Espiner on Alan B’Stard

June 17th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner writes:

Mayall’s character Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman was so close to privileged Tory truth that it was practically a documentary. B’Stard’s promises on the hustings; abolish taxes, free housing, free tuition fees, and free electricity don’t seem so very far away from what our own parties are promising in the upcoming general election.

Neither, incidentally, does B’Stard’s frank admission that none of his promises will ever happen: “We just say we’re going to make these changes, then when we get in we just blame the other lot and say they stopped us doing it.”

And B’Stard on the beauty of proportional voting: “Even if they don’t vote for me I’ll probably still get in.” The secret of great comedy may be timing, but good satire needs also to be uncomfortably close to the truth.

He must be a Labour campaign strategist! We may only get 29%, but if we can get Greens, Winston, Hone and Kim Dotcom there also, we might beat the guys on 48%!

Espiner on Dotcom

March 30th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner writes:

It isn’t a crime to buy a copy of the autobiography of one of the 20th-century’s most monstrous figures, unless you live in France, Germany, Austria or Hungary – which ban the sale of Nazi memorabilia.

And there are legitimate scholarly reasons for owning a copy of Mein Kampf. No doubt the book is in most major libraries in New Zealand.

But let’s be honest. Owning a rare first edition personally signed by Herr Hitler and gifted to Hermann Esser, one of the founders of the hated and feared Third Reich, is just a little bit creepy.

Actually, given Dotcom’s German nationality, it’s more than creepy. It’s boorish, stupid, crude, and unthinkably insensitive. Most Germans would rather collect excrement than have anything to do with a regime they remain deeply ashamed of to this day.

This is very true.

But then, most Germans don’t hold multiple identities, flee criminal charges, make a fortune out of hosting a web site that enabled large-scale internet piracy, live a self-described lifestyle dedicated to “fast cars, hot girls, super-yachts, amazing parties and decadence” before buying their way into a foreign country, fighting extradition to the United States on counts of fraud and racketeering and deciding to set up a political party dedicated to bringing down the prime minister.

Colin forgot to mention and leaves scores of creditors out of pocket, has almost all his friends and staff turn on him, and faces a lawsuit for paying below the minimum wage.


Espiner on the lolly scramble

February 2nd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner writes:

Good morning and welcome to this special edition of Who Wants To Spend Like A Millionaire (SLAM).

Joining us today are three contestants; Team Red, Team Blue, and Team Green. They’ll all be trying to spend as much of your money as possible in the time available. Take it away, guys.

Team Blue: “We’ll set up a new network of specialist teachers and principals throughout the country and pay them much more. We reckon it will cost around $359 million of taxpayers’ money.”

Team Green: “There is such a thing a free lunch and we’ll prove it. We’ll provide all decile 1-4 schools in the country with food and medical care at a cost of around $100m a year.”

Team Red: “Phffft. Pocket change. We’ll give nearly everyone in the country who has a baby $60 a week, even really rich people. There’s quite a bit of fine print but we’ll let you read it for yourself. It’s going to cost a whopping $528m every single year within four years.” …

And the losers? Taxpayers, who’ve found their elected representatives have collectively managed to write cheques totalling nearly a billion dollars in the first week of the political year. With another 46-odd weeks until the election, the mind boggles at how much largesse could be promised this year.

The last paragraph is the key point. Taxpayers have to fund every single one of those promises. The Government does not fund them. We do.

As I said, I’m actually happy to fund better pay for the top teachers. I’m not happy to fund a $60 welfare payment to someone on $145,000 a year and I’m not happy to fund turning schools into meal dispensaries.

The reason, of course, is that National knows Labour’s idea is likely to be popular. Giving away money always is, which is why the prospect of tax cuts is likely to be dangled before voters later in the year – although probably not actually promised just yet.

Tax cuts is not giving away money. It is not taking so much money off people. A very big difference.

Speaking of infants, Labour is going to have a hard time convincing me that giving everyone $60 a week just for having a baby is a good idea – or is likely to raise productivity (except perhaps in the bedroom). 


Labour’s first election-year salvo is therefore good politics but bad policy. National’s education announcement is costly, but might benefit us all in the long run.

Hopefully Labour’s leader David Cunliffe will come up with some other ideas besides mere redistribution of income as the year unfolds.

I hope so also.

Espiner on oil

December 2nd, 2013 at 7:11 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner writes at Stuff:

I think the Green Party is, overall, a force for good in New Zealand politics and provided it sticks to its core environmental principles rather than social activism it’s likely to do very well again at the next election.

But every now and again the Green Party requires calling out. And its implacable opposition to exploratory drilling by Texan oil company Anadarko off the west coast of the North Island is one of these times.

The hyperbole and rhetoric spewed by the Greens and other assorted opponents of deep-sea drilling for oil and gas is out of all proportion to the risks involved in this venture, and has been driven far more by emotion than it has by logic or science.

A campaign of fear and loathing.

It’s true that deep-sea oil drilling has risk. It’s true there have been accidents – most of them during the 1970s and 1980s, when the technology was still relatively primitive and safety and environmental standards lax by today’s measure.

The notable exception, of course, was Deepwater Horizon, which exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, killing 11 people and spilling more than 600,000 tonnes of oil into the sea.

A report into that disaster found a litany of safety breaches, poor decisions and cut corners, which sparked a wave of regulation- tightening at other deep-sea oil rigs around the world. Both the energy sector and governmental environment watchdogs agree the industry is far safer now than it was even three years ago.

Those risks will never be completely extinguished, of course. But the same goes for flying in a plane. The chances of your flight crashing are extremely low. Every possible safety precaution is taken. It remains possible you will crash. But you still fly, because the benefits outweigh the risks by such a large margin that most people agree it’s worth it.

No human activity can be made risk free.

The benefits to our economy from deep-sea oil drilling are similarly huge. The Government has estimated the potential returns at $12 billion a year if even one new offshore oil field is found.

In the context of our economy, that’s about the relative size of the worth of Australia’s mineral deposit trade with China. It has the potential to transform New Zealand into a wealthy nation with a high standard of living and first-class social services.

Other nations have become rich from deep-sea oil, most notably Norway, which has managed to keep its reputation as a clean and green nation while pocketing $122 billion, which it uses to fund the world’s most generous welfare system.

Greens and Labour have huge spending plans, but consistently oppose economic development which would help fund that spending.

Espiner calls for ban on police pursuits

September 11th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Colin Espiner writes at Stuff:

In the past eight years alone police pursuit policy has been reviewed five times, including a major overhaul in 2007 that led to stricter controls being placed around chasing offenders, including overall responsibility for a pursuit handed over to police comms rather than officers in the pursuing vehicle.

Yet the carnage has continued unabated, chiefly because the police bottom line has always been there is “insufficient evidence” to support banning pursuits and that the public itself would not support police allowing offenders to flee without giving chase.

The rationale seems to be that if police did not chase suspects they would get away, and therefore the end – catching the bad guys – justifies the means, even if that leads to the deaths of either the offenders or worse, an innocent member of the public.’

The problem is incentives do matter, and if bad guys know they an get away simply by speeding up, then you’d be an idiot to actually stop when the Police ask you to!

Not everyone agrees with this. Both Tasmania and Queensland have banned police pursuits in all but the most serious of circumstances after suffering a spate of deaths from crashes during pursuits.

It’s too soon to say if crime is up or accidents are down in those states. But as Queensland Police Commissioner Ross Barrett put it recently, “the key question is whether the death of an innocent motorist is a price the community is prepared to pay for the unfettered right of the police to pursue.”

Who is arguing for an unfettered right? The NZ Police don’t have such a right. There is a policy on when they pursue, and for how long. But remember that if you don’t catch the drunk driver, he may end up killing anyway.

Around half of pursuits in NZ are abandoned by the Police because they are too dangerous. So that is far from unfettered.

In 2013 there are more ways for police to apprehend suspects than a high-speed chase; helicopters, state-of-the-art communications, information sharing, computer and mobile phone tracking, electronic facial recognition software, and much more. It’s less dramatic, and it might take a little longer but I suspect most times the police would still get their man.

I’m not so sure. You can identify a vehicle and even who was in the vehicle, but you need to prove who the actual driver was for most offences.

What I’d back is far stronger penalties for those who fail to stop and flee, such as automatic destruction of their car.

There are some stats about what has happened in Victoria with limited pursuits:

In 2006 when pursuit guidelines were tightened, there were 186 reports of drivers evading police. Seventy-seven drivers or 41 per cent weren’t caught.

The following year the crime rate more than tripled with 589 drivers refusing to stop. 39 per cent were never found.

By 2010, 972 attempted to evade police with 45 per cent of those succeeding for good.

Last year evade police reports exploded to 1508 reported offences, 989 drivers or almost 60 per cent, are still on the run.

Totally predictable, if you make it effectively voluntary to stop for the Police.

Espiner on coups and Shearer

July 12th, 2013 at 5:02 pm by David Farrar

Former Press political editor Colin Espiner blogs:

If you are ever of a mind to stage a coup against your party leader – or your boss, or even your mother – there are two golden rules you must follow. 

1: Deny you’re planning a coup

2: See rule one

So true.

I thought it might be useful for readers who have had less experience with covering coups than Garner – or myself – to set out again a few basic rules of coup plotting. 

The idea is to destablise the leader first, to soften him or her up for the bloodletting to follow. This is normally done by having a word in the ear of a journalist you can trust not to dob you in. 

You do this for a number of reasons. Going public makes the leader’s job more difficult. It probably leads to a further decline in the leader’s popularity with the public. And it sends a signal to your colleagues that a plot to roll the leader is under way. 

What we don’t know is which of the many factions was behind it?

The third point is, as I emphasised above, that those involved will absolutely lie about it. Indeed, their dishonesty is expected and accepted by press gallery journalists. One of the first things I was told when I started in the gallery was that coup plots were the one time when MPs were expected to lie to journalists – and when it was considered acceptable for them to do so. 

The counterfactual – anti-politician Don Brash notwithstanding – is laughable. “Yes Mr Journalist, you’ve got me bang to rights. You’ve rumbled me. I am planning to overthrow my leader. I admit it. Righto, I’ll just go and give the party my resignation.”

So when all MPs deny it, it means nothing.

I am absolutely sure Labour MPs are plotting against Shearer. Why wouldn’t they be? It’s sheer self-preservation. Shearer’s personal popularity with the public is woeful. Most people have no idea who he is, and those who do know think he’s a shambolic, equivocal, spineless ditherer with the political nous of a first-term MP. 

Shearer is a lovely man. I’d let him babysit my kids without hesitation. But to date he has revealed neither the fortitude nor the authority to lead a political party – let alone be a prime minister. 

I doubt anyone would have ever said they’d let Rob Muldoon babysit their kids 🙂

What sealed it for me was when Shearer was asked why he didn’t put a stop to the “man ban” proposal when he first heard about it. He replied Labour was a democratic party, “and I can’t just bang my fist and get what I want”. 

Excuse me? Why ever not? Does Shearer honestly believe Clark ran Labour as a democracy? Flat hierarchies may work fine in NGOs like the UN but party politics is feral. The leader of the pack needs to be, at best, a benevolent dictator. 

Labour’s MPs know this. They are wringing their hands in despair. The window for rolling Shearer is open, but not for much longer. But when to leap, and into whose arms? 

Those are the only questions keeping Shearer in his job. 

I still think Shearer may hang in, because the large ABC faction can not risk Cunliffe winning a membership vote and becoming Leader. It would mean several long serving MPs would have to retire from Parliament – and they don’t want to.

If the caucus still elected the leader, the Shearer would probably be toast. But unless the factions can agree on a suitable alternative, and deputy, he may hang on.

Espiner on Wellington

May 8th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner gives his 10 things he loves about Wellington:

1. Better coffee. Wellington is powered by caffeine. And there’s none finer than in the capital. 

2. The Brooklyn windmill. Don’t scoff. One of the first in the country and now a major tourist attraction. The views from the carpark are stunning. 

3. The Bucket Fountain. You’ve got to love a town that keeps something so hideous and so broken that it’s become a city icon. 

4. The Penthouse cinema. Arthouse cinema at its finest, complete with decent red wine and its own theatre cat. 

5. Westpac Stadium. Sorry Eden Park, but the Cake Tin is better in every respect. 

6. Public transport. Aucklanders haven’t heard of this, but it’s a fast, cheap, convenient and quick way to get to work. 

7. Sunshine and fresh air. OK, sometimes too much fresh air, but Welly clocks up many more sunshine hours than its northern sibling. 

8. Cuba Street. No other city in New Zealand does cool grunge like Wellington’s Cuba Street. Plus it’s home to Midnight Espresso, home of the finest nachos in the country.

9. Wellington’s waterfront. Whereas Auckland and Christchurch have turned their backs on their ports, the capital’s is a living, breathing, human space. And you can’t beat Oriental Parade in the sunshine. 

10. Houses you can actually afford to buy. Not much point in living somewhere if you can’t afford it. Wellington house prices are not cheap, but they’re not stupid either. 

I love the bucket fountain. As a kid I would spend ages sitting in Cuba Mall watching it until the large bucket at the bottom would finally empty.

Espiner on Gilmore

May 3rd, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Colin Espiner writes:

In politics, there are two golden rules all MPs must follow when they have behaved like complete and utter prats.

The first is to apologise. Not a qualified apology – you know, “I apologise if I caused offence,” or a Clayton’s apology, where you attempt to bring others into your circle of shame – “I guess we got a little boisterous” – but a full, no-holds-barred, unreserved, fling yourself-on-the-mercy-of-voters mea culpa. 

I agree. The form of the apology made things worse. I don’t know why some people have such a problem apologising. Hell, I’ve had to apologise many times for my various misdeeds. A statement along the lines of

“I apologise to the staff of the Heritage Hotel for my behaviour on Saturday Night. I regret it, and it will not happen again”.

would have seen the issue die.

There isn’t an awful lot Key can do to Gilmore in the short term, given he has no portfolios to be stripped of and no real responsibility for anything besides his account at Bellamy’s. The Heritage Hotel has said it is unlikely to file a complaint that could trigger disciplinary procedures against him.

But list MPs live or die by the party’s favour, and Gilmore shouldn’t expect a particularly high list ranking next year.

It wasn’t a very high ranking in 2011 either. I would be surprised if Aaron is on the party list in 2014.

Colin Espiner on Labour’s “crazy” energy policy

April 19th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner writes at Stuff:

Has Labour actually gone insane? As in stark, raving, Monster Loony Party mad?

I’m assuming the answer is yes, judging by today’s incredulity-creating announcement that, if elected next year, Labour will essentially nationalise the electricity industry.

This is the sort of policy UK Labour would have had under Michael Foot in the 1970s.

At a stroke, Labour is proposing to dismantle the electricity market, ruin Contact Energy and Mighty River Power and decimate the Government’s share float plans for both MRP and Meridian. 

Oh, and sell thousands of mum and dad investors down the Mighty River, since MRP’s share price would almost certainly plummet if the company was forced to retail only through a government department at whatever price it deemed to be fair. 

Not just MRP and Contact. Also TrustPower and Todd Energy. Every single generator of electricity would effectively become nationalised as they would only be allowed to sell electricity to the Government at whatever price the Government unilaterally sets.

I’m no fan of high power prices – and I don’t own any Contact or MRP shares – but what Labour is proposing is essentially nationalisation a la Brazil or Argentina. This is Third World, funny-money stuff. Goodness knows what the fi

nancial markets will make of it. And what message does it send to overseas investors? 

The impacts of this policy will be felt far beyond the electricity sector.

I’m tempted to see this as a last-ditch attempt to derail National’s plans to part-sell its electricity assets, but if that’s the case it’s going to seriously annoy a lot of investors who were poised to put funds into Mighty River Power. 

It’s extremely rare that I agree completely with Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, but his comment today that the plan was “a return to the 1970s-style monopoly provision of electricity…Only North Korea and Venezuela did not think such ideas are nuts” is pretty much spot on.

I agree with Joyce that Labour is virtually sabotaging the economy. 

As does Business NZ, reported here.

Also the Herald editorial is scathing:

Earlier this week, a Herald editorial suggested people thinking of buying Mighty River Power shares had little to fear from David Shearer’s statement that the Labour Party planned to shake up the electricity market when next in power. That, however, was before it was known how far back in time Labour planned to travel and how errant its policy would be.

We need policies for the future, not attempts to turn the clock back.

This suggests nothing less than a return to central planning. It harks back to the situation that pertained before the electricity industry was transformed from a state monopoly into a market supplied by four main generating companies. Mr Shearer seems to be looking at that time through rose-tinted glasses, ignoring the inefficiencies and, most notably, the blackouts that were a feature.

Security of supply would become a real issue. Why would a generator invest in new generation capacity when the price for any power it produces will be unilaterally decided by a government department?

The most unfortunate aspect of Labour’s new policy is that it has identified the problem. “When markets are not truly competitive, excessive profits are extracted from consumers,” David Parker, the party’s energy spokesman, said yesterday. The most logical response, however, is not to return to a failed approach but to provide the setting for competition to flourish. Despite all the criticism of price rises, the market has succeeded to the extent that there has never been a power failure. It also has the framework that offers the best outcome for consumers.

The telecommunications market confirms as much. But making a market truly competitive generally requires a substantial amount of tinkering. Temporary government intervention may be required to facilitate the development of competition. But that is not Labour’s intention. In cahoots with the Greens, it proposes a move which, if implemented, would be every bit as damaging as some of the latter party’s monetary policy delusions.

More and more of the policies being put forward by Labour and Greens are 1970s policies.

Their monetary policy is to go back to pre 1980s reforms. Their welfare policies are to bring back universal child benefits such as we had in the 1970s also.

How much was in the undisclosed bank account?

March 20th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner blogs:

I don’t know about you, but I’m forever forgetting about my offshore bank accounts with large amounts of cash in them. It’s a job to remember to tell the IRD about it, let alone to declare them where I might have a conflict of interest. 

But then, I’m not an MP. More particularly, I’m not the leader of the opposition, nor the head of a party that has made something of a habit of calling for the heads of other MPs whose memory has been somewhat imperfect. 

David Shearer claims he “forgot” about his account with Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City when he came to declare his financial interests to Parliament, as is required under the MPs’ Register of Pecuniary Interests.

Well, we all make mistakes, and none of us are getting any younger except policemen. But Shearer didn’t just forget the one time. He forgot four times in a row – 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.

To compound matters, though he forgot to disclose the account to Parliament and therefore to the public, he did remember to tell the IRD about it. He also remembered to tell Parliament about his other bank account with Westpac.

Given that only accounts with more than $50,000 in them must be publicly disclosed, it’s highly surprising that this slipped Shearer’s mind. Either the Labour leader is extremely forgetful, or he has a lot more money stashed away than any of us thought.

We don’t know the actual amount, since Shearer hasn’t disclosed that, because he doesn’t have to, but it could be considerably more than $50,000.

I was on NewstalkZB yesterday with Colin, and this issue came up. While $50,000 is a lot of money to overlook, it looks even worse if it is even more than that.  So how much could be in the account? Well it was used to collect his UN pay.

According to the UN, the salary of a senior manager in a Middle East post would be around US$190,000 a year. Now consider that this is tax free, and that when you are on assignment basically all your living and travel costs are work expenses. So the vast majority of your salary can be saved.

Shearer worked for the UN from 1989 to 2000 and 2002 to 2009, which is a total of 18 years. The total UN salary over that period could have been a bit over US$3 million tax free and expense free. To have an account balance of only US$60,000 means you saved only 2% of it. If you saved 20%, then the account might have over US$500,000 in it.

Note I’ve got absolutely no issue with how much David Shearer earnt at the UN – he did good work there. And good on him for saving a lot of it. That’s prudent.

But if you forgot to disclose an account for four years in a row, then there is a credibility issue around how you forgot that is linked to how much was in it.

On the lighter side, enjoy this satire from The Civilian:

The revelation is the latest in a string of surprising admissions from David Shearer that began yesterday after he was suddenly reminded of an overseas bank account he’d forgotten to disclose on the Parliamentary Register of Pecuniary Interests. Since then, Shearer has also remembered that he hasn’t paid taxes in four years, and last week burgled a small dairy in central Wellington.

When asked what he stole, Mr. Shearer replied “Snickers.”

A number of Labour MPs stood alongside their leader at today’s press conference to offer him their support. Not amongst them was backbench MP David Cunliffe, who had volunteered to phone constituents on Shearer’s behalf to let them know of the affair first-hand.


Espiner on Solid Energy

February 27th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner writes:

I admit I’m no expert, but it looks to me as if taxpayers lose either way under our current SOE model. We either pay through the nose for our power with little or no government regulation on price or we watch poorly performing SOEs bailed out with our money.

I know the sale of SOEs has always been a political hot potato, but let’s look at it rationally rather than emotionally. Why does the public need to own a coal mine? Or a power company? Or an airline? 

Here’s my suggestion: Sell the lot, but only after decent regulation to protect the consumer has been put in place. Here in New Zealand we pay high prices for monopoly services that are effectively government-owned. 

Former energy minister Gerry Brownlee talked tough a few years back about taking on the power companies, but of course nothing came of it. According to a study by Victoria University researcher Geoff Bertram we have some of the highest power prices in the OCED. Is it any wonder, when the government is both poacher and gamekeeper?

There’s no reason I can see why taxpayers should be exposed to risks taken by wannabe venture capitalists or price-gouged by our own companies. Selling them off is the only way to create a level playing field and provide any real competition for the poor old consumer. 

I basically agree. The correct role of Government is regulation, not ownership. When they are both and owner and a regulator, you get a conflict of interest and neither are done as well as they can be.

If people think ownership doesn’t matter, look at Solid Energy. The “collapse” has happened because they had a very ambitious expansion programme led by the then CEO.

Now I’d argue that the basic strategy of expanding away from just coal mining was not a bad one for Solid Energy. With the difficulty of getting a coal mine consented, the new safety focus post Pike, and a target of more renewable energy – the company didn’t have much of a future just as a coal miner.

However where it appears the company went wrong was the scale of the expansion plans were too ambitious, they required too much debt and risk, and not enough focus remained on the core business of coal. Hence projections were done on coal prices that were too high. Now globally all companies have been caught out by the 40% slump in coal prices including giants like BHP.

However Solid Energy has been more exposed, because they had taken on higher risk with more ambitious expansion plans. And this is where ownership does matter.

If the Directors themselves have shares in the company, and they represent shareholders whose actual money is at risk, then they will be more cautious about expansion plans. That is not to say they would not agree to them, but they would probably have been saying let’s do it slower, let’s keep our core focus on our current income stream and not borrow too much on this vision of huge expansion into lignite and other areas.

When it is your money at risk, not someone else’s money, you act differently. The price of failure is catastrophic when it is your own money.

I have absolutely no doubt that if Solid Energy was not state owned, it would not be in as dire a situation as it is now.

That is not to be an absolutist and say that all private sector companies succeed and all state companies fail. That would be ridiculous and obviously not true. But overall there is a reason the private sector does better – it is because you make better decisions when it is your own money at risk.

Going back to Colin’s column, I agree we should sell pretty much all our commercial companies, and not just 49% of them. Taxpayers should not be having to bail out mining companies or risking the expansion plans of the power companies. The best thing the Government can do is be an impartial pro-consumer regulator that ensures we have excellent competition. That is not compatible with ownership

No jury trial for Pistorius

February 25th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Colin Espiner writes:

 South Africa doesn’t do trial by jury. The republic abolished the system in 1969, over concerns black people would never get a fair trial. South Africa, along with most of continental Europe, Africa, South America and Asia, uses the Inquisitorial judge-only trial system. 

I’m very relieved. Because Oscar Pistorius can play to the courtroom and the media about how he desperately tried to resuscitate his dying girlfriend after “shooting her by accident”, and weep uncontrollably about his “terrible mistake” until the cows come home. There’s no jury of his peers to sympathise with him. 

I’m not saying Pistorius doesn’t deserve a fair trial. Quite the reverse. Rather unfortunately for him, that’s precisely what he’s going to get. 

He’s going to have to explain to a sceptical judge just how he managed to get out of his bed after hearing a noise in the bathroom in the middle of the night, without checking to see if his girlfriend was lying beside him, shoot four rounds into the toilet door without once inquiring who was in there, before bashing the door down with a cricket bat. 

He’ll have to explain why Reeva didn’t scream, the inconsistencies between his account and witness accounts of heated arguments and screams coming from the property leading up to the shooting, and the alleged 17-minute delay between the first shot and the final three. 

And there will be no gullible jury to listen enthralled by their proximity to such a famous man, to be bamboozled by science and DNA evidence, or to take their own prejudices and stereotypes into the deliberation room. 

Colin makes a strong case I have to say.

We’ve had our own fair share of controversial trials of late, and I’m not sure the jury system has been getting it right either. New Zealand, along with Britain and America, is in the minority in persisting with jury trials, and I reckon it’s time for a rethink.

It strikes me as odd that complex fraud and civil cases can be heard by a judge alone but that virtually any criminal trial for an offence punishable by more than three months’ jail has the option of trial by jury.

Off memory that is changing so that only offences punishable by two years or more will have the option.

On the House dies

September 2nd, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Colin Espiner does a final blog:

So this is it. The last post, if you like, from On the House.

It’s been more than three years and 378 blog posts since the Stuff editor asked me to write a blog on politics, and it’s been a hell of a ride.

Even though Colin departed from the press gallery some months ago, I still found his blog a must read. As a political blogger he stood out from his colleagues – both with frequency of posts, but also his willingness to stae what he really thinks, and engage with the commenters.

So the Stuff editor and I thought it was probably time to lay On the House to a well-deserved rest.

But the good news is that out of the ashes a new politics blog will rise – keep your eyes peeled for more on that soon. I certainly hope many of you will check it out and continue your arguments – sorry, discussions – in the new forum.

I’m hoping to start up another blog at some point myself, though I’m not sure on what yet. I’ll let y’all know.

I look forward to the new Stuff politics blog, and also any future blog from Colin. I’d be interested to read a blog about life in a newsroom.

Espiner endorses Super Saturday

August 17th, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Colin Espiner blogs:

I reckon we should have a mini general election later this year.

Just think, why wait for next year? And why should those Aussie have all the fun? With the decision by Winnie Laban to head for a nice safe post in academia, the way is open for Chris Carter and Jim Anderton to call by-elections in their own electorates, too.

We could have a Super Tuesday-style tri-series, with three by-elections all on the same day. That would save the taxpayer money, and spark a lot of interest in politics leading up to the general election. It’d also be a sort of dry run for Phil Goff, too, and would allow his colleagues a better chance to assess his chances of winning – or in the immortal words of Don Brash, to lose less badly – the general election.

There’s other advantages to a Super Saturday. With Carter being an Auckland MP, Laban a Wellingtonian and Anderton from Christchurch, we’ve got the majority of the country covered, so there’d be interest from national media across the board.

Add on George Hawkins also, for four by-elections in one day.

I think Labour should go for it.

Espiner on Labour’s Hooray Henrys

June 12th, 2010 at 10:46 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner blogs:

What a disaster for Labour. Any faint chance it had of winning the 2011 election has been buried in the rubble of the gluttony, greed, and wanton extravagance of its foolhardy MPs.

The ministerial credit card spending of Labour’s former stars makes National’s odd indulgences look like paragons of fiscal rectitude.

Even Tim the Groser’s bar bill pales into insignificance beside the flagrant disregard for taxpayers’ money shown by the likes of Chris Carter, Parekura Horomia, Shane Jones, Mita Ririnui and Judith Tizard.

At least Shane Jones admits he was wrong. I can’t believe the sense of entitlement from some of his colleagues.

Flowers for each other, $160 bottles of Bolly, 16 beers during a dinner for two, massages and spa treatments, health clubs, whiskey, cigarettes, helicopter rides, plane charters, fancy luggage, and all the other trappings of the high life.

To call a spade a spade, Labour’s MPs were taking the piss. They were taking the taxpayers of New Zealand for a ride.

It’s such a pity, too. Because the revelations contained in the thousands of pages of credit card statements released to the media reinforce every stereotype and prejudice the public has always had of MPs: that they were on the pig’s back at our expense.

And that’s something I’ve always argued against. Most MPs aren’t like that. Most are hard-working, have a conscience, and are careful with public money. But their colleagues have totally stuffed it up for them all.

It is worth noting that it is not a majority of Ministers who spent up large. In fact it will be interesting to see how the various Ministers and ex Ministers look once all the papers have been gone through.

Espiner on nukes

April 14th, 2010 at 6:09 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner blogs:

New Zealand is, according to Key, happy to lend its anti-nuclear credentials in support of Obama’s bid to stop nuclear arms from falling into the hands of terrorists.

It’s possibly a bit late for that, and possibly a little hypocritical, given that the US is the only country in the world ever to have used nuclear weapons against other people.

Ummm. Is Colin really equating the US use of nuclear weapons to force a Japanese surrender in WWII, to terrorists using nukes?

If not, then what is the hypocrisy?

Which brings me to my question. What was Sir Geoffrey Palmer doing at the weekend, calling for US navy ships to be allowed back into New Zealand ports? Can we really have our anti-nuclear cake and eat it, too?

The part of me that always felt proud at our nuclear-free stance and the speech David Lange delivered so beautifully all those years ago to the Oxford Union (you remember, the one about “uranium on the breath”) blanched at Sir G’s suggestion.

I don’t see why. Sir Geoffrey was not advocating a change in the law.

So was Sir Geoffrey right after all? As one of the architects of the legislation, it was a big call for him to say it’s time to let bygones be bygones.

But I suspect that such a policy change would be difficult to implement without changing the nuclear free law. For us to accept ship visits we would need to ascertain that they were nuclear-free and to do that they would need to tell us – and I’m pretty sure they never will.

No they do not need to tell us. Section 9(2) of the Act states:

The Prime Minister may only grant approval for the entry into the internal waters of New Zealand by foreign warships if the Prime Minister is satisfied that the warships will not be carrying any nuclear explosive device upon their entry into the internal waters of New Zealand.

That does not mean the PM has to ask about a specific ship. General statements that no surface ships currently carry nuclear weapons can be deemed sufficient to satisfy the PM.

Farewell from Colin

March 22nd, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Colin Espiner is moving back to the mothership, so to speak, and leaving the press gallery to take up a senior role (can’t recall exact details) in the Press’ head office.

Colin was very popular, not just for his print columns, but also his blog which attracted hundreds of comments every post. He was a must read, to get his call on who he thought was doing well and not so well.

A highlight of his online activities was his literally eating his words, and printing out a statement he had made and blending it into a milkshake, capturing it on You Tube.

He wraps up his eights years on the political beat, with this column. He starts with what he got wrong:

One of the luxuries of hindsight is seeing what you wrote that turned out to be right – and what you got wrong. I dismissed ACT leader Rodney Hide’s chances in Epsom, and he’s never let me forget it. I anointed former ACT MP Deborah Coddington as the party’s next leader, and he’s never let me forget that, either.

Heh. I always enjoy hassling a prominent Wellington lobbyist about his prediction in 1996 that Neil Kirton was going to be a star. So Colin is not alone in his hindsight.

When I started writing about politics I thought all politicians were venal and self-serving. Now I believe only some of them are.

Most of the 122 MPs who sit in Wellington each week at your expense genuinely want to make the country a better place. They may be misguided, sometimes silly, occasionally foolish. But very few are genuinely bad.

And they are mainly gone now!

The silliest of the lot, for my money, was the independent MP Gordon Copeland, of UnitedFuture. He once argued in favour of a form of what could only be described as perpetual motion by suggesting surplus water from hydro power stations be pumped uphill again to make additional electricity.


Picking a loser from my years of watching politics isn’t as easy. There have been countless embarrassments, numerous ministerial resignations and several MPs who ended up in jail. But the one who stands out for me is Dr Brash. He left a lucrative and well-respected post at the Reserve Bank to walk the plank of politics; a life for which he was eminently unsuited.

I disagree (no surprise), After 2002, National should not have even been in contention in 2005 and under Don National lifted its party vote a massive 18% – a feat unlikely to be beaten by any future leader. He also came within 2% of becoming Prime Minister and when he resigned as Leader, National was actually ahead in the polls.

My winner? It’s such a cliche to say Miss Clark, but who else can such an accolade be awarded to? She dominated politics during my time at Parliament, alongside probably only Mr Peters and Dr Brash, and she was more successful than either.

Few party leaders can claim three straight election victories and, love her or loathe her, she altered the paradigm of New Zealand politics. She forced National to the political centre, introduced most of the social policies this government now promises to keep, and elevated political management to an art form.

She got the relatively rare opportunity to leave politics on her own terms, rather than those of her party’s executioners, and fooled us all with her denials that she was interested in a job at the United Nations. Turns out there was a plan B after all.

While I don’t disagree with Colin saying Clark is the winner (hard to pick anyone else over the last eight years), I disagree she left politics on her own terms. She got thrown out of office, and she would give anything to have her old job back, I am sure.

Mr Peters was the most mercurial politician I came across. He could be very rude. He once called me a moron. He could also be incredibly charming. He would argue till death that black was white, and vice versa, usually after a drink or two. He was easily the most talented politician I saw, but also the laziest. The results were therefore never dull.

Imagine what a hard working Winston might have achieved, let alone an honest one.

Not Colin’s fault

February 23rd, 2010 at 7:09 am by David Farrar

I blogged on a column by Colin Espiner last week on the electoral law changes, and disagreed with aspects of it. One area I critiqued was the assertion that under the new law third parties could spend unlimited money in support of a political party, and not have it count as part of a party’s limit.

Now I was correct, but as Colin writes here the error was not his:

Power said the requirement that lobbyists register with the Electoral Commission if they spent more than $12,000 would ensure the system was open and transparent.

However, after an outcry from Labour and the Greens, Power said he was prepared to revisit the proposal if a select committee could agree on a suitable alternative.

He also announced that lobbyists running supportive campaigns for a party would have to seek the party’s consent, and they would count towards that party’s spending limit.

Earlier, his office had insisted that positive campaigning would not count towards party spending limits.

So it was a stuff up in the Minister’s office (and hey we have all made them), and one can’t criticise Colin for relying on the advice from the Minister’s office.

Espiner on electoral law changes

February 17th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner writes:

Voters are set to be bombarded by record levels of advertising during the next election, after Government moves to relax some campaign spending rules.

Bzzzt. I really wish one would not treat an opinion as a fact. As no third party came close to spending the $120,000 limit last time, it does not follow that having no limit will lead to record levels of advertising.

In a big change to the former Electoral Finance Act, National is proposing to allow lobbyists, such as unions or special interest groups, to spend any amount during election campaigns – provided they register with the Electoral Commission and identify themselves in their advertisements.

I will make a prediction now. The vast majority of third party spending will be unions advertising against National. In Australia the unions spends ten times as much as any other groups.

The move could see a return to the sort of high-spending negative campaign run against the Greens by the Exclusive Brethren during the 2005 election. In addition, lobby groups will be able to advertise for as well as against political parties – raising the possibility of “back door” donations that get around the limits on what politicians can spend.

This is just plain incorrect. A third party can not advertise in support of a political party unless the party agrees, in which case the spending counts as part of the party’s spending under their limit.

You can not get around the spending limit for advertising in favour of a party, by having a third party do it.

But the advertising can only take place in non-broadcast media, after the Government decided to keep current limits on broadcasting during campaigns in place.

They are not limits. They are a ban. The ban incidentally is almost certain to be inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act.

Reaction to PMs Statement

February 10th, 2010 at 10:38 am by David Farrar

The EU had a reception at the Backbencher last night, so lots of MPs and journalists there to chat to.  The typical opening line from a National MP was “So about that B grade” while from Labour MPs it was “Unlike Annette we won’t use Farrar and respect in the same sentence unless there are some other words in between” 🙂

Phil Goff was there also, so I said I looked forward to him quoting me more often in future :-). Actually had an interesting chat generally on economic stuff, such as land tax. If Labour are bold they could consider proposing a land tax (tied to income tax reductions) for 2011. That could attract some support from economic reformers.

General consensus I got from pundits there was that there was definitely some good stuff in the Government’s work plan – in fact more detailed plans that most Governments announce in the PMs statement.

But what may trip the Government up is they misplayed the expectations game. Building the statement up as the “most important” one ever was a mistake, as was talking about it being a “step change”. Again, there is some good stuff there that certainly will help lift economic growth. But will the announcements alone close the gap with Australia? Of course not. But the rhetoric leading up to it, got expectations artificially high.

With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been better to have positioned the statement as a typical PMs statement – a general overview of the Government’s achievements and workplan, and then surprise the media and opposition when it turns out to have close to 30 specific initiatives in it.

As I said yesterday, I welcome the focus on growing the economic cake, not just how to split it up, and look forward to more details in the budget.

Reaction from others:

Teacher Unions against achievement

February 3rd, 2010 at 5:04 pm by David Farrar

I blogged yesterday on Maria English’s world beating achievement of topping the world two years in a row in the Cambridge International English exams. She was marked higher than 90,000 students from 100 countries.

What was really nice in the comments is that almost everyone put politics aside, and was genuinely pleased and admiring of such a wonderful achievement for a New Zealand student.

Now you would think the PPTA would also be pleased that a New Zealand secondary school student has done so well. But, instead this is what they twittered:

Government ministers show support for private businesses involved in education

with a link to the TV3 story on Maria and another story.

Isn’t that just such an appalling and small minded sneer. They don’t care at all about a student being top of the world. They just hate the fact she is at a private school, or took part in a private exam.

I think it is useful that the PPTA reminds us of what matters to teacher unions, because Colin Espiner has written a blog where he basically calls for the NZEI to have a veto over education policy on NZ.

But you can’t bulldoze your way through a sector as highly unionised as teaching without taking the unions with you. …

I’d be happy for the Government to explore the idea further, but only in conjunction with the actual practitioners in the classrooms. Ramming policy through in spite of their strenuous objections makes me uneasy. After all, this isn’t a fight over wages and conditions. Teachers’ objections are based on educational reasons, and while there may be some vested self-interest involved, I’m prepared to accept the NZEI has some valid concerns.

I don’t even know where to start. How about with an analogy. Would Colin advocate that the Government should not make any changes to economic policy unless Treasury agrees?

Should there be no change to telecommunications policy unless Telecom agrees?

As the PPTA shows, they are not concerned about educational outcomes. They are concerned about their members. Their objections are not based on education reasons. The NZEI President has said that if the Government removed school achievement data from the Official Information Act, their opposition to national standards would disappear. This is a battle about league tables, or in other words freedom of information.

I would have thought if the Government was really serious about improving the quality of primary schools, it might be pumping money into cutting class sizes. Curiously, however, it’s done the opposite, and teacher/pupil ratios are increasing.

Colin must have missed the Hattle report which concluded that class size is not a major factor – it is the quality of the teacher.

Even putting the educational arguments aside, however, buying a fight with the teacher unions is bad politics. Key seems to think he can turn public opinion against the NZEI on this one but I think this is unlikely. Far better to take the union with him than try to bash it into submission.

Colin makes the mistake of thinking there is a choice. Unless the Government amends the OIA to restrict access to school achievement data, then the union will never ever back national standards. The call for trials is a red herring designed to delay.  I would bet several billion dollars that at the end of any trials the NZEI would declare that the standards can not be implemented.

It’s almost as if Key is tired of playing Mr Nice Guy and wants to show the steel behind the “relaxed” Prime Minister.

That’s his call, but I think he’s picked the wrong issue and the wrong target. The NZEI is a formidable foe.

Colin has it the wrong way around. It is not the Government picking a fight. A group of taxpayer funded staff are refusing to implement the legal requirements of the Government. They are the ones picking the fight.

Colin thinks the standards are abotu assessment, but for most schools there will be no change in assessment. They are about plain English reporting. Colin said:

Are national standards a good idea? I admit I’m not sure. As a parent, I would like more information about how my child’s doing. But I don’t need to see primary schools ranked in league tables. I accept that a school in Khandallah or Fendalton or Parnell is going to do better in such rankings than those in Naenae, or Aranui, or Penrose.

That says more about simple demography and socioeconomic status than it does about the quality of its teachers.

But I’ve yet to be convinced that introducing more assessment is going to somehow magically improve the quality of our school system, or make us better at maths.

Colin confuses league tables (that the Government has no intention of publishing – it is Colin’s fellow journalists who produce league tables) with national standards and reporting. And it is not about more assessment, it is about clear data.

There are two major benefits from the national standards – individual data and group data. Let me explain.

Parents will benefit from individual data. They will have a clear report card that informs them if their child is achieving at the minimum level necessary to be on track to leave school able to read and write and do maths. If their child is not performing to that level, it means they and the school can discuss what steps can be taken to try and lift the performance.

The Government’s election policy also made it clear that there will be additional resources dedicated to students not making the standards, so that they chances of improving are enhanced.

From 2012, the Government will also start collecting group data – by that I mean data on each school, and maybe even teacher. Not to publish league tables with, but to analyse. Now you may wonder what is the use of this data.

Well the Dim Post had a link to this article in The Atlantic about research into what makes a great teacher. They have collected masses of data on teachers and achievement to try and isolate the major factors. I highly recommend people read the entire article.

At present, there is no useful comparable data at primary school level. National standards will provide information which will allow comparisons to be done. I don’t mean comparisons between schools, but dozens or hundreds of variables can be analysed.

That is how you then raise educational standards. Not by giving a policy veto to unions that see it as a bad thing that a New Zealand student tops the world!

Espiner on Goff

January 27th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner blogs:

So, it seems, is Phil Goff. Labour’s leader has issued a ringing endorsement of his own abilities today at Labour’s caucus meeting in Auckland.

“You’ll have to put up with me for a couple more years,” he told reporters this morning before Labour’s traditional vote on the leadership, which has returned both himself and deputy Annette King.  “I think it’s a recognition that the leadership team they’ve got is the best team they could hope for.”

Bloody hell. Talk about damning with faint praise. I can almost see Labour’s next election slogan now: “Phil Goff: The best Labour has to offer.” Or maybe “Goff – there’s really no one else.” It’s almost as bad as Dunedin’s “It’s all right here” or Hastings’ “Take a fresh look”.

Heh. Who is going to be first with the photoshop?

Mind you, it’s probably not Goff who has to worry much this year. As he says himself, there really isn’t any alternative. As long as he can keep the Government honest and score a few points during 2010, he’ll still be there at the end of the year.

Yep, as the alternatives are worse.

No, I’m starting to think it’s our prime minister who has his work cut out this year. When even the Right-leaning business publication the National Business Review starts telling National to get on with the job, you know that the tolerance of National’s natural constituency for its steady-as-she-goes approach is coming to an end.

To be fair to Key and National, it does have some major plans this year, ranging from tax reform to the Whanau Ora policy of allowing private providers (mostly Maori) into the provision of welfare. It’s got national standards to implement in education, energy sector changes to complete, the legal aid system to overhaul, and the Foreshore and Seabed Act to repeal and replace.

But there’s a difference between planning things and actually implementing them, and that’s going to be the litmus test of this administration this year. In 2009 Key proved himself to be a political manager almost of Helen Clark’s calibre. In 2010, we’ll get to see whether he can match her in getting things done as well.

A fair call. People do want to see progress, and a sense of direction.

Colin Espiner’s Awards

December 22nd, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Colin hands out his awards:

  • Politician of the Year: John Key. Highly commendeds go to Simon Power, Tony Ryall, and Tariana Turia
  • Idiot of the Year: Rodney Hide. Highly commended to Hone Harawira.
  • Worst Performance by an MP: Melissa Lee. Highly commended to Ashraf Choudhary
  • Loser of the Year: Richard Worth.
  • Backbencher of the Year: Jacinda Ardern. Highly commended: National’s Nikki Kaye.
  • Most Improved MP: Gerry Brownlee. Highly commended: Steven Joyce.
  • Least Improved MP: Bill English.
  • Begrudging MP Who’s Annoying But You Have To Respect Them MP: John Boscawen.
  • Simply Most Annoying MP Without Redeeming Qualities:  Chris Carter.
  • The I-Told-You-So Award for proving the media wrong: John Key

Colin’s rationales are quite amusing.

Laws and Mair both happy!

December 19th, 2009 at 11:05 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The decision to allow the spelling of Wanganui with or without the “h” has been welcomed by both sides in what has, at times, been an acrimonious debate.

Mayor Michael Laws hailed the move by Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson to overturn the Geographic Board’s decision to go with the “h” as an “early Christmas present for the city and district”.

Ken Mair, a Maori activist and one of the driving forces in seeking a change in the spelling of the city’s name, said after conveying the decision to local Maori at a city marae: “We recognise it was a difficult and courageous decision to make, but the correct one.

Maurice will be pretty happy with those headlines, even if Colin Espiner calls him a whimp.

Labour should read Fallow

December 16th, 2009 at 1:05 pm by David Farrar

The moment there is a small upturn in the economy, Labour is already pushing for a splurge o Government spending. This is reckless, and fiscal restraint is needed for not just a year or two, but probably a decade. Brian Fallow explains:

The net effect of a reduced tax take and much higher public spending will have given a boost roughly equivalent to 6 per cent of gross domestic product over the two years to June next year.

That was entirely appropriate.

But the recession’s legacy of a shrunken tax base, a string of deficits and mounting debt servicing costs will cast a dark and cold shadow over next year’s Budget. …

It will be 2016, if we are lucky, before surpluses return, and every year in the red adds to the public debt burden.

It is a recipe for interest costs to eat up more and more of the future tax dollar, well before the echo of the baby boom sends health and superannuation costs through the roof. It is not sustainable.

Spending needs to be restrained, and to shrink as a proportion of the economy.

Fran O’Sullivan writes:

It doesn’t want to “rip the guts” out of the Government’s expenditure line. But if the Government holds new Budget spending to a constant $1.1 billion increase each year, over time this will have the effect of pulling Government spending back down towards 30 per cent of GDP and, in Key’s words, “force change through the system”.

This is around half the new spending that Labour had, and keeping spending increases to this level for more than a couple of years will be pretty bloody difficult. But we do need to get Government spending down to under 30% of GDP.

And Colin Espiner reports:

The Government remained committed to a new spending limit of $1.1b and was investigating a total spending cap, English said.

Total Crown spending is expected to reach $65b this year and rise by about $3b each year.

“Demand-driven” expenditure such as health and education, benefits, superannuation and KiwiSaver payments are not currently included in the Government’s sinking lid on public spending.

Under a total cap, any increases in expenditure would have to be offset by cuts in other areas or approved by the Cabinet. English said he was looking at “better and more coherent methods of knowing where spending is occurring and what the alternatives are”.

The Netherlands and Sweden had spending caps, he said. “We’ll be talking more about that in Budget 2010.”

I think the Fiscal Responsibility Act should be amended so that the Government has to set a target (like it does for CPI for the Reserve Bank) for spending as a percentage of GDP and for what level of surplus is desired. This would require political parties to be more transparent about what they propose. If Labour wants to spend an extra $6 billion a year, then they’ll have to be open about it, and let people see the consequences.