tells Wisconsin Public Radio it’s great that a change that’s eco-friendly also saves money.

I expect to see a Green Party bill to ban the Arial font in due course.

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Taxpayer funded rugby celebrations

March 30th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Ministry of Maori Development is putting up $200,000 of taxpayers’ money to help pay for the Rugby Union’s centenary celebration of Maori rugby. …

Former All Black Billy Bush, who also captained the Maori team, said it smacked of cheapness that the union, which received millions from corporate sponsors, could not foot the bill for the centenary celebrations.

This is basically corporate welfare. It just happens to be TPK money in this case. It just shows that if you have taxpayer money available, corporates will find ways to grab it.

I don’t mind the contribution to the RWC as that has huge tourism benefits. But I can think of many more worthy causes for TPK, than subsidising the NZRFU.

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Election Date

March 30th, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

There has been some speculation recently that the Government could call an election before the Rugby World Cup in 2011. John Key has sad this is most unlikely. But the RWC does pose some challenges to the normal electoral cycle.

First of all the Rugby World Cup runs from 10 September 2011 to 22 October 2011. It is generally accepted you don’t want a campaign during that time, because to be blunt no one will want to hear from politicians.

In an ideal situation, you would have Parliament sit for say two weeks after the RWC, and then dissolve Parliament on say Thursday 3 November. The latest date Parliament can dissolve is Tuesday 22 November.

If you dissolve on Thursday 3 November, and have the GG issue writs the next day, and allow a week for nominations to close, then the election would be Saturday 3 December 2011.

However this may pose a challenge in itself. The writs for the election generally get returned two to three weeks after the election, to allow time for special votes and recounts. The writs may not be able to be returned until Mon 19 December, which gives stuff all time to have the House meet before Christmas.

Hence having a full six week gap between the end of the RWC and the election may not be possible. So a more likely scenario is that the House sits for only one week after the Rugby World Cup, and you have the election on Saturday 26 November 2011.

This will mean that the post RWC parliamentary session will effectively be little more than an adjournment debate, and that the RWC might almost become a phony election campaign, as people will know it is all on the moment it ends.

If 26 November is picked, here are my guesses for the key dates:

  1. RWC Final Sat 22 Oct
  2. Parliament adjournment debate Wed 26 Oct
  3. Dissolution of Parliament Thu 27 Oct
  4. Writ Day Fri 28 Oct
  5. Nominations Day Thu 3 Nov
  6. Election Day Sat 26 Nov
  7. Official Results Tue 6 Dec
  8. Deadline for Recounts Fri 9 Dec
  9. Return of Writs Tue 13 Dec
  10. MPs sworn in, elects Speaker Tue 20 Dec
  11. Parliament resumes, elects Deputy Speakers Wed 21 Dec
  12. Parliament adjourns Thu 22 Dec

As you can see, there isn’t a lot of wriggle room for the PM. He can’t go much earlier because of the RWC and can’t go much later due to the need for the House to meet before Christmas.

It would be possible of course to have Parliament meet in January, but you’d have some very grumpy MPs and press gallery journalists.

The latest you can dissolve Parliament is 22 November 2011. This means the election writs must be issued by 29 November 2011, and must be returned by 18 January 2012. Parliament must resume 42 days after that, which is Wed 29 February 2012. So in theory you could delay it until after Christmas, but it would mean a general election in the first week of January or last week of December, and that won’t be happening.

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