Editorials lash Norman

June 5th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

If Russel Norman’s purpose in likening John Key to former prime minister Sir Robert Muldoon was to demonstrate that the Green Party is now as eager to make personal attacks as other political parties, his speech to the Green Party’s annual conference in Christchurch should be judged a triumph.

And their problem is one you lose a brand attribute, it is very hard to get it back. If the Greens ever again proclaim they don’t do personal attacks, people will and should laugh.

If, on the other hand, the Australian-born and educated co-leader of the environmental party was attempting to convince voters he shares their experiences, it was an abysmal failure.

When Muldoon was Prime Minister, Norman was running around Australia promoting Marxism.

However, to suggest Mr Key’s personal style is akin to that of Sir Robert is to do nothing but betray ignorance.

The two could not be more different. Sir Robert was a micro-manager; Mr Key delegates. Sir Robert snarled; Mr Key smiles. Sir Robert banned journalists from press conferences, insulted foreign leaders and once punched a demonstrator outside a meeting. Mr Key occasionally gets a little tetchy.

“Divisive and corrosive” Sir Robert certainly was, although, ironically, his command and control approach to running the economy was probably closer to Green Party policy than anything seen since he was voted out of office in 1984.

That’s a good point. Many of the economic policies of the Greens are Muldoonist.

The curious thing about Dr Norman’s attack is that it is he who has resorted to the Muldoonist tactic of attacking the man and Mr Key who has responded by playing the issue.

The Press editorial is similar:

The strident personal attack by the co-leader of the Greens, Russel Norman, on Prime Minister John Key at the weekend may have gone down well with the 100 or so faithful he was addressing at a party conference in Christchurch.

But to most others, even those on the Left, it will have seemed strikingly ill-judged. It introduced an unpleasant personal note not heard since the days, oddly enough, of Robert Muldoon, the man whose name he invoked to make an invidious comparison with the present prime minister.

Both editorials have concluded that it was Norman, not Key, who was exhibiting Muldoon type qualities. That’s some political genius to achieve that.

Norman can perhaps be forgiven for not understanding the truly corrosive nature of many of Muldoon’s actions – the nasty personal attacks on political opponents, the shatteringly divisive Springbok tour, the disastrous economic policies, the final unwillingness to relinquish power after political defeat. Norman did not come to New Zealand until five years after Muldoon’s death and 23 years after he fell from power. But the memory of the toxic nature of much of what happened under Muldoon is still strong to those who lived through it, and to many who heard of it later. And they know perfectly well that nothing done by the present Government can remotely be compared.

So why did he do it? Desperation?

It suggests, too, that Norman is not entirely confident that he can make electoral headway on policies alone. The Greens in recent months have made a lot of the running on Opposition policy, particularly economic policy, so much so that a pollster asked a question suggesting that Norman was Bill English’s opposite number on finance rather than Labour’s finance spokesman, David Parker. Much of this (a radical loosening of monetary policy, a government-run electricity market) along with Labour’s own policies (government housing projects), has been seen by many analysts as taking the Opposition on a lurch to the Left.

The latest opinion polls, which showed little reaction to the policies, disappointed the Opposition. The answer to that disappointment should not, however, be a resort to personal attack. That really would be an undesirable step down the slippery track toward Muldoonism.

Imagine what he would be like if he got to be Finance Minister!

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Dom Post on babies in Parliament

May 22nd, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom post editorial:

Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta has fired a broadside at Parliament’s rules after she found herself stuck in the debating chamber late at night with her 5-month-old baby.

She was aiming at the wrong target.

Instead of having Parliament’s standing orders in her sights, she should have trained them on her party colleagues.

Labour talks the talk on family-friendly workplaces, but it appears it is not so good at walking the walk when it comes to helping a breastfeeding colleague, even one as senior and respected as Ms Mahuta.

Exactly. They have 9 proxies they can use every day. They have only one MP with an infant. Plus as they are not in Government, they can even vote with reduced numbers without consequence.

If Ms Mahuta felt she should be among those whose presence was not required, then the correct place for her to have directed her complaint was chief whip Chris Hipkins, who organises the roster and should have been alert to the high likelihood of Parliament going into urgency after Thursday’s Budget, and her Labour colleagues.

All it would have taken for her to have the night off would have been for Mr Hipkins to give her priority or for just one of those Labour MPs who was excused to have offered to step in and take her place. Surely, Ms Mahuta would have returned the favour when her circumstances allowed?

To be fair to Hipkins, it has been reported she originally had leave for Friday, but asked to swap it. I’m not sure all the blame is with the Whips. To some degree what we are seeing is a continuation of Labour’s internal warring – it is no coincidence that Mahuta is part of the marginalised Cunliffe faction and she has no love for the party leadership and whips after her demotion.

After Ms Mahuta’s complaint, Speaker David Carter is examining whether even more can be done. In the meantime, Labour, the champion of family-friendly workplaces, can help Ms Mahuta no end by practising what it preaches.

A fair point.

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Dom Post on loan defaulters

May 20th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

There is a good argument for getting tougher with those living overseas who won’t repay their loans. Too many have decided to ignore their obligations.

Now the Government will require them not only to repay more quickly, but it also warns that persistent defaulters may be arrested at the airport.

This is punitive, unpleasant, and likely to be unpopular in a democracy that prefers the carrot to the stick. But nobody can complain.

The Government, after all, has taken a gradual approach. It offered amnesties and a chance to come to an arrangement with the IRD. It has also made it technically easier and cheaper to transfer the money home.

Many have responded reasonably: $64 million in outstanding loans has been repaid. However, some have ignored the offer and refused to repay. That can’t continue.

After all, if the people concerned had a low income and found it genuinely hard to repay, they were free to argue the point and try to make a deal with the tax-gatherer. Others could easily repay their loans but simply ignored the Government’s inquiries.

Those who have refused to do anything now face the threat of the bailiffs and, if they persist, of arrest. It’s hard to know what else the Government could do. Those who refuse to respond are breaking the social contract.

The social contract has responsibilities on both sides.

Students, after all, do not pay the full cost of their tertiary education. Even with the loans, they are being subsidised by the taxpayer. In return for that aid, however, they must make a contribution themselves.

This does not threaten the hallowed institution of OE, as Labour claims, or make it less likely that our high-fliers will return to the nest. Those who do their OE can’t just leave their fiscal obligations behind them. And highly -skilled people who stand to earn big salaries during their lifetimes can expect no sympathy if they default on their loans.

Repaying a loan should not be seen as optional.

The editorial however criticizes students aged over 40 having to get loans, instead of allowances.

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Is WCC value for money?

May 4th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

By any stretch of the imagination, the nearly $66,000 base salary paid to Wellington City councillors is not a pittance, especially when most have top-ups of $14,000 or more. For that sort of money, Wellington ratepayers have a right to expect their elected representatives would at least stay awake around the council table, make firm decisions on matters of vital importance to the city and keep informed about what is going on within the organisation they govern.

What Wellington has got is councillors who are unable to work together on key issues, and who at times appear to be woefully ignorant of vital aspects of the council’s operations. Ratepayers should be asking themselves whether this crop are worth their present salaries, let alone the $76,600, plus top-ups of up to 50 per cent that will kick in after the next election under changes announced by the Remuneration Authority.

There are some good Councillors, but there are also som who have been there far too long, and need to go.

Already this year, Mayor Celia Wade-Brown has revealed she had no idea that up to $350,000 had been budgeted to house her in temporary offices while the council chambers were earthquake-proofed. How did she and other councillors find out? They read about it on the front page of this newspaper.

That was a damning admission.

With this level of competence from a Green Mayor, imagine what fun we may have with six Green Cabinet Ministers?

Then there was the months of dithering over whether to support the proposed flyover for the Basin Reserve, a project some councillors still cannot bring themselves to accept as the best option for fixing the city’s transport problems, despite voting to pay $40,000 for a report that clearly stated just that.

Yes, they rejected the very advice they commissioned!

One of the rationales for paying councillors above-average salaries is to entice talented candidates who can offer something of real substance to local government. It is hoped that proves to be the case when ballot papers for October’s local-body elections are delivered to households later this year.

It is about time Wellington started getting value for money from its elected representatives.

Hear, hear.

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Dom Post on workplace safety

May 2nd, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

What is known is that each year about 200,000 workers – one out of every 10 – make an ACC claim for a work-related injury or illness. Given that not all workers injured on the job make claims, the actual number of injuries will be even higher.

The total cost to New Zealand of this sorry state of affairs is estimated to be $3.5 billion a year. It is, as the task force notes, a price that is “appalling, unacceptable and unsustainable”.

Several factors are to blame for this intolerable situation. They include regulations that fail to make clear who is responsible for what, weak monitoring, enforcement and penalties and a lack of worker involvement.

The task force has proposed a series of sensible measures to address these issues. They include a recommendation, already accepted by the Government, that a stand-alone agency should be created to oversee safety in workplaces, provide information to workers and employers and collect data on accident, injury and death rates.

The task force has also proposed tougher legislation and penalties and a carrot-and-stick approach that will give incentives, such as lower ACC levies, to employers who reduce injury rates while punishing those who fail to act.

I am a big fan of ACC levies and premiums reflecting your accident record. I say this as an employer that (to the best of my knowledge) has never had a work related injury in nine years – yet pays a significant amount in premiums.

You need both carrot and stick when it comes to workplace safety. It is important that the focus go on the stick only.

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Editorials on Syria

April 29th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

The United States and the international community have to respond to a suspected nerve gas attack by Syrian government forces on civilians in Aleppo.

If the attack is confirmed – and it seems likely that it has happened – President Bashar al-Assad’s regime cannot be allowed to get away with this atrocity.

The trouble is there are no good solutions, just a variety of different intensity bad ones.

The difficulty for the West is that any imaginable military response is dangerously complicated. Even a no-fly zone over Syria, which would work to the obviously military advantage of the rebels battling Assad’s forces, cannot be easily enforced.

Assad is believed to have 600 fixed surface-to-air missile sites and about 300 mobile units, some of which would survive any first strike by US cruise missiles or planes flying from the Royal Air Force base in Cyprus. Putting Assad’s anti-aircraft capability out of action could be difficult and costly.

Most can be destroyed easily enough, but enough would survive to take down some aircraft. However if drones are used, the loss of life to US or NATO forces could be minimised.

If the chemical attack is confirmed, Assad has to go. Any regime which carries out nerve gas attacks on its own civilian population has lost all pretence of legitimacy.

The trouble is the alternatives are not overly appealing.

The Dom Post urges caution:

Barack Obama warned Syria that if it used nerve gas against its people it would “cross a red line”. The president meant that if the Assad regime was guilty of such a war crime, the United States would have to do something.

And now the evidence is mounting that Assad might have used sarin. And so now the president is in a difficult position, largely of his own making.

It would be easy to scorn Mr Obama over this. It would be easy to interpret his hyper-caution as shillyshallying and even cowardice. It would be easy to demand he stick to his word and start bombing. Predictably, some senior American politicians are now urging him to do so.

I don’t think he should bomb, but I think he was stupid to talk about a red line, and not be prepared for what to do if it is crossed.

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Dom Post on Colin Craig

April 27th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

If Conservative Party leader Colin Craig wants to pursue a career in politics, he needs to harden up. His threat this week to sue a satirical website that ran a spoof story which attributed fictional quotes to him suggests he is not yet ready to cope with the rough and tumble of Parliament’s debating chamber.

Politics is the contest of ideas, and those who practise it have to be prepared for the reality that not only will their policies be challenged and derided by their opponents, from time to time, they will be mocked.

There is nothing wrong with that, as long as it is not done in a nasty way, and the purpose is to make a political point rather than an outright personal attack. Satire has been around almost as long as politics itself, and, done well, is an entertaining and humorous medium for social and political commentary.

Absolutely. The satirical piece was extremely mild, and only a moron could have thought the purported quote was genuine.

The last thing we need is MPs and wannabee MPs firing off defamation threats at anyone who takes the mickey out of them.

The Herald has a profile on Ben Uffindell, creator of The Civilian. Thanks to the publicity from Colin Craig, he now plans to turn the site into a business. Excellent.

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Dom Post on Labour and power prices

April 16th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

There are good reasons to be cynical about Labour leader David Shearer’s vague promise to rein in power prices if he becomes prime minister next year.

It’s like King Canute claiming he can stop the tide – except King Canute knew he couldn’t.

First, it will have escaped nobody’s attention that Labour had plenty of time to ease the burden of electricity costs for households and businesses during the nine years it was in government from 1999 to 2008. But instead of putting in place measures to achieve that, it presided over a nearly 70 per cent rise in prices and happily raked in more than $3 billion in dividends from the state-owned power companies.

And this was a time of record surpluses.

Clearly, Labour had no problem with families and small businesses being hit with unnecessarily inflated electricity bills when the cash was helping to fund its big spending policies. That only appears to have become a concern once it was turfed out of office.

Exactly.

Mr Shearer says the policy has arisen from the prospect of power prices soaring further once 49 per cent of Mighty River Power, Genesis and Meridian are sold into private hands. However, as the price gouging by the three companies between 2001 and 2007 showed, vesting full public ownership in a power company does not necessarily guarantee lower prices. Indeed, figures issued by Energy Minister Simon Bridges in February showed that, at that time, private companies were offering the lowest rates in 15 of the 21 regions on the Powerswitch website, which allows consumers to compare prices.

What matters is having choice and competition, not ownership.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Mr Shearer’s main aim in announcing the policy the day before the first shares in the part privatisation of MRP were offered to New Zealand retail investors was to dampen down interest in the sale. The woeful lack of detail only supports the view that it has been made up on the hoof and rushed out as a last-minute sabotage tactic.

Sabotage is a good word for it, but it was such a pitiful attempt at sabotage, with no details, that it was more like a damp fire-cracker.

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Editorials on Thatcher

April 10th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Of all the millions of words that will be written about Margaret Thatcher in the coming days none will more succinctly sum up the impact of the late British prime minister than those uttered by her former press secretary Sir Bernard Ingham: “She knew what she wanted to do, and did it.”

So true.

What Baroness Thatcher will be remembered for is breaking the power of the unions, privatising British Telecom, British Gas and dozens of other publicly owned companies, going to war over the Falkland Islands and resisting Soviet expansionism.

Not a bad list.

She changed the world, too. In the 1980s, building more missile bases and condemning Soviet totalitarianism at every opportunity was viewed as dangerously provocative. But, with the benefit of hindsight, Baroness Thatcher and her closest political ally, then United States president Ronald Reagan, were indisputably right.

People forget this. Tens of millions demanded that the West basically unilaterally disarm and appease the Soviet Union.

The NZ Herald editorial:

Margaret Thatcher’s social views stemmed from her Christianity and a belief in the importance of individual rights. If there was nothing novel in this, nor did she invent a new economic policy. Rather, she and Ronald Reagan brought monetarism into the mainstream, with their advocacy of reduced state intervention, free markets, entrepreneurialism, less taxation, and the privatisation of state assets. The implementation of this programme was made the easier by Britain’s dire state when she claimed power. The country was commonly described as the sick man of Europe. A postwar decline had been exacerbated by the power wielded by trade unions and a general sense of despondency.

Margaret Thatcher proposed to change all of this, and she did. From 1982, Britain provided a ready canvas as it started to pull out of its worst post-World War II slump. Spurred on by her leadership and a sharp curbing of inflation and interest rates, people soon had the confidence to start their own businesses and buy shares. This sparked a high level of social mobility – and the yuppie.

With time, I think people forget how morbid the UK was in the 1970s. It was sick beyond belief.

Her uncompromising style allowed her to be outstanding in foreign as well as domestic policy, an achievement rare among politicians. In the midst of her first term, Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands provided the opportunity to establish her credentials. If Britain’s recapture of the islands was a close-run thing, it, nevertheless, occasioned a wave of patriotism, and applause for her decisiveness. In President Reagan, she found a leader who shared her view of the world. Transatlantic co-operation blossomed, especially with the taking of a sterner approach to the Soviet Union. Ultimately, this played a part in the end of the Cold War and the downfall of communism.

In 100 years time, Thatcher will be the only UK Prime Minister still talked about, post WWII. She was a force of nature.

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Dom Post on Afghanistan

April 8th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Many Kiwis will question whether the engagement in a conflict 13,000 kilometres away was worth such a high cost. Others will question whether now is the right time for the PRT to pull out, given the Taliban remains strong in the northeast of Bamiyan, and Afghanistan’s future remains uncertain.

However, there is no denying that New Zealand was right to join the international efforts to confront al Qaeda and weaken it to the point where it no longer posed a grave threat to innocent people all around the world. The horrific September 11 attacks on the United States showed the terrorist organisation’s intent and capabilities. It had to be crippled. That mission, at least, has been accomplished.

It was also right to send the PRT to help sow the seeds of democracy and stability in Bamiyan. Likewise, now is the right time to come home.

The PRT has done everything that could have been reasonably expected of it given the harsh and dangerous conditions in which our troops were asked to operate. They have improved medical facilities, built roads and bridges and created the conditions for some semblance of what Kiwis would regard as a normal life to flourish.

Its presence has resulted in the opening of hundreds of schools, seen a rise in the number of girls getting an education and laid the foundations for improved infrastructure and a big improvement in health outcomes. Perhaps most importantly, the deployment has given the people of Bamiyan the confidence to believe they can be masters of their own destiny.

It is difficult to see what more could be achieved by the PRT remaining, and the reality is that the looming withdrawal of the rest of the international community in 2014 makes it impossible for it to stay in any case.

What annoys me most about Afghanistan is it was Labour who sent in the SAS (which was the right decision), and renewed their mission several times. Then the moment they are in Opposition they attack the Government for keeping the SAS there.

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Asleep at the wheel of Wellington

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

The Dom Post editorial:

Confusion has seized Wellington City councillors, and the spectacle is not pretty. While many of them were asleep, it seems,150 council jobs have been axed. “How did that happen? Why were our hands not on the steering wheel?’ asks Mayor Celia Wade-Brown.

This is a damaging question for any politician to ask, at least out loud. If the mayor did not know how the jobs went west, she should have. If her hands were not on the steering wheel, they should have been. It is no excuse to plead ignorance. It is the mayor’s job to know such things.

It was a damning thing to say.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the council has blundered about in confusion and ignorance. It is only a few weeks ago that Ms Wade-Brown was astonished to learn that the renovations for her temporary office were going to cost $350,000. When this newspaper revealed the fact, Ms Wade-Brown said it was unacceptable and would be scaled back.

It is beyond belief that the Mayor was not previously aware of the cost of her own office renovations.

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Dom Post on work tests

April 1st, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

An important social contract underpins New Zealand’s welfare system. At its heart is the principle that society will provide for individuals who are unable to support themselves on the understanding that those who are able to work will make an honest effort to look for employment.

Yep, and support for the former is undermined when the latter does not occur.

Sadly, however, some beneficiaries see it as their God-given right to remain on welfare for life and not only make no effort to improve their lot, but add to the burden on taxpayers.

They include women on the domestic purposes benefit who seem to believe they can have as many children as they want while remaining dependent on the state, and that workers will be happy to pay for them to have that privilege.

It is a minority, but it is not an insignificant minority. We should be full of compassion for parents who suddenly find themselves without a partner because they die, flee, turn abusive. But that is a different situation to having multiple babies to multiple partners over many years, and hence never being in employment.

The number of women who have had additional children while on the DPB is undeniably cause for concern. Between 1993 and 2011, almost a third of women who drew the benefit had at least one more child. In 2010 alone, 4800 children were born to solo mothers already on the DPB – 7.5 per cent of the total live births that year.

A third is far too high. Mistakes will and can occur, but at a third that suggests many of them are deliberate decisions to have further children despite being unable to even provide for existing children.

That is not fair on working parents who would dearly love more children, but who have put off increasing the size of their families because of economic pressures.

Exactly.

It is also not fair to the children of those beneficiaries.

It has long been established that children in working families have far better health, education and social outcomes. That is true for children with one parent as well as those with two.

Not only do children in sole-parent families benefit from their mother or father having a higher income than they would get from welfare payments, they also benefit enormously from seeing their parents go out to work every day.

This is the part that I think is most important. A child who grows up in a household where no adult ever works in paid employment is going to probably start life very disadvantaged.

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Dom Post on Jones inquiry

March 13th, 2013 at 6:30 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Given the paucity of talent within Labour’s ranks and the divisions within the party, Mr Shearer’s desire to restore a supporter to the front bench is understandable.

The public, however, may well have different priorities when it comes time to assess Labour’s fitness to operate the levers of government.

Ms Provost’s investigation found no evidence of corruption, but it did find ample evidence of poor judgment on the part of the former associate minister of immigration.

A harsh summary is not corrupt, just incompetent.

She found Mr Jones acted hastily before he was in possession of all the relevant information, did not consult either police or the Immigration Service despite knowing both were investigating Mr Liu, and failed to document the reasons for his decision.

Immigration and citizenship cases are fraught with danger for ministers because the final say on cases rests with them and because those making representations on behalf of applicants are often their parliamentary colleagues.

It is easy for the perception to develop that it is not what applicants offer New Zealand that is important, but who they know.

Especially when the applicant boasts to the Department that he is mates with MPs, insists on a quick decision despite officials telling him they will recommend no.

In those circumstances the best protection for ministerial reputations and New Zealand’s reputation as a country free of corruption is for the decision-making process to be properly documented.

Mr Jones’ failure to record why he ignored official advice to reject Mr Liu’s application and his failure to even document under which section of the Citizenship Act he granted Mr Liu’s application brought his reputation and that of New Zealand into disrepute.

As Mr Jones observed, officials were also criticised by the auditor-general for failing to adequately brief the minister and assuming he understood his responsibilities. Fair enough. It is as important for them as it is for ministers to follow proper process.

However, having explained their concerns about Mr Liu’s dual identity and the fact he had been red-flagged by Interpol, they had grounds for thinking the minister would put the integrity of New Zealand’s citizenship ahead of his impatience to be done with a vexatious case.

The question voters may want to ask themselves ahead of the next election is would they employ someone with Mr Jones’ impetuous nature to run their company. If not would they trust him to run a government department?
A question that may be answered in time.
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Dom Post on asset sales referendum

March 1st, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

The Government now has the authority to sell a 49 per cent share in the power company. To those who say the public are opposed to the process, Prime Minister John Key and his ministers can offer a simple rejoinder: “We said we were going to do it before the last election; if you really didn’t like it you shouldn’t have elected us.”

It’s a difficult argument to counter and the referendum the Green Party and Labour are promoting will change nothing. Nor should it. Whatever the pros and cons of selling state assets, governments are elected to govern. If governments were only able to do things that had popular support at the time they were done, New Zealand might never have given women the vote, decriminalised homosexuality or made the wearing of seatbelts compulsory.

The referendum is an abuse of what is meant to be a law to allow citizens to petition Parliament to get a referendum. It has been hijacked by the parties that lost an election to try and over-turn the election result.

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Editorials on a four year term

February 8th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

There are two ways to look at John Key’s call for a four-year parliamentary term.

The first is that it will give the “bastards” more time. The second is that it will give voters more time to assess whether their representatives and, more particularly, governments are deserving of another term.

By international standards New Zealand’s electoral cycle is short. Australia too, has a three-year term, but the United States president serves for four years and so do the parliaments of Germany, Japan and a host of other nations. Britain has a five-year term.

The attraction of a shorter electoral cycle is that it allows voters to dismiss truly awful governments quickly and it make politicians more responsive to public opinion.

The reality in New Zealand since 1960, however, is that voters have only once exercised their prerogative to turf out a government after only three years.

I think a four year term would increase the number of one-term governments. Unless a Government is a walking disaster, they will tend to get a second term as most New Zealanders think that three years is not enough time to judge if their policies are working. And they are right. It can take 18 to 24 months to even get laws introduced and passed, so there is little chance of being able to judge their impact within a three year cycle.

A four-year term would provide breathing space. It would also give governments more time to fine-tune their policies before implementing them. The New Zealand Parliament has not earned the reputation for being the fastest legislator in the west for no reason.

Finally, a four-year term would give voters more time to take the measure of their elected representatives. One more year might be enough to identify hopeless governments that should be put out of our misery.

I agree.

The Herald editorial:

But the arguments in favour of an extra year are sound. Governments need time to establish and then implement new policies. New Zealand has too frequently run out of time in politicians’ minds to prove their benefits to the public before the short election cycle interrupts normal business. Each year, the Budget documents forecast spending and revenues four or five years out, but the incumbent government must spend its political capital within a maximum of two and a half.

Some would argue that in winning a second or third term a government is able to pursue its strategy adequately; that a divisive debate over changing the term could in itself distract from the policy changes we most need.

It will not be easy to persuade voters of the benefits. Most, naturally, live in the here and now and have little time for long-term planning.

If it gets put to the vote, the country should take the longer view. New Zealand has long needed a plan for economic revival and development that is not hostage to the next opinion poll.

As I have said previously, if it goes to a vote in 2014, it should be made very clear that it will not apply to the next term of Parliament.

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Dom Post on Shearer

February 5th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

 David Shearer thinks he is safe till the next election because his caucus has confirmed him as leader. It doesn’t necessarily follow. Mr Shearer is, in fact, on probation till the polls show a big lift for his party. If the polls don’t lift, the caucus could still panic and throw him out.

Mr Shearer has not yet convinced the voters that he is a plausible prime minister, even if his caucus has backed him. He is desperately inarticulate, unable to deliver a sound bite without a lot of rehearsal or an auto-cue. He can manage a good speech when his political life depends on it, as he did at last year’s party conference.

He can look tough and decisive when his back is to the wall, but mostly he still just blunders.

Trevor Mallard likens Mr Shearer to Norman Kirk, which is laughable. By 1972, Mr Kirk had become a poised and appealing politician. Unlike Mr Shearer, he was quick-witted and articulate, and thrived on hecklers.

I thought the comparison to Norman Kirk must have been based on some sort of internal competition for the most sycophantic remark!

The problem, of course, is that there is no obvious replacement, so the question is whether Mr Shearer can turn Labour into a plausible government even when doubts remain about him as leader. His big promises on housing have certainly helped Labour’s standing but serious questions have arisen about whether Labour could really build so many houses at the promised price. Many voters clearly think that the housing affordability problem needs bold action from the Government, but they also know that the Government is short of money.

Labour doesn’t have the luxury, as NZ First and arguably the Greens still do, of being niche parties that can make reckless promises. Labour has the burden of being taken seriously. Its policies matter because one day they might be implemented.

Minor parties can get away from promising pretty much anything, because they know they will never have to implement them. Personally I think there should be greater scrutiny of their policies. I’d like NZ to have an independent agency cost all parties’ policies.

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Dom Post on prison work

February 4th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

A good prison system should have three functions. It should keep the public safe from dangerous criminals, punish those who have seriously or repeatedly broken the law and rehabilitate offenders.

By and large, New Zealand’s penal system does the first two reasonably well. When it comes to the third, it has been an abject failure. …

But while the prison system is good at keeping inmates locked up – escapes are rare – it is not so good at preparing them to reintegrate back into society once they are released. The recidivism rate among former inmates is alarmingly high. Nearly 40 per cent of those freed from jail each year are back inside within 24 months of their release. …

That is why the Government’s to investigate the merits of “working prisons” should have the support of every party in Parliament.

Under the scheme, every inmate at Tongariro and Auckland Women’s prisons will be engaged in some type of work or rehabilitation activity for 40 hours a week. The scheme is already running at Christchurch’s Rolleston Prison, which has a contract with Housing New Zealand to refurbish earthquake-damaged properties.

Provided the expansion is carefully planned to ensure jobs are not taken away from workers in the community, it could have a significant effect. According to the Government’s figures, reoffending rates for inmates on Release to Work programmes are 16 per cent lower than for those who are not, and prisoners who undertake work in jails per cent lower.

Yet the Herald said the scheme will do more harm than good!

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Editorial misses the alternate costs

January 31st, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

 If saving Wanganui Collegiate is a priority for the cash-strapped Government, the education system must be in very fine health indeed.

At a time when schools across the country have to ask parents to help fund vital learning tools, National has found more than $3 million a year to prop up an institution that is not needed.

Falling rolls meant Wanganui Collegiate was expected to close at the end of last year, but it was thrown a lifeline when the Government agreed to let it integrate into the state system. …

Why would they do that you may wonder?

There is no denying the college has done a superb job in educating its pupils, with a 96 per cent pass rate for NCEA level 2 in 2011.

That’s one reason.

What Ms Parata failed to mention was that the school’s integration flew in the face of sound advice from the Education Ministry and Treasury.

That advice pointed out that there were already more than 1400 unfilled places in secondary schools across the Whanganui-Rangitikei region, a figure that was expected to rise by 50 each year for the next decade.

Many who attend Collegiate are not even from the region.

Meanwhile, the more than $3m the Government will pay to keep it open is money that cannot go towards improving literacy and numeracy for the thousands of pupils who lack the basic skills needed for a good education.

It is also funding that could have gone towards the Government’s aim for 85 per cent of 18-year-olds to have NCEA level 2 or its equivalent by 2017.

This editorial gets a fail in basic literacy and numeracy.

If Wanganui Collegiate closes, then their pupils will all enrol in other schools, which will also cost the taxpayer $3 million. Trying to say that you would save this money if the school closed is absolutely misleading.

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Dom Post on affordable housing

January 29th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

 Making promises is a politician’s stock-in-trade. Unfortunately, delivering on those pledges is often not as easy as voters have been led to believe.

There are few policy areas in which that is more true than housing affordability, where there has long been a disconnect between grand promises and brutal reality.

It was therefore unwise for Labour leader David Shearer to allow those struggling to save for their first home to get overly optimistic about his promise to build 100,000 new dwellings in 10 years at an average sale price of $300,000. That would simply not be possible in many parts of Auckland, at least not for the sort of houses, complete with sizeable gardens and lawns, most of the present generation of first-home buyers grew up in.

Mr Shearer has now made clear that many of the 40,000 to 50,000 homes Labour plans to build in the city will be apartments or terraced housing. The same will probably also be true in Wellington, where $300,000 would be an unrealistic price for anything other than a small apartment or a terraced townhouse on a meagre section.

Their policy should be called Affordable Flats not Affordable Houses, or at one person suggested – Affordable Rooms :-)

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Dom Post on plain packaging

January 21st, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Dominion Post editorial:

As Action on Smoking and Health spokesman Michael Colhoun noted, the ”scream test” is a good indication of how effective any initiative to reduce smoking rates might be. This holds that the louder the tobacco companies squeal, the greater chance of the measure having the desired result.

Actually that’s a stupid statement and a stupid test.

Let’s say the Govt passed a law saying that there will be a special company tax rate in NZ for tobacco companies – 95%. They would scream loudly about that, yet it would not reduce smoking by one person.

Why don’t we focus on effectiveness, not hatred.

New Zealand’s three main tobacco companies have also hinted at legal action to halt the move.

The Government should not be deterred by that threat.

Australia’s High Court last year rejected industry claims that the introduction of plain packets across the Tasman amounted to theft of intellectual property, the main argument used by tobacco companies.

There is still a WTO case on this issue, but I agree that legal issues should not be a major consideration (unless there is advise such a law would clearly breach treaties we have signed).

A report on plain packaging from Germany’s Berenberg Bank last year described it as ”the most material outstanding threat” to the tobacco industry and said that it was expected to have a big impact on preventing young people from taking up smoking.

A report from a bank?

I am skeptical that plain packaging will reduce smoking rates. If there is evidence that it would make a significant difference, then I think there is a case for it.

As I have said many times before, the Government should trial plain packaging. So there is a control to trial against, the best way to do this is a geographic trial where the same policies, laws and taxes apply in both areas – with the sole exception of plain packaging only applying in the trial region. The trial region could be as large as say the South Island.  Over say three years you’d compare the change in smoking rates in both areas.

If plain packaging was shown to be effective, then NZ would be lauded around the world for doing a proper trial, which produced conclusive proof that plain packaging was effective. It would be implemented in dozen of countries within years.

If the trial showed plain packaging did not affect the smoking rate, then NZ could focus on policies that are effective such as the excise tax.

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IS NZ Cricket really that bad?

December 8th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

New Zealand Cricket has a talent for mimicry. Sadly it has chosen the wrong body to mimic. Instead of modelling itself on South Africa, India or another cricketing powerhouse, it has chosen the Labour Party. For David Shearer read Ross Taylor; for David Cunliffe read Brendon McCullum, the defeated contender in a two-horse race for the captaincy last year.

I think NZ Cricket should sue for defamation!

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The Maori King

November 29th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

The English got rid of the absolute power of the monarchy in 1215 when King John’s seal was attached to the Magna Carta at Runnymede. In Waikato, former MP Tukoroirangi Morgan wants to bring it back to protect the “mana” and “prestige” of the Maori king.

Mr Morgan, a central figure in the long-running dispute between King Tuheitia and sacked Waikato-Tainui parliament chairwoman Tania Martin, wants the king given the power to veto decisions made by the parliament and even to dissolve the body that represents Tainui’s 63,000 members. “We must never be able to go to court to settle our differences,” he said this week.

The parliament and Waikato Maori should reject Mr Morgan’s proposal.

The dispute between the king and tribal representatives in the parliament appears to be over control of Treaty settlement moneys that have now grown to $800 million. Those moneys were paid to Tainui by the Crown to settle the historical grievances of all Tainui, not just those of the king or the coterie of advisers who cluster about him.

Decisions about how that money is invested and how the dividends from it are spent should be made by all Tainui.

King Tuheitia’s mother, the Maori queen, Dame Te Atairangikaahu, was widely respected within Maoridom and outside it for the quiet dignity with which she performed her role. Behind the scenes, she knew how to work the phones but, publicly, she made a point of staying above the rough and tumble of politics.

King Tuheitia shows no such restraint. Not only has he got himself offside with the Government and alienated much of the Pakeha world by nonsensically declaring that Maori have “always owned the water”, but he has also allowed himself to be drawn into intra-tribal disputes and wrangles over the spending of Tainui money by the executive Mr Morgan once headed.

King Tuheitia seems to listen to Tuku Morgan only.

Morgan Godfery at Maui Street blogs:

 Gifting the King the power to dissolve tribal parliaments will not solve the political and structural problems in Tainui. At most, inserting the Kingitanga as the ultimate decision maker will only change the way tribal politics is played. So, rather than engage in legal plays**, ambitious tribal politicians will jostle for standing in the Kingitanga. Lobbying, not law, will be du jour. …

Here are the problems: 1) Under Tuku’s model, the King could dissolve TK and override the will of the individual iwi members. …

The troubles in Tainui are not tidy and while I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, I’m sure the answer is not to reduce democracy in favour of feudalism.

The infighting doesn’t affect me directly obviously. But I can’t see feudalism as helping the hapu and whanua of Tainui, for whom the settlements were intended to benefit.

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Dom Post on The Hobbit

November 28th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Along the way J Tolkien’s creation had to contend with trolls, goblins, giant spiders and Smaug, the dragon. Jackson has had to deal with accountants, jittery film bosses, Actors’ Equity and the Council of Trade Unions.

Bilbo returned to his hobbit hole rich and possessed of a magic ring, but his neighbours never looked at him the same way again. About him hung the unsettling aroma of adventure.

Jackson returned from his first foray to Hollywood with a clutch of Oscars for his work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but he too found perceptions had changed. About him hung the aroma of success. He was no longer a hometown boy made good, but a movie mogul. Hence Actors’ Equity’s attempt to use The Hobbit as a vehicle for settling long-running industry grievances.

A dumber strategy is difficult to imagine. The Lord of the Rings gave thousands of Kiwis a start in the film industry and became the greatest marketing tool New Zealand has possessed. Tolkien fans flocked to see the places where the story they loved was brought to life.

The Hobbit is doing the same. Over the past year, 2000 people have been employed on the three films Jackson is making from the book and work will continue for another two years.

To organise an international blacklist of the project was close to being an act of sabotage.

And it was done by an Australian union that had probably just a few dozen members in New Zealand, almost none of whom were even involved in The Hobbit. People forget that in fact the terms and conditions for The Hobbit were better than arguably any other production in NZ.

Yes, The Lord of the Rings was shot in New Zealand, yes, Jackson wanted to make the films here, yes, other potential English-speaking locations were already unionised. However, for every argument to suggest Warner Bros would have no choice but to bow to union demands, there was another to suggest it would pack up and go elsewhere.

In the end I believe Peter Jackson when he says the films were at serious risk. I do not think he is a liar. Those who argue otherwise base their arguments on speculation.

If Jackson felt Actors’ Equity was jeopardising the project, he needed to be listened to. Fortunately he was by the Government, which changed the law to ease Warner’s concerns and pumped even more public money into the project.

Some things are too important to gamble on a coin toss. New Zealand is a minor player in an industry in which tax breaks and publicly funded incentives are part of the furniture.

The choice before John Key’s Government was simple – stand on its dignity or sweeten the pot. Today’s red carpet premiere of the most eagerly anticipated movie of 2012 confirms it made the right choice. Other potential locations will be looking on in envy.

Yey the hypocrites who spent two years attacking the deal constantly, and vowing to repeal it, are now out there at the premiere. They had a choice of supporting jobs for New Zealanders or supporting a malignant Australian union, and they chose union solidarity over the best interests of New Zealand.

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Editorials all say early vote was a mistake

November 21st, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

All three major daily editorials say the early leadership vote was a mistake made under pressure.

The NZ Herald editorial yesterday:

… if he imagines the vote will see off a challenge from David Cunliffe he is already disappointed.

A more experienced leader would have dismissed any suggestion he should try to “call out” a challenge with an early vote. When a leader wins – as usually happens the first time – the question does not go away. It merely leaves the party divided and ensures the discontented faction will choose its moment to make another bid.

The Press today:

If David Shearer wishes to retain the leadership of the parliamentary Labour Party he should put aside any thoughts he may have for a surfing holiday this summer.

Yesterday, he obtained the support of the party caucus in a wholly unnecessary vote of confidence that he called. He also demoted his rival, David Cunliffe. His problem, however, is not his support in caucus but rather that in the wider party.

Since the weekend, Shearer’s supporters have been talking up his performance at the conference and it is true that the keynote speech Shearer gave on Sunday went down well amongst the faithful. But the bar had not been set very high. Preaching to a roomful of one’s most committed activists (and those who turn up for conferences are by definition the hard-core of the party) is not much of a test of a leader. Furthermore, no-one has ever doubted Shearer’s capacity to read a fully scripted, exhaustively rehearsed speech. It is his performance off the cuff that is the worry.

The performance at the post caucus press conference was not impressive and would have done little to reassure the doubters.

Because a leadership vote in February is mandatory, Shearer’s call for a vote of confidence yesterday was unnecessary. He was driven no doubt by the urge to be seen to do something. He also might have hoped he could put the question of a challenge behind him. Shearer, and his caucus supporters, want the matter over, but it is unlikely anything before February is going to end it.

There are 76 days to go before the real vote.

The Dominion Post editorial:

David Shearer has been reconfirmed as leader of the Labour Party. Given that even his caucus critics declared in advance their intention to vote for him that is hardly surprising.

However, far from being the resounding victory claimed by Mr Shearer’s cheerleaders, yesterday’s caucus vote served only to lay bare the deep divisions within the party. Those divisions are between the pragmatic, centrist MPs such as Phil Goff, Annette King and Trevor Mallard who have installed Mr Shearer as their standard bearer, and the wild-eyed idealists who forced a rule change through the party conference at the weekend enabling caucus malcontents to force a leadership vote in which party members and unions will have the final say.

It is more than about the leadership.

The reason Mr Shearer has not scrapped some of Labour’s sillier 2011 election promises is now apparent. Labour is in the midst of a power struggle between those who recognise that spending promises have to be paid for and those who do not understand that capital and skills are mobile. Increase taxes beyond a certain point and both will depart for greener pastures.

Neither yesterday’s vote nor the demotion of Mr Shearer’s putative challenger David Cunliffe to the backbenches resolves the question of Labour’s leadership. The real contest, if there is to be one, will come in February on ground not of Mr Shearer’s choosing.

Then, just 13 or 14 of Labour’s 34 MPs will be able to force a party-wide vote if they choose to.

If a party-wide vote is triggered, I don’t think Shearer would contest it. How could you? Imagine how hobbled you would be in the House having to take on the PM, while fighting for your political life. If a vote is triggered in February, then I’d say it would be Cunliffe vs Robertson.

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Dom Post on Labour

November 20th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Labour’s real problem is that it has failed to present itself as a credible government-in-waiting. That is partly due to the insistence among many grassroots members that it swing even further to the Left, instead of chasing the Centre voters who decide elections. As a result, Mr Shearer has been slow to jettison losing policies, such as last year’s promise to extend Working for Families tax credits to beneficiaries.

As long as policies like that remain on the table, Labour will continue to alienate too many voters. Infighting and disunity does nothing to help its cause.

Policies such as their Lotto housing policy don’t help their credibility much either.

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