Dom Post breaks the Honours List embargo

June 4th, 2016 at 8:14 am by David Farrar

The Dominion Post editorial condemns the Queens Birthday Honours List and also names a few of those who they think do deserve the honour they got.

The only problem is that the list does not get published today. They have published their editorial condemning the list at least a day before the embargo.

This is a whooping big stuff up. How on Earth can you run an editorial like this on the wrong day?

There should be consequences for this, otherwise why should other media respect the embargo?

Dom Post on WCC secrecy

January 30th, 2016 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Wellington City Council is full of big ideas and grand announcements at the moment. Plenty of them are worth supporting.

But confusion and secrecy too often seem to follow in their wake – especially when it comes to the money involved.

First this week came word from three councillors that the costs of the Island Bay cycleway – already political dynamite in the south coast suburb – had blown out to more than double its projected $1.7 million budget. Yet council chief executive Kevin Lavery said that was completely wrong, and the cycleway was on track to meet its budget.

This yawning difference is amateur stuff – all four were in the same meeting. One side is barking wrong, and ratepayers need to know which it is.

Yes, we do.

I’m generally supportive of cycleways but the Island Bay one appears to be a clusterf**k. It has made the area more dangerous.

Meanwhile, the council’s triumphant announcement that Singapore Airlines will fly a new route from Wellington to Canberra from September also turns out to have strings attached for ratepayers.

The council, it emerges, is set to pay as much as $800,000 a year in subsidies to the airline for the next decade. The money will come from its Destination Wellington fund, which aims to “attract business, talent and investment” to the region.

Like the council’s Economic Initiatives Development Fund, which sank $300,000 of ratepayer money into the recently-failed call centre business CallActive, it also seems wreathed in secrecy.

But why should Wellington City Council applaud the arrival of an airline without revealing that it will help bankroll the new route? That isn’t commercial sensitivity; it is a sort of deception on the ratepayers.

It is deception and it also shows the Council a soft touch with ratepayers money. Other businesses will be lining up to try and get some dosh.

Dom Post on costing policies

January 29th, 2016 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

The Greens’ idea of an independent agency to cost parties’ new policies is a good one, and the Government should take it up.

I agree.

Prime Minister John Key has been dismissive so far, but he should remember that it is his side of politics that typically claims superiority when it comes to financial literacy.

“Show me the money!” Key famously called to former Labour leader Phil Goff during a 2011 election debate. It was part of a broader charge that Labour had wildly underestimated the costs of its policies during that campaign.

Perhaps he was right and perhaps he wasn’t. But if there had been an independent authority to give its own take, voters needn’t have taken Key’s word for it.

The parties of the left tend to always dramatically under-estimate the cost of their policies. This is why National should support such an agency. It would mean we would have credible estimates of what their policies would cost, and voters would better understand how much more in taxes would be needed to fund them.

The Greens will have mixed motivations for announcing their sober new policy. It would be straightforwardly useful to the party, for one, by handing it more resources to propose feasible ideas.

It is true parties can pay to have their policies costed at the moment but this is not independent. Normally a party hires an ideologically sympathetic economics firm to cost the policies using the most favourable assumptions. Hence they tend to greatly under-estimate the true costs.

If one was to set up such an agency, one could help fund it by reducing the funding for parliamentary parties in recognition of the fact they would no longer have to pay for their own costings.

More sophisticated policy from the small parties would be nothing to lament; consider that at the last election, NZ First promised to wipe GST off all food, which it laughably said was “fully fundable” by cracking down on $7 billion in tax avoidance.

NZ First had such outlandish policies they were in fact impossible to cost. They’re more slogans than policies.

Where the Greens have it wrong is to suggest the agency be a unit of the Treasury. That is no recipe for a truly independent institution; its budget, staffing and priorities might easily be massaged into oblivion by a minister eager to avoid embarrassment, or a bureaucrat happy to help with the same.

It should either be an independent advisory body to Parliament, or else made part of an investigative agency such as Audit New Zealand.

I think it should be part of Parliament. It could come under The Parliamentary Service, as the Parliamentary Library does.

Dom Post on Iraq

January 5th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Finally, there is something to cheer in the international war against Isis.

The Iraqi army, famously the “cowards” of NZ First MP Ron Mark’s imaginings, took the city of Ramadi this week, capital of the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar.

That is an important turnaround from six months ago when Isis took the city at a canter.

Some of the army’s newfound cohesion and tactical nous is reportedly down to the training and equipment it has received from US troops; perhaps New Zealand’s small deployment of trainers has also played a role in the revival.

If so, that is gratifying: it hints that the US coalition, which toiled for months in Iraq and Syria with very little impact, might be having some useful impact after all.

It’s a beginning, but a useful one.

Back in New Zealand, Prime Minister John Key will surely draw some comfort from the victory in Ramadi – he has already declared himself “vindicated” after a brief trip to visit New Zealand’s troops in Iraq. But there could easily be more twists to come – this war has been bleakly unpredictable, while even an Isis in retreat poses a threat in Western cities.

Key presumably understands this: he has stressed his unwillingness to extend the New Zealand deployment, no matter how that undercuts his sometimes righteous rhetoric about fighting Isis.

The Labour Party, on the other hand, added to its recent record of vacillations before Christmas by floating the possibility of sending the SAS to the war, months after it had opposed sending trainers to Iraq.

I have no idea what their policy now is. They condemned sending trainers in, and now are talking about sending the SAS in.

Dom Post editorials dripping with venom

November 27th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Today’s Dom Post editorial is a great example of how they have become the sort of rant you expect to see on some blogs, since their change of editorial writer a bit over a year ago.

I think editorials should generally criticise the Government. That is not my point. But is is the highly emotional language used that really lets the Dom Post down. They differ massively in tone from other editorials such as the Herald, Press, and ODT.

Some quotes:

  • “English and his loyal servant, Treasury boss Gabriel Makhlouf” – so the CEO of the Treasury is now a “servant”
  • “English’s minions” – the staff are minions, all language used to personalise it to English
  • “Treasury has wheeled out another lame-brain excuse”
  • “This is hilarious balderdash”
  • “Bennett’s flummery”

Calling people minions. You pretend to be a serious newspaper and you write like a 10 year old trying to be insulting.

Now to avoid doubt I have no problem with the substance, being that Treasury should be criticised for going over its staffing cap. I agree. But day in and day out, the Dom Post leader writer turns any issue into a personal attack on Ministers. And hey that is their right, but the style of writing is akin to The Standard or The Daily Blog, rather than what was once a good newspaper.

Dom Post says Little not the right leader

November 11th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Andrew Little wanted to clear the decks of old policy and shine a light on the new Labour captain – himself. The result was strangely depressing.

Little had moved long before last weekend’s annual party conference to kill off the remnants of the Leftish policy Labour touted last year. 

The capital gains tax and a rise in the pension age were officially dumped at the conference without fuss from delegates.

 Also dumped was the power policy, a joint effort with the Greens to tackle the electricity oligopoly that keeps forcing prices up. And much of the conference took place in secret.

This was creating a desert and calling it peace.

 Little now stands on a bare platform with no significant policy. The fact that nobody much cared when he threw out the old policies might be taken as a sign of a newly unified Labour Party. Or it might be a sign that Labour is a corpse. It doesn’t have the strength to fight or even to disagree with itself. So the attempt to hide everything behind closed doors wasn’t even needed.

Having no policy to sell, Little tried to sell himself. His “impassioned” speech was in fact awkward and unconvincing.

Labour’s strategy appears to be to have no actual policy and try to convince people they are both for and against the TPP!

Labour can’t even take the step of injecting new blood into its leadership with the fresh face of Jacinda Ardern.

Her qualities are modest, but she is a sign of life. Labour has few other such signs.

Little tries to build a personal link with voters by talking about his family. Perhaps he thinks that mentioning his flinty Tory dad will create a sense of paradox or at least a spark of interest. 

Neither as a union politician nor as a parliamentarian has Little been a bold or lively reformer. He has little charisma and a lack of new ideas. 

It’s hard to believe he will lead Labour out of the wilderness.

As far as I can tell their plan seems to be to aspire to get 34% of the vote (which is what they got when they lost in 2008) and hope Winston can do well enough to put them into Government along with the Greens.

Dom Post editorial supports free speech

October 1st, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Two kinds of liberal politics collided at Victoria University this week, when holidaying Israeli soldiers arrived to speak about their country’s 2014 invasion of Gaza.

That war was disproportionate in every sense, from Israel’s vastly superior military power to the Palestinians’ far larger death toll (2251 Gazans died). It was also miserably familiar – one more act to prolong the hatred and bloodshed in a region already drenched in both.

On the face of it, then, the call by a group of academics and student activists to stop the event had a certain logic. Why should proponents of the war be allowed to talk while many of its victims are dead? And what might they offer that, say, a United Nations report in June, which found suggestions of war crimes on both sides, does not?

Call that one kind of liberalism, one that believes people can be disqualified from even offering their perspective, at least in an official setting, because their actions are so objectionable.

The problem is it’s completely wrong. The better, simpler liberalism is the one that insists on allowing people to say their bit, even when it offends.

This is Voltaire’s famous credo – “defending to the death your right to say it” and all that. It’s fundamental to a democracy, which relies on ordinary people making their own minds up. And it’s supposed to be an idea that animates a university, a place where every theory ought to be able to be debated freely.

Absolutely.

So Victoria’s English lecturer Dougal McNeill may be right to castigate Israel for the Gazan war, or to call the soldiers’ speeches “apologetics for military violence”, but he is entirely wrong to think either means the soldiers should be barred from talking.

The irony is he uses his free speech to try and prevent the free speech of others. Even worse he tried to prevent students from hearing that speech.

The point is not that activists are wrong. It is that they are so convinced they are right that they are prepared to shout down anyone who disagrees. This is a grim, insidious way of thinking.

They believe their right not to be offended outweighs other’s rights to make speech or receive it.

Dom Post on Pandas

September 29th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Wellington would love to have pandas in its zoo, of course. Pandas have a unique appeal to human beings: nature made them look like a cross between a clown and a teddy bear. So arguments about the economics  and politics of pandas tend to get trumped by an overwhelming cuteness factor.

So true.

Prime Minister John Key is keen to stoke the panda cause, for two reasons. He wants to cuddle up even closer to China, our economic patron. And he knows that politicians who come bearing pandas can’t lose.

So it was that Andrew Little, the hapless Labour leader and an anti-panda politician, got it wrong again in Parliament this week.

Anything National talks about, and Little is against it. Raise benefits for the first time in 43 years, and Little condemns the Budget!

Finally, panda politics are murky. The panda circus is run by China, a ruthless police state, which gives its pandas to political and economic  favourites. This means John Key might get one.

The question then is: How to divide the cost of pandas? The Government says it would help, and so it should. After all, this is a geopolitical project of John Key’s, so his administration should contribute most of the money.

Wellington would also benefit, of course, so it would have to put in money too, but there are strict limits here. Wellingtonians are as prone to panda-madness as anyone, but Wellington ratepayers have notoriously cold hearts.

Apart from vague geopolitical benefits, I don’t see benefits to taxpayers. Any taxpayer contribution should be minimal. Pandas will not get any more tourists to NZ. They will get many more people coming to Wellington, so hence there is a case for ratepayer funding. However a price tag anywhere near $10 million is just way out of the ballpark.

Idiotic Dom Post editorial

September 12th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Now we’re fighting about whether the Red Peak flag should join the final four for the referendum later this year. And it obviously should. The Flag Consideration Panel botched its job and ended up with three fern designs and a koru. What sort of choice is that?

The Red Peak movement has gathered 35,000 signatures on an online petition. That can’t be dismissed as just a digital bubble or a storm on a Facebook page.

Yes it can. It is exactly that. 1% of NZers have spent 15 seconds to sign an online petition.

A UMR poll of the 40 long listed designs found Red Peak 35th of 40. It was close to being the most disliked design of the 40, being in the top 4 for dislike or least preferred in every demographic.

John Key says the Government would have to change the law to allow a fifth finalist. So what? His administration will change the law at the drop of a hat if it really wants to.

So this pathetic, once great, newspaper is reduced to arguing that Parliament should pass a special law and over-ride the independent panel because a few thousand people spent 15 seconds signing an online petition. What a joke.

A plastic bag tax?

July 15th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The war on plastic bags is now a global struggle, and New Zealand should join it.

This week a proposal for a compulsory levy on plastic shopping bags will be debated at the Local Government New Zealand conference. In fact, the time for debate is over. Now we need action.

Plastic bag levies, or even outright bans, are now common throughout the world, because bags are an environmental menace. They break down slowly and so they continue to blight the landscape and kill sea life and animals for many years.  

It has been estimated that the world uses about a trillion single-use plastic bags each year. Millions end up in the ocean where they kill sea life and birds, including endangered species. Cattle deaths from swallowing bags are a problem from Texas to India to Africa. The bags clog drains and cause floods. Light plastic bags can blow for hundreds of kilometres and blight the rural landscape.

Taxes on plastic bags have proved surprisingly effective, as is shown by a major 2014 report for the American Earth Policy Institute.  Denmark brought in its levy more than 20 years ago, and within a year usage had dropped 60 per cent. Ireland’s 2002 levy is  one of the most celebrated: it reduced the average use from 328 bags per consumer, the Institute reported, to 21. 

There can be a case for taxing something, if it has external effects which impose a cost of society as a whole – hence alcohol and cigarette taxes.

However my starting point is always that any new tax must not be used to increase the overall level of taxation (which is too high). So if you was a tax on plastic bags, then I want income or company tax reduced by the same amount that tax would bring in.

Plastic bags do have a negative impact on the environment, so there can be a case for a tax on them. This is preferable to a ban which is highly undesirable. How undesirable – well Eric Crampton estimates it would kill 20 New Zealanders a year.

But be careful of some studies claiming they have led to a big fall in bags used. These may be studies where people self-report use. Sales data is more accurate. The TPA at the Hill reports:

“City revenue figures, meanwhile, show no continuing decrease in the use of disposable bags. In fact, bag tax collections have proven remarkably stable since the nickel-per-bag fee debuted in January 2010,” the report added.

At the time the tax was imposed, D.C. estimated that they would collect $1.05 million in revenues in 2013. The actual haul – more than $2 million. Year-over-year, revenues even increased… by the equivalent of 200,000 bags.

But don’t expect the proponents of the tax to throw in the towel. Brian Van Wye, who works at the D.C. Environmental Department, still denies that the tax is meant to bloat the government’s balance sheet, insisting that the “objective is to change behavior.”

Using that logic, the next step may be for D.C. to double down. After all, if a $0.05 tax isn’t working, perhaps they can increase the per bag fee to $0.10 or $0.25. Since tax-and-spend liberals don’t think their logic is to blame, they have one recourse to this failing policy – more taxes.

That is my fear. That is why any new tax should be offset by tax cuts elsewhere. That reduces the incentive for people to use this as just another way to tax families and businesses more.

The Guardian also reports:

In Northern Ireland, which introduced a compulsory 5p charge on plastic bags last year, there was a 71% drop in consumption. In England, which has yet to implement such a rule, usage rose by 5%. Meanwhile, Wales, which brought in charges two years ago, saw its similarly precipitous fall go into reverse, with a rise of nearly a fifth. It seems the immediate change in behaviour reaped by the new charges is short-lived and it doesn’t take long for old habits to re-emerge.

So it is not actually clear that a tax at such a low level has a significant long-lasting behavioural change.

That said I’m not against such a tax, so long as other taxes are reduced to compensate.

Dom Post on TPP

July 7th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

US President Barack Obama has thrown the last of his political capital behind the deal, to the consternation of his own party. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has suggested he’s willing to kick against the agricultural interests that have long kept in place big farming subsidies in his country.

And trade ministers from all the other countries are delighted; “it’s show time”, our own Tim Groser said.

He should hold the razzle-dazzle and make it clear that New Zealand will only sign up to the deal if it’s plainly a good one. That means meaningful access to new markets where New Zealand exports are likely to succeed. It means serious wins like those that came with the free-trade deal with China, or, much further back, the one with Australia.

I agree. We don’t want a deal like the Australian-US FTA which had little actual trade access benefits.

I don’t mind if there are long or even very long transition times for the lifting of tariffs and quotas. What is important is the end goal – which must be far far fewer tariffs and quotas.

A leaked TPP chapter from May shows the US pushing as hard as ever for new rights for pharmaceutical companies. Pharmac, New Zealand’s economical drug-buying agency, is a special target. Doctors without Borders calls the TPP “the worst-ever agreement in terms of access to medicines”.

The Government says it won’t let Pharmac be gutted. It must hold to that – or drop the TPP. No plausible tariff cuts that would make up for it.

The US pushes for a lot. They, like everyone, has to compromise. I would be very surprised if TPP has a significant impact on Pharmac.

Equally worrying are the TPP’s “investor-state dispute settlement” mechanisms. These give big companies an opaque new forum to sue governments that pass laws they don’t like. They were invented to protect companies operating in countries with dodgy records on the rule of law, but they are spreading all over the world. They have no place in New Zealand – and deserve to be dropped from the TPP.

This is where I disagree. ISDS mechanisms are extremely common in trade agreements, and protect NZ companies also. More to the point half a dozen trade agreements signed by Labour had them in. This is not some new mechanism – they have been included on trade agreements for decades. The devil is in the detail. Our negotiators have been very skilled at getting wording that allows us to pass laws and regulations on public policy grounds, without triggering claims under such clauses.

Trade is a positive force that has helped raise living standards and lift millions out of poverty around the world. Many trade deals have been huge positives for New Zealand, even if painful for particular sectors.

Good to see recognition of this.

Yet the TPP seems to be as much about stomping on valid local regulations as it does about stripping away trade protections. New Zealand has to be clear about the difference.

My ideal trade agreement is one which says:

Country A can sell whichever goods and services it likes to the citizens and companies of Country B, and Country B can sell whichever goods and services it likes to the citizens and companies of Country B.

Sadly we’ll never get that. But hopefully TPP will have significant trade access. Without it, it won’t be worth it.

No surprise whom the Dom Post editorial writer votes for

June 12th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

From a recent DP editorial:

It also allows the Greens to use its natural advantage as the brainiest and most wonkish of the parties to gain clear political advantages.

You can almost smell the love. This is not a column, but the official editorial of the Dominion Post.

Dom Post editorial repeats lie twice

February 26th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial asserts:

And indeed charter schools do not operate on a level playing field.

They appear to get much more money per pupil than most state schools. …

They receive more money than state schools and therefore their pupils do better.

Once upon a time an editorial may have opinions you would disagree with, but its fact would not be incorrect. Now it seems an editorial thinks if you repeat a lie twice, then that makes it okay.

The Ministry of Education has a site that shows the actual funding for two partnership schools, compared to state schools of similar size and decile.

The decile 3 primary charter school receives $647 a student less funding than a comparable state school.

The decile 3 secondary charter school receives around 1,142 a student less funding than a comparable state school.

Dom Post on Islamic State

February 24th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Islamic State is a gang of murdering fanatics who must be resisted. Almost the whole world agrees with that, so the only question is: how?

New Zealand, as Prime Minister John Key has said, was unlikely to do nothing about Isis. A political force which prides itself on beheadings and crucifixions of the innocent is intolerable to any democratic state.

But not intolerable to those who say it is nothing to do with us.

The problem is that almost every form of Western intervention is fraught with trouble. The West has learnt from the invasion of Iraq, and the long bloody stalemate in Afghanistan, that making war in the Middle East often makes things worse rather than better.

So the choice is extraordinarily conflicted. Honest opponents of intervention should admit that the decision not to fight is deeply troubling because Isis is evil. Honest proponents of intervention should also admit that the war might have a just purpose but it is also probably unwinnable.

Islamic State is different to Al Qaeda. It’s strength comes from holding territory.

The Key Government has decided to send a small military force to “train” Iraqi soldiers. This is defensible in principle. It recognises that the fight against Isis is primarily the task of local people, not of the West. It also recognises, perhaps, that the West has some responsibility for the rise of the terrorist group. They filled a vacuum created by the Iraq invasion and the subsequent chaos. So the West has to help restore the damage. …

All the signs suggest that Key is doing what Keith Holyoake did in Vietnam – sending the smallest possible force into the war, mainly to keep the allies happy and to show the flag. And probably the most that can be hoped for from this war is to contain Isis and stop it from building a lasting fundamentalist caliphate.

If it can’t build the caliphate, it loses its theological reason for being. And it then might lose some of its support, and splinter under its own murderous fanaticism. None of that is certain to happen, but it is a defensible aim for limited Western military intervention. It is the best option available.

I agree.

 

Uber editorials

January 26th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Some of the complaining is down to professional jealousy and turf-guarding. But it has also posed important questions around passenger safety. So it is welcome that the Government will review the regulations around “small passenger services” – the umbrella term covering taxi companies and private hire outfits. Uber is classed among the latter group, which exempts it from certain lengthy rules around fares, meters, back offices, taxi licences and signage. That’s for the good – these rules simply don’t apply to Uber – and it helps the company offer lower prices than taxis.

But the classification also allows Uber more dubious advantages: no need for security cameras mandatory in most taxis; no need for “area knowledge” and language standards that many taxi drivers must meet; less onerous rules around reporting complaints.

It’s not clear why Uber should enjoy such perks. Its model is fundamentally an advance in ease-of-payment and passenger-driver matchmaking – not an advance in safety. And that is the main reason for having rules: to do what is reasonable to ensure the safety of passengers and drivers.

 

The security cameras were not put in to protect passengers, but taxi drivers. And they shouldn’t be mandatory anyway.

The editorial misses the key difference between Uber and taxis. With a taxi you get basically no choice as to who your driver is. With Uber you can choose your driver, and you get to see what other passengers have said about them. It is potentially a far more powerful model for safety and quality.

It is like Trade Me – your reputation is vital. Get some bad reviews, and people won’t trade with you.

So the Dom Post misses the point when it says Uber has perks because it does not need to meet taxi standards. Taxis gets regulated by their companies and the state. Uber drivers effectively get regulated by passengers – if your driver gets you lost, you’ll give them a bad review.

The Press takes a more enlightened approach:

It is, however, one of the most disruptive businesses of all those businesses whose disruption is based on technology and it has aroused fierce resentment, among taxi companies in particular. In some countries it has been banned.

Taxi companies say Uber has an unfair advantage because although it operates as a taxi service it is not subject to the multiplicity of regulations that taxi companies must obey. Uber insists, and the Transport Agency at this point agrees, that it is a hire-car service and it fits within all the applicable regulations.

The differences between taxi and hire-car services are that taxis may be hailed in the street and charge by the metered distance they travel, plus extras like credit-card and eftpos fees.

Hire-car services must be booked in advance for a fee agreed in advance. Uber’s drivers are private operators with their own cars. Customers engage them via a smartphone application. The differences between the services can become blurred, however, and taxi companies say that some Uber operators are stepping over the line.

Some of the taxi companies’ fears, such as those about safety, can probably be discounted. Uber drivers, for instance, are vetted and must have a public passenger licence.

Passengers and drivers rate each other and Uber dismisses those drivers with consistently poor ratings. Because of the way they are hired, any misbehaving driver (or passenger) could also usually be traced.

There is, however, a strong argument for saying that taxis are over-regulated. Foss says that the Government wants to allow innovation to flourish. The review he has proposed must allow that and should not be used as a device to shut innovation down.

I’d be impressed with a taxi firm that tried to emulate Uber rather than close it down. Why not allow us to easily rate our taxi drivers and have that info available to passengers? Why can’t a taxi company inform a passenger which cabs are nearby, and allow the passenger to choose the one they want?

 

Dom Post on Wellington Local Government

January 1st, 2015 at 11:15 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

For Wellingtonians, barring the earthquake we’re always half-expecting, the super-city decision looms as the biggest event. Mooted for years, it’s already provoked loud opposition from most of the region’s mayors; they’re concerned about a loss of local autonomy and the costs of a merger.

They’re mistaken. The current menagerie of mayors and councillors is overkill. Wellington is a modestly-populated region with a shared heart.

It needs bolder, more coherent leadership, and residents should grab the opportunity for a shake-up.

We don’t need eight Mayors for the region.

Dom Post opposes alcohol sponsorship ban

December 20th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Public health researchers use tobacco as a model for alcohol reform. But the comparison is not fair. Alcohol in small amounts is healthy. For most people, it is not especially addictive. There is no similar risk that a few drinks at a young age mean a lifetime chained to the habit.

That is the key difference.

An advertising ban is a heavy-handed move that would cut off a major funding stream for sports teams and suppress diversity in a market that has shown plenty of it recently. (Consider the craft beer explosion, not exactly associated with problem drinking.)

You ban advertising and sponsorship, and you effectively ban new products.

To the extent that regulations can help, they should be carefully targeted at drunkenness and young people. Banning obscene boozing competitions, as the Government did in 2012, justified itself. Curtailing bar hours, as the police are pushing for in Wellington, also has merit. Scrubbing sponsors’ logos from games mostly watched by adults seems like overdoing it.

May the Government drown the report in a vat of craft beer.

The Press and Herald editorials are also sceptical or hostile to the recommendations.

The revolution that changed our lives

July 15th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

It was years ago today that the Lange Labour Party won the election that would change all our lives. This proved to be one of the major reforming governments of our history, comparable with the Liberals of the 1890s and the Labour government of the 1930s. It made profound changes in our economy, our foreign policy, and in race relations. Some of these changes were for the better, and some were not. We are still wrestling with the legacy of David Lange and Roger Douglas.

National’s Robert Muldoon was a backward-looking leader who had in many ways painted his country into a corner. Douglas used the economic crisis – massive internal and external deficits, a frightening overseas debt – to push through a Right-wing, top-down revolution which never figured in Labour’s election manifesto. New Zealand was hauled into the era of Thatcher and Reagan by stealth. At the end of six years, the government had a deserved reputation for failing to tell the voters of its real intentions.

Some of the economic changes were clearly needed. A brutal assault on costs was inevitable. An excessively protected economy imposed unnecessarily high costs on ordinary New Zealanders. Exchange rates, wages, prices and interest rates could not continue to be set by prime ministerial fiat.

Has someone told Labour today this?

But Douglas and his friends went way beyond sensible reforms and deep into the swamps of ideology. His massive privatisation and flat-tax proposals of December 1987 were shrink-the-state Hayekian politics dressed up as economic orthodoxy. That forced the fatal showdown between Douglas and Lange killed the government. It was a civil war that Labour had to have.

Douglas said his revolution would put New Zealand on a new, high-growth path. It didn’t. His excuse was that the job was left unfinished. Only ACT and Tea Party Republicans still believe that. The last 30 years have seen huge changes in economic theory that have demolished central parts of the Reaganite-Rogernome credo.

That’s the assertion of the editorial, but I don’t accept that. I think it is a shame Lange destroyed his own Government by going against the wishes of his own Cabinet. It would have been great to see a flat tax implemented.

A sensible Dom Post editorial

July 10th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

 A group of Wellington apartment dwellers is angry about noise from nearby pubs.

Thankfully their gripes have been dismissed by those they have complained to: Wellington City Council, noise control officers and the district licensing inspector.

Wellington prides itself on its hospitality credentials – its array of coffee haunts and brew pubs, restaurants and noodle houses and, yes, late-night dance bars.

The whole colourful mix is part of the city’s identity. It sets it apart from other New Zealand cities, and features prominently in Wellington’s branding.

These residents live very close to Wellington’s main hospitality stretch – Courtenay Place and its surrounding lanes. They simply cannot expect to dictate the area’s noise levels and closing hours.

They have chosen to live in the heart of the city, and they need to accept the consequences of that choice.

On the plus side, they have easy walks to workplaces, and the harbour, and all of the city’s attractions. On the more challenging side, they face an increased likelihood of noise and late-night rowdiness.

Bar owner Nick Mills has a convincing point when he says “I thought you lived in the city to enjoy the vibrancy, not to object to the noise”.

Absolutely. They should go live in Tawa if they want peace and quiet.

Dom Post on MFAT

July 4th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Something is seriously wrong at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Diplomats must speak with one voice when dealing with foreign states. In the case of the alleged Malaysian sex offender, they did not. The official line was that the Government wanted Malaysia to waive Muhammad Rizalman’s diplomatic immunity. But informally the diplomats were apparently telling Malaysia the man could go home.

This is either wilful disobedience or extreme incompetence. It is hard to believe that any diplomat would knowingly subvert the Government’s expressed wishes and policy. Sacking would be the only possible punishment. But the incompetence is just as serious, and on the face of it should also lead to dismissal.

I don’t think you make employment decisions on the basis of editorials, and also you decide on the basis of someone’s overall job performance, not just one stuff up. However I do agree this is very serious.

One astonishing revelation is that the ministry’s chief executive, John Allen, did not know the key details about the Malaysian fiasco until last Friday. He says this was the result of the ministry’s policy of “compartmentalisation” of information. This policy has clearly gone too far if it means that an extremely serious situation is kept from the ministry’s own boss. “Compartmentalisation” on that scale is madness.

I agree. MFAT has a secrecy culture that goes to extremes, and in this case is madness.

There remains a suspicion, after all, that the present shambles has its roots in the disastrous restructuring of the ministry under McCully’s watch. That “redisorganisation” led to a revolt of the ministry’s most senior staff and then to an apparently botched witchhunt ordered by State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie.

The whole project was misconceived and mismanaged, based as it was on the principle that the ministry could operate with far fewer experts. 

I argue quite the opposite. I think this shows why change was necessary. Some (not all) MFAT staff regard themselves as a law unto themselves. They think foreign policy is their exclusive preserve, and the wishes of the Government of the day has little to do with how they do their jobs. Yes Minister struck close to the truth here.

I suspect this is why John Allen wasn’t informed. He may be the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, but’s he not a life-ling diplomat – so he wasn’t told.

Dom Post on Labour’s List

June 25th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Labour’s list is not inspiring. There are few fresh people in winnable positions, because the party has been unable to chop out dead wood. There are half a dozen sitting MPs who should have retired, but didn’t. This adds to the voters’ impression, once again, that Labour is a party not yet ready to govern.

Politicians who are past their use-by date rarely go voluntarily. And perhaps Labour leader David Cunliffe decided that a forced purge would simply be too damaging to a party that is already in trouble. Renewal can be another name for bloodbath, although National has managed to refresh its line-up without great strife. Perhaps renewal is easier in a party that is doing well.

So we are left with the current caucus dominating the winnable list, and a number of unimpressive MPs in constituency seats. These are of course more difficult to shift than list candidates who can simply be moved down the rankings. But someone should have tried harder to persuade Ruth Dyson to retire this time. The West Coast’s Damien O’Connor and Mangere’s Su’a William Sio similarly add no value to the Labour Party brand and should move on. Hutt South’s Trevor Mallard dresses up his decision not to seek a list place as a magnanimous gesture to help Kelvin Davis in the north. 

Which is nonsense. Only if Mallard loses Hutt South, would his not being on the list help Kelvin Davis.

Labour does have the virtue of taking the issue of women’s representation seriously. It aims for 45 per cent of women MPs, although it would reach this figure only if it wins more than 30 per cent of the total vote. On present polling that looks an ambitious target.

Yep. So what happens if their caucus is not 45% female? Does the President resign for breaking the constitution?

Labour’s list is not at all a “fantastic array of talented candidates”, as Cunliffe claims. But the party’s problems lie far deeper than the list. It has altogether failed to win over the voters of New Zealand. It can blame the factitious charm of Key, or the economic upturn that came at an unhelpful time in the electoral cycle, or whatever other excuse it likes. The voters, whether they are right or wrong, are still broadly happy with the country’s direction. And Cunliffe has utterly failed to sell himself as a plausible alternative prime minister. All the signs suggest that Labour will have another dismal day on September 20.

If Labour do do badly on 20 September, then their lack of new blood will make 2017 even harder for them.

Dom Post says Cunliffe leadership is a train wreck

June 21st, 2014 at 10:47 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Labour ditched former leader David Shearer because he struggled to string two sentences together on a good day. So surely it couldn’t have got any worse, right? Wrong.

It’s a train wreck under David Cunliffe and Labour’s MPs are grumpy, nervous and wondering what they may be doing for a crust after September 20. The prospect of losing your job and the $150,000 salary always focuses the mind.

And by bad timing, the Labour Party list gets released this weekend. On the latest Fairfax poll, Labour would get only six List MPs. So anyone outside the top six of the effective list, may be toast.

Cunliffe has taken the party backwards when he promised to take it forward. Could Labour be on track to record its worst-ever election defeat? Yes.

When Cunliffe utters a word or two these days the collective intake of breath among his MPs is simply frightening.

He’s had a host of gaffes this year – and the best he’s looked was when he shut up and stood in the background while his wife, Karen Price, talked about the birds (chickens) and the bees in an interview at their home.

That was the high point.

Cunliffe was parachuted into the job of leader, not because his MPs really wanted him – most dislike him – but because Labour Party members and union affiliates were desperate for someone to articulate their values.

To say he’s been a disappointment is an understatement. After this week’s horrors he looks unelectable as the next prime minister. He’s genuinely gone from bad to worse.

My God, that is a harsh editorial.

Look at these basic mistakes. He started the year not knowing the crucial details of his baby bonus speech, he then foolishly accused Prime Minister John Key of living in a flash pad while he slummed it in a downmarket $2.5 million mansion in Herne Bay.

He set up a secret trust for his leadership bid and was caught out. He claimed his grandfather won a war medal when it was his great uncle. His CV had mistakes in it. He used Grant Robertson’s leadership statement as his own and this week – the howler – denied he knew Donghua Liu or had ever advocated for him – before a letter emerged to prove otherwise.

It isn’t the one or two mistakes. It is that they are so regular.

Former Labour Party president Mike Williams admitted to me this week that Labour’s MPs will all be discussing the possibility of replacing Cunliffe. They now have 48 hours to prepare to roll him.

They can ditch him on Tuesday – but they won’t.

I expect Robertson has the numbers if he wanted to press the issue. But he doesn’t want the job – just yet. Hence his support for Cunliffe this week and his rather cheeky throwaway line that Cunliffe will serve three of four terms as prime minister, before he takes his chance. You just know he didn’t mean that.

There is no doubt Grant has the numbers. It isn’t even close. But he doesn’t want to be Mike Moore. so he will sit back.

UPDATE: According to people who have read the print edition this is not an editorial but a column by Duncan Garner. No wonder it was quite blunt!

Dom Post on Cunliffe

June 20th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

David Cunliffe itched to be Labour Party leader for years. After losing power in 2008, the party lumbered along under two failing leaders. He barely hid his ambitions to replace them.

Now, 10 months into his tenure, he should take a moment to enjoy the role. Barring a miraculous campaign performance, he’ll be finished soon.

Ouch.

The heart of the problem is Cunliffe’s judgment and temperament, which have been found lacking yet again. Under direct questions on a specific matter, about a public figure involved in repeated scandals, the Labour leader got it completely, insistently wrong.

He followed up the blunder by issuing veiled threats at caucus colleagues considering disloyalty – all but calling them “scabs”.

That was a huge mistake. It was obviously the pressure getting to him. But the pressure of being opposition leader is nothing compared to the pressure of being Prime Minister.

If Cunliffe was ahead in the polls, or if this was an isolated misstep, he could shrug it off quickly. But his support is so low, and his gaffes so familiar, the impression will linger longer than the incident itself: that he is not up to running the country.

From his secret trust for donations to his leadership bid, to his laughable description of his $2.5 million Herne Bay home as a “doer-upper”, Cunliffe has repeatedly made a fool of himself in awkward, revealing ways.

Combine those mistakes with a haughty, serious style, a tendency to preach instead of persuade, a fondness for vague rallying cries (with liberal talk of “Kiwis”) instead of insights that speak to people’s concerns, and Cunliffe’s predicament is not surprising.

Despite all that MMP means Labour could get to form a Government despite winning say only 25% of the vote. The election will always be close.

Yet the way things stand, it isn’t making a case for anything much. Cunliffe’s leadership is a big part of that. If he can’t urgently change something – and so far there’s little to suggest that he can – then he should get ready for the inevitable end.

92 days to go.

Also today is the start of the regulated period where the parliamentary budgets can no longer be spent on most advertising, and any spending by parties must fall under the spending caps.

Gower on the dirty deal

May 30th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Patrick Gower blogged:

The Hone-Dotcom-Laila political triangle is one of the dirtiest deals in New Zealand political history.

It is as dirty as National-Act in Epsom.

It is as dirty as the Key-Dunne deal in Ohariu.

Frankly, Lalia Harré made me feel sick today when she said “it’s time for New Zealanders to take back MMP”.

That’s because Laila Harré is wrecking MMP.

Hone Harawira is wrecking MMP.

And Kim Dotcom is wrecking MMP.

They are using Harawira’s seat and MMP’s “coat-tail” rule to get a back-door entry into Parliament.

It is a rort.

It is a grubby deal, made all the worse by the fact Harawira holds the Te Tai Tokerau seat – a Maori seat.

The Maori seats are special. They have a unique constitutional role which is to give the Tangata Whenua a place of their own in the New Zealand Parliament.

The Maori seats have been hard fought for.

Never, ever was it envisaged they would be used as a back-door entry for a German millionaire to get his proxy into Parliament.

His $4,000,000 proxy. We should refer to Laila as the four million dollar woman!

Gower is right to point out that this does weaken the case for retention of the Maori seats.

This will give those opposed to Maori seats ammunition to get rid of them.

A referendum on keeping MMP at the moment would be very interesting. Likewise on the Maori seats!

Sadly, the Internet Mana deal has diminished the mana of the Maori seats.

And even sadder too, this deal involves money.

Harawira wants Dotcom’s money.

Annette Sykes wants Dotcom’s money.

John Minto wants Dotcom’s money.

They are all willing to pervert the MMP system for the sake of money and it is a venal deal.

Don’t try and tell me Laila Harré cares deeply about the internet. She cares about getting into Parliament.

Her first press conference was about pretty much every leftwing issues there is, and almost silent on Internet issues except vague platitudes on the importance of the Internet – something that was dated even back in 1996 – when Harre entered Parliament initially.

I have a lot of respect for Harawira, Sykes and Minto. They have spent their lives fighting for what they believe in – for points of principle.

But that respect has been tarnished.

They are obsessed by power, obsessed by money and will trample over the rights of New Zealand voters to get it.

This Internet Mana deal is so wrong.

I feel sorry for all those who signed up to the Internet Party thinking it was about Internet issues. Instead it is merely a vehicle for Dotcom to fund the Mana Party into Parliament. They should be honest and cut out the middle man, and just have Dotcom give the money directly to Mana. Harre is not a candidate for the Internet Party. She is a candidate for Mana. I bet you there isn’t a single Mana Party policy she disagrees with, and she probably doesn’t even know what policies the Internet Party has.

The Press editorial is no less strong:

There can have been fewer link-ups in New Zealand politics more cynical and crassly opportunistic than the one just formed between Hone Harawira’s Mana Party and the Internet Party, masterminded and financed by the internet developer Kim Dotcom. There is not the shadow of any principle involved in it.

Before he arrived in New Zealand, Kim Dotcom’s public image was of a high-living, luxury-loving party animal. For all his technical skills, there is not the slightest evidence that either now or in the past he has had a serious political thought in his head.

It is almost certain his only contact with the poor and dispossessed whose interests Harawira purports to represent would have been as employees. Indeed he may be a little startled to find that he is financing the far-left Laila Harre, the newly announced leader of the Internet Party.

As for the internet issues the Internet Party is supposedly concerned about, if Harawira and Mana had any particular interest in them before Kim Dotcom and his money came on the scene they kept very quiet about them.

Sames goes for the Internet Party Leader.

The ultimate composition of the next New Zealand government may wind up in the hands of a fringe collaboration bankrolled by a German fugitive from American justice. New Zealand politics should be better than that, surely.

The Dom Post editorial notes:

Harre’s arrival sharpens a dilemma for Labour. If its Te Tai Tokerau candidate Kelvin Davis defeats Harawira, it could cut Internet-Mana’s throat and waste a lot of votes for the Left bloc. The best strategy might be for Labour to go softly on Harawira without actually cutting an Epsom-style deal with him. This would require a U-turn, even if it is done in semi-secret.

I understand there is a huge shit fight in Labour over this. Kelvin Davis thinks that he can win the seat as Hone cuddling up to German multi-millionaires will go down like cold sick with many Te Tai Tokerau constituents. If Davis is allowed to run an aggressive campaign for the seat, he could win it.

But Cunliffe and McCarten don’t want to win it. They need Mana-Dotcom in Parliament. So they’ve decided that they will unofficially not campaign to win the seat. This makes Davis the sacrificial lamb who would love to the MP for Te Tai Tokerau, not a List MP.

Dom Post on marriage of convenience

May 28th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

So the Maori radical and the German squillionaire have spawned their odd little party. No surprise there. The deal suits both partners. The Internet Party now has a chance of getting into Parliament whereas before it had none. And Mana wins a chance of finding more supporters among the geeks and the worshippers of Kim Dotcom.

Radicals like Mana’s John Minto reject Sue Bradford’s charge that they have sold out to the wealthy German. Bradford, staunch and true to her ideals as usual, has predictably stormed out. But, in a sense, Minto is right. He has not abandoned his support for progressive taxes and soaking the rich. He has not had to swallow a dead rat.

What is glossed over is how can you stand up for low paid workers, when you effectively merge with a party controlled by a guy who is accused of not even paying the minimum wage to his staff.

The only question now is: will this political oddity, bred on the wrong side of the bed, have any appeal to the voters? Its best hope is to win about 2 per cent of the party vote – double what Mana got last time – and bring the still-unnamed leader of the Internet Party in on the list. If Annette Sykes won Waiariki, that would be a big dollop of cream on the cake.

Actually if Sykes won Waiariki, then the Internet Mana Party would have one fewer List MP and the Internet Party leader may not get in.

Maybe the geeks and the radical Maori and Pakeha can persuade enough voters to back their odd little band. It’s also perfectly possible that Harawira will lose his seat to Labour and Sykes will fail in Waiariki. That would sink the Internet Party, which will certainly not pass the 5 per cent barrier by itself. The whole strange experiment could easily collapse.

I suspect Labour will quietly tell Kelvin Davis not too campaign too hard so Harawira retains his seat.