Armstrong on Greens

John Armstrong woke at the weekend:

Norman appeared to offer further evidence of that later in the week when he rounded on the chairman of the Electricity Authority, .

National Party-aligned bloggers were not the only people asking in the wake of that attack who was being Muldoonist now.

Norman’s curt response to Layton’s detailed critique of the joint Labour-Greens plan to reform the wholesale electricity market was pretty tame stuff, especially when placed alongside Winston Peters’ slow evisceration of Peter Dunne.

However, Norman’s attack struck a discordant note coming as it did only days after the Greens’ co-leader had accused John Key of vilifying and bullying his critics in a manner which was as divisive as that of the late Sir Robert Muldoon.

Norman’s rejection of Layton’s 28-page paper, which sought to demolish the Labour-Greens’ notion of setting up a single institution to set wholesale electricity prices, was also in marked contrast to the rebuttal by Labour’s David Parker. The latter challenged Layton’s arguments one by one in a measured tone.

That was the point. Parker showed how to disagree on policy grounds. Norman made it personal, and nasty. Becoming a habit.

Norman’s statement was far more belligerent with a number of references to Layton as a “National Party appointee” to a “National Party-created” regulator.

Layton is no National Party hack, however. He is a highly-respected economist with extensive knowledge and experience of the electricity generating industry over many years.

Indeed Dr Layton is a highly respected economist. He was the director of the non-profit NZIER economics co-operative for five years. Dr Norman’s PhD was on the history of the Alliance Party. Dr Layton’s was on economic history.

I doubt there is an economist in NZ who has done more work in the electricity sector. Dr Layton looks to have done 20 or so reports in the 2000s, for the Major Electricity Users Group (the ones who benefit the most from reliable supply, cheaper prices and better competition).

Fran O’Sullivan also writes:

exposed himself as a “Muldoonist” when he slammed into highly respected economist Brent Layton this week for daring to raise his head above the parapet and defend the work of the NZ Electricity Authority, which he chairs.

Norman was clearly incensed that Layton had issued a paper on the economics of electricity that laid waste to the arguments of three critics of the current regime, and challenged the proposal by the Greens and Labour to set up a new entity – NZ Power – to effectively control prices.

But by slagging Layton off as “nothing more than a National Party-appointed civil servant who has failed to do his job and is now trying to protect his patch”, Norman was straying well into the territory of personal attacks that Sir Robert Muldoon made an art form, and demonstrating a predisposition to a form of political management the Greens co-leader claims to despise.

Long may Russel keep it up. Once a brand is damaged, it is very hard to repair it.

And there would be few people in the Wellington political firmament who would have missed the underlying message sent by the NZ Institute of Economic Research when it issued a short-form CV yesterday under the simple headline: Background: Dr Brent Layton.

The release simply noted the many roles Layton has held: chairman of the electricity market rules committee, a director of Transpower and M-Co, former chairman of Trust Bank Canterbury, a director of the Futures Exchange, deputy chairman of the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, chairman of Lyttelton Port Company, chairman of Canterbury Health and also AgResearch and its commercial arm Celentis. Currently, He chairs Sastek, a Brisbane-based hardware manufacturing and software development company. And he has also been one of two external monetary policy advisers to the Governor of the Reserve Bank.

In other words: frame that up against a PhD on the Alliance and a working life spent mainly in Parliament? There is no real comparison.

One can disagree with Layton’s analysis and conclusions. But to label him as basically a failed hack was unworthy.


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