A final Dispatch

April 30th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

In my final Dispatch from St Johnnysburg (from May NBR are only running blogs from NBR staff)  I focus on St Johnny himself:

However it is the qualities of the Prime Minister I want to explore. Why is he so popular, despite New Zealand having gone through a serious recession?

To put John Key’s popularity into context, I have looked both at historic polls within NZ, and ratings for other current national leaders.

Colmar Brunton for One News have been asking Preferred Prime Minister questions since 1984. Lange never made 40%, Palmer, Moore and Shipley gravitated between 20% and 30%. Jim Bolger fluctuated from 10% to 30%. Clark spent most of her nine years at between 30% and 40%, and dipped over 50% just once in June 2002.

Key has averaged 50.6% in his first 18 months of office.

But even more interesting is the approve vs disapprove ratings:

His approval rating is even higher. The latest TV3 poll has 69% of voters saying he is doing a good job, and only 16% (less than one in six) saying he is doing a poor job. Compare this to other national leaders:

  • John Key – 69% approve v 16% disapprove = +53% net approval
  • Angela Merkel – 55% approve v 44% disapprove = +11% net approval
  • Kevin Rudd – 50% approve v 41% disapprove = +9% net approval
  • Barack Obama – 48% approve v 46% disapprove = +2% net approval
  • Stephen Harper – 33% approve v 52% disapprove = -19% net disapproval
  • Gordon Brown – 33% approve v 61% disapprove = -28 net disapproval
  • Nicolas Sarkozy – 32% approve v 65% disapprove = -33 net disapproval
  • Brian Cowen – 27% approve v 69% disapprove = -42% net disapproval
  • Yukio Hatoyama – 21% approve v 64% disapprove -43% net disapproval

Key’s popularity soars above other national leaders – both long serving ones, and also those relatively new to office. His disapproval rating is between one third and one quarter of all the other leaders.

It was only in writing the column that I searched for the approval ratings for the leaders of Germany, Australia, US, Canada, UK, France, Ireland and Japan. I was surprised by the huge gap (especially in disapprovals) between Key and his counterparts.

As for why I think Key is so popular – well I explain that in full at NBR. However here’s one thing I don’t think it is about:

This is not some fluke or coincidence. There is a reason, or reasons for it.

Some point to policy reasons – the fact he has run a reasonably moderate policy regime. I am sure this has helped, but being moderate in itself does not make you popular. It is more a pre-condition (except in times of crisis) than a cause.

My thanks to NBR for the platform for the last two to three years.

The war against alcohol

April 23rd, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

In my weekly Dispatch from St Johnnysburg at NBR 24/7 I write:

The anti-alcohol industry (and it is an industry – mainly taxpayer funded) will be delighted by the Law Commission’s report when it is released on Tuesday. They have succeeded in convincing the Law Commission that alcohol should be treated in the same way as tobacco – an evil to be heavily discouraged, if not prevented.

I focus on how the role of the Law Commission has changed from quiet diligent updating of laws to:

Sir Geoffrey Palmer has morphed back into his former role of a crusading politician, and has spent months talking about the evils of alcohol. He even went out to Courtenay Place with a Police escort, and said he saw scenes that “no civilized society can relish”.

I end up at Courtenay Place around once a month on average. Often until well past 2 am. Sometimes there to dance and party with friends, but often just to carry on chatting politics and life over a few drinks. I’ve never seen these scenes “no civilised society can relish”.

The crusading was not restricted to New Zealand. Sir Geoffrey even went to Australia, and spoke at an Australian Drug Foundation conference. Not the Minister., ot the Director-General of Health, but the Law Commission President. The 68 year old Sir Geoffrey decried the fact that people put photos from parties up on Facebook. He wants an end to people getting drunk – an endeavour that would be as likely to succeed as prohibition succeeded in the 1930s.

I await the proposal to ban photos from Facebook which show alcohol.

The full article is subscriber content at NBR.

An end to taxpayer funded pledge cards

April 16th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Over at NBR (subscriber section) I blog:

Documents released under the Official Information Act this week reveal that both the Cabinet and the Parliamentary Service Commission have approved a law change to amend the Parliamentary Service Act 2000, to prevent a repeat of electioneering materials such as Labour’s 2005 pledge card being funded by the taxpayer.

This will be welcome by many, especially when you realise the current law.

The current law still allows Parliament to fund blatant electioneering material so long as it does not explicitly solicit votes. A parliamentary party could spend half a million dollars on billboards and newspaper ads promoting their election promises in the week before the election, and send the taxpayer the bill – even though Parliament had been dissolved a month earlier.

I expect we will see a bill implementing the change in the next few weeks.

Full details of the proposed change are at NBR.

Spending Cuts in the UK

April 9th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

My weekly column at NBR 24/7 takes a look at the UK elections. An extract and a proposal:

Both Labour and the Conservatives are promising to cut public spending faster than Margaret Thatcher did in her first term. Labour has pledged to cut the deficit in half within four years. The Conservatives are promising a further £8 billion of spending cuts beyond that.

And one good proposal:

One welcome manifesto pledge from the Conservatives is to publish online all items of government spending over £25,000. For the size of their economy, this is equivalent to publishing all items of spending in New Zealand over $1,000.

I suggest:

Think of how popular Bill English would become if he ordered every Government department, ministry and agency to list every payment that make, online in a searchable database?

No more smile and wave

April 1st, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

My weekly column at NBR 24/7 is called “No more smile and wave“. My conclusion:

The first year of office was about getting through the recession. The third year will be campaign mode. This leaves the second year as the critical one for pushing through necessary reforms, and it is good to see the Government is willing to spend some political capital on pushing ahead.

Minimum Wage for Youth

March 19th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) has welcomed the Government’s decision not to support the reintroduction of youth rates.

So the CTU is happy.

Opposition leader Phil Goff welcomed the decision.

“It’s crazy to suggest that any young person doing the same job exactly as older people should be paid automatically at a lower rate. It didn’t add up,” he told reporters.

As is Phil Goff. This means it must be wrong!

Goff’s own statement shows a total misrepresentation of the situation. Having a lower minimum wage for teenagers is exactly that – a lower floor. How the hell you translate that into “should be paid automatically at a lower rate” I do not know. Once again, for the really stupid people, – this is about a floor – not a ceiling, not an automatic rate that you must apply to teenagers.

In today’s NBR 24/7 column I rip into the Govt’s decision:

It really brings into doubt the seriousness of the Government in terms of job creation, when it persists with a law that has clearly priced many teenagers off the job market. …

Most teenagers are not seeking full-time employment. What they desperately want is to gain some work experience, and to gain some extra money on top of whatever parental or student support they have.

By agreeing to vote down Sir Roger’s bill, the Government is saying we want young people to be unable to gain work, unless an employer thinks they are worth almost $13 an hour. …

Later this year, overall unemployment should start tracking down. If youth unemployment remains persistently high, the Government will have no one to blame but themselves.

There are 45,000 teenagers unemployed. This decision is a very bad one.

The mails that changed a nation

March 12th, 2010 at 4:09 pm by David Farrar

I take what is probably a final look at the Hollow Men e-mails in NBR 24/7 this week:

The illegal (and it was almost certainly illegal) obtaining of the e-mails, and their subsequent publication, had a major impact on New Zealand politics. They effectively forced Don Brash out of the leadership of the National Party, despite the fact National was ahead of Labour in the polls at the time.

It is very unusual for an Opposition Leader to resign, when his party is leading in the polls. And the Hager book based on the e-mails did not in fact have any smoking guns. However, Brash correctly judged that he would have been unable to make traction in the face of the book, and resigned.

If Brash had not resigned, it is quite possible National, under his leadership, would have gone on to win the 2008 general election, and while it is conjecture what policies a Brash-led government would have had, suffice to say that it is hard to imagine it being happy to borrow $240 million a week to fund interest free student loans and working for families.

And the usual conjecture on how they were obtained.

The 20 year plan

March 5th, 2010 at 1:52 pm by David Farrar

Over at NBR (sub needed), I review the Government’s 20 year infrastructure plan. A couple of extracts:

The most under-reported story of the week was the release of the country’s first ever 20 year infrastructure plan. The 141 page plan is our first ever stock-take of the national infrastructure yet it got a fraction of the headlines given to an MP musing on a blog about financial incentives to child abusers to get sterilised.

It is tempting to ridicule the notion of a 20 year plan, recalling that even the Soviet Union only had five year plans. But when it comes to capital spending on infrastructure, it does seem sensible to be looking beyond the next election. …

And on the roading side:

A user pays principle does raise the issue of whether or not the Government should have a fixed amount of petrol tax, or whether it should simply vary the petrol tax, so there is sufficient funding to pay for all roading projects that have a positive benefit to cost ratio. This could mean petrol costing $2 a litre, but it would mean safer and faster roads.

And some scepticism about the airports:

Rather boldy the Government declares that ports and airports operate within a competitive market, and the Government does not need to intervene with their investment decisions. I’d like to know how Auckland International Airport is in a competitive market. If Air New Zealand objects to increased landing charges, what are they going to do – land in Hamilton instead?

The full column is at NBR 24/7.

Labour’s Luck

February 19th, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

This week’s Dispatch from St Johnnysburg for NBR 24/7 is on Labour. A couple of extracts:

Labour have had a good couple of weeks.

First of all, something has happened to Phil Goff over the break. He has come back a far more relaxed and engaging politician. Yes, his party’s supporters may still pine for Helen, but over time they may appreciate a less polarizing leader.

And on the tax issue:

Labour has been making waves on the GST issue. As the Government has yet to detail its tax package, Labour is doing it for them. They assume that the top tax rate will be dropped to 30c, and a pliant media report their scenarios that Telecom CEO Jack Paul Reynolds will get a tax cut of $150,000 a year and Joe Average will get a few dollars a week.

National needs the debate on tax to be about the macroeconomic effects – the desire to increase the incentives to work, to invest and to save and to reduce the incentive to borrow and consume. If the debate becomes one of simply who gets how much, they will have problems.

I conclude by saying the next set of public polls will give some idea as to whether the public have started to tune into what Labour are saying.

Right Reform

February 12th, 2010 at 8:24 am by David Farrar

This week’s Dispatch from St Johnnysburg is online (but subscriber only).

I comment on the package this week:

Normally a programme like this would be greeted with howls of outrage from the left. A dozen unions would be announcing strikes. Scores of lobby groups would be howling in anguish. The rhetoric would be that the Government has turned into a combination of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson.

Instead the over-whelming message was that the reforms announced do not go far enough.

I also note:

Labour has never known how to try and paint John Key. Half the time they claim he is a do-nothing Prime Minister who won’t do anything unpopular, and half the time he is an evil uncaring rich prick oppressing the poor. And the problem is the two propositions are largely contradictory. Until Labour have the discipline to go down one path only, I suspect they will not change many people’s opinions of the Prime Minister.

The only discipline from Labour has been the constant references to “ordinary New Zealanders”!

The summer the tide went out on global warming

January 29th, 2010 at 12:05 pm by David Farrar

This week’s Dispatch from St Johnnysburg, at NBR, is titled “The summer the tide went out on global warming”.

It is one of my longer columns – 1,300 words, and I think a good summary of the political climate around this issue, such as China and India now refusing to even sign the non binding Copenhagen Accord. A couple of extracts:

I believe the chance of there being a post-Kyoto agreement in the next five years or so to now be minimal. In reaching this conclusion, I look at recent reports of opinion within Governments, then the public and finally what it may mean for the NZ Government. …

The loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat has been a clear message to the Government to focus on the economy and jobs. This is reflected in a Pew Research poll on priorities for 2010. Citizens were polled on 21 potential priorities, and asked for each issue whether it should be a top priority. The three top issues were the economy, jobs and terrorism – all at over 80%. The very bottom issue, of all 21 issues, was climate change at 28%. Three years ago it was at 38%, so has been declining every year. Amongst the all important “Independent” voters, it is bottom ranked at 25%,

My conclusion, focused on what it means for New Zealand, is somewhat provocative.

Winston’s legacy at NBR

January 22nd, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

My first Dispatch from St Johnnysburg is at NBR 24/7. An extract:

So why are things so good between the Obama administration and the Key administration? Is it the rapport between Obama and Key? Is it the wooing of Hillary Clinton by Murray McCully?

Nope. While both may be factors, the majority of the credit goes to Winston Peters.

My column this year is now subscriber content, so you need to be a subscriber to access it.

The rise and rise of Andrew Little

December 11th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

My Dispatch from St Johnnysburg is titled The rise and rise of Andrew Little. An extract:

Now under the leadership of Helen Clark, the parliamentary leader was the supreme leader. There was no question of the party president questioning her in public, or some decision being made she did not agree with. Clark’s great legacy to Labour was the unity it had under her rule.

But Phil Goff is no Helen Clark, and the power of Andrew Little is on the rise.

Comments and feedback can be made at NBR.

For whom the ETS tolls

December 4th, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

This week’s Dispatch from St Johnnysburg looks at the toll the ETS has taken in New Zealand and Australia. I note:

So it has been quite a torrid time for National, who had days and days of negative headlines. Finally they got the changes passed into law, with some medium to heavy political bruising as the cost.

However painful those bruises might be, they pale into insignificance with the crippling wounds the ETS legislation has inflicted on the Australian Liberal Party. Despite only being the Opposition, not the Government, the ETS legislation resulted in a move to their fourth party leader in just two years.

I also look at what may become an ETS referendum election in Australia:

While it is difficult to imagine that Tony Abbott could win such an election, it would pose a fascinating dilemma for NZ National if Abbott did. There would be great pressure on New Zealand to delay or further amend its ETS, if Australia abandoned having one. After working so hard to get the genie into the box, it would be a political nightmare to have the issue flair up all over again.

So it poses the question. If Australia does go to the polls early next year to an ETS triggered election, will John Key be quietly hoping for Labor’s Kevin Rudd to win?

Comments and feedback can be made at NBR.

Middle East politics

November 27th, 2009 at 7:15 am by David Farrar

My weekly Dispatch from St Johnnysburg at NBR, has become a Dispatch from Tel Aviv, on Middle East politics.

I discuss Iran and nuclear weapons and Palestine.

Comments and feedback can be left at NBR.

Dispatching the ETS

November 20th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

My Dispatch from St Johnnysburg is about the Emissions Trading Scheme. AN extract:

So it is not a matter of choosing the right option, and not choosing the wrong option. All options around the ETS will lead to a decrease in living standards for New Zealanders. And that means that regardless of what happens, the Government is likely to end up getting blamed.

Comments and feedback can be left at NBR.

A guide to travel perks

November 13th, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

In my weekly Dispatch from St Johnnysburg at NBR, I look at the various air travel perks for MPs, and rate how justified each one is. The summary is:

  • Domestic Air Travel for MPs 9/10
  • Domestic Air Travel for Partners 8/10
  • International Travel for Parliamentary Purposes 10/10
  • Private International Travel for MPs 3/10
  • Private International Travel for Partners 1/10
  • Domestic Air Travel for Children 8/10
  • Former MPs (and partners) Travel – 0/10

Feedback and comments can be made at NBR.

Rating the first year

November 6th, 2009 at 1:51 pm by David Farrar

As everyone else has done it, I’ve rated the Government’s first year in my weekly Dispatch from St Johhnysburg.

Unlike others, I have rated policies, not Ministers. My ratings range from 4/10 to 9/10 with an average 7/10.

Comments and feedback can be made at NBR.


October 30th, 2009 at 10:12 am by David Farrar

Great party last night, hosted by LM and J at the Green Room. They are a Wellington instiution.

This is why there has been no blogging this morning. In fact have just finished my NBR online column. It is on the forecast that income tax rates will have to increase by 5.5%, if we don’t make changes to superannuation. Apologies to NBR for missing the deadline.

A triduum horribilis

October 16th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

At NBR today, I blog on the Government’s triduum horribilis. The opening para:

It is hard to recall a more chaotic few days for the Government. It is not that any wheels totally fell off the wagon, but all four wheels seemed to come loose at the same time, with John Key trying to refasten them all simultaneously.

Comments and feedback can be left at NBR.

This week’s NBR online column

October 9th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Most of my NBR online columns I can do in a couple of hours. This one is a lot longer than normal and has taken half a day or so. Even got up at 3 am to finish it!

It is on the sentencing of Phillip Hans Field, and has (if I can say so myself) a nice mixture of research (including how the British House of Commons in 1695 first made bribing an MP an offence), explaining why the sentence is longer than many people expected and then diving into the politics and comparing how Labour dealt with Field and ACT dealt with Donna Awatere-Huata.

The column is here. Some extracts:

Field was convicted of 11 charges under s103(1) of the Crimes Act 1961, being “Corruption and bribery of member of Parliament”. This has been an offence under New Zealand law since at least 1908. Its history though in fact goes back to 1695 in the United Kingdom, when the House of Commons resolved that offering a bribe to a Member of Parliament shall be a high crime and misdemeanour which subverts the English constitution, and that an MP accepting such a bribe shall be a matter of privilege.

In New Zealand, both offering and accepting such bribes are deemed serious crimes with a maximum sentence of seven years jail. …

As Field’s offending was unique in New Zealand’s parliamentary history, the Judge had no direct precedent to guide him in sentencing. The closest cases he could find was a Customs officer who took bribes and got four years jail. However he, unlike Field, pled guilty and co-operated fully. Without that he would have got six years.

An overseas precedent was a Canadian MP who got five years jail for a one off 10 years $10,000 bribe. Closer to home a New South Wales Minister got ten years for taking bribes to let prisoners out early.

You can read the sentencing notes here.

And then I look at how ACT handled things, compared to Labour:

Some time ago I phoned up then ACT Leader Richard Prebble and asked him if he could detail to me everything they did to force Awatere-Huata out. I explained I wanted to contrast their resolve to condemn such corruption, with Labour’s defence of Field.

I was staggered when Richard said he did not want to be held up as a role model. He explained that he actually felt guilty that they didn’t do more. Perhaps they should have asked questions earlier he said, as there was the odd rumour about her.

I leave readers with that comparison. One party that went all the way to the Supreme Court to force a corrupt MP out of Parliament, and then still felt guilty that they didn’t do more.

And another party that received a 158 page report detailing the numerous abuses and lies of one of their own MPs, and resolved to defend him. Desperate not to upset a core constituency their leader said one day he could be a Minister again. Their deputy leader said his only crime was to work too hard. They posed with him for the TV cameras as he claimed to be exonerated. And then two years later after he is sentenced to six years jail, the new leader and deputy leader still refuse to condemn him. They refuse to say whether or not they think he did in fact break the law. They refuse to express any remorse, shame or disgust over not just his behaviour, but their party’s behaviour in defending him.

Can Labour ever be deemed fit to hold office again until they do so?

Your views and answers can be left at NBR.

Protectionist Shame

October 2nd, 2009 at 8:17 am by David Farrar

In my NBR online column, I praise Phil Goff for the outstanding results from the China Free Trade Agreement and lambast the Government with continuing existing tariffs until 2015. Some extracts:

So in the week we should be celebrating the success of free trade, the National-led Government bizarrely decides to continue with our current tariffs on imports, freezing them in place until 2015.

A 5% tariff on processed foods, machinery, steel and plastic continues on, as does a 10% tariff on clothing, footwear and carpets. …

Tim Groser surely knows that even without a free trade deal, it makes economic sense to reduce tariffs. It incentivizes capital and labour to flow into industries where New Zealand has a competitive advantage. We unilaterally reduced tariffs in the 1980s,1990s and 2000s, and up until the global recession had the lowest unemployment rate in the world.

So why is a National/ACT Government failing to reduce tariffs, when even a Labour/NZ First Government managed to do so? And was this not a missed opportunity for Phil Goff? He could have brilliantly done a Clinton triangulation and claimed credit for the 60% increase in exports to China, and lambasted the Government for being protectionist. That would have caused shockwaves, and forced Tim Groser to front up and explain why he thinks a 10% tariff on footwear should continue until at least 2015.

Comments and feedback can be left at NBR.

The Government’s spending problem

September 25th, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

I talk about the Government’s spending problem in my Dispatch from St Johnnysburg. An extract:

The simple fact of the matter is that Dr Cullen’s spending spree over the last nine years may well turn out to be unsustainable. Rather than borrow $400 million a week to fund it, why not reduce it by $400 million a week!

It was within the rules

September 18th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Today’s Dispatch from St Johnnysburg talks about how ‘It was within the rules’ are dangerous words for MPs to rely on.

Feedback and comments can be left at NBR.

The MMP referendum

September 11th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Today’s Dispatch from St Johnnysburg at NBR is on the MMP referendum.