Advancement of religion should not be a charitable purpose

February 23rd, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Food giant Sanitarium appears to be safe from an ongoing Government crackdown on charities that has some sporting bodies worried they may lose their charitable status.

The maker of Weet-Bix and Marmite has a controversial exemption from paying tax on its business earnings as a result of its ownership by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in New Zealand, a registered charity. …

The Internal Affairs spokesman said no sector, sporting or otherwise, was being specifically targeted, but organisations that “no longer meet a charitable purpose” or fail to comply with their obligations will be deregistered.

There were no issues with Sanitarium’s registration, the spokesman said, as “advancement of religion” was considered a charitable purpose under the Charities Act.

That rationale harks back to archaic British law, which some critics argue is no longer relevant in a secular, 21st century democracy.

It isn’t. You should not get tax exempt status because you promote belief in a supreme being, or multiple supreme beings.

The relief of poverty, widespread community benefit and advancement of education are also considered charitable purposes under the Charities Act.

Many churches do worthy things which do help the poor and benefit the community. And they may qualify for charitable status on the basis of their activities. But they should not qualify because they promote religion.

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Taxi competition working

February 23rd, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A price gap of up to $60 has emerged between taxi companies travelling from Auckland Airport to the city.

The Herald reported on Saturday that an undercover survey of four taxi companies travelling the same route found a difference of up to $40. One company, Black Cabs, charged $91.60, while the cheapest, booked through the app CabChooze, charged $50.83.

The Herald received feedback from readers after the story pointing to much cheaper deals, leading to a bigger difference of nearly $60.

A reporter yesterday took a pre-booked trip from the airport to the city with Cheap Cabs, costing only $33.

The company’s website lists flat-rate fares to and from the airport.

Another company, Discount Taxis, quoted the Herald a cash fare of $40 to travel from the airport to SkyCity.

This is a good thing that there is such a wide range of prices. Some customers are price sensitive and will want the cheapest fare. Others go for quality and will always go for Auckland Combined or Corporate Cabs.

Apps will play a major part in allowing people to choose the cab they want.

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A binding referendum on superannuation

February 23rd, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

ACT wants a binding referendum on the future of New Zealand’s superannuation and raising the retirement age.

Leader David Seymour says a public vote would end the “Mexican stand-off” between National and Labour, as pressure on the system grows. He believes it is untenable to keep paying out super from aged 65.

In a speech to his party’s annual conference yesterday, Seymour pitched the idea of an independent body to oversee a series of referendums on future of superannuation. And he pointed to an upcoming public poll on changing the flag.

“National won’t address the issue, Labour tried and are now backing away. This is a political Mexican stand-off, with the guns pointed at the younger generations,” he said. 

I’m very supportive of the ACT proposal, especially because it is not just about the age of eligibility.

The idea of a two stage referendum, as we had with MMP and upcoming with the flag, is very sound.

Let an expert panel put up say four different future superannuation schemes, each fully costed. Then New Zealanders can vote on which of the four we prefer and have that go up to a final vote against the current scheme (which is unaffordable).

A key aspect is the current scheme would remain in place for current retirees, and those near retirement. A new scheme would apply say to those aged under 50 only.

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Half Mast Occasions

February 23rd, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

When King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died, some on the left complained about the fact NZ had flags at half mast to mark his death. It is of course standard procedure to do half mast for the death of any reigning head of state, and none of them complained when the same happened for Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, despite his terrible human rights record.

I got curious about how often in the last decade NZ flags have flown at half mast and why, so I asked the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. It has occurred 38 times.

I’ve split them into categories.

Death of Foreign Head of State

  1. Pope John Paul II, 2005
  2. Prince Rainer III of Monaco, 2005
  3. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, 2005
  4. King Tupou of Tonga, 2006
  5. Samoan Head of State, 2007
  6. King Tupou V of Tonga, 2012
  7. President Chavez of Venezuela, 2013
  8. President Sata of Zambia, 2014
  9. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, 2015

Of interest is that flags were lowered in 2005 for King Fahd, and as far as I can see not a single person complained. However when there is a National Government in power, it becomes a major media story!

Death of New Zealanders

  1. David Lange 2005
  2. Rod Donald 2006
  3. Maori Queen 2006
  4. Sir Edmund Hillary 2008 (twice)
  5. NZ soldiers killed in service 2009, 2010, 2011 (x5), 2011 (x6)
  6. Pike River 2010 (twice)
  7. Christchurch Earthquake 2011, 2011, 2012
  8. Sir Paul Reeves 2011
  9. WWI centenary 2014

Others

  1. Asia Boxing Day tsunami 2005
  2. London bombings 2005
  3. Samoa tsunami 2009
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General Debate 23 February 2015

February 23rd, 2015 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel
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Herald queries Police action on court siding

February 23rd, 2015 at 7:28 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Cricket followers were introduced to a new practice, court-siding, during the opening Cricket World Cup match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka. The attempt to stamp out this activity, named for its initial use at tennis tournaments, saw police officers, some in plain clothes, patrolling the Hagley Oval in search of spectators using lap-tops or constantly on their cellphones. Later, they revealed that “several” people caught court-siding had been interviewed and removed from the ground. This for an activity that is not actually illegal in this country.

Given that, there is every reason to question the police involvement. This has been highlighted by AUT senior law lecturer Craig Dickson. Court-siding’s only offence, he noted, was that it breached the terms and conditions of World Cup tickets, as prescribed by the International Cricket Council. On that basis, it seems reasonable to conclude that any transgressions should be left to the security staff employed by the ICC.

Absolutely. It is not a criminal matter.

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Braunias on Joyce

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

This week’s Steve Braunias is rather good. An extract:

Just as I sit down for breakfast the phone rings and it’s Sky CEO Nigel Morrison demanding I come over right now and go through new costings for the convention centre or the whole deal is off. No problem. I grab toast, sausages, tomatoes, hash browns and a lamb chop to go, and scamper across town.

He presents the figures and draws up an architectural plan and says that without government funding the conventional centre will be minus windows, light bulbs and women’s toilets on the third floor.

I tell him if you carry the two and divide by six and move that column over to the left and this column over to the right and shake it all about then it’s entirely possible to make an allowance for three windows and five light bulbs on the second floor.

“Tell you what, sport,” he says. “Gizzus that toast in your pocket and we’ll throw it in the women’s toilets on the sixth floor.”

I weigh up the toast and figure I can always get my hands on some more down the line so I narrow my eyes and say to him, “Deal.”

It’s only when I get back to the office that I remember the convention centre doesn’t have a sixth floor.

Heh.

And:

Just as I sit down to microwave yesterday’s breakfast the phone rings and it’s my mole in the America’s Cup syndicate saying that Dean Barker is in for the chop and without him any chance of winning the next series is lost. No worries. I grab sausages, tomatoes, hash browns, and a lamb chop to go, and head for the waterfront.

I figure that if I delegate one or two minor responsibilities to the Prime Minister then I’ll be able to find the time to helm the black boat to victory, but first I just need a bit of practice.

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Stop offending and then you can change

February 22nd, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A transgender prisoner with a taste for arson is taking legal action against the Corrections Department to get access to hormone treatment.

Brendon Forrest, who identifies as a woman, has taken a case to the Human Rights Review Tribunal after being denied expensive medical treatment in prison.

After a policy change last year, transgender inmates can request a transfer to a different prison matching the sex they identify with, instead of that on their birth certificate.

Factors to be considered include any risk the prisoner may pose to the safety of other prisoners, and vice-versa.

Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar described the situation as “nuttiness”.

“If he wants to sort himself out, or find out what gender he is that’s fine, but let it be on the outside. It shouldn’t be on the taxpayer. That’s what happens with these bush lawyers, they play merry hell with the system.”

I agree.

Forrest has a record of arson, threatening and setting a car alight with a person in it. If he stops committing crimes, then he’ll be out of prison and free to pursue treatment he desires.

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The Auckland man in London

February 22nd, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

Aucklanders now have their very own man in London, at a cost to ratepayers of more than $230,000.

Auckland Council’s economic development arm has created a special contract in London for one of its senior executives, Grant Jenkins, who has moved his family to England.

His English-born wife, Kate, was homesick and had been longing to return home for several years, according to a former council staffer.

The Jenkins have set up home with their two children outside London in the village of Bourne End in Buckinghamshire.

As well as paying about $196,000 for a 12-month contract, ratepayers are picking up Mr Jenkins’ work expenses and office costs at New Zealand Tourism’s headquarters in New Zealand House near Trafalgar Square.

Ratepayers have paid an administration fee of about $15,000 for his contract and contributed $19,841 to the family’s relocation costs.

Here’s how you can tell if this is just jobs for the boys. Was this position advertised or tendered? No. An existing employee decided to move back to London, so ATEED created a new job for him there.

Outrageous. Was this signed of by the ATEED Board? Did they ask questions?

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General Debate 22 February 2015

February 22nd, 2015 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel
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ISIL now organ harvesting to raise money?

February 22nd, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

News.com.au reports:

THE Islamic State may be harvesting the organs of victims to finance its terror operations, Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations says.

Ambassador Mohamed Alhakim said today that in the past few weeks, bodies with surgical incisions and missing kidneys or other body parts have been found in shallow mass graves.

“We have bodies. Come and examine them,” he said, referring to the UN Security Council.

“It is clear they are missing certain parts.”

Ambassador Alhakim also said a dozen doctors had been “executed” in Mosul for refusing to participate in organ harvesting …

And still some people say this is nothing out of the ordinary and NZ should not do anything to stop this except make speeches at the UN.

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The quake story you should read

February 21st, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Olivia Carville, formerly of The Press, writes of her first anniversary of the quake away from Christchurch. I won’t try to summarise it, just to say it is well worth reading.

 

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Charter school likely to close

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

The Herald reports:

Education Minister Hekia Parata has issued a formal warning to the troubled charter school in Whangaruru which now has a month to show it can rectify its problems or it could face closure.

Ms Parata has released her letter to the trust which runs the Te Pumanawa o te Wairua School advising it was now on notice over its performance and would be audited in a month. The letter said it had failed to meet criteria for truancy and the size of the school roll and there were indications of under achievement.

She would use the audit to decide whether the school had any hope of fixing its problems before making any decision on its future. The letter warned that if the trust did not take immediate action to address the problems, it could face closure.

This is a great example of the enhanced accountability that comes with charter schools. When was the last time you heard of a state school facing closure because it is under achieving and having too many truants?

Four out of the five initial charter schools are doing well, and producing what look to be some great results. One of them is not. But again, this is why the charter school model is useful – the sucessful schools prosper, and the unsuccesful ones close down.

When a state school is unsuccessful, it gets more funding, its neighbours are told they have to shrink their zones to stop parents leaving it, and after around five years of under-achievement, there might be some government intervention.

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Donation refunded

February 21st, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Electoral returns out next week will confirm that a National Party MP received $25,000 from a controversial businessman after Prime Minister John Key had a private dinner with him – at the man’s home.

The PM has always maintained that he met Donghua Liu at a National Party fundraiser but would never say where. Today, the Weekend Herald can reveal that the fundraiser was actually a private dinner at Mr Liu’s $4.75 million home in Remuera, where a smiling Mr Key and Jami-Lee Ross, the MP for Botany, were photographed alongside Mr Liu and his young family.

Afterwards, Mr Liu donated $25,000 that same month to Mr Ross’ election campaign. But the following year, Mr Liu became a political embarrassment for the Government after a Herald investigation revealed the impact of the property developer’s links to the National Party.

Shortly after the election, Mr Ross refunded the large donation from Mr Liu’s company – 15 months after it was given. Mr Ross has since disclosed the donation in candidate returns for the 2014 election due to be released by the Electoral Commission next week.

Mr Liu is upset that Mr Ross refunded the $25,000 cheque, which he regarded as a “slap in the face”.

The 53-year-old pleaded guilty to the domestic violence charges in April last year, but was in the Auckland District Court this week seeking to withdraw those admissions. He was successful and the case is likely to now head to trial.

 

Last night, Jami-Lee Ross said he did not intend to insult Mr Liu and any negative publicity associated to the businessman was not the reason the $25,000 was returned.

He said the Liu donation was given to be used in the local Botany campaign, but was not spent as a $24,000 donation from the National Party covered his expenses.

“So when the [donation and expense] returns were being put together after the election, it was decided the $25,000 should be returned to the donor because it was not used.

I think there is a useful lesson in this for National. I’m all for people donating to parties because they think a party’s policies will be good for NZ. But if a donation appears to be about influence, then parties should be wary.

Returning the $25,000 was the right thing to do, especially after the court case became known.It was of course not known at the time the donation was received.

The suggestion that it was returned because it was not used or needed is somewhat laughable. I’ve never known a party or candidate to return a donation on the basis they didn’t use it. Normally a party holds onto a donation as tightly as a crocodile holds onto its prey.

It is a good thing we have electoral laws that require transparency around donations. It allows the public to judge if they think a significant donation is appropriate or not. In this case, I think National’s concern was rightfully that it would not.

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Courageous conversations?

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

Philip Mathews reports in The Press:

“We bent over backwards to follow the letter of the law,” says Canterbury Museum director Anthony Wright.

“I’m not surprised or offended by anti reactions at all,” Wright says. “Museums are about sparking courageous conversations and I’m proud that we do that. We don’t kowtow to undue pressure.”

Really? Courage would be showing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Actually courage would be showing any depiction at all of Mohammed, even a benign one.

Between unpacking the offensive shirt in December and applying for an exemption to show it in January, the Charlie Hebdo shooting happened in Paris. Wright says that did not give him pause.

“I can’t imagine any context in which we would be doing anything on Mohammed,” he says.

Of course not.

But the hypothetical question is obvious. If one of Charlie Hebdo’s obscene drawings of Mohammed had been on a T-shirt that Zammit submitted, would the museum show it?

“You can make anything a hypothetical,” Wright says. “It’s just light years different. I was personally shocked when connections were made with things like that.”

Wright should have the courage of his convictions and spark a “courageous conversation” about the purported Quranic ban on depictions of Mohammed. Hard to argue it is not topical issue.

But of course he won’t. Because that would in fact take courage.

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General Debate 21 February 2015

February 21st, 2015 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel
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Greens propose 20% rates hike

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

The Dom Post reports:

Cheaper bus fares and a free service on Saturdays have been proposed for Wellington, but the ideas could hit ratepayers in the pocket to the tune of $20 million.

The Green Party wants to see a three-month trial of “zero-fare Saturday”, as part of a five-point plan to reduce bus fares across the Wellington region.

Why just on Saturdays? Let’s just wave a wand and have free fares every day of the week. Even better, let’s pay people to use the bus!

But bus users were keen on the idea, when asked yesterday.

In stunning news, people who use a service like the idea of other people paying for it on their behalf.

Paul Swain, the regional council’s transport portfolio leader, said some of the Greens’ proposals were already being considered by council staff as part of the long-term plan process.

But the entire package could cost up to $20m, which would be roughly a 20 per cent rates hike, he said. “In my view, that’s unaffordable and the ratepayers would react very negatively.”

So remember that next local body elections – the Greens want a 20%rates hike.

I suspect it would be far more than that. History tells us that you make something “free” and the costs rise almost exponentially.

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A religious belief should not be forced on others by law

February 20th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Local iwi want the Christchurch City Council to stop allowing people to scatter or bury human ashes in parks and reserves but councillors are hesitant to ban the practice.

The council has been in a quandary over the issue since Mahaanui Kurataiao Ltd (MKT), a company that acts on behalf of the six runanga within Christchurch, raised concerns in a submission on the draft 2014 Parks and Reserves bylaw.

The draft bylaw included a provision for ashes to be interred or scattered in parks and reserves on the condition that written approval was first obtained from the council.

 

Why need permission in writing? The only requirement should be that any scattering not be done in a way that detracts from the enjoyment of others in the park – ie be considerate.

MKT asked the council to amend the bylaw to prohibit the burial or scattering of ashes of any deceased person or animal in any public park or reserve.

Cr David East, who chaired the hearings panel the council set up to consider public submissions on the bylaw, said the panel had met recently with MKT to hear more about its concerns.

“Obviously for Maori there is a cultural issue with the spreading of ashes in parks and reserves. In their view that land is then tapu and that prevents them from gathering food and doing all sorts of activities,” East said.

That is a religious view that some (not all) Maori may have. That view should not be forced on the entire population of Christchurch, and more than the views of Scientologists should be given credence in law.

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Treasury leading the way with OIA

February 20th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Transtasman reports:

The Treasury is trialling the publication of its responses to selected OIA requests. The proactive release of individuals requests follow on from material such as Budget papers and Briefings to Incoming Ministers being released in bulk fashion for some time. Initial OIA requests released range from the Debt Management Office’s replacement of its Matriarch IT system through to Govt funding of NZ America’s Cup Teams. The argument for release is since the work has already been done to respond to the request and compile the information it might as well be more widely released.

I’ve been pushing for this for several years. A lot of very interesting information is released under the OIA, but is never seen by the public except the requester. The FYI tool is a great private sector initiative which allows responses to be viewed if it is used.

But what I’d like to see is:

  1. Govt establishes a www.oia.govt.nz
  2. All substantive responses to an OIA request are uploaded to the site a week after they are sent to the requester
  3. Uploaded documents are tagged with subject and portfolios tags to allow easy browsing

Good to see Treasury heading down this route of proactive release. I hope it leads to other agencies following.

 

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What should the public health system fund?

February 20th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The letter comes after Christchurch weight loss blogger Elora Harre, posted on her Facebook page, the Shrinking Violet, that she had been refused excess skin removal surgery during a consultation with a plastic surgeon at Christchurch Hospital on Friday.

She was told she was a “perfect candidate” but the hospital lacked resources to operate, she said.

“Why is it that despite the fact we are quickly becoming an obese nation, for someone who has done what I was asked and lost the weight that could’ve cost our public health system A LOT more, that there is no resource for me?” she wrote.

She said the excess skin on her stomach, inner thighs, calves, lower back, arms, breasts and armpits caused her both psychological discomfort and physical discomfort, including a recurrent staph infection in her navel.

The post, which has attracted more than 600 “likes”, called on her thousands of followers to email Christchurch hospital general manager Pauline Clark and Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman in support of her cause.

I have some sympathy for Ms Harre’s cause. By losing weight naturally she has saved the health system money, and specifically could have been eligible for gastric bypass surgery which is very costly. It would arguably be a nice incentive that if you lose weight without surgery, you could qualify for some cheaper cosmetic surgery to remove excess skin.

However with limited resources it is hard to argue it is a priority:

Christchurch Hospital’s clinical director of plastic surgery has responded to criticism from a woman who was refused excess skin removal following her 55-kilogram weight loss.

In a letter to Stuff.co.nz, Dr Barnaby Nye wrote of the challenge of delivering health care in a budget-constrained environment. …

In his letter, Nye did not wish to comment on individual cases, but offered hypothetical case studies of patients he may treat, including a woman with carpel tunnel syndrome, and a man requiring jaw reconstruction after cancer removal.

“Every one of these patients lives will be improved with surgery,” Nye wrote.

“We are tasked with drawing a threshold to treat patients in the public system and must weigh the benefits for each of these … Our budget demands a certain number of cases be done per year but with limited operating time, operating on [one person] potentially denies more than 30 [other people] the chance of treatment.”

It is hard to say that the clinicians have their priorities wrong.

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English wants to have the geeks more involved in policy

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

Stuff reports:

Public sector mandarins will have to change their ways by giving geeks a bigger seat at the policy table, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English has warned.

Ministers wanted more “facts” and agencies should start referring to people as “customers” not clients, he said. …

English said the structure of government was going to change much more over the next 10 years than it had over the past 30.

“The use of other words like ‘clients’ hasn’t brought about in the past the kind of culture shift that we need,” he said.

English was speaking in Wellington at an annual homage to technocracy, a conference organised by United States firm SAS Institute, a leading provider of software tools to crunch “big data”.

Data and data analytics should be an intrinsic part of policy-making but that was not how the public service was organised, he said.

“We are making a lot of policy with people who know nothing about customers. We are organised with the sociology graduates ‘over here’ and the geeks down the corridor somewhere.” 

Departments didn’t bring technical people who understood their data to meetings unless ministers specifically requested it, he said. 

“That will change. Policy without using these tools won’t mean much to us because our policies are pretty pragmatic. They are focused on getting better results for customers.”

Very much agree data should be a big part of decision making. The analysis of data should occur in both the public and private sectors. An important part of this is to have the Government continue to make its internal data available outside of Government.

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Anti-Semitism in Paris

February 20th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The latest viral video to capture scenes of street harassment shows a yarmulke-clad Jew encountering stares and hostile remarks while walking through Muslim neighbourhoods in Paris.

Zvika Klein, a journalist with Israeli news website NRG, says he spent 10 hours walking the streets with a bodyguard and a hidden cameraman in February to gather the footage.

“We decided ahead of time that I was to walk through these areas quietly, without stopping anywhere, without speaking to anyone, without so much as looking sideways,” Klein wrote. “My heart was pounding and negative thoughts were running through my head. I would be lying if I said I was not afraid.”

One man followed him and two different people, a man and a woman, spat at his feet. “Viva Palestine,” another youth yelled.

It is disgraceful that there are areas of Paris where it is unsafe to be a Jew.

We are very fortunate – I can’t think of a single area of New Zealand, where anyone would feel unsafe just because of their religious affiliation.

 

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RIP Red Alert?

February 20th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Insider reports:

The Red Alert blog site was once touted by Labour as the place where its MPs would re-engage with the public and members, to debate policy and excite voters. Now it resembles a ghost town, with digital tumbleweed blowing through its pages. The most recent post is from Darien Fenton, talking about her valedictory speech – last July.

Even before that is was dying. I do more posts in one day than they’ve done in the last 12 months.

Maybe the time has come for them to euthanise it.

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Freddie wants his jersey back

February 20th, 2015 at 9:57 am by David Farrar

bain2 kruger

First image is of David Bain in today’s NZ Herald, trying to make the case he didn’t kill his family.

I thought it would be hard for him to find a worse jersey than the one he was arrested in, but this one manages it!

 

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The beginning of the dirty deal in Northland!

February 20th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Greens have announced:

“It is our strategic assessment that we should not run in the by-election and instead focus on our nationwide climate change and inequality campaigns,” said Green Party Co-convenor John Ranta.

What blatant spin. A by-election is the perfect opportunity to get publicity for your issues.

Next look out for whether Labour withdraws!

But I think the left putting all their hopes in Winston are misplaced when Northlanders realise voting for Winston will actually result in them losing an MP in Northland and Invercargill gaining one.

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