Dom Post on The Pope

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

The Dominion Post editorial:

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

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

I agree.

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

And it is not just his personal style:

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

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

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

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

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Labour’s challenges

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever the case, Mr Cunliffe has grounds for concern.

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

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

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

The Herald editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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A not very useful poll

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

The Dom Post reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Public hygiene ratings

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dom Post and Grey Power on flexi super

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

A more hysterical response from Grey Power:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dom Post on OSH changes

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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Drinkers not stupid

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

Unlike the Councillors arguably!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dom Post on National Standards

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dom Post on WCC

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dom Post on leaks

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

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Green Councillor worries about Dom Post

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

Iona Pannett blogs:

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

WCC Watch responds:

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

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

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

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

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

Well that is equal coverage!

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

Indeed.

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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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