Views on McCarten

February 28th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

The New Zealand Left suddenly finds itself in the position of the dog who caught the car. For years, slagging off the Labour Party as a bunch of neoliberal sell-outs has been one of the Left’s favourite pub and parlour games. But now, with one of this country’s most effective left-wing campaigners just one door down from the Leader of the Labour Opposition, the Left, like the bewildered pooch for whom the fun was always in the chase, has finally got what it wanted and must decide what to do with it.

Yes, it is a huge victory for the far left.

If Cunliffe and McCarten are allowed to fail, the Right of the Labour Party and their fellow travellers in the broader labour movement (all the people who worked so hard to prevent Cunliffe rising to the leadership) will say:

 “Well, you got your wish. You elected a leader pledged to take Labour to the Left. And just look what happened. Middle New Zealand ran screaming into the arms of John Key and Labour ended up with a Party Vote even more pitiful than National’s in 2002! So don’t you dare try peddling that ‘If we build a left-wing Labour Party they will come’ line ever again! You did – and they didn’t.”
 
Be in no doubt that this will happen – just as it did in the years after the British Labour Party’s crushing defeat in the general election of 1983. The Labour Right called Labour’s socialist manifesto “the longest suicide note in history” and the long-march towards Blairism and the re-writing of Clause Four began.
Not sure comparison to Michael Foot are helpful to Labour.
The Dom Post:

So the dinosaurs are back. Richard Prebble returns to run ACT’s election campaign. Matt McCarten returns to become Labour leader David Cunliffe’s chief of staff. The ironies are multiple. These two were the chief brawlers in the brutal and byzantine ruckus within Labour over Auckland Central in the 1980s.

A generation later the two will once again be on opposite sides of the political war. 

Not opposite sides. Prebble is campaign manager for ACT, not National. McCarten is chief of staff for Labour.

Mr McCarten is a similarly divisive figure, and already his old comrade Mr Anderton has said he won’t work for Labour this year, apparently because of Mr McCarten. Labour is billing Mr McCarten’s return as a symbolic healing of the rifts in the Left-wing family, but clearly the rifts do not heal easily.

What was interesting is that Cunliffe said he was sure Jim would still be supporting Labour, and then Jim said he won’t be while McCarten is there. What is surprising isn’t Anderton’s views, but that no one spoke to him in advance and hence Cunliffe said something that was contradicted an hour later.

The Herald:

But that presumes Labour’s existing voter base also favours a move to policies aimed at attracting the lost tribes of the left. There is a risk surely that some working, non-unionised, moderate social democrats will see a Labour Party raising taxes, advancing union interests, expanding the state and redirecting wealth to support beneficiaries and the poor as altogether less appealing.

Most non voters are proportionally under 30. I’m not sure a return to 1970s policies will be appealing to them.

Labour’s result in 2011 was its worst for generations. Its poll rating now, under Mr Cunliffe, has not increased much at all from its early-30s standings under David Shearer, despite promising expanded paid parental leave and a baby bonus for all those earning up to $150,000 a year. 

In August 2013 when Shearer was Leader, Labour’s average poll rating was 32.4%. In February 2014 their average poll rating is 32.2%.

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Dom Post on TVNZ

February 19th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

State broadcasters are like Caesar’s wife: they have to be above sin and seen to be so. That is why Shane Taurima had no choice but to resign as head of TVNZ’s Maori and Pacific Unit. He had used the broadcaster’s buildings for a Labour Party meeting, and its email to organise a Labour meeting held elsewhere.

He broke the rules that require taxpayer-funded broadcasters to be politically neutral. State broadcasters must not use their position to promote the interests of any political party of whatever kind. Mr Taurima sought the Labour candidacy at the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election last year, but the actual party brand is irrelevant. He would also have had to resign if he had held an ACT party meeting at his workplace.

It is not clear which other TVNZ staff members were involved in the meeting or in other party activities. The company’s internal inquiry will find out and then TVNZ managers will have to decide what to do. Mr Taurima knew he could not defend himself and did the honourable thing. 

The honourable thing would be to not have done it in the first place. According to TVNZ management Taurima told them when he was rehired that he would not stand again.

Mr Kenrick said TVNZ had sought commitments from Mr Taurima after his tilt for Labour at the Ikaroa-Rawhiti candidacy before restoring him to his role heading the department. “The key focus was to get him to make an explicit choice between journalism and politics, and to make commitments around that. We relied in good faith on those commitments.”

Did he lie, or just a few weeks later change his mind and not bother to tell them?

Whether other sackings are called for is a matter of judgment.

The staff in that unit are all basically taxpayer funded, as it is not a commercial unit.

State broadcasters have a special duty to be politically even-handed. This does not mean, as some believe, that the journalists should have no views of their own. Every sentient human being has certain political beliefs or attitudes, and journalists are no different. But state journalists must be professional and not push any party’s barrow.

Mr Taurima insists that he has never allowed his personal politics to influence his work as a journalist, and it is interesting that the prime minister has not claimed any political bias at TVNZ. In fact he thinks they are fair.

The PM has been very nice, when he could put the boot in. For my 2c I don’t think Taurima’s interviews showed political bias. He pushed David Shearer hard when he interviewed him. The issue is his breach of ethical standards, not his previous interviewing.

Mr Taurima was allowed to return to the company after he failed to win candidacy, and this is a defensible decision. Again, the expectation was that Mr Taurima, once he had taken off his Labour Party hat and put on his broadcaster’s one, would act in a professional and politically neutral way.

However, it is now reported that in January he facilitated a Labour meeting – held on a marae and not on TVNZ property – on how to win the Maori vote. This meeting was also attended by Labour leader David Cunliffe. Mr Cunliffe says he strongly supports a politically neutral state broadcaster. Did he ask himself, then, why Mr Taurima was running this highly political meeting?

I’m amazed warning bells did not go off.

Will Taurima still seek the Labour nomination for Tamaki Makaurau? Will they select him?

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Dom Post on change not wanted

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

The Dom Post editorial:

John Key’s Government came into office in the midst of the global financial crisis. Nobody was expecting things to improve quickly. Most people expected them rather to get worse. Mr Key made no promises of instant gains.

On the other hand, his Government’s management of the economy was a moderate one and did not go for a hard dose of austerity. It reduced the deficit over two terms rather than bringing it back to nothing with a bump. The result was that our economic pain was relatively mild, at least compared with Britain and the United States.

The Key Government’s response to inheriting a structural deficit wasn’t to slash and burn with a frenzy of spending cuts. It was very moderate and middle of the road. Initially some infrastructure spending was accelerated to help soften the recession, and then new spending was slowed down. The extreme response came from Labour who went on the record opposing every single measure of fiscal restraint. They said a cap on public sector employees would be a disaster. They opposed saving money through efficiencies in back office functions.  I can’t think of a single act of fiscal restraint that they haven’t opposed.

Now the Government is signalling a less stringent approach to the budget, with increased spending in areas like paid parental leave. It recognises that the voters feel they have done their penance and a modest pay-off is in order. 

As we head back into surplus, we gain choices again. Deficits do not give you much choice. There are broadly three things you can “spend” a surplus on – debt reduction, extra spending and tax cuts.

A moderate balanced party will propose all three. I expect parties may disagree with each other about the exact proportions, but the extremists will only push those that fit with their ideology. Will Labour go against the 70% who don’t support tax increases and go into the election only promising tax increases, and not offering any tax cuts?

Labour leader David Cunliffe has not produced a big turnaround in the party’s fortunes, and time is running out.

National’s slogan this year will be some version of “Don’t put it all at risk”, and at present the signs are that it will work. There is not yet a deep-rooted feeling of economic dissatisfaction. There is not yet a widespread dislike of the Government. So the basic competing slogan – “it’s time for a change” – is not decisive.

Labour are promising to expand welfare payments to families earning up to $150,000 a year. Policies like that are what will put it at risk.

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Dom Post on Ratana

January 27th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

The only question now is: how many seats will the Maori Party lose this year? The party has lost the main reason for its being, which was the repeal Labour’s foreshore and seabed legislation. It has not really found another central cause to replace it. It is losing its two most distinguished politicians, Dr Sharples and Tariana Turia. And it has suffered the slow suffocation that all small parties suffer when they get into bed with a larger one.

The Maori Party may well lose one or even two electorate seats, but it is worth reflecting that if they lost two, then their party vote last time was high enough that they would have gained a list seat.

As the Maori middle class grows, it will produce more National supporters. At present, National’s share of the Maori vote remains small, of course, but it will rise, just as the Black Republican vote in the United States has increased. 

National picks up more support from Maori on the general roll than the Maori roll, but only post-election polls pick this up. In terms of the Maori seats, the records are:

  • 1996 – 6.1%
  • 1999 – 5.7%
  • 2002 – 4.2%
  • 2005 – 4.3%
  • 2008 – 7.4%
  • 2011 – 8.6%

So very modest increases.  But much better than the US where in fact black Republican vote has been declining (except for 2004).

And already we have seen a notable rise in the number of National Maori MPs in the general seats – a trend which might have been encouraged by the link between National and the Maori Party.

National’s 9th Maori MP is sworn in this week – Jo Hayes. The breakdown of Maori MPs by type of seat is interesting.

  • Maori Seats – 7 – Labour 3, Maori Party 3, Mana 1
  • List Seats – 12 – National 5, Greens 3, Labour 2, NZ First 2
  • General Seats – 6 – National 4, Labour 2

It is MMP, however, which has had the most dramatic effect on Maori representation in parliament. The share of MPs of Maori descent in the house is now greater than the proportion of Maori in the wider population. This increase is wholly good, because it means the Maori voice is better heard in the national marae. 

The proportion is now 20.7% of Parliament are Maori. This compares to Maori being 14.1% of the overall population and just 11.3% of the adult population. So that is a very significant over-representation.

Some argue that we no longer need the Maori seats as a result, and indeed the Royal Commission which recommended MMP also believed the Maori seats would not be needed.

This may indeed be true, but it may be better to put off abolition until a majority of Maori approve it. 

I agree abolition should only happen by consent, but surely it is time to start that conversation, and even have a referendum among Maori on whether they wish to retain the Maori seats, bearing in mind how over-represented Maori MPs now are in Parliament.

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A newspaper that pays no tax complains about tax avoidance!

January 16th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Taxes are what we pay for a civilised society, according to the great American Supreme Court judge Oliver Wendell Holmes.

If that is so, then aggressive tax avoidance is an offence against civilisation.

I’d love to know what the Dom Post defines as aggressive tax avoidance. I presume it means tax avoidance done by other companies, but not by ourselves.

Google, for instance, whose slogan used to be “Don’t be evil”, in 2012 paid a mere $165,000 in tax in New Zealand. Amazon paid $1.6m tax on sales of $46.5m. And Apple paid $2.5m on sales of $571m. Does anyone think these companies are paying their fair share?

I’ve got a much better example. Fairfax Australia (owns the Dom Post) paid no tax at all last year on revenue of A$2.01 billion. That’s outrageous I’m sure the Dom Post agrees, and I look forward to them joining with the NZ Herald to campaign on their owners paying more tax. The fact it means they may have to sack a few editorial staff to afford their increased tax bills I’m sure is not what is preventing them from not being total hypocrites.

Or maybe the Dom Post will say you can’t compare them to Google and Apple because tax is paid on profits, not revenue. Well yes they are, so why the hell did the editorial not mention that actual profits made by Google and Apple in New Zealand? They made a conscious decision not to tell their readers that essential piece of information.

For the record I’m all for the IRD taking court action against tax avoidance that is artificial, as defined in the Tax Act. They do this on a regular basis. For example, they are battling APN (NZ Herald) for $48 million.

Some will argue that companies are entitled to minimise their taxes. Tax avoidance, after all, is legal, unlike tax evasion. Some even say that companies owe their loyalty only to shareholders, not the taxpayer, the government or their fellow citizens.

This is plainly wrong. Taxes provide the schools, hospitals, infrastructure and social services on which we all depend. Corporations benefit directly from state-funded education, research, roads, courts and public health programmes. So they should contribute to “the cost of civilisation”.

I agree people should pay their taxes. Fairfax has paid no income tax in the last year. This means they are not contributing to the cost of civilisation. According to their editorial it doesn’t matter what their taxable profit is, as that may have been minimised by accountants. Amazon paid tax equal to 3% of their revenue. As the Dom Post seems to think you should pay tax on revenue, I think Fairfax should pay A$60 million immediately as their contribution to the cost of civilisation.

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A very weird editorial

January 6th, 2014 at 8:48 am by David Farrar

Today’s Dom Post editorial is very weird. It links the Obama-Key round of golf to the US-NZ thaw in military exercises and that the US is trying to limit China’s influence in the Pacific. It goes on to warn about getting too chummy with the US.

It is one of the more bizarre editorials of recent times. First of all it ignores the fact that Obama is well known for not using golf as a diplomatic tool. Only 5% or so of his games have been with elected officials, half of them with Joe Biden. He played a round of golf with Key, because they get on well and were both in Hawaii. To try and make this all about China is frankly weird and off the planet.

Even worse, they seem to be suggesting that the game of golf was a bad thing, because it might offend China. Jesus Christ. Seriously? I can only presume the normal editorial writer is on holiday, and this one was written by a 17 year old intern.

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Dom Post on living wage

December 19th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

The stated aim of Wellington City Council’s living wage policy is to reduce poverty and lift workplace morale and productivity. If only life were that simple.

It is not. Poverty can no more be eliminated at the stroke of a pen than world peace can be delivered by a beauty contestant wishing for it.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown’s council is not reducing poverty. It is simply taking money from one group of citizens – ratepayers – and giving it to another much smaller group – the 450 council staff who presently earn less than $18.40 an hour.

Exactly.

The gesture would be admirable if councillors were funding the $750,000 cost out of their own salaries, but they are not. It is easier to be generous with other people’s money than one’s own.

Even worse, at least one Councillor who voted for the living wage, refuses to implement it in his own business. He won’t pay it himself, but will vote to force ratepayers to do so. He is of course a member of the Labour Party.

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Dom Post on referendums

December 17th, 2013 at 5:54 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

The referendum on state asset sales was not the first held under the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993. It was the fifth.

If opponents of partial privatisation believe the Government is now honour bound to reverse its position on state asset sales, then previous governments were presumably honour bound to give effect to the popular will expressed in referendums on firefighter numbers, the size of Parliament, tougher prison sentences and smacking.

Yes I look forward to Labour and Greens announcing that the first act of a Labour/Green Government will be to reduce the size of Parliament to 99. If they refuse to do so, then by their own rhetoric they are being arrogant and out of touch.

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Disagreeing editorials

December 13th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post says the MFAT leaks were justified:

That is why the leakers could argue they had a wider duty than their narrow duty of loyalty to the Government. Of course bureaucrats should not and must not leak willy-nilly. A broadly impartial public service should be able to be trusted with certain kinds of information. Leakers know they run a risk if caught. They must be quite certain that the public benefit of the leak outweighs the duty of confidentiality. And they must be prepared to face the music if caught.

In this case there was a wider public duty and therefore the leak was justified. No government has the right to demand silence from the victims of a misbegotten purge. No government should expect the “debate” to be confined to the victims and their executioners. No government should seriously expect this sort of thing not to leak.

I note the Dom Post was the recipient of many of the leaks.

The Press has a different view:

The proposed restructuring, which had been ordered by the new head of MFAT to better align the ministry with New Zealand’s evolving trade promotion and diplomacy needs from Europe to Asia, aroused enormous opposition within the ministry. MFAT people had, of course, every right to oppose the changes. But, as Rennie observes, at that stage the correct and professional way to do that was through the proper process, which had then barely begun. In this case, the public servants concerned were not blowing the whistle on any impropriety but were seeking rather to shortcut and sabotage a proper process.

This is key. The Tier 3 managers resorted to sabotage before the process had barely begun.

The motive, at least so far as the leaker of the Cabinet papers is concerned, was ultimately to discomfit the Government. That person could not be identified with certainty but there was a strong suspicion it was a former member of the Labour Party research unit. Other MFAT individuals may have been trying to protect themselves and their own positions in MFAT.

The point about leaking and whistleblowing is that they are justified as serving the public interest by the need to protect the integrity of an institution or a system. In this case, the leakers undermined the system by taking on what amounted to a party-political role. They also undermined the honourable cause of whistleblowing.

I agree with The Press.

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Dom Post says Labour needs clean out

November 11th, 2013 at 6:52 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Labour leader David Cunliffe has been crowing about the growing number of National MPs who have decided to stand down in 2014, likening it to rats deserting a sinking ship. Instead of seeking to make political capital out of his opponent’s obvious drive to bring in new talent at the next election, he would do better to follow suit and start sending the underperformers and time-servers in his own caucus the message that it is time to move on.

Almost a third of Labour’s caucus entered Parliament in the 1980s or 1990s.

Rejuvenation is critical to all political parties. It allows them to bring in new blood to remain fresh in the eyes of voters. However, all too often it is not the parties themselves that do the job, but the electorate, via crushing defeats which see large numbers of sitting MPs turfed out of Parliament.

That is what is so significant about the rejuvenation underway in National. So far, seven of its 59 MPs – nearly an eighth of its caucus – have indicated they will not seek re-election, and there was talk last week that up to six more are considering whether to stand again.

Rejuvenation is a sign of strength, not weakness.

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Good news for the West Coast

October 25th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Australian miner Bathurst Resources has hopes of gaining access to the Escarpment coal mining site by Christmas after receiving final Environment Court approval for the controversial project on West Coast conservation land.

The court’s final approval was granted yesterday. It had said on August 8 that it intended to grant consent to the Escarpment mine on the Denniston Plateau, near Westport. However, the approval may be appealed. An appeal must be lodged within 15 days. …

The Government welcomed the court’s decision, labelling it exactly the type of investment the country needed to create jobs and higher incomes.

The Green Party decried the sacrificing of the Denniston Plateau and its unique landscape and threatened species for an open cast coal mine.

Have you seen photos of the Plateau? It’s pretty ugly to be blunt.

The company was still confident of producing about 180,000 tonnes of coal from Escarpment by the end of June next year, Bohannan said. It would be taken by rail to Lyttelton and shipped from there, and also shipped from Westport to Taranaki for export.

Bohannan said the coal would end up in steel mills and other production facilities in Japan and China mainly. Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce and Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges welcomed the decision.

“The Escarpment Mine and associated works are expected to create 225 direct jobs and approximately $85 million each year will go to employees, suppliers, contractors and transport providers,” Bridges said.

“This is great news for the West Coast. The mine will inject almost $1 billion into the New Zealand economy over six years, and provide $30 million each year in royalties and taxes,” Joyce said.

West Coasters need jobs. This will provide them.

On a sort of related issue Stuff reports:

Raglan residents are fuming after learning that a United States oil company is a month away from drilling off their coastline the deepest exploratory well in New Zealand’s history.

Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corporation plans to begin drilling the well in 1500 metres of water before December.

Anadarko was held liable, with BP by a US judge for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010. The company paid BP US$4 billion to settle claims.

Raglan Fishing Charters’ Brian Hooker is worried about the environmental impact on marine life and is threatening to lead a fleet of boats to picket the Anadarko vessel the Noble Bob Douglas when it arrives at the end of next month.

Drilling will be carried out in water 1500m deep at the Romney Prospect in the Taranaki Basin about 100 nautical miles (204km) west of Raglan after the Government granted a licence in 2006.

So the exploration will be 204 km offshore. That is akin to the distance between Wellington and Wanganui.

I also note he licence was granted in 2006. Will Labour condemn the exploration?

The well will be New Zealand’s deepest and comparable to the Macondo well, which spilled an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico during 87 days in 2010 after an explosion that killed 11.

Don’t you love it when media report advocacy as fact. Who says it is comparable to the Macondo well? Is it also comparable to the 39,999 wells that didn’t have a spill?

Mr Hooker is angry no-one consulted the people of Raglan and asked his opinion before the licence was granted.

“People are going to get riled up. They [Anadarko] are going to get a lot of obstruction to that job.”

Anadarko would be in the neighbourhood for a short time but its activities would have a permanent effect, he said.

“It’s going to ruin the seabed and the sealife. It’s going to f…… change the ecosystem on that coast and for what reason? For gold.”

You would think the exploration is happening 2 kms off-shore, not 204 kms out to sea.

The Dom Post editorial is a good read also:

Instead it has been left to industry spokesman David Robinson to point out that Greenpeace’s worst-case scenarios take no account of the differences between the Gulf of Mexico and New Zealand’s waters or the technological developments since the Deepwater disaster. Here, unlike the Gulf, the most likely finds are gas and light condensate, not heavy black oil. Here, the pressure in underwater fields is typically so low gas and condensate have to be pumped out. At Deepwater Horizon oil spewed out. Then, a cap for the well had to be designed and built before it could be deployed. Now so-called “stacking caps” are kept at strategic locations around the world, available to be deployed at a couple of weeks’ notice.

None of that is an excuse for complacency. Immense damage could be done even by a seeping well in a couple of weeks. But nor is it reason to turn the country’s back on an industry that could provide a massive boost to the economy, generate a swag of high-paying jobs and swell stocks of a scarce resource.

Details most would be unaware of.

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Dom Post on Planet Peters

October 24th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Things are simple on Planet Winston Peters. There, all that is necessary for something to happen is for Mr Peters to declare it to be so.

Hence, delivering inhabitants of Planet Peters a higher rate of return on their retirement savings is simply a matter of him promising a “world class model unsurpassed by anything in the world”. Protecting those savings from sudden market drops is an equally simple matter of guaranteeing the capital invested in the scheme. No downside, no need for individuals to monitor the performance of their investments. Just leave it all to Mr Peters. In fact, vote for Mr Peters and you can have your cake and eat it too.

Unfortunately, Planet Earth orbits a different sun from Planet Peters. In this universe, the value of investments is determined not by political decree but by events beyond the control of individuals and governments. The price someone is prepared to pay for a hectare of land in Dannevirke, 500 grams of butter in Paris or a shareholding in Air New Zealand is influenced by the weather in southern Europe six months ago, the progress of negotiations over the debt ceiling in the United States, the political situation in China and a thousand and one other imponderables.

Mr Peters, for all his claims to omniscience, does not control those things. Markets go up and markets go down. What was a solid investment last week is a poor investment this week and vice versa.

The only way Mr Peters can guarantee the capital invested in any particular fund is to require those who have not invested in it to foot the bill if its managers misjudge the market. The only way he can guarantee a superior return for his “KiwiFund”, especially when he proposes to handicap its performance by directing where it invest its funds – “substantially in New Zealand” – is by pumping public moneys into it when the inevitable happens and other funds outperform it.

The editorial is spot on. Peters is proposing that taxpayers underwrite $20 billion dollars or more of investments.

As I said earlier this week, Peters should set up his own KiwiSaver Fund and lets see how many people actually trust him enough to invest in it.

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Coroner on Greg King

October 18th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Top lawyer Greg King took his life, depressed, burnt-out, and haunted by the dead from the cases he had known.

Coroner Garry Evans has released his findings into the death of King, 43, whose body was found on November 3, last year, in Dungarvan Rd, Newlands, Wellington, not far from his Mercedes car.

In the car was a typewritten note that began:

“To everyone: How can I explain the unexplainable?”

It said that after nearly 20 years as a defence lawyer he was burnt out, disillusioned and depressed.

“He says he is haunted by the dead from his numerous homicide cases and hates himself for what he has done,” Evans said.

“He says he has been genuinely torn between doing his job and his conscience, which keeps asking him ‘Is this really what you want to be doing?’”

I don’t think I could be a criminal defence attorney. I admire those who can, because it is vital defendants get fair trials and are only found guilty if there is no reasonable doubt. But I would personally struggle with defending those accused of certain vile crimes. I think I would struggle to cope, as Greg King obviously did. It is a mark of his humanity that just performing his role caused him such anguish (not to suggest those without such anguish are  inhumane).

In his finding, Evans mostly paraphrases the note in which King spoke of the experiences with criminals that had dulled his human senses and the victims of serious crime who affected him profoundly.

What a sad loss.

Milnes-King had told the coroner her husband had a massive breakdown in June, 2012, the night after delivering his closing address for Ewen Macdonald in the Scott Guy murder trial.

The trial had taken a substantial toll on him and his breakdown was the most intense she had seen, going on for hours whereas he would usually be able to pick himself up.

In a sense he is a further victim of that tragedy,

In the week before King’s death, The Dominion Post’s investigative reporter Phil Kitchin had approached King about an allegation from a disgruntled former client of irregularities in legal aid billing.

The Ministry of Justice, which administers legal aid, had found King’s legal aid bill for the client’s case had been “well within” the range of what was reasonable and to be expected but in King’s absence the investigation could not be taken further.

A senior police officer who investigated King’s death thought that, in King’s frame of mind at the time, the thought of a media circus over legal aid could have felt overwhelming, but Milnes-King thought her husband was unlikely to have been unduly worried by the allegations made against him.

I think it was probably a factor, but not a determinative factor. The Herald reports:

The police officer who investigated Mr King’s death, Detective Inspector Paul Basham, said he had investigated matters involving Dominion Post investigative reporter Phil Kitchin, who was looking into allegations made against Mr King by a former client.

The disgruntled client had alleged irregularities in legal aid billing.

But he said Ms Milnes-King believed her husband was unlikely to have been unduly bothered by the allegations, and there was no mention in the suicide note.

Kitchin gave evidence he had contacted Mr King on November 1, two days before Mr King was found dead, but described their conversation as “cordial, courteous, professional and polite”.

He told Mr King it was possible he would not publish a story.

What would be interesting to know is whether or not a story was written and was in the system, so to speak. But I think it is far to conclude that the inquiries by the Dominion Post were not a major factor, and were not improper. Of course it is all speculation, as we don’t know exactly what led to the sad decision, but the lack of any mention in the suicide note is influential.

Ms Milnes-King said her husband had helped a lot of individuals and organisations on a pro bono basis, and had a charitable spirit which saw him engaged with numerous groups.

“He represented clients for free and made many unpaid trips to the West Coast acting for the Pike River contractors who were left out of pocket after the tragedy.

“This is an extremely difficult time for our family. With the first anniversary of Greg’s death in a few weeks, we trust people fully understand and respect our need for private time.”

Sensible Sentencing Trust’s Garth McVicar said New Zealand had lost one of the greatest men he had the good fortune to meet.

“Greg gave his time willingly and freely to assist many of the families and victims within the wider Sensible Sentencing Trust family,” Mr McVicar said.

“Greg’s knowledge of the law, his passion for people from all walks of life and his drive to leave society better than he found it was unique and irreplaceable.’

Such a glowing tribute to a defence lawyer from the Sensible Sentencing Trust shows how special Greg King was.  The only good to come out of this will be more people confronting their depression and mental health issues at an early stage to avoid further situations like this.

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Dom Post on Labour’s own goal

October 2nd, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

The immensity of the task facing new Labour leader David Cunliffe is starkly illustrated by his party’s bungled attempt to embarrass the Government over new minimum house deposit rates.

Mr Cunliffe has talked about putting Labour on a war footing. This week’s events show it is not on a war footing. It is in a deep slumber. …

It is six weeks since the bank announced a minimum deposit level of 20 per cent for most home buyers. You’d think in that time Labour would have been able to come up with a young family who’d been saving for several years and had had the dream of home ownership snatched from their grasp at the last minute. Instead the best the party could manage was a 23-year-old IT consultant who was not even sure he would live in a house, if he bought it. “If it’s good enough I could live in it, otherwise it could be an investment property,” said Kanik Mongia.

No criticism of Mr Mongia. Good on him for saving enough for a 10 per cent deposit on a $400,000 to $500,000 home.

But does Labour really want to portray itself as the party of upwardly mobile young property investors? And is it really prepared to undermine the integrity of monetary policy to give Yuppies a leg up?

It was a staggering own goal. They propose destroying the independence of the Reserve Bank so a 23 year old can get a bank to fund a $500,000 investment property for him. It would be difficult to find a more unsympathetic case to highlight.

Not only did they fail to find someone better, they had their leader railing against property investors in the same story as they are promoting one.

I’m reluctant to blame parliamentary staff for the failings of a party, but in this case the bungle should ring warning bells. I have to assume that Cunliffe wasn’t told that the photo op he was doing involved an aspiring 23 year old property investor. Surely he would have said no if he was told.

So this suggests that his leader’s office didn’t do due diligence on the person. They should have had a conversation with him and found out that he was thinking of using the house as an investment property.

At this early stage you can get away with errors like that, but going into the election you can’t afford to have such fuck ups.

Labour’s failure to find a more suitable “victim” for its campaign indicates that it is either out of touch with the issues or not well connected to the community it purports to represent.

However, the party’s fortunes will not be transformed simply by the leader performing better. The party must also do its bit. On this week’s evidence it has a long way to go.

Normally it is the Government that is happy when there is a recess as it means no question time. I’d say Labour should be very happy there is no Parliament this week, because they’d be getting a massive mocking in it, if there was.

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Dom Post on The Pope

September 24th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dominion Post editorial:

He prefers a Vatican guesthouse to the luxurious papal apartment occupied by his predecessors, he’s swapped a bulletproof limousine for a battered old runabout with 300,000km on the clock and he ducked a symphony concert organised in his honour because he had more urgent business. “I’m not a Renaissance prince,” he said.

The big tests are still to come, but six months after cardinals chose 76-year-old Argentinian cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to succeed Pope Benedict XVI as the head of the Catholic Church, it looks as if they made an inspired choice.

I agree.

Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, might just be that rarest of creatures – a holy man. Not for him the trappings of wealth or the layers of intermediaries that separated his predecessors from the real world. One of his first actions as Pope was to call his newspaper vendor in Buenos Aires to cancel his delivery. Another was to call his shoemaker. “No red shoes, make them black as usual.”

And it is not just his personal style:

He has said he is not interested in judging people on the basis of their sexuality and has opened the door to a discussion about the possibility of married priests. He has also said the church’s focus on abortion, marriage and contraception is too narrow and is driving people away.

That does not mean the church is about to change its position on any or all of those issues, but it does indicate a new willingness to consider issues of importance to Catholics.

That can only be good for the church and a world desperately in need of goodness and compassion.

I don’t see a change in doctrine, as much as emphasis. But even a 2,000 year old institution does change with the times to some degree. In fact one of the massive design faults in religions like Islam is an inability to modernise because there is no central authority in the religion. Christian churches can and do modernise to reflect the changing world, hence why the Catholic Church no longer bans reprinting Galileo’s works.

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Labour’s challenges

September 18th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Three days in the water and Team Cunliffe has struck its first snag.

The snag is the abdication of deputy leader Grant Robertson. Labour’s new leader and the party’s MPs, including Mr Robertson, did their best yesterday to put a positive spin on the surprise development.

MPs were “joining together” and “putting the party first”, Mr Cunliffe said.

The new line-up featuring finance spokesman David Parker as deputy leader was the “strongest” that could be put forward, said Mr Robertson, who has replaced Trevor Mallard as shadow leader of the House. However, the reality is that the new leader has lost an opportunity to heal the wounds created by the internal feuding that has bedevilled the party since its 2008 election loss.

Whether Mr Robertson declined overtures from the Cunliffe camp, as the bush telegraph suggests, or Mr Cunliffe preferred Mr Parker as his deputy is beside the point. If Mr Cunliffe did not offer Mr Robertson the job he should have.

After a three-way primary contest for the leadership laid bare the divisions between MPs, and the divisions between MPs and the wider party, Labour not only needs to talk unity, it needs to display it. The best way to achieve that would have been for the two main contenders for the leadership – Mr Cunliffe and Mr Robertson – to present a united front to the world.

I understand that if Robertson had clearly stated a desire to be Deputy, Cunliffe would have appointed him. But he was hesitant and not keen – presumably to keep future options open.

That may be an indication Mr Robertson is fearful of becoming entangled in the wreckage should the Cunliffe experiment capsize.

It may also be an indication that Mr Robertson has not yet abandoned his own leadership ambitions.

Whatever the case, Mr Cunliffe has grounds for concern.

Remember that while the members vote for the leader, it is the caucus that has the sole job of sacking one.

Team Cunliffe has successfully rounded the first mark but one hull is lifting out of the water and there are signs some of his crew are thinking about abandoning ship. Anticipate developments.

The best tweet yesterday was about how a capsized Mallard was sighted in San Francisco Harbour :-)

The Herald editorial:

Grant Robertson’s decision to spurn the deputy leadership does not bode well for the Labour Party under its new leader. David Cunliffe had intimated his support for Mr Robertson in the clear hope of reconciling the caucus to the result of the party election.

Mr Robertson, preferred by 16 MPs to 11 for Mr Cunliffe and seven for Shane Jones, had given every impression in the campaign that whatever the result he was unlikely to rock the boat. Now he is making waves.

His decision is a declaration that he does not wish to work too closely with the new leader. Instead he will be Labour’s shadow leader of the House, a role that may let him range widely of his own accord.

The decision suggests he has not put his leadership ambition aside for the time being. If he was content to wait he would have continued in the deputy role, an ideal position for keeping your name to the fore and proving yourself capable in the leader’s absences. But an ambitious and honourable deputy is also supposed to give the leader unconditional support. That perhaps was the obstacle for Mr Robertson continuing in a job he has reputedly done well.

It is hard to interpret the decision as anything other than a lack of confidence, and a desire to keep future options open.

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A not very useful poll

September 14th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

John Morrison is leading incumbent Celia Wade-Brown in the race for the Wellington mayoralty, according to a poll of Dominion Post readers.

Note this is a poll of readers, not of adults. It is both unrepresentative and probably fairly self-selecting, so this means that any results are not necessarily representative of how Wellingtonians will vote. That is not to say Morrison may not be ahead, just that this “poll” is not a very useful indicator.

Mr Morrison, who has been a city councillor for the past 15 years, had support from 27 per cent of the 635 readers surveyed last week – while Ms Wade-Brown trails on 17 per cent.

Putting aside that it is not a representative sample, the sampling error would be 3.8%, if it really was a poll of 635 readers in Wellington City.

Of those surveyed, 275 were eligible to vote in the Wellington City Council elections.

This is the number that counts and should have been highlighted earlier in the story.  That is a 5.9% margin of error.

In terms of raw numbers, 75 readers said they are voting Morrison, 47 readers Wade-Brown and 118 readers are undecided.

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Public hygiene ratings

September 11th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Log on to the website of the Auckland Council, or its Palmerston North counterpart for that matter, and you can find a hygiene rating for every eatery in the city, plus the date it was last inspected.

Log on to the Wellington City Council website and you will see all sorts of information for restaurant and cafe owners but nothing for the public.

The Auckland and Palmerston North councils have decided that their first obligation is to the public, not business operators.

Wellington City Council is conflicted about where its loyalties lie. The council does inspect premises and does issue cleaning, repair and closure notices, but it does not maintain a public register of hygiene ratings, does not require eateries to display their ratings, as Auckland and Palmerston North do, and only reluctantly surrendered to The Dominion Post records showing which eateries had failed to meet minimum hygiene standards in the last financial year.

Absolutely this info should be on public display. You should not have to use LGOIMA to prise it out of the Council.

Most people would think that is information that should be provided to the public as a matter of course, but not Wellington City Council operations and business development leader Raaj Govinda. In a letter to the affected businesses last week, he said the council was “extremely reluctant” to provide the list and “has not done so willingly”.

The council was not in the business of “trying to close people”, he later explained. Fair enough.

No-one wants businesses to close, dining options to be reduced or staff to be put out of work. But no-one wants food poisoning either.

The best guarantor of business viability and patrons’ health is the publication of hygiene ratings. That way everyone knows what the rules of the game are and who is, and is not, playing by them.

It is surely no coincidence that in Auckland and Palmerston North, where ratings are public, the vast majority of eateries meet the highest “A” standard. They cannot afford not to when their customers know their competitors two doors down the road are also getting a top rating.

Absolutely. And maybe sites like Trip Advisor could link to the hygiene rating!

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Dom Post and Grey Power on flexi super

August 28th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Ohariu MP Peter Dunne already has one thing in his favour as he pushes for flexible National Superannuation: significant public support.

According to a Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll in February, 49 per cent of people would like to choose when they receive their state pension, with reduced or enhanced rates depending on the age they start drawing payments.

Certainly, Mr Dunne’s proposal, which the Government agreed to consider as part of its confidence and supply deal with UnitedFuture, breathes some fresh air into the superannuation debate. It is well worth the discussion kick-started by a Treasury scoping document issued on Monday. 

A more hysterical response from Grey Power:

Allowing national superannuation to start at age 60 would be a cruel poverty trap for people who are short of money, Grey Power says. …

“This latest idea from Peter Dunne is one of the more cynical, cruel and dangerous bits of stupidity I’ve heard in a very long time,” said Grey Power president Roy Reid.

“It will be a poverty trap for financially hard-pressed people already on low incomes who will be tempted to take an early but low pension with no hope of it ever increasing to the rate that people who can afford to wait until they’re 70 will get.”

Mr Reid says Mr Dunne is a typical MP who has no idea of what life at the bottom of the heap is like.

“It’s like offering a starving family a loaf of bread today, and every day hereafter if you take it now, or two loaves a day and a big box of sausages every day if you wait for 10 years to collect.”

Mr Reid says Grey Power will fight the Government if it takes up the idea – and it wants Mr Dunne out of Parliament.

My God, the hysteria. Grey Power obviously thinks elderly people are so stupid they can’t be trusted to make decisions about what is best for them.

if you are 60 and in bad health, the option of early retirement could be a massive advantage.

Of course there are potential problems, but we need a rational discussion, not mad rants.

I note also that the Grey Power President has declared he wants certain MPs to be defeated. So I hope Grey Power will be registering as a third party for the election campaign.

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Dom Post on OSH changes

August 12th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

It is a rare feat for a government of any hue to embark on changes to workplace laws that win the approval of employers and unions alike.

Labour Minister Simon Bridges has managed to achieve that with the overhaul of health and safety rules and regulations he revealed last week.

The package activates nearly all the recommendations from the Independent Task Force on Workplace Health and Safety, which was set up following the Pike River Coal mining tragedy.

The fact the measures have been broadly welcomed by the Council of Trade Unions and Business NZ is a good indication the task force struck the right balance between the need to reduce on-the-job accidents  and strangling businesses with red tape.

I think the key thing is the flexibility for smaller businesses, as a one size fits all prescription would be very bad,

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Drinkers not stupid

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

The Dom Post editorial:

The eight Wellington city councillors who voted to ban off-licence alcohol sales after 9pm in the hope of curbing the harm from people guzzling booze before they hit the pubs have overlooked one very important point – their targets are not stupid.

Unlike the Councillors arguably!

The move will not stop the pre-loaders from getting a head start before they go out for the night. If anything, it is likely to see them start drinking excessively earlier in the evening, causing more problems than it will solve while penalising every responsible drinker from one end of the city to the other.

Yep, it will. Many don’t start drinking at home until 10 pm or so but if they have to go buy the alcohol before 9 pm, the parties will simply start earlier and last longer.

Councillors who support the proposal, adopted by eight votes to seven, say it will help prevent people pre-loading at home or side-loading – avoiding paying bar prices by ducking out of pubs to buy takeaway alcohol or to consume previously hidden caches.

The desire to tackle those problems is laudable. Pre- and side-loading are undeniably factors in the excessive levels of intoxication that are a blight on Wellington’s nightlife.

However, simply banning off-licence sales after 9pm will solve nothing. It is absurd to believe it will be beyond the wit of those who pre- and side-load to get organised enough to visit off-licences before they have to stop selling alcohol.

Yet, it will disadvantage someone doing their household shopping late at night, who can’t buy a bottle of wine with it.

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Dom Post on National Standards

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

The Dom Post editorial:

The time has come for teacher unions to accept that national standards in reading, writing and mathematics are here to stay.

Parents clearly want plain-English reports about how their children are progressing in the three most important building blocks for a sound education, and the policy has been overwhelmingly endorsed at the last two elections.

It is therefore in teachers’ interests to work with the Ministry of Education to ensure a sound system of assessment and data collection. Sadly, the signs this week are that teacher unions and representatives will continue cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

One of the strongest arguments teachers have advanced against the standards is that there is a lack of consistency in the way they are applied and insufficient moderation at a national level. It is therefore difficult to judge, on the raw data, how well one school, or even pupils within the same school but with different teachers, are performing compared to others.

That is a valid concern, and one that the ministry has always acknowledged would need to be addressed as national standards were bedded in. Its solution is an online tool designed to assist teachers to make more reliable and consistent assessments, thereby giving more confidence in the integrity of results. Known as the Progress and Consistency Tool, or PaCT, it is being trialled this year and will be compulsory from 2015.

Given the fears teachers hold about the inconsistency of national standards results and the lack of moderation, the public could be forgiven for thinking they would fully support the introduction of the tool. Instead, the primary teachers union NZEI, the Principals’ Federation, the Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools and the Catholic Principals’ Association have called on school boards and teachers to boycott PaCT.

It’s the solution to the very thing they have been complaining about – and their response is to boycott it. It’s appalling.

They say because the system requires them to judge national standards by working through tick boxes of achievements to generate a result, it will undermine their professionalism and reduce quality teaching.

The claims are ridiculous. Ensuring consistent assessment in reading, writing and mathematics across schools will have no impact on how individual teachers seek to inspire, guide and educate their charges. All it will mean is that when an 8-year-old boy at a decile 1 Auckland school and an 8-year-old girl at a decile 10 Wellington school are assessed as being above the standard for reading, there is a much greater degree of confidence that the results are accurate.

If I was a primary school teacher I’d be embarrassed by having a union that is so hostile to consistent assessment.

Maybe the Government should play the same game as the NZEI, and remove it from every working group on educational policy in the country? They’ll get to represent their members on pay negotiations, but why should they be treated as a professional body on other issues when they so clearly are not?

If teachers fear the information being released is inaccurate, then the answer is to work with the Government to make sure the system in place is as robust, reliable and fair as possible

Most teachers are doing that. But the union activists are doing everything possible to stop this.

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Dom Post on WCC

June 17th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Wellington City Council chief executive Kevin Lavery said he felt “deflated” when councillors blew his carefully crafted annual plan out of the water. He was being diplomatic, no doubt. In fact, the politicians had behaved irresponsibly.

Mr Lavery had presented them with a plan that held rate increases within the council’s self-imposed limit of 2.5 per cent. But then councillors voted to fund extra projects – and by the end of the meeting the rates increase had jumped to 2.75 per cent. Mr Lavery was entitled to feel miffed. Officials “actually gave you $300,000 to spare”, he noted. Instead, they had overshot.

This was bad enough, but Councillor Bryan Pepperell rubbed salt in the wound. He said council staff should work to reduce the rates increase to 2.5 per cent when the full council meets in two weeks to adopt the yearly budget. This was an outrageous suggestion, and Mr Pepperell rightly got a caning for it.

Cr Simon Marsh said it was like saying, “we made the mess, now someone else clean it up”. Exactly.

The buck has to stop with the politicians themselves. They have to make the tough calls on cuts and they have to resist the urge to fund their pet projects. In this case they failed to do either.

We need Councillors who can make tough decisions, rather than keep increasing our rates beyond the ability of households to pay.

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Dom Post on leaks

June 11th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Leaks are a vital safeguard against the abuse of power. In recent years they have been the means by which the public learned that New Zealand’s diplomatic efforts were being compromised by indiscriminate cuts within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and that some of the country’s richest people and companies were using offshore tax shelters to avoid paying their fair share of tax.

More recently they were the means by which the public learned that the Government Communications Security Bureau had run off the rails.

Labour leader David Shearer’s call for police to seize UnitedFuture MP Peter Dunne’s emails and question him under oath about the leaking of the GCSB review suggests he has a remarkably short memory. It is little more than a year since Labour colleague Phil Goff used leaked Mfat documents to reveal that cuts within the ministry were undermining New Zealand’s diplomatic capability. The Labour leader’s comments also show a worrying lack of understanding of important principles. Is Mr Shearer really suggesting the police should have the power to seize material from anyone suspected of embarrassing the government?

That is exactly what Shearer and Robertson have been saying. And if they become the Government, we can only assume they will be trying to get leakers arrested.

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Green Councillor worries about Dom Post

June 6th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Iona Pannett blogs:

The story on the creation of call centre jobs does seem to have the overtone of promoting a certain mayoral candidate. I hope that The DomPost will uphold the ideals of the Fourth Estate and ensure that reporting is unbiased and balanced.

WCC Watch responds:

Lambton Ward councillor, Iona Pannett has blogged that she hopes that all mayoral candidates get equal coverage following John Morrison’s front page coup announcing the 300-500 call centre jobs he brokered for Wellington.

I totally agree – in fact I would go further and say that any candidate whether they be in the mayoral race or standing for a ward seat, should get a front page story if they bring over 300 jobs to the city in a single deal. Wellington needs job growth and new business Pannett is totally right that we should celebrate that – no matter who brokers the deal.

Yep. And it is rather churlish to be seen complaining that someone who brings so many jobs to Wellington gets publicity for it.

But something tells me the Greens are actually just wanting the Dom to give Celia Wade-Brown more coverage.

In fairness to the Dom Post, Pannett does just call for equal coverage and the paper has dedicated a lot of column space to Wade-Brown this year. But naturally those have largely been about the calamities and cock ups around the out sourcing of jobs, protests against central government policies, luxury office refits and the dumping of a CEO.

Well that is equal coverage!

I think its pretty simple – Morrison did good work and got a good story. Wade-Brown didn’t know why her hands weren’t on the steering wheel and got slammed for it. Acting like there is a conspiracy is just daft.

Indeed.

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