Election Eve

November 8th, 2008 at 7:38 am by David Farrar

Had a fun time out drinking last night. A very mixed group with Chris Trotter (wearing a Labour rosette!), Keith Locke (Greens), Joe Hendren (Alliance/NDU) and a couple of UNITE staffers plus Ben Thomas (NBR) and Hamilton Blonde (SAHM-WLP).

We were at Galbraiths and I was disappointed to learn I missed Helen doding a flying visit at 6pm. But regardless was a good time with lots of interesting conversation. We all wrote election predictions down on a beer coaster. God knows who has it – I can’t even recall what I predicted.

Today I need to do three things – haircut, vote and swot up on 2005 results – not in that order.

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National on the Maori seats

October 2nd, 2008 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Ben Thomas at NBR quotes Pita Sharples:

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples says his party receives signals “privately” that the National Party is not too committed on its position of abolishing the Maori electorate seats.

Host Martyn Bradbury put to Dr Sharples right wing commentator Matthew Hooton’s view that “the desire to dump the Maori seats was simply window dressing for the more meat-eating National fringe than genuine policy,” and asked whether the announced policy  suggested National were more serious about abolishing the seats.

Mr Sharples replied: “No, I think Mr Hooton is pretty close. That’s the same message we’ve been getting privately, that in fact it’s well off.”

I’m not surprised by the story. But one has to be careful about what it means.

I have no doubt the vast majority of National MPs think that the Maori Seats should be abolished. As do I for that matter.

However they are also aware that abolishing them would be difficult, to put it mildly.

And it is not a burning issue for most National MPs. There are many things they would like to do, and some are more important than others. Abolishing the Maori seats probably ranks a long way below higher economic growth, better standards in education, welfare reform and a better performing health system.

So if the price of a deal with the Maori Party is to agree not to abolish the Maori seats (amongst other things), then that is not going be much of a dead rat to chew on. It would be what is called an easy concession.

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Who does the accounts for NZ First?

September 3rd, 2008 at 1:12 pm by David Farrar

There are more and more questions over NZ First and their accounts. Both NZPA and the Dominion Post have said that Nick Kosoof is both NZ First’s Auditor and their Accountant. Surely not?

So can someone find out the following:

  1. Who was NZ First’s Auditor in 2005?
  2. Who was NZ First’s Accountant in 2005?
  3. Who was NZ First’s Treasurer in 2005?
  4. Who was NZ First’s Party Secretary in 2005?

To the best of my iformation the Party Secretary in 2005 was not some poor office person (as Helen suggests) but Edwin Perry who was an NZ First MP at the time.

Also Audrey Young blogged in February 2008 that the Party Treasurer in 2007 was also a former NZ First MP – Brent Catchpole. Was he also Treasurer in 2005?

And then we have an interview on Nine to Noon with Peter Williams. Parts are amusing as he rants about Matthew Hooton, and parts are clearly wrong.

Williams said around 5 minutes 20 secs in:

The money that they paid, I think it was about $80,000 wasn’t it? … The moneys that were subscribed by the Vela family were paid to the Spencer trust, and in turn the Spencer trust paid the money to NZ First.

But the Spencer Trust was set up in August 2005, and the Vela donations were between 1999 and 2003.

No wonder the SFO doesn’t go along with Mr Williams insistence that it can all be cleared up in five minutes and his latest line that they have made one little mistake in 15 years of flawless behaviour.

Two other stories of note. Martin Kay in the Dom Post says:

When The Dominion Post first put to him in July that NZ First received money through a trust, he said through a spokesman: “It’s a lie.”

Mr Peters’ brother, Wayne, is one of three Spencer trustees. Fellow trustee Grant Currie said on Monday that its only purpose was to channel money to NZ First.

So Peters said it was a lie, yet the lie was his.I am sure Helen just sees it all as another innocent mistake.

Ben Thomas at NBR also points out NZ First are recycling excuses:

New Zealand First’s explanation for why it didn’t disclose a $25,000 donation allegedly funneled through the Spencer Trust will sound strangely familiar to Winston watchers.

The party’s auditor said yesterday it failed to declare the $25,000 donation from Sir Robert Jones in the 2005 year because it slipped people’s attention “during a change in administrative staff.”

That is now the second time – and for the second separate set of accounts – that the party has used the excuse of a personnel changeover for ostensibly breaching electoral finance disclosure laws.

Like all Winston Peters’ rhetorical greatest hits – “if you stop telling lies about me,  I’ll stop telling the truth about you,” for example – “administrative error” may have been too exquisite a line to only use once.

In August this year New Zealand First was let off on the late filing of its return of donations for the 2007 year, because the Electoral Commission accepted its explanation the delay was caused by “changes in the upper levels of office holders such that many had not been through the donation return process before.”

New Zealand First missed the April 30 deadline for filing its donation returns. When the late return did arrive it didn’t disclose any donations – so why the delay? It should have been a simple matter to verify no donations over $10,000 (the minimum amount that has to be declared) had been received.

The party denied media reports that its president and secretary had been waiting for the return of Parliamentary party leader Winston Peters from overseas to sign off the accounts (which would have been unusual, since he is not a legal office holder as far as the party is concerned).

Instead the secretary offered up the “office-holder changeover” scenario, and aid there had been a miscommunication between the treasurer and the auditor. The commission decided that was a reasonable excuse, and so no breach of the Act had been committed.

Given how long it seems to take the New Zealand First party to sort out its finances after these periods of flux, the commission may be tempted to ask office holders to double check the zero-return filed for 2007. It is after all apparently quite easy for cash to slip between the cracks in times of HR churn.

I think it would be very prudent for the Electoral Commission to double check the zero return for 2007, especially before the deadline for prosecution expires. The fact that the Party President is on record as referring to a large anonymous donation (a stance he has never publicly recanted) gives them more than enough grounds to start checking.

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SFO denies leaking

September 1st, 2008 at 2:39 pm by David Farrar

With absolutely no evidence at all, Helen Clark stated on television this morning that the Serious Fraud Office almost certainly leaked to National that they were about to announce their investigation of Winston Peters.

Ben Thomas at NBR has been in contact with the SFO and their response:

The Serious Fraud Office has denied leaking information about its investigation of Winston Peters to the National Party, contradicting allegations made by Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Acting SFO director Gib Beattie said, through a spokewoman:

“We do not believe that there has been any leak from the SFO and have received assurances to that end from all SFO personnel involved with the donations matter, and we do not intend to make further comment.”

So the Acting Director has checked with every staff member involved. Will Helen Clark accept their word against her invented accusations?

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Blog Bits

August 8th, 2008 at 2:47 pm by David Farrar

Four interesting blog pieces – all from “professional” journalists also. First off is Nick Stride, editor of The Independent:

Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen was on even shakier ground when he tried to paint National leader John Key’s debt raising and infrastructure investment strategy as a ruinous policy designed to hide borrowing to fund tax cuts.

If memory serves, it wasn’t so long ago Labour was attacking National for the speed with which it was pushing national debt levels down to 30% of GDP.

Now it’s on the attack over plans to lift that ratio from 20% to 22% a rise so insignificant it will barely register at the sovereign rating agencies.

The fact is, New Zealand ranks high among OECD countries in terms of its debt-to-GDP, and in the bottom half in terms of its infrastructure. It therefore makes perfect sense to allow the two to come a little closer together, to everybody’s benefit.

It’s true, as Vernon Small points out in his column on page 24, there’s no free lunch; the extra debt envisioned by National will have to be serviced, reducing the amount government can spend elsewhere.

But it’s not a zero-sum business in which a dollar spent on infrastructure is a dollar that must be taken from health or education. According to research conducted in 2004 by Macquarie Research Economics, every 1% rise in infrastructure spending can be expected to lift GDP 0.5%.

This is what the debate should be about – whether the return on the capital and the interest on borrowing is a good investment – will it lead to higher economic growth. Instead we have had a near Taliban like mentality – that any extra borrowing is madness and Muldoonism.

The Dom Post’s Vernon Small also blogs on this issue:

Yes, National’s plan to increase gross debt to 22% of GDP is conservative. But maintaining it two percentage points above Labour’s target does bend the party-political continuum.

Since when did centre-right parties run a looser fiscal regime than centre-left ones?

It is somewhat ironic. My non serious answer is since Labour started believing in tax cuts. My serious answer is that centre right parties see a difference between borrowing and expenditure on social spending, and borrowing for expenditure on capital works.

No, National cannot credibly say it is raising $750 million in borrowing only for infrastructure and not for tax cuts. Residual borrowing is the net impact of a complete revenue raising and spending programme, though there are good accountability reasons why politicians should explain how new programmes affect the mix.

Finance Minister Michael Cullen is also happy to let debt rise over the next few years, driven by a tax-cut programme. So it is a relativist, not absolutist, debate. They may as well argue they are borrowing to cover the impact on government revenue of the current recession.

Yes if National is borrowing for tax cuts, so are Labour. As I did a long winded post on last weekend, you have a current account and a capital account, and the cashflow funds both those things.

He isn’t a blogger but Keith Rankin writes in support of infrastructure spending:

Helen Clark and Michael Cullen are describing National’s proposal to borrow in order to fund infrastructure projects “incredible”, meaning foolhardy and irresponsible. (“Key unveils plan to borrow, PM dubs it ‘hilarious”‘ – NZ Herald August 4, 2008.) All Clark and Cullen are doing is showing how out of touch they are with economic reality.

Financial crises happen when lending slows down significantly in financial markets. The problem usually is a lack of credible borrowers. This is precisely the time that borrowers such as governments funding infrastructure need to step up to the plate.

Governments need to spend more and borrow more precisely when the private sector is spending less and borrowing less. This was the most important lesson of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Ben Thomas writes on the so called secret agenda:

All of which is a roundabout way of saying the scandal that did erupt – the audio files of English and the Smiths, Lockwood and Nick – was outrageously overplayed by the media and National’s parliamentary opponents.

The story was as follows: an unknown person, who claimed later to be unaffiliated with any political party, attended the Friday night social event posing as a National Party member and engaged the three senior MPs in conversation around left-wing touchstones: state ownership of Kiwibank, nuclear power and Working for Families.

The conversations were recorded and played on the broadcaster as evidence suggesting that National had a “secret agenda.”

Fine. Except the recordings disclosed no such thing. They were evidence of absolutely nothing except a slightly looser verbal style than MPs would present in a formal media interview or Parliament. This is a story about language.

The Smith & Smith conversations especially were hyped up massively. They were quite unexceptional.

At it’s most basic, there is syntactic precision: there was little effort made in the media to differentiate a secret recording of a conversation (as in this case) from a recording of a secret conversation (which may have yielded something much more interesting).

A useful point.

English conceded he would eventually prefer to sell off Kiwibank “but not now.”

In fact absolutely nothing in English’s comments was inconsistent with National’s declared policy. Lockwood Smith was accused of revealing the hidden agenda when he said “Once we have gained the confidence of the people, we’ve got more chance of doing more things.”

He even said, “We may be able to do some things we believe we need to do, perhaps go through a discussion document process – you wouldn’t be able to do them straight off.”

In other words, National may have a secret plan to, er, consult with the community and gauge public opinion before implementing new policy.

Yes, how a public policy consultation process is proof of a secret agenda, I do now know.

The reality is the secret agenda meme is all about trying to associate a negative brand with a party. I will touch more on this next week, but is is the equivalent of the “Have you stopped beating your wife” question.

There is a very relevant example of a major political party in government pursuing a deeply unpopular policy in the face of public opposition, and refusing to abandon it despite repeatedly being told it is not what voters want. It is the Labour government’s push for state funding for political parties.

Labour has never campaigned in an election on this policy but it is a fond wish of the prime minister and her party.

It’s also a policy that is widely detested by the public, and has been soundly rejected every time its prospect has been floated either through official comments or strategic leaks.

Labour’s secret agenda for state funding – indeed. They don’t have the guts to make it a manifesto promise, because they know it is as popular as anthrax.

Finally back to Vernon Small again, who asks where the dividing line is between bloggers and journalists, with the catalyst being my accreditation as media at the National Party conference. It is an interesting issue (especially to me), but somewhat academic. This is the fourth or fifth National conference I have attended as media. I’ve also been in budget lockups as media, attended tax conferences, spoken on media panels at media conferences, and get invited to cover conferences and seminars on a very regular basis.

I’ve commented over on Vernon’s blog on a couple of issues he raises.

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Ben Thomas on Winston

July 18th, 2008 at 12:30 pm by David Farrar

Ben Thomas has an excellent column in NBR today. It is not online, but here are some key extracts:

Union leader and former Alliance president Matt McCarten told TV3’s Sunrise programme that journalists were asking the wrong questions: that Peters could be believed when he assured them New Zealand First had never received a donation from Glenn.

That still left open the possibility, McCarten suggested, that Peters had a “leader’s fund” operating separately from his party and its accounts.

Indeed. McCarten is right that the questions need to be more focused.

A leader’s fund is nothing particularly sophisticated or technical in itself. It could mean a trust is set up to handle deposits from donors – or cake stalls – or these days it may mean just an additional cheque suffix on a politician’s online banking account. Or it could be handled by a close confidante or employee of the leader, who would probably not hold an official position in the party.

Hmmn a close confidante or employee.

So the possible existence of a New Zealand First leader’s fund is one possible explanation for why Glenn seems sure he donated money to New Zealand First but why Peters denies it.

New Zealand First’s president Dail Jones was corrected by Peters in February about where some cash – “closer to $100,000 than $10,000″ – had come from last year in the party’s accounts.

What is interesting is that as far as I know, Jones has never publicly recanted from his view.

The question of whether Glenn donated to the party directly (if at all) is not a trivial one. In its 2007 donations returns to the Electoral Commission the party did not disclose any donations over $10,000.

And filing a false return has very serious penalties.

But if a donation over $10,000 was received anonymously, and New Zealand First didn’t disclose that to the Electoral Commission, then it breached the Electoral Act (that act still covers donations disclosures for the 2007 year). That’s an offence punishable by a $100,000 fine.

And up to two years in jail if done knowingly.

NZ First claimed it could not file its donations return while the leader, Peters, was out of the country. Yet the return disclosed no donations over $10,000 – that is, it was empty. That would seem to be a fairly straightforward document to sign off and one that could be accounted for without consultation with Peters.

I can’t think of any other party that would have the Leader involved in what is merely a statutory return.

The Electoral Commission has not made a decision on New Zealand First’s late return.

No, but they have on every other party that had a late return. They all got let off because they had “reasonable excuses”. The lack of a decision on NZ First suggests they are awaiting further information to determine if their excuse was reasonable or not.

It’s a murky position. And the public and media’s best efforts to trust Peters are not helped by his continued lack of disclosure around the role Tauranga man Tommy Gear plays in New Zealand First.

Indeed.

He was later found to be a staff member of Peters‘ office, although not in the Parliamentary phone directory. He also shares the same address as Peters on the electoral roll.

So WInston officially resides with Mr Gear. Sounds like hs is both a close confidante and a employee.

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Our largest currency speculator

July 2nd, 2008 at 2:16 pm by David Farrar

Ben Thomas at NBR reports on how the Reserve Bank has gambled a massive $4.2 billion on currency speculation in the last year.

This has all been through way of sales of NZ dollars. The Reserve Bank is hoping it can then buy the dollars back in the future when the exchange rate is lower.

I have to say I prefer to do my own currency speculation, rather than have the Government do it for me.

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Goff confirms his candidacy for Leader post-election

May 20th, 2008 at 11:02 am by David Farrar

Ben Thomas from NBR reports that Phil Goff has confirmed that he will be a contender for the Labour Party leadership if Helen Clark stands aside, if they lose Government.

Mr Goff made the comments in an interview with Oliver Driver for the Alt TV show Let’s Be Frank two weeks ago. The interview will air tonight at 8.30 pm.

Trade minister Mr Goff said he would look at the leadership in the event of an election loss “If I felt that I was the best one [candidate] in that position and that Helen had stood aside voluntarily.” …

The comments are pragmatic, even banal, and reflect recent polling. But it is rare for a government minister to depart from the strong media lines out of the Beehive that polling under-represents government support. …

When asked earlier in the interview whether he was the leader in waiting Mr Goff said “I don’t know – that’s a decision made by caucus.”

Asked by Mr Driver if leadership was an ambition, Mr Goff responded “It’s not an overwhelming ambition.”

“I like the job I do. I’ve done it for the best part of 25 years. That’s been a very long sentence, that one.”

Did Phil Goff just say something along the lines of just being happy being the MP for Mt Roskill?

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China vs Canada

April 9th, 2008 at 8:05 am by David Farrar

Ben Thomas in the NBR takes a look at the double standards when you look at the China FTA (which I support and Govt does) and the Canadian proposal to purchase some shares off existing private owners in Auckland International Airport, with a maximum 25% voting strength (which I support, but the Govt will turn down):

There’s one footnote to FTA. The two internationalists, Clark and Goff, know that back in New Zealand, there are politicians who are less expansive in their views on free trade and other cultures.

They are ready to stir up xenophobia to take advantage of the electorate’s insecurities, and boost their polling chances.

Your correspondent refers, of course, to Michael Cullen. The finance minister this week will be waiting with baited breath for the decision of his junior ministers (David Parker and Clayton Cosgrove) on whether the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board can buy 39.5 per cent of Auckland International Airport shares.

Cullen was the driving force – or at least, the public face – of government opposition to the possibility of the Canadians acquiring a “strategic asset” like the airport.

He fronted the decision to amend the Overseas Investment Agency’s test to make the Canadians’ bid for 39.5 per cent of the airport (now only 24.9 per cent of votes) more difficult.

Why does Dr Cullen oppose the Canadian deal so vehemently?

Perhaps one concern is Canada’s poor record on human rights: the country only passed entrenched human rights legislation in the late 1970s.

Perhaps it is the Canadians continued oppression of their French-speaking minority, and refusal to grant the outlying province of Quebec greater autonomy.

Or perhaps, to paraphrase Enoch Powell and more latterly New Zealand First’s Peter Brown, Dr Cullen fears that opening the door to Canadian investment will lead to cultural disharmony and “rivers of maple syrup” in the street.

Very good points. The Govt gets full marks for the FTA, but their behaviour over a mere 25% voting strength in what is already a privately owned airport is petty political posturing.

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Conspiracy Theories

February 26th, 2008 at 3:20 pm by David Farrar

A good column by Ben Thomas and David Young in NBR:

The fact that National hasn’t announced plans to close schools, slash health funding and turf civil servants out of work is evidence in itself, to these conspiracy theorists, that National has a secret agenda. Forget everything that the Tories say; they have a hidden master plan plain to anyone who pays their $10-a-year Labour party membership.

Katherine Rich isn’t quitting to be with her kids; she’s spooked by the neo-liberal policies of National. John Key isn’t really a centrist; he’s in bed with murky financial backers.

And John Key plans to cut everyone’s wages!

They also make an astute column on the Owen Glenn affair:

Although Clark suffers the indignity of having to explain Glenn’s comments to the media, there are no accusations that she has enjoyed the cheery billionaire’s hospitality or swapped ideas over pasta.

The bigger damage is to those who argue that “Hollow Men” run the National Party. That narrative hinges on the idea that any business or rich person’s interference in politics must be malevolent or nefarious. 

Of course it is only those who donate to right wing parties who are malevolent and nefarious!

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