Archive for the ‘NZ Politics’ Category

This is what the Greens are against

May 25th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

I was listening to a ted Talk while running. It was by Pamela Ronald who is a plant geneticist. I got quite angry while listening to it, because it highlighted how the Greens and others are battling against science that is feeding millions of people.

You can view or read her talk here. The key extracts:

Now, the same month that my laboratory published our discovery on the rice immunity gene, my friend and colleague Dave Mackill stopped by my office. He said, “Seventy million rice farmers are having trouble growing rice.” That’s because their fields are flooded, and these rice farmers are living on less than two dollars a day. Although rice grows well in standing water, most rice varieties will die if they’re submerged for more than three days. Flooding is expected to be increasingly problematic as the climate changes. He told me that his graduate student Kenong Xu and himself were studying an ancient variety of rice that had an amazing property. It could withstand two weeks of complete submergence. He asked if I would be willing to help them isolate this gene. I said yes — I was very excited, because I knew if we were successful, we could potentially help millions of farmers grow rice even when their fields were flooded.

Kenong spent 10 years looking for this gene. Then one day, he said, “Come look at this experiment. You’ve got to see it.” I went to the greenhouse and I saw that the conventional variety that was flooded for 18 days had died, but the rice variety that we had genetically engineered with a new gene we had discovered, called Sub1, was alive. Kenong and I were amazed and excited that a single gene could have this dramatic effect. But this is just a greenhouse experiment. Would this work in the field?

Now, I’m going to show you a four-month time lapse video taken at the International Rice Research Institute. Breeders there developed a rice variety carrying the Sub1 gene using another genetic technique called precision breeding. On the left, you can see the Sub1 variety, and on the right is the conventional variety. Both varieties do very well at first, but then the field is flooded for 17 days. You can see the Sub1 variety does great. In fact, it produces three and a half times more grain than the conventional variety. I love this video because it shows the power of plant genetics to help farmers. Last year, with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, three and a half million farmers grew Sub1 rice.

This is what the Greens have spent 20 years opposing, and still oppose.

Now, many people don’t mind genetic modification when it comes to moving rice genes around, rice genes in rice plants, or even when it comes to mixing species together through grafting or random mutagenesis. But when it comes to taking genes from viruses and bacteria and putting them into plants,a lot of people say, “Yuck.” Why would you do that? The reason is that sometimes it’s the cheapest, safest, and most effective technology for enhancing food security and advancing sustainable agriculture.I’m going to give you three examples.

First, take a look at papaya. It’s delicious, right? But now, look at this papaya. This papaya is infected with papaya ringspot virus. In the 1950s, this virus nearly wiped out the entire production of papaya on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Many people thought that the Hawaiian papaya was doomed, but then, a local Hawaiian, a plant pathologist named Dennis Gonsalves, decided to try to fight this disease using genetic engineering. He took a snippet of viral DNA and he inserted it into the papaya genome. This is kind of like a human getting a vaccination. Now, take a look at his field trial. You can see the genetically engineered papaya in the center. It’s immune to infection. The conventional papaya around the outside is severely infected with the virus. Dennis’ pioneering work is credited with rescuing the papaya industry.Today, 20 years later, there’s still no other method to control this disease. There’s no organic method. There’s no conventional method. Eighty percent of Hawaiian papaya is genetically engineered.

And the Greens would say best to let the papaya industry be wiped out. They’re basically against vaccinating plants and crops!

Now, take a look at this pest feasting on an eggplant. The brown you see is frass, what comes out the back end of the insect. To control this serious pest, which can devastate the entire eggplant crop in Bangladesh, Bangladeshi farmers spray insecticides two to three times a week, sometimes twice a day, when pest pressure is high. But we know that some insecticides are very harmful to human health,especially when farmers and their families cannot afford proper protection, like these children. In less developed countries, it’s estimated that 300,000 people die every year because of insecticide misuse and exposure. Cornell and Bangladeshi scientists decided to fight this disease using a genetic technique that builds on an organic farming approach. Organic farmers like my husband Raoul spray an insecticide called B.T., which is based on a bacteria. This pesticide is very specific to caterpillar pests, and in fact, it’s nontoxic to humans, fish and birds. It’s less toxic than table salt. But this approach does not work well in Bangladesh. That’s because these insecticide sprays are difficult to find, they’re expensive, and they don’t prevent the insect from getting inside the plants. In the genetic approach, scientists cut the gene out of the bacteria and insert it directly into the eggplant genome. Will this work to reduce insecticide sprays in Bangladesh? Definitely. Last season, farmers reported they were able to reduce their insecticide use by a huge amount, almost down to zero. They’re able to harvest and replant for the next season.

Yet despite this, the Greens still fight against the science.

Now, I’ve given you a couple examples of how genetic engineering can be used to fight pests and disease and to reduce the amount of insecticides. My final example is an example where genetic engineering can be used to reduce malnutrition. In less developed countries, 500,000 children go blind every year because of lack of Vitamin A. More than half will die. For this reason, scientists supported by the Rockefeller Foundation genetically engineered a golden rice to produce beta-carotene, which is the precursor of Vitamin A. This is the same pigment that we find in carrots. Researchers estimate that just one cup of golden rice per day will save the lives of thousands of children. But golden rice is virulently opposed by activists who are against genetic modification. Just last year, activists invaded and destroyed a field trial in the Philippines. When I heard about the destruction, I wondered if they knew that they were destroying much more than a scientific research project, that they were destroying medicines that children desperately needed to save their sight and their lives.

This is the point at which I got angry. You should be angry also.

Some of my friends and family still worry: How do you know genes in the food are safe to eat? I explained the genetic engineering, the process of moving genes between species, has been used for more than 40 years in wines, in medicine, in plants, in cheeses. In all that time, there hasn’t been a single case of harm to human health or the environment. But I say, look, I’m not asking you to believe me.Science is not a belief system. My opinion doesn’t matter. Let’s look at the evidence. After 20 years of careful study and rigorous peer review by thousands of independent scientists, every major scientific organization in the world has concluded that the crops currently on the market are safe to eat and that the process of genetic engineering is no more risky than older methods of genetic modification. These are precisely the same organizations that most of us trust when it comes to other important scientific issues such as global climate change or the safety of vaccines.

The Greens argue you must trust the scientific consensus when it comes to climate change (and they’re right) but they hypocritically argue against science when it comes to genetic engineering, fracking or basically anything that doesn’t sit well their their near-religious Gaia viewpoint. They don’t believe in science. They just use it when it aligns with their beliefs.

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Parliament 23 May 2015

May 23rd, 2015 at 11:10 am by David Farrar

The House remains urgency and is sitting from 9 am to 1 pm, 2 pm to 6 pm and 7 pm to midnight until the following bills are dealt with.

The KiwiSaver Budget Measures Bill proposes to remove the $1,000 KiwiSaver kick-start contribution paid to all new enrollees in the KiwiSaver scheme, effective from 2 pm on 21 May 2015.

The Border Processing (Arrivals and Departures) Levy Bill amends the Biosecurity Act 1993 and the Customs and Excise Act 1996 to introduce levies to fund the direct and indirect costs of activities carried out by the Ministry for Primary Industries and the New Zealand Customs Service relating to the processing of people arriving in and departing from New Zealand.


How Transmission Gully would have made a difference

May 23rd, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

The Transmission Gully motorway could have provided a lifeline to almost 23,000 motorists stuck in gridlock during Wellington’s flooding.

Traffic modelling by the New Zealand Transport Agency suggests the planned inland motorway between Porirua and Paekakariki – scheduled to open in 2020 – would have significantly altered the civil defence emergency experienced across the region on Thursday.

With State Highway 1 closed by a landslip on the coast road between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki, and SH2 at Petone submerged by floodwaters, about 30,000 people found themselves stranded in the capital. …

Even without natural disasters, Transmission Gully is expected to make a massive difference to traffic flows, reducing the number of vehicles using the coastal SH1 route to just 3090 – a drop of 86 per cent.

Raewyn Bleakley, the transport agency’s central region director, said the contract for the motorway, which is being built by a private consortium, sets out high standards for resilience to earthquakes, landslips and crashes.

The four-lane Gully route would be far more likely to stay open during a landslip than the existing two-lane coastal highway, which showed its vulnerability on Thursday, she said.

And we’re actually going to get it this decade, after 70 years of waiting.

Bruce Pepperell, civil defence controller for the Wellington region, said comments on the Civil Defence Facebook page during the flooding suggested Transmission Gully had never been so popular.

“It can’t come quick enough,” he said.

“When you’ve only got two main roads out of town, and they’re both gone, then you’re not playing with many aces up your sleeve.”

The pace with which SH1 and SH2 north of Wellington were both knocked out had civil defence staff “sweating” about the prospect of trying to find space in Wellington for an extra 30,000 people overnight, he said.

A Civil Defence-led report in 2013 predicted the Gully motorway would be of even greater value after a major earthquake of magnitude 7.5 or more, which is expected to severely damage Wellington’s main transport links.

Which is why I support it – it is not just about congestion. It is about Wellington not being cut off.



Dim-Post on the left and the Budget

May 22nd, 2015 at 4:45 pm by David Farrar

Danyl McL looks at the Budget and notes:

I’ve been saying for a while that ‘neoliberalism’ – ie a belief in the efficacy of free markets, the distortionary evil of taxes and benefits and the minimalisation of the state – is dead. There are still a few adherents drifting around the fringes of politics that truly believe, but this budget seems like a good time to mark that in National the doctrine is obsolete. National believes in massive intervention in the economy, mostly in favor of their political donors but also in response to signals from their polling and market research, and English has raised or introduced so many taxes I’ve lost count. I don’t know what we’re supposed to call this mode of government, exactly, but it ain’t ‘neoliberal’.

Anyone who calls this Government neo-liberal is profoundly stupid, and thinks it is just a label to apply to anything you don’t like.

Not that I agree with Danyl that National intervenes in the economy to favour political donors. All donors over $15,000 are listed and they’re not the ones who benefit from intervention. The biggest beneficiary of corporate welfare is Kiwirail, followed by all those tech companies that the Callaghan Institute gives money to.

So, on one hand the opposition can put this budget down as a victory. They’ve made a big deal about the housing crisis and child poverty, and the government’s main policy changes have been the introduction of a capital gains tax and an increase in benefits to beneficiaries with families. Forcing your enemies to adopt your rhetoric and policies is a huge win.

Yep, it is a huge win for the left. A National Government has done what not even a Labour Government would do.

On the other hand, the opposition looked like clueless losers yesterday. What kind of left-wing politician opposes the gutting of the KiwiSaver kickstarter – pretty much the definition of middle-class welfare – to tackle child poverty?

Well both Labour and Greens do.

And Little’s speech was just awful. ‘Gene Simmons’? ‘Fiscal gender reassignment’? Why did he think it was a good idea to reference a source of internal division within his own party? What a mess.

It was the worst opposition leader’s budget speech I have seen.

The kids on the social media like to use the phrase ‘hot take’ to describe commentary that is hysterical and uninformed, and that’s what we got from the opposition parties yesterday, gouging their own eyes out with horror at a budget filled with ideas they’ve been demanding for years. Ridiculous.

When I saw the Budget in the lockup and realised how left-wing it was, the one small ray of consolation was that Labour and the Greens would probably be so shocked when they got a copy at 2 pm, they wouldn’t know what to do. Would they look ridiculous, as Danyl says, denouncing they very things they had been demanding, or would they think quickly on their feet.

If I had been the Greens I would have have claimed credit as the only party that had been advocating for an increase in benefit rates, and held the Budget up as an example of why it is important to have the Greens in Parliament – that they can make a difference – even from opposition.

Instead they all routinely denounced it. I guess it was the equivalent of National in 1986 condemning the free market reforms of the then Labour Government.

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Violent protests against giving beneficiaries first increase in 43 years

May 22nd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

This is the so called Auckland Action Against Poverty, in response to the first increase in real benefit rates in 43 years. Lovely people aren’t they.

Sure you may argue it should be more, but the way they are carrying on, you’d think the Government had cut benefits by $25 a week!

They’re part of the demented 1% who won’t be happy until we have the communist nirvana of surgeons being paid the same as McDonalds staff.

Spokeswoman Sue Bradford said if the government was serious about dealing with poverty, it would lift benefits now to the same levels as superannuation

Let’s look at what this would cost.

The standard benefit for a job seeker aged 25 is $210.13 a week.

The standard benefit for a someone on NZ Super living alone is $374.53

So Bradford is demanding a 78.2% increase in non NZ Super benefits. They currently cost around $7.3 billion. So the annual cost of what the AAAP are violently demanding is an extra $5.7 billion a year in welfare payments. In reality it would be far more than that, as many more people would go on welfare.

Now I doubt they want health and education cut by $5.7 billion a year, so I imagine their response would be sock it to the rich and make them pay. Stick up the top tax rate from 33%.

A 1% increase brings in around $210 million a year so they need a 27% increase, meaning the top tax rate would have to be 60 cents in the dollar. Yep anything you earn over $70,000 would go 60/40 to the Government.

And that is just to fund their one sole demand.

Of course in reality a top tax rate of 60% would not bring in even half that amount of money. People would simply leave.



Well done Andrew

May 22nd, 2015 at 2:30 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Labour leader Andrew Little says the party will consider means testing superannuation but he did not agree with increasing the age of eligibility despite concern about the rising costs.

It should be means tested. It is silly that we pay NZ Super to someone earning $500,000 a year. It is good to see Andrew Little open to means testing.

Asked about means testing, Mr Little said there were some elements of unfairness in universal superannuation.

An example was where someone over 65 was still working and receiving the pension on top of their wages.

He said Labour would look at that issue, which he considered was unfair. Such a step would break almost four decades of political consensus on universality.

The only real argument against means testing is if the cost of doing so was prohibitively high and costs almost as much as it saves.

Rather he indicated Labour’s focus was on prefunding the cost of it by contributions to the Super Fund which the current Government suspended during the Global Financial Crisis and is yet to re-commence.

Pre-funding has a minor impact at best on sustainability.

UPDATE: I was too quick with my praise. Little has done a u-turn in just six hours.

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Hehir on the conservative evolution

May 22nd, 2015 at 1:45 pm by David Farrar

Liam Hehir writes in the Manawatu Daily Standard:

A spectre is haunting the English-speaking world — the spectre of conservatism. All the powers of progressivism have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Labour and Green parties, television producers, comedians, musicians, actors and the halls of the academy.

So far, they have not succeeded. 

In the United Kingdom, the Conservative government has just won another five-year term. Against the odds, it was returned with an outright majority in the House of Commons. Prior to Election Day, it was thought that the best Prime Minister David Cameron could hope for was another coalition or maybe a fragile minority government. Nobody really believed the Tories would be able to govern alone. But here we are.

In Canada, that country’s Conservative Party has held power since 2006. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is facing another general election this year. It promises to be a tough campaign, but things have been looking up lately and there is as good a chance as not that the Conservatives will win a rare fourth term in office.

In Australia, the revolution has been more tenuous, where Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party came to power in 2013. Forced to make deep cuts to public spending in response to a commodities market downturn, his administration has been sternly tested. And yet despite these difficulties, which have been made worse by an overtly hostile media, Abbott’s polling has been steadily improving.

In the United States, conservative Republicans dominate the US Congress and most state governorships and legislatures. While they face structural difficulties in capturing the presidency, the once unstoppable Hilary Clinton juggernaut is at risk of being crippled by a genuine and concerning corruption scandal.

And, of course, in New Zealand, Prime Minister John Key has won three mandates as the head of a National Party that has improbably improved its share of the vote in each of the last three elections. 

Why has this happened?

A question a smart Labour Party would ask.

When you survey the current state of Anglosphere politics, certain themes emerge. These don’t apply in every instance – we are talking about geographically and economically diverse countries, after all. Nevertheless, there are certain commonalities that go some of the way to explaining the current Centre-Right ascendancy.

First of all, conservative politicians have made the best of the limited means available to them. Harper’s nine years in power have included the two longest lasting minority governments in Canada’s history. Cameron’s government has had to struggle through five years of being shackled to an unpopular coalition partner – and even now its majority is puny compared to those the party enjoyed in the Thatcher years.

Our own electoral system has meant that, despite very high approval ratings, John Key has never had much margin for error. 

This leads on to the second important factor in conservative electoral success: self-control. 

Because none of these governments have the power to impose wide-ranging reforms, conservative politicians have had to restrain their actions and rhetoric. This comes easily for some – Key and Cameron are not temperamentally conservative anyway. For others, like Harper and Abbott, there has been more of a recognition that certain battles can’t be won and therefore aren’t worth fighting.

This moderation is sometimes frustrating for conservative voters, but it also does a good job taking the wind out of the histrionics of Left wing commentators.

Another way to read this is that all these parties have governed as centre-right, instead of right.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the oppositions in these countries are dysfunctional and discordant.

Long may that last.

A fourth is the GFC has I think made voters prioritise parties that focus on economic management over social issues.


A new level of political correctness

May 22nd, 2015 at 12:15 pm by David Farrar

I don’t think it is any big thing that we use group descriptions imperfectly. For example we use the term Asian instead of specifying Chinese, Japanese, Korean etc etc. Likewise we use Pasifika rather than Tongan, Samoan, Niuean etc etc. Most people understand why group labels are convenient.

I use the term “guys” as a non gender specific term now. I often e-mail my (all bar one female) supervisors and say “Thanks guys”.

But for some reason it gets  a bit precious when it comes to the gay community. Once upon a time gay was short-hand for what is now the wider rainbow community. Then lesbians said they’re not gay, they’re lesbians. And so it was GL. Then bisexuals said we’re not gay or lesbian and it was GLB. And then transsexuals said they are none of the above. so we went to GLBT. Then inter-sexuals were not covered and it was GLBTI.

But that isn’t politically correct enough for the Greens. In a blog post Jan Logie feels the need to state at the bottom:

*The addition of an asterisk to the word trans is to indicate that the term functions as an umbrella term for an extremely varied range of identities, including culturally specific ones. I use it to include identities such as: whakawahine, tangata ira tane, FtM, MtF, transsexual, fa’afafine, transgender, transmen, transwomen, akava’ine, leiti, genderqueer and gender-neutral people.

Oh good God.

That is just too precious.

Would we do that for every time we use the term Asian*. Imagine that:

The addition of an asterisk to the word Asian is to indicate that the term functions as an umbrella term for an extremely varied range of identities, including Turkic, Mongolic, Persians, Tatars, Sarmatians, Chinese, Indian, Afghan, Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, Uyghur, Kazakh, Manchu, Buryats, Evenks, Yakuts, Sri Lankan etc etc

When referring to an individual, it is polite to use whatever term they identify as. But when referring to a group, there is no need to turn it into a encyclopedia entry.


Please, please watch this

May 21st, 2015 at 4:13 pm by David Farrar

Please, please take 20 minutes out of your day and watch this. Ask your family and friends to watch this. Ask as many people as possible to watch this.

Once you have watched it, feel free to share your reactions below.

UPDATE: In case you need cheering up after that, here’s the PM’s reply:


Budget 2015

May 21st, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

This is the most surprising Budget yet from this Government. While I expected the Government to spend a small amount of money on helping low income families, never did I think they would be announcing the first real increase in benefit rates in 43 years as part of an almost $800 million child poverty package.

It will be almost impossible for Labour and Greens to credibly attack this Budget, because it looks a lot like the sort of Budget they would deliver.  I’m impressed with the politics of it, but not impressed with the economics.

The main initiative is the child poverty package. The details are:

  • $25 a week net benefit increase for families with children – 1st increase since 1972. An 8.3% increase in the base benefit rate for most on welfare.
  • To counter against any incentive to remain on welfare due to higher benefit levels, work testing for sole parents to start when youngest child is three, down from five
  • Work testing obligation increases from 15 to 20 hours a week
  • 110,000 beneficiary families with 190,000 children get a net extra $23 a week
  • WFF increases for working families earning under $36,350 a year by $12.50 a week, up to $24.50 a week for very low income
  • Families on WFF who earn over $88,000 a year get a bit less from WFF as abatement rate increases from 21.25c to 22.5c
  • WFF changes benefit 200,000 families and 380,000 children
  • 4,000 very low income working families get a net extra $24.50 a week
  • 50,000 low income working families get a net extra $21.50 a week
  • 150,000 other families get up to $21.50 a week
  • Childcare subsidies for low income families up from $4 to $5 an hour. Families eligible for up to 50 hours a week so worth up to $50 a week.
  • Cost of package $790 million over four years and then $240 million a year

On the overall economic front the main numbers are:

  • Projected GDP growth of 2.8% a year
  • Projected average wage growth from $56,000 to $63,000 by 2019
  • Projected deficit for 2014/15 is $684 million, compared to $2.9 billion in 2013/14
  • 2015/16 projected surplus of just $176 million
  • Operating allowance of $1 billion a year next two years and then $2.5 billion in 2017 (election year) which will include “modest” tax cuts if fiscal and economic conditions permit
  • Core crown expenses down from 34.1% of GDP to 30% next year

The Government is taking a big risk here. They may be forgiven for not making surplus this year, but with a mere $176 surplus projected for 2015/16, there is a real risk they may not even make it next year. This is not good enough.

On the revenue front some good and bad news:

  • ACC levy cuts of $500 million over two years
  • $1,000 kick start for KiwiSaver being removed. Won’t impact existing members who have had $2.5 billion since scheme began. Saves $500 million over four years so funds almost two thirds of the child poverty package
  • New airport tax of $100 million a year being $16 for inbound passengers and $6 for outbound

Quite cunning to mainly fund the child poverty package from the KiwiSaver kick start credit being abolished. It won’t affect the couple of million people already in KiwiSaver, and if you’re a low income family would you rather have $1,000 in 30 years’ time or $25 a week now.

On the expenditure side, the usual mix of announcements:

  • $400 million from the Future Investment Fund for Kiwirail which is the equivalent of throwing four million $100 notes into a paper shredder
  • A further $210 million for fibre roll-out, making a total of $2 billion the UFB and RBI initiatives to have a fast connected country
  • $1.7 billion for health over four years
  • $443 million for education over four years including $63 million for special needs kids
  • $113 million more for tertiary education
  • $164 million for Police
  • $50 million more for Whanau Ora
  • $11 million for to help prevent Kiwi (bird) numbers declining
  • $264 million more for NZ Defence Force
  • $97 million for regional highways and $40 million for urban cycleways
  • SIS and GCSB each get $20 million more
  • Chch rebuild costs now up to $16,5 billion

It is very cunning budget politically.  It is delivering the very thing the left have been demanding – an increase in benefit rates. It will be a fascinating test of which child poverty lobby groups are actually principled, and which are just anti-National shrills. Because the child poverty groups should all be praising the Budget for doing what no Labour Government has done in 43 years – give more money to those on benefits.

But it is not a Budget I support. Where are the tax cuts for hard working Kiwis? Instead of a surplus and likely tax cuts, we get a further deficit and lots of extra spending. The Government had up until now done a good job of fiscal restraint, but not so on this occasion.

This is a Budget that should be praised on The Standard and The Daily Blog. John Key and Bill English have delivered more to families on benefits than Norman Kirk, Bob Tizard, David Lange, Helen Clark and Michael Cullen ever have.


ACT’s Budget Wish List

May 21st, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

3 News reports:

ACT would like:

  • A referendum to decide the future structure of NZ Superannuation

  • Indexation of tax brackets to inflation so “stealth tax” increases don’t unfairly cut into household incomes

  • An eight-year programme of annual one percentage point reductions in the corporate tax rate

  • Fundamental RMA reform to remove its anti-development bias, freeing up land for affordable housing and boosting investment

  • Expanding the partnership school (charter school) model by allowing state schools, if their boards choose, to convert to the partnership funding model.


They all look good to me. And unlike some ACT wish lists in the past which were unobtainable without a major shft in government policy, this is all reasonable stuff that can be done.


Parliament 21 May 2015

May 21st, 2015 at 12:15 pm by David Farrar

The Budget will be delivered by the Minister of Finance at 2.00 pm.

After his speech, there will be a 15 hour debate where party leaders (six or more MP parties) get 20 minutes each and all other MPs 10 minutes.

The Government has indicated it will go into urgency at some stage, to debate Budget related legislation.

There is no question time.


Why are the Greens attacking Stats NZ?

May 21st, 2015 at 10:45 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The statistics in the latest Household Labour Force Survey show that while unemployment had dropped to 5.8 per cent, underemployment had risen by 21,200 in two years.

Statistics New Zealand began measuring underemployment in 2013, defining it as the “grey area” where people have a job but have similarities to unemployed people because they face a “partial lack of work”.

It is when a part-time worker is willing and available to work more hours than they usually do. The statistics are limited to part-time workers.

“We know have 103,000 underemployed, but Government treats them as employed for their figures,” said Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei. 

“The Government is massaging their employment figures in order for them to look like they’re doing way better, when in fact these are people looking for more work and many of them are unpaid.”

That is a stupid and false thing to say.

Stats NZ does the classifications. Is Turei accusing the public servants who work at Stats of fraud by massaging the figures?

Or is she claiming that someone working 25 hours a week, but seeking 35 hours, should be classified as unemployed?

The definition of unemployed used by Stats NZ for the HLFS is the same definition used by every country in the OECD. It is someone not in work, who is seeking and available for work.

It is not the only important piece of data in the HLFS. The working age participation rate is important. The FT employment rate is important. The number of hours worked data is important. The underemployment rate is important. But that’s a very different thing to what Turei has done – claiming Stats NZ is committing fraud by massaging the data.


Govt to make up to 430 hectares of crown land available for Auckland housing

May 21st, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

MBIE sent this brochure out yesterday inviting stakeholders to a programme launch to develop housing on Crown land in Auckland. This may be giving away a Budget announcement. It even details how they have identified 430 hectares of Crown land in residential zoned areas in Auckland.

If you assume 13 houses per hectare (average in Australia) that’s enough land for around 5,600 new houses.

Auckland Crown Land Launch Invite


Labour defending Canadian dairy industry

May 21st, 2015 at 9:15 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Trade Minister Tim Groser says he is not bothered that his name has apparently become a byword for undiplomatic behaviour.

The Labour Party today accused him in Parliament of insulting Canadian diplomats by comparing the country’s dairy industry to the Soviet Union.

Are the Soviets upset?

The description, while harsh, is not inaccurate. The Government limits the amount of domestic dairy production and has huge tariffs on imports. Farms have quotas and a single dairy cow quota is worth around $30,000. Tariffs are around 300% and they also have import quotas so that only say 1% of yoghurt can be imported.

I’d say it is an apt comparison.

Trade spokesman David Parker cited a scathing article by an American policy analyst, which said Mr Groser’s behaviour had led to a new slang term in Washington: “Grossing”.

The article said the Canadian Embassy in Washington was “privately bristling” at the minister’s “counter-productive, undiplomatic sledging”.

Oh no, the Canadian Embassy in Washington is upset. This could form an episode of Southpark!

He said that Canada’s dairy interests had been “diametrically opposed” to New Zealand’s interests for 30 years, and it took “just a little bit of spine to stand up to it”.

Mr Parker said Mr Groser’s comments were “abrasive and arrogant”.

“How does he think slagging off the Canadians using derogatory terms is going to result in a good outcome for those negotiations?” Mr Parker asked.

Mr Groser stood firm: “It’s called a negotiation. And to use one of Tana Umaga’s memorable phrases, ‘We ain’t here to play tiddlywinks’.”

So Labour is attacking the Minister for criticizing the Canadian Government’s dairy policy. Nice to know they’re focusing on the big issues.

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Herald calls for all benefits to increase by 24%

May 21st, 2015 at 8:30 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

It has long been an anomaly that benefits for the young are raised annually by the rate of inflation while superannuitants have their pensions pegged to increases in wages, or inflation if it is greater.

Wages in recent years have increased at a rate above low inflation, causing benefits to lag the general rise in living standards enjoyed by wage earners and the retired. The cost of indexing working age benefits to wages might be considerable but it seems only fair that it should be done. If fiscally possible, it should be accompanied by a catch-up adjustment to benefit rates over the next few years.

This may be the stupidest and most financially illiterate editorial of the year.

First let us calculate what this would cost.  NZ Super has increased by 78% since it was given a floor relative to wages. Inflation during that time has been 44%, which is how much other benefits have increased. This means that in today’s dollars you would need to increase all benefits by 24% to bring them in line with NZ Super increases.

The current cost of non NZ Super benefits is $7.3 billion, so the cost of the Herald’s editorial policy would be $1.74 billion.

The cost of this policy would be around $1,800 per working family.

So the Herald wants the Government to take an extra $1,800 off every family in work, and give it to people not working, on welfare. They think this is the best use of $1.74 billion. I’m staggered by their detachment from reality.


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5,500 more doctors and nurses

May 21st, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar


The graph shows the increase in full-time equivalent doctors and nurses in our public health (DHBs) system. Considering the impact of the GFC, and the need to get back into surplus, that is a significant achievement.


Guest Post: University Councils

May 20th, 2015 at 1:45 pm by David Farrar

A guest post by Rory McCourt, NZUSA President and Sandra Grey NZTEU President

Students and Staff: the heart of independent universities

 In February, the Government passed the Education Amendment Bill (No. 2), which increased the power of ministerial appointees to New Zealand’s eight university councils and removed the requirement for them to have student and staff representatives.

 The major objection we had, and continue to have, to Minister Joyce’s changes is that they increase the proportion of ministerial appointees, to one third of each council. There is a greater risk that a future minister of any political persuasion could use those ministerial appointees to gain control of councils and more brazenly implement the government’s agenda.

You might support government, which represent taxpayers, having more control over universities.

But what if I told you the next government could be, heaven forbid, a Labour-Green government. Imagine the kinds of policies that government could push through universities to advance its own political agenda.

Accountability to government is important. The tertiary education sector spends about $2b a year goes on compliance costs. But accountability is not the same thing as control.

University councils have always had a mix of left and right, business and union, student and management. That created debate, and built better institutions. Sometimes, to that minister’s frustration, these councils didn’t dance to his or her tune! Universities have stood up for academic freedom. Universities have been incubators for economic and political movements right across the spectrum.

Those movements and ideas have flourished without political interference. When politicians do decide what to teach and research, it can get messy. One needs only see the way the Australian Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, is trying to foist the climate denial ‘consensus centre’ on their universities. If Keith Holyoake had this new system, would he have tolerated Vietnam protests? If the First Labour Government could have controlled our universities would monetarist thought have had the space to survive?

To build innovative, challenging universities, our universities need institutional autonomy. Because, while the minister might be ‘Mr Fix It’ today, tomorrow it could be someone with a very different agenda and many of you will wish we didn’t give the keys to our universities to the politicians.

The law has passed and we can’t change that now. But we can make the best of a bad situation.

We can counterbalance the risk of a future minister misusing the power of his or her appointees by setting aside a third of seats on the new university councils for democratically elected staff and students.

Staff and students are diverse and they hold all possible political views, but they are people who value knowledge and the importance of academic freedom. And being elected to council rather than appointed gives them the independence to speak their mind. We, the public, pay billions to run our universities. We should keep them transparent with elected councillors whose interest is in quality of education.

TEU and NZUSA are calling for a third of seats to be reserved so that there is some balance to the ministerial power-grab. We hope you will join us and protect the best of our universities. 

Rory McCourt
National President
NZUSA ­The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations

Sandra Grey
National President
New Zealand Tertiary Education Union

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The Kitteridge speech

May 20th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

A rare public speech by the SIS Director, Rebecca Kitteridge to a privacy and identity conference. Some extracts:

What I hope to show is that in a liberal democracy like New Zealand, we need both individual privacy and national security. They complement one another, and a balance must be struck between them. In order to keep our country secure and protect our citizens, we have to be able to intercept private communications in some exceptional and legally authorised circumstances. But the needs of security agencies are not absolute. Any intrusion into privacy on the grounds of national security must occur only where it is necessary and proportionate, and must be subject to oversight.

Few would disagree with that.

And this is why I was attracted to the role of Director of Security. I am not in this job because I have a fascination for spying or because I relish the thought of intruding into people’s private affairs. Leading the Security Intelligence Service appealed to me because I feel strongly about the New Zealand way of life. I want to protect that way of life so we can continue to enjoy the things that are so wonderful about New Zealand, including the 3 integrity of our institutions, the privacy of our citizens, and our democratic rights and freedoms. And that motivation and commitment is shared by every person I have met in the NZSIS.

Kitteridge gets annoyed when she is called a spy boss, rather than the SIS boss because their motivation is security. They’re not MI6.

It is rather startling to think that when I was interviewed for the Director of Security role eighteen months ago, ISIL did not feature in my interview presentation. It is a big preoccupation for me now. ISIL recruits to its extremist cause through the use of slick propaganda, distributed via social media around the world. Its recruits may be young, vulnerable, or disaffected. They are excited by the extreme nature of what they see, and are drawn to something that they think has meaning.

The internet overcomes geographic distance and enables communication between these susceptible people and those encouraging them, radicalising them and directing them. The internet, and especially social media, means it is very easy for these individuals to connect up with others who share and strengthen their world view.

The threat to our security posed by foreign terrorist fighters is real, and it continues to develop rapidly. I know that my sister agencies overseas are dismayed at the prospect of radicalised and battle-hardened foreign fighters returning to their countries of origin – in some cases in their hundreds. Regardless of how the current situation in the Middle East is resolved, the issue of returning foreign fighters is going to challenge security services around the world for many years to come.

ISIL has changed things significantly.

Domestic extremists are also a real concern. ISIL explicitly urges individuals to conduct attacks using any weapon they have – a knife, a car – without talking to anybody about their plans. Attacks of this kind are extremely difficult to stop.

ISIL is very different to Al Qaeda who insisted on tight control and approval of any attacks. ISIL encourages anyone and everyone to attack.

We have seen the consequences of ISIL’s communications strategy and tactics being experienced in Paris, Belgium, Ottawa, Melbourne and Sydney, where lives have been taken or threatened. I don’t want to overstate the situation in New Zealand. As I have said before, there is a very small number of people in New Zealand, inspired by ISIL, who are talking about, advocating or planning to commit violent acts here or elsewhere. And it is the job of the Security Intelligence Service to understand what is going on so that those violent acts can be prevented.

Sadly we are not immune.

Making a decision to intercept a New Zealand citizen’s personal communications is only permissible under a Domestic Security Warrant, which often involves months of work and is not something we apply for lightly. To obtain a Warrant, the intelligence officers have to build and present a meticulously documented application, generally with attachments that are several inches thick, showing that the Warrant meets the criteria set out in our legislation, and is necessary and proportionate.

The Warrant application is reviewed by a senior manager and is scrutinised by the legal team. Then, as Director, I review it thoroughly. The Commissioner of Security Warrants then reviews it thoroughly. And then we take it to the Minister in Charge of the NZSIS. He asks questions and may require conditions to be added before it is signed off. Every Warrant must specify a period not exceeding 12 months for which the Warrant is valid. It can be renewed, but we must make the case again.

Not exactly mass surveillance is it.

We do not live in a surveillance state where everything you do online is recorded – at least not by the government! So – please enjoy the freedom that the internet gives you. You are free to click on whatever you want on your device, and you won’t pop up on our system. Typically, we get our leads through our interaction with the public and through information provided to us by other agencies.

Where information suggests that a person may be a threat to New Zealand’s domestic security, we will try to find out more about that person, and either determine that the person is not of interest, or build an intelligence case that may lead to a Warrant application. Our focus is on the small number of individuals who are actively interested in violent extremism, or causing some other harm to New Zealand’s security as defined in our legislation.

Around 50 a year.

I often think that if the public could see the people of the NZSIS doing their work, they would be delighted to see what hard-working, terrific people our intelligence officers are. I would love the Service to have a television show like Border Patrol.

Heh, Spy-Factor? Spy-Idol? Big Brother? :-)

But where it is possible to talk about our work, as I am today, I think we should. With others in the New Zealand Intelligence Community, I am working on being more open and transparent.

Good. The intelligence agencies have some stuff they need to keep secret, but not everything. I recall when I worked in the Pms Office, and someone from the SIS would bring a draft press release over – on a password encrypted disk in a locked briefcase!

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security reviews every warrant after it is issued. In addition, the Inspector-General and her staff are free to come into our workplace, access our databases and document management systems, and look at anything and everything that we do. The Office of the Inspector-General has been greatly strengthened over the last couple of years. The Office has gone from one part-time retired Judge and a part-time secretary, to a full-time Inspector-General with a number of permanent full-time staff. That means that sunlight is beaming in across the intelligence agencies right now.

This has been I think the most important change. Also of significance is the SIS Director, GCSB Director and the Inspector-General are now all lawyers – gone are the days of the military old boys club.


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Median house price doubled under Labour

May 20th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Prime Minister has been accused of lying about housing price increases under Labour – but figures support his often-repeated claim.

John Key was called a liar after an exchange with Labour leader Andrew Little in Question Time Tuesday.

Mr Little asked what effect the Government’s new rules on taxing capital gain on residential properties would have on the Auckland housing market.

In response, Mr Key repeated a claim he has made in recent weeks – that house prices doubled under the previous Labour Government.

That prompted Labour’s housing spokesman Phil Twyford to tweet that the Prime Minister was repeating the lie that house prices went up more under Labour than under his own Government.

So what is the truth?

Mr Twyford referred to statistics from the Real Estate Institute of NZ (REINZ) that showed its Auckland housing price index rose by 77 per cent during the Helen Clark Labour Government, and 87 per cent under the current National Government.

But another data set also released by REINZ – median national sale prices – does support the Prime Minister’s statement.

Under Labour, the national median price rose from $172,000 in November 1999 to $337,500 in November 2008, a 96 per cent increase.

The national median price has since gone up another 35 per cent under National to $455,000.

So median price for NZ doubled under Labour, compared to 35% under National.

Twyford tries to wriggle out of his claim by saying:

Mr Twyford told the Herald that he stood by his criticism.

The Prime Minister was being deliberately misleading by referring to nationwide prices in responding to questions about Auckland prices, without saying he was using nationwide figures, Mr Twyford said.

Twyford is wrong – again. Let’s look at Hansard:

Interestingly enough, if you look at the information by the Real Estate Institute, figures across New Zealand actually show that although Auckland house prices are up, the rest of the country is very mixed; some are actually down. And, interestingly enough, if you look at the equivalent period of time under the last Labour Government, house prices doubled. Under National they have gone up nationally by 35 percent.

Twyford should apologise. And to remove doubt, Key in a previous question used a different figure in reference to Auckland prices:

I know that Labour members do not like it, but house prices doubled under their watch. Actually, Auckland house prices went up by 79 percent under the previous Labour Government.

So John Key clearly linked to doubling of house prices to being nation-wide and used the 79% figure correctly for Auckland house prices under Labour.

Twyford will of course refuse to apologise.

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Parliament 20 May 2015

May 20th, 2015 at 12:10 pm by David Farrar

The order paper is here.

Oral Questions 2.00 pm – 3.00 pm

  1. ANDREW LITTLE to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement in his Budget speech last year, “we are in surplus”?
  2. METIRIA TUREI to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
  3. JAMI-LEE ROSS to the Minister of Finance: How will the Government’s responsible fiscal management support better public services for New Zealanders in Budget 2015?
  4. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: What plans does the Government have in the Budget tomorrow to get the 146,000 officially unemployed New Zealanders, as measured by the Labour Market Statistics, into work?
  5. GRANT ROBERTSON to the Minister of Finance: Does his Budget 2015 speech include the statement, “there will be a small surplus this year and increasing surpluses forecast over time”?
  6. MARK MITCHELL to the Minister of Defence: What is the Government doing to engage the New Zealand public on the future of the Defence Force?
  7. JULIE ANNE GENTER to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that “the surplus target is important”?
  8. JACINDA ARDERN to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by her statement in December last year in relation to child poverty that the Government is “working on a comprehensive plan” and it is “shaping up to be a really big piece of work”; if so, will that big piece of work be in Budget 2015?
  9. Dr JIAN YANG to the Minister of Science and Innovation: What research is the Government undertaking to strengthen the forestry sector?
  10. Hon DAVID PARKER to the Minister of Trade: Does he stand by his description, during the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, of the Canadian dairy industry as belonging “in the former Soviet Union”?
  11. BARBARA KURIGER to the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: What has the Government done to protect the site of one of the most significant battles in the New Zealand Wars?
  12. CLAYTON MITCHELL to the Minister of Transport: What is the Government doing about the Tauranga Central Corridor?

National: Four patsies on Budget 2015, NZ Defence Force, forestry and the New Zealand Wars

Labour: Four questions on surplus x 2, child poverty and TPP

Greens: Two questions on PM standing by his statements and surplus

NZ First: Two questions on unemployment and Tauranga Central Corridor

General Debate 3.00 pm to 4.00 pm

The general debate has 12 speeches of up to five minutes each, so a maximum debate of one hour.

Government Bills 4.00 pm to 6.00 pm and 7.30 pm to 10.00 pm

Radio New Zealand Amendment Bill – second reading

The bill amends the Radio New Zealand Act 1995 to implement a new Radio New Zealand Charter

  • Introduced: June 2009
  • 1st reading: June 2009, passed unanimously
  • SC report: December 2009, supported without amendments with a minority report from Labour

The second reading has 12 speeches of up to 10 minutes, so a maximum debate of two hours.


Peters flip-flops on refugees

May 20th, 2015 at 11:30 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says the number of refugees who are allowed to settle here should be greatly increased.

The Northland MP, who is well known for his opposition to current immigration levels, believes New Zealand’s refugee quote should be increased by at least a third.

There is currently an annual limit of around 750 places for refugees on United Nations waiting lists.

“There’s no reason, in my view, that we couldn’t go to 1000 easily, and do it in a responsible way,” Mr Peters said, in answer to a question from a first year politics class at Victoria University of Wellington yesterday.

Winston of course was campaigning against in 2004. The RMS responded to his claims:

Winston Peters’ comments in the House yesterday about New Zealand’s refugee quota system were inaccurate and misleading, says RMS Resettlement director Peter Cotton.

“He chose to hide behind Parliamentary Privilege to attack a former Somali refugee seeking to bring members of her family to New Zealand. At the same time he blatantly misrepresented the Government’s response to refugees, suggesting that each refugee accepted in New Zealand’s small annual quota (750) was likely to be followed by an additional 14 family members.

So in 2004 he was attacking us for having 750 by claiming each one would bring in 14 more. In 2015 he pretends he is in favour of increasing it.

In 2001 he attacked the Government for allowing in the Tampa refugees.

“The fact remains that New Zealand was a soft touch when she took office and it is even more of a soft touch now. Another load of refugees does not make any sense when we have already been very charitable. The truth is that there were many UN signatory countries closer to the Tampa than New Zealand, why then is New Zealand being expected to once again grossly exceed its limit?

“The duplicity of government is astounding. The more facts that come out of this debacle the more concerning it gets. We now hear that many may be carrying third-world diseases, as if we didn’t know that, and have not been treated in Nauru first. The Government has a duty to protect the health and security of its inhabitants, a test which it is failing miserably.

Not big on consistency is he.

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Targeting not universality

May 20th, 2015 at 10:45 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Children’s Commissioner wants a rethink of universal services such as pensions and free children’s healthcare so more public spending can go to the neediest families.

The commissioner, Hastings children’s doctor Russell Wills, wants tomorrow’s Budget to start a national “conversation” about how to use limited public spending to best effect.

“We need all taxpayers’ funds to make the biggest difference they possibly can,” he said.

“That might mean further targeting of some of those benefits that are currently universal.

Absolutely. As a first principle, the government should target funding towards low income families, rather than tax everyone more, to then spend that money on their behalf.

We should not pay the pension to millionaires.  We should not subsidise GP visits to people earning $500,000 a year.


Wowsers don’t give up

May 20th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

New Zealand’s top medical body had called for a clampdown on our rampant boozing, including banning advertising, raising the drinking age, and increasing taxes.

In a “briefing” published on Tuesday, the New Zealand Medical Association says the Government needs to intervene more heavily in the liquor industry for the nation’s collective health.

“We consider it vital to ensure that policies to reduce alcohol-related harm are based on the best available evidence, not on ideology or on the basis of lobbying by vested commercial interests.”

I agree. Ideology does get in the way of evidence. Let’s look at the evidence:

There is of course still significant harm caused by alcohol abuse, just as there is also significant pleasure caused by non abusive consumption of alcohol. What is clear in numerous indicators is the trend is positive. That is not industry research, but data from Stats NZ, the Ministry of Health and ALAC.

But the health activists ignore it, because it is an inconvenient fact.

The association said the liberalisation of drinking laws in 1989, combined with increasingly sophisticated liquor marketing, had encouraged a culture of heavy drinking, which had “resulted in what some researchers term an ‘alcogenic’ environment”.

Actually the WHO has found there has been a reduction in drinking habits in the last 30 years.

Raising the legal alcohol purchasing age, for both on and off-licences, to 20

Parliament has voted four times on this issue in 12 years. Each time it has been for 18, not 20. You’re beating a dead horse.



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How Labour MPs should have responded

May 20th, 2015 at 9:15 am by David Farrar

Many on the left are up in arms over the responses given by Labour MPs to remits Young Labour got through two regional conferences to full fund gender reassignment surgery (we currently fund four a year). Quotes from Labour MPs included:

  • Andrew Little – “I’m quite happy with my gender.”
  • Stuart Nash – “”I don’t think it’s an issue that’s important to the people of New Zealand”
  • David Shearer – “What is it?”
  • Grant Robertson – ” didn’t feel strongly about the funding of gender reassignment surgery”

Here’s the answer they should have given, which wouldn’t have offended their supporters – “I think it is a good thing that some gender reassignment surgery is publicly funded and it would be nice to extend that, but there are many worthy health procedures to fund, and we’ll consider what the priorities are in future”.

The substance of the answer is much the same, but less dismissive of those who are on the waiting list (which is currently 30 years or so at 4 a year).

And kudos to Young Labour for pushing the remit at Labour conferences. Youth wings should not just be quiet little helpers to parties, but should push their own views on policy, and represent the views of their members.

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