Herald says Councillors should vote not abstain

June 24th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Fairly or not, politicians are expected to have solid, unambiguous positions on every issue. Not for them the shades of grey that influence the decision-making of most people in everyday life. Consequently, it is unsurprising that the Auckland councillors who are thinking of abstaining to allow the council’s 10-year budget to pass are being strongly criticised. Yesterday, Michael Barnett, of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, added to the pressure by saying taking that course would be “a total nonsense”.

They are elected to govern. If they can’t handle the responsibility, they should resign and allow in someone who can.

But ringing in their ears are the dire warnings of the council’s chief executive and chief finance officer, who have told councillors if the budget is not adopted, the council will not be able to set or collect rates, refinance loans or meet stock exchange requirements.

If they vote down Len’s budget, then Len has to put up an alternate budget which can get a majority. That is how it works.

It would surely not be catastrophic if the budget was not adopted. Any difficulties could be worked through as the budget was modified to meet the concerns of Mr Clow and others. This could see the rates impost reduced significantly through a variety of measures, including staff minimisation, enhanced efficiencies, and the selling down of council assets, such as port and airport shares and carparking buildings.

It is not a choice of Len’s budget or no budget. If they vote down Len’s budget, then a revised budget gets put up.

The issue is too important for any councillor to choose not to choose. They were elected to provide a voice for the citizens of their ward. That should not be lost when they are so adamant about the budget’s shortcomings.

Any Councillor who votes for the 9.9% rates increase budget, or abstains on it, will face a vigorous and effective campaign to stop them being re-elected.

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Match speeds to risk

May 22nd, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald editorial:

The speed limit on any road should be appropriate to its design and condition, not the subject of a default 100km/h setting. Therefore, a good case can be made for increasing the limit on many of the country’s motorways to 110km/h. And so, too, and even more strongly, can a case be made for lowering it on many of our two-lane rural roads. The latter are, after all, the scene of a high proportion of the fatal and serious crashes in New Zealand every year.

Such was not the case last weekend when 10 people died on the roads. But that did not diminish the good sense in the call by road policing chief Assistant Commissioner Dave Cliff for some rural roads to have lower speed limits. He was reacting not to one bad weekend but to a problem that has been apparent for years and has not been tackled effectively.

As Mr Cliff suggests, many country roads, especially those with winding stretches, are simply not designed to be travelled at 100km/h. Many drivers do not have the skills or the required concentration to traverse them with a high degree of safety.

Best international practice, said Mr Cliff, would dictate that the limit should be 70 to 80km/h. At that speed, the chances of a crash being survivable would be much increased.

Some roads such as the Rimutaka Hill Road are very dangerous to do at 100 km/hr. Same with the road to Makara. Likewise many roads are safe for modern cars at 110 or 120 km/hr. I’m all for road speed limits being set based on the characteristics of each individual road.

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Herald calls for all benefits to increase by 24%

May 21st, 2015 at 8:30 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

It has long been an anomaly that benefits for the young are raised annually by the rate of inflation while superannuitants have their pensions pegged to increases in wages, or inflation if it is greater.

Wages in recent years have increased at a rate above low inflation, causing benefits to lag the general rise in living standards enjoyed by wage earners and the retired. The cost of indexing working age benefits to wages might be considerable but it seems only fair that it should be done. If fiscally possible, it should be accompanied by a catch-up adjustment to benefit rates over the next few years.

This may be the stupidest and most financially illiterate editorial of the year.

First let us calculate what this would cost.  NZ Super has increased by 78% since it was given a floor relative to wages. Inflation during that time has been 44%, which is how much other benefits have increased. This means that in today’s dollars you would need to increase all benefits by 24% to bring them in line with NZ Super increases.

The current cost of non NZ Super benefits is $7.3 billion, so the cost of the Herald’s editorial policy would be $1.74 billion.

The cost of this policy would be around $1,800 per working family.

So the Herald wants the Government to take an extra $1,800 off every family in work, and give it to people not working, on welfare. They think this is the best use of $1.74 billion. I’m staggered by their detachment from reality.

 

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The Press against increasing the size of Council

May 19th, 2015 at 1:30 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

The suggestion that Christchurch residents support  more councillors is rather surprising.  There has been no hint of it in public debate recently. The last time the number of councillors was reviewed six years ago there was no hint of dissatisfaction with the council’s size and that review passed virtually unnoticed. …

There is no doubt that the governance decisions councillors must make in the rebuild are of fundamental importance and require close attention. But councillors are well paid for their work and it is far from clear that increasing the numbers will improve the decision making. Indeed, studies on board governance suggest that the council is somewhere near an optimum level for efficiency and performance. To take an obvious if not quite exact parallel, the boards of giant companies making billion-dollar decisions are rarely much larger.

 Any suggestion of a council increase will have to go to public consultation. Ratepayers are unlikely to support it. What they want is sound and efficient decision-making, not a handful more decision-makers.

The Council struggles to make sound decisions with 13 Councillors. Going to 19 will only make the problem worse.

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Herald on Labour’s no enrol no welfare proposal

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

The NZ Herald editorial:

The Labour Party has floated the idea of withholding state support such as Working for Families tax credits from people who are not enrolled to vote. Its general secretary, Tim Barnett, has told a parliamentary select committee this would tackle “pretty compelling evidence that there is a continuing pattern of people not enrolling”. To that most hollow of nuts he would take a sledgehammer. Labour is normally the last party to advocate withholding benefits for any purpose, let alone an electoral one. …

Labour has often railed against plans to make state support conditional on compliance with other social programmes, such as requiring beneficiaries to take pre-employment drug tests or threatening to cut benefits if parents do not have children in early childhood education. Yet those sort of conditions address real and obvious problems. To use benefits as leverage for electoral enrolment is more like tilting at windmills.

So it is wrong to require beneficiaries to be available for work and have their kids in ECE, but it is a good idea to cut off their benefits if they don’t enrol, because the most important thing in society is that beneficiaries are enrolled, so they can vote Labour.

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Hosting the FIFA World Cup

April 15th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Six months ago, any suggestion this country could co-host the Football World Cup with Australia would have been dismissed as the stuff of idle dreams. The event would have been seen widely as too big for New Zealand, while Australians remained chastened by the dismal failure of their bid for the 2022 World Cup. Much has changed in that short period, however. Consequently, Martin Snedden deserves full marks for the timing of his effort to galvanise a joint bid for either the 2026 or 2030 World Cup.

The most obvious occurrence has been the two countries’ superb co-hosting of the Cricket World Cup. This proved they could work well together to deliver an event that exceeded expectation on every level. It also suggested they could make the step up to the biggest sporting event outside the Olympics. …

The agenda for a co-hosting bid proposed by Mr Snedden, the head of the 2011 Rugby World Cup organising committee and now chief executive of Duco Events, would build astutely on this new-found positivity. He envisages, first, getting New Zealand stakeholders on board with the idea before convincing Australia of the wisdom of a joint bid. The first part is vitally important. Fifa is keen to support football in particular regions, as shown by the World Cups in the US and South Africa. But it must be convinced both countries will totally embrace the event and use it to build the game.

I admire the ambition, and agree the timing is good. The Cricket World Cup co-hosting worked brilliantly.

But the FIFA World Cup is a different league. There are 853 64 matches (853 is for the qualifiers, 64 is for the final) to be hosted and the costs can be massive. Brazil spent almost US$15 billion on infrastructure for the 2014 World Cup.

It is estimated the US lost $9.6 billion on hosting the 1994 World Cup.

The history of recent World Cups is that FIFA walks away with a huge bank balance, and the host country a huge debt.

 

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Dom Post editorial repeats lie twice

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

The Dom Post editorial asserts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Herald on troops decision

February 25th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

No New Zealand government should commit troops to a war zone without a clear awareness of the ramifications. In the case of the fight against the Islamic State, the consequences could be particularly grim.

The barbaric treatment of prisoners signals the fate of any New Zealander who falls into its hands. Then there is the manner in which New Zealand’s involvement will heighten the chances of terrorism on home shores. Finally, there is the reality that our troops will make little difference in a conflict that defies easy answers. Nonetheless, the Government has made the right call in committing more than 100 regular soldiers to a non-combat training mission at Taji Camp, north of Baghdad.

The editorial continues:

The most powerful reason for sending soldiers is the just nature of the cause. Whatever the doubts about the Iraqi Government and the eventual make-up of the region, an entity as evil as the Islamic State cannot be left to flourish. In the past few weeks, the increasingly horrific nature of its behaviour has confirmed that. The international community cannot allow atrocities to proceed unchecked.

This is the key point. And the proposal by Andrew Little that you’ll defeat ISIL by reconstruction projects, not military force, is possibly the stupidest thing he has ever said.

The decision to send troops comes at a time of emerging consensus on how the Islamic State can be eliminated. Its ideology requires continuing territorial expansion. If that does not happen, it will stagnate, losing much of its allure, especially to potential recruits in Western countries.

Good to see the Herald has picked up that key fact, of territory being vital to their success. They are very different to Al Qaeda.

Achieving that containment need not involve major battles. It can be realised by continued aerial bombing and stronger resistance by the ground forces arrayed against the Islamic State, especially the Iraqi army.

Therein lies the role of the New Zealand troops. They may not be crucial to a final victory. But they will personify, once more, their country’s willingness to stand up for what is right.

Doing nothing is, in my opinion, simply wrong.

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Dom Post on Islamic State

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I agree.

 

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Herald on Catton

January 31st, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald editorial:

The lesson to be drawn from the controversial remarks of author Eleanor Catton is perhaps that those who do their thinking on paper have more to lose when they open their mouth. She should be allowed to live down her comments to a literary audience in India this week.

Far from living them down, she wants to amplify them – as is her right:

In future interviews with foreign media, I will of course discuss the inflammatory, vicious, and patronising things that have been broadcast and published in New Zealand this week. I will of course discuss the frightening swiftness with which the powerful Right move to discredit and silence those who question them, and the culture of fear and hysteria that prevails.

I find it strange that people think that their harsh critical remarks about others are free speech, but if people then in turn make critical remarks about the speaker it is not free speech, but a conspiracy to silence.

The same rationale was in Nicky Hager’s book. Basically people who have centre-right views should not criticise or attack people who say things they disagree with.

Eleanor Catton has every right to travel around the world decrying NZ as a neo-liberal hell-hole. And other people have every right to point out she is speaking nonsense. This Government is so far from neo-liberal it isn’t funny. The last budget was more money for free under 13 healthcare. The announcement this week was an extra 3,000 low income families to get larger subsidies for the rental properties. The Government spends hundreds of millions on subsidies for arts, science, innovation and the like. And the welfare system is one of the most generous in the world.

There is nothing frightening about people exercising their rights to free speech and criticizing someone. Just because you are an artist (or an academic) doesn’t mean you are beyond criticism.

Back to the Herald editorial:

Among many accolades she received in New Zealand, the Herald named her one of its New Zealanders of the Year. We remain proud of her and do not believe she misunderstands these gestures in a country that was proud of her.

Nobody has claimed her achievement “belongs” to the country. It was hers alone.

Her book is a novel set in New Zealand, authentic in its setting in time and place.

Every country takes pleasure in art that reflects it well and counts itself lucky to have artists capable of doing so, especially if its population is small.

As I said yesterday, it was pride in her achievement that saw NZers celebrate her prize, not a desire to minimise the fact that it was her personal achievement.

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Uber editorials

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The Press takes a more enlightened approach:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Herald on speed tolerance

January 7th, 2015 at 6:38 am by David Farrar

The NZ Herald editorial:

Speed, however, has remained a vexed issue. Hence there has been a progressive lowering of the police’s tolerance, culminating in the zero tolerance policy. This has been criticised by many motorists. Some of their complaints are lame. Those who say it has resulted in them spending too much time with their eyes on their speedometers betray a fundamental lack of driving ability. Nonetheless, it is clear that the police must re-examine where they are enforcing the policy.

The Automobile Association is right when it suggests a focus on drivers doing just over the limit on safe urban motorways is not the best strategy. The scrutiny, it said, should be on speeding in higher-risk areas. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, motorways are, by and large, relatively safe, so much so that the speed limit may soon be raised to 110km/h on some of them. Secondly, there is no point in alienating generally good motorists who are caught slightly over the speed limit in such areas.

Absolutely.

The Automobile Association was also on the right track when it suggested there should be an increased number of median barriers on highways. These, whether concrete, semi-rigid or cable, are not cheap. But they appeal as a means of curtailing the number of head-on crashes involving overseas tourists. The outcome of these impacts is generally more serious than other types of collisions. Improving the country’s roads in this manner offers the most rational response to what has become a notable problem.

I wonder what the impact on road safety would be if say 90% of the money that went on speed cameras and policing of the roads, was redirected to improving our current roads?

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NZ Herald on economy

January 2nd, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

The dawn of a new year invites the mind to entertain endless possibilities, especially in a country so lucky. New Zealand enters 2015 with its dollar nearly as valuable as that of the signature “lucky country” next door. Three days ago Infratil and the New Zealand Superannuation Fund bought an Australian retirement village company for $670 million taking advantage of the rising kiwi. One swallow does not signal a summer of investment that would reverse the direction of transtasman ownership but it is another step of confidence.

When people rail against foreign investment, it is worth bearing in mind, that as our economy does well, it will be NZ companies investing overseas, and if we try and restrict foreign investment in NZ, then we risk being blocked ourselves.

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Dom Post on Wellington Local Government

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

We don’t need eight Mayors for the region.

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Dom Post opposes alcohol sponsorship ban

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

That is the key difference.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Press on SIS report

November 26th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Gwyn found, however, that Tucker, in defending himself, had provided an account of the briefing that was “objectively” misleading, by omissions and failure to provide context. The Prime Minister was also misled by the information Tucker provided. When public discussion about the matter blew up, Tucker failed to correct the situation.

Tucker’s errors were undoubtedly serious. He was not as measured and objective as he was required to be. These failures compromised the service’s obligation to appear politically neutral and the service has formally apologised for them, both to Goff and to the Prime Minister.

But contrary to much of the public debate on the matter, Gwyn found no partisan political motive on the part of the SIS or its director. Tucker’s faults were errors of judgment, no more. She also found that no SIS member had improperly leaked information to the blogger Cameron Slater or colluded with him.

Most importantly for the Prime Minister, Gwyn emphatically rejected any allegation of political collusion or direction of the SIS in its disclosure of information. The so-called “Dirty Politics” conspiracy did not exist.

Indeed.

She did find that information was provided by an employee in the Prime Minister’s Office to Slater for political purposes, but that employee was a political one who was not expected to be politically neutral and the information was not classified.

Political staff have political discussions with bloggers. How surprising.

On an issue of most concern to media, Gwyn found that differential treatment of requests for information from mainstream outlets, compared with one received from Slater, arose not from political partisanship but rather poor process, inadequate resources and lack of political awareness. The picture she paints is of a department unused to dealing with Official Information Act requests and under pressure for a quick response, rather than one seeking to act as part of any conspiracy.

Incompetence rather than malice. As is often the case.

The Herald editorial disagrees and says it is all John Key’s fault.

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The Press on regional air services

November 13th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Air New Zealand’s announcement this week that it will next year end services to Westport, Kaitaia and Whakatane will be a blow to those places. All three are small towns. Whakatane has a population of 15,000, Kaitaia 5000 and Westport 4000. Serving towns of that size in a financially sustainable way is difficult anywhere in the world. Air NZ says it has been losing money on the fleet it has serving those towns. But an air service can be considered nowadays to be as essential as roads and should be judged by more than purely financial criteria.

Why?

It is an easy assertion to make but what is the rational case for saying a town of 4,000 people must have air access?

Do all towns in Australia with 4,000 population have air access?

The airline has often been under pressure about its regional services. An University of Auckland study of air services in similar-sized countries to New Zealand last year found that Air NZ had the most coverage of centres with populations of 20,000 or more and the cheapest fares.

Air services should be on a user pays basis. If enough people in a town are willing to pay enough for air service, then a company will provide it. But I see no case for a subsidy.

But an air service is an essential service nowadays. The Government spends billions providing roads and underwriting the railways. Support for air services, even if unprofitable, to places that need them would not be a big step further.

Roads are funded primarily by petrol tax, on a roughly user pays basis. No case has been made for taxpayers to subsidise air services to small towns.

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The Press on the Christchurch District Plan

November 5th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

The Government’s list of concerns about the Christchurch City Council’s Replacement District Plan is worrying.

While acknowledging the considerable work the council has done to produce the plan on a severely shortened timetable and also supporting many parts of the plan, the Government has taken issue with some core elements.

The plan fails, the Government says, to encourage greater housing supply to the degree Christchurch needs. According to the Government, the plan would restrict rather than build on the intensification envisaged in Christchurch’s existing recovery plan. Worse, it would introduce a complex and costly process for subdivision.

District plans are written by town planners, and almost inevitably they increase powers for town planners and make housing and other developments more expensive and subject to the decree of town planners.

The council has done a monumental job in getting it to this stage in such a short timeframe. It is crucial, though, that it is right for the city’s purposes.

If they are valid, the objections by the Government and others are serious and must be fixed. As the Property Council said a few months ago, “getting this wrong has the potential to be catastrophic for our city”.

If any city in NZ should be looking at a less restrictive plan, it is Christchurch.

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The Press on tall poppies

October 6th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

One of New Zealand’s tall poppy tendencies is to grumble about the size of executive salaries whenever these are brought to our attention. The disparity between the highest-paid chief executive, on currently a touch over $4 million, and the minimum wage earner on less than $30,000 (excluding overtime or penal rates) is indeed vast. But that doesn’t mean it is unjustifiable.

According to a recent survey, the top five best paid CEOs in New Zealand are David Hisco of ANZ New Zealand ($4.1m), Theo Spierings of Fonterra ($3.5m), Mark Admanson of Fletcher Building ($3.3m), Peter Clare of Westpac New Zealand ($3.1m) and Nigel Morrison of Sky City (just under $3m).

While naysayers will often describe these amounts in a range of adjectives from excessive to extreme to obscene, the figures are not unduly high. They are below the amounts paid in years past, and compare unfavourably to the salaries being paid for top jobs across the Tasman and elsewhere.

Also, while people sometimes balk at the top salaries paid to business people, little noise is heard about the riches to be gained in other areas of endeavour – an All Black captain can earn $800,000 to $1m in a year, a teenage golfer $1.3m so far, and our most famous film-maker has accumulated wealth said to be in the region of $600m. Even the Prime Minister, whose parliamentary pay is a relatively paltry $428,000 a year, wins general approval as a self-made man with a fortune of around $50m, earned as an international currency trader.

The difference, perhaps, is that it is easy to visualise the commitment and drive and sheer guts that goes into becoming an international rugby star, a professional golfer, a film director or a top money-market player. It is less easy to imagine the working life of a chief executive, other than a daily round of suit-wearing, desk-jockeying and general hob-nobbing.

In fact, these people are being paid to take responsibility – often for multi-billion-dollar enterprises involving the investments and livelihoods of thousands – and to keep those businesses running successfully. They have reached their exalted positions often not through a life of privilege, but through hard work. Hisco, the bank boss, is said to have started his career with ANZ by sweeping the car park at a local branch in his hometown, Adelaide.

 

We should celebrate his success, not condemn it.

The truth is that to survive in and compete on global markets, New Zealand’s top enterprises must position themselves as international companies. To attract the talent required, that means paying the sort of money that might seem high here, but is nothing special in the wider world. As one of the most deregulated and open economies in the world, it is unreasonable to think that remuneration can be capped at some sort of imagined and arbitrary benchmark.

Absolutely.

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Herald on ISIS

October 2nd, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

If ground forces can rid Iraq of the murderers known as Isis, New Zealand should be there. This country ought to be counted among the nations that are willing to act when the cause is just and military force can be effective.

They key word is “If”.

I don’t think ISIS can be got rid of by force. I do think you can weaken them, but can you eliminate them? If there is an invasion then they just disband for a year, then regroup.

If you are willing to have massive collateral damage, you could destroy them. You surround the area, broadcast that everyone within a certain geographic area should leave the area unarmed, and then destroy every building and person in that area. But the civilian toll would be horrendous as many would not leave their homes, and you would create millions of refugees.

The lessons from the last Iraq war is that you can topple a Government, but it is harder to eliminate armed resistance.

The next likely step will be to dispatch armed “advisers” to train and support Iraq’s troops but on previous experience they would soon be fighting alongside the hosts, as New Zealand’s SAS did in Afghanistan. The way Iraqi forces fell away from the initial Isis advance suggests the foreigners would need to do a lot of fighting.

Yep.

The New Zealand Government should probably call the new Parliament into session sooner than scheduled once a request is received to join the action against Isis.

It’s scheduled to convene on the 20th, in 19 days. I’d be very surprised if the Government made a decision to send troops in before then – in fact surprised if they made a decision to send troops at all.

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The Press on offence

October 2nd, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

EnSoc’s critics, and people generally, need to learn not to be too hasty to take offence. Prejudice and stereotyping are seldom effective humour, but howls of outrage can be a sign that a palpable hit has been made against some sacred cow or other. Even if there is no particular point being made, some leeway should be allowable for youthful exuberance.

Thin-lipped disapproval and the po-faced taking of offence are too often used to shut down others’ freedom of expression.

The claim that something has caused offence can be a veil for censorship and an attempt to create a culture in which a bland homogeneity of thought and opinion prevails.

To put it at its loftiest, one of the rights protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act is the right to freedom of expression. That must include the right to express thoughts and opinions others may find offensive, even odious.

It is unlikely any such high-toned notions were in the minds of the student EnSoc members when they thought up their tasteless defamations of women and Muslims and they should certainly act with greater regard for the sensitivities of others, but the principle applies all the same.

Well said. I recall Otago University capping magazines that were stuffed full of absolutely offensive humour. There is no right in NZ law not to be offended,

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Green soul-searching

September 25th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The ODT editorial:

While the focus in the aftermath of the election rout has been on the woes of the Labour Party, the Greens should also be soul-searching and contemplating where to from here.

Despite brave words from co-leader Metiria Turei about the Greens doing well and holding their vote, the results must have been disappointing.

First, there is bewilderment that left-leaning parties were thrashed.

If you add the 4.1% of the Conservatives to National’s 48.1% (the Act and United Future party votes were only just worth counting), the ”right” trounced Labour’s 24.7%, the Greens’ 10% and Internet Mana’s 1.3%.

Yep, 53% to around 36%. To get a left Government not reliant on the whims of Winston needs around an 11% gain.

Both the Greens and Labour, often competing for the same voters, would have been expecting losses from one to flow to the other.

But they didn’t. Well Labour did lose some to the Greens, but the Greens lost some to non voters.

Although the Greens are ”red-green”, with most policies well left of centre, they continue to fail in the poorest electorates.

In South Auckland’s Mangere, Manukau East and Manurewa they could not even muster 900 votes per electorate.

Go to highly educated Wellington Central, and they won 8627.

Next highest was Rongotai (Wellington) with 8230 and then Dunedin North 6718 and Mt Albert (Auckland) 6205.

The dominant appeal is to the liberal middle class with, one suspects, a large number of socially and environmentally concerned middle-aged among those who ticked Green.

Yep. The challenge is how to expand beyond those.

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The Press on the Dotcom sideshow

September 15th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

The much-promised announcement being staged by Kim Dotcom today must be one of the most ballyhooed in New Zealand political history. It is also one of the oddest.

It has been designed for maximum theatrics by a man who, ever since his arrival in this country, has shown he is well-versed in the dark arts of public relations and knows how to manipulate public opinion to his own advantage.

Coming just five days before most voting in the general election will take place, the timing is cynical. It is clear from Kim Dotcom’s signalling of the event more than six months ago that any information he has could have been released at any time since at least the beginning of this year, if not earlier. If today’s information does turn out to be anything of substance, and not just a damp squib, releasing it now leaves little time for effective rebuttal. Today’s exercise could be seen as a blatant attempt by two foreigners – a German millionaire and an American journalist – to influence the outcome of the election.

As The Press says, this info could have been released at any time, allowing time for scrutiny and rebuttal. This is all about increasing the party vote for Dotcom’s pet party, so they will have more influence in the next Parliament.

According to what Greenwald has already said in interviews, the Government Communications and Security Bureau has engaged in mass electronic surveillance of New Zealanders. That would be contrary to the law and, more crucially, contrary to assurances given by Key. Greenwald’s credentials derive from stories he has written, many based on material given to him by the fugitive American National Security Agency worker now living in Russia, revealing questionable surveillance by the NSA and other western electronic intelligence agencies.

New Zealand is connected to those agencies by the so-called Five Eyes agreement. That agreement was established just after World War II and has been maintained by all governments since, presumably because of its value. Difficult as it may be to prove a negative, the Prime Minister has promised to declassify documents about the GCSB that will show conclusively that any allegations Greenwald makes of GCSB wrongdoing are false. Voters will have to judge for themselves as well as they can.

People who believe John Key is lying, also have to believe Helen Clark was lying – along with successive GCSB Directors, Inspector-Generals of Intelligence & Security, and probably half the GCSB staff.

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A train set for Christchurch

September 3rd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Labour leader David Cunliffe promised that if a Labour-led government were elected it would devote $100 million to create a commuter rail service in Canterbury. …

The idea of a rail link has superficial appeal but it is one that needs to be carefully examined. Cunliffe appears to be getting a little ahead of himself in making a commitment before its overall feasibility has been established. Environment Canterbury, which is responsible for public transport in the region, the Transport Agency, and the Waimakariri District and Christchurch City councils, all of whom have an obvious interest in solving the problem, decided earlier this year that a rail proposal they had closely looked at would be too expensive and would not deliver people to their places of work.

But nevertheless Labour will throw $100 million of our money at it!

In general, bright-eyed rail schemes have a terrible habit of incurring huge cost over-runs and turning out to be expensive white elephants. One in Edinburgh recently has crippled the city’s finances. Christchurch people in particular have no great love for public transport. The last commuter trains were dumped decades ago for lack of patronage. Buses are much more responsive to demand than trains and Christchurch people shun buses in droves.

Trains also require a huge commitment of public money. Nowhere in the world do they make money. Cunliffe’s proposal speaks of a $100 million commitment (a suspiciously low figure) but says nothing about extra ancillary costs and running losses. The day of the train might come eventually, but Christchurch’s finances are under enough strain already without the burden of a punt on rail now.

So taxpayers would incur the initial cost, and then ratepayers saddled with the white elephant’s running costs.

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NZ Herald on Green policy to pay in work tax credit to those not in work

August 20th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The NZ Herald editorial:

The Green Party is offering a simple answer to child poverty: give beneficiary parents the same wage subsidies paid to low and middle income earners with children. That, the party calculates, would give beneficiaries an extra $60 a week. “This money will transform life for these kids,” said co-leader Metiria Turei. “It’ll mean having warm clothes, school books, lunch and turning on the heater when they are cold.” If only it was that simple.

It will mean more families will be penalised if they go from welfare into work.

Quite apart from the cost this would present to taxpayers ($500 million a year, the party estimates) it is an admission that the extra $60 a week the Greens would put in the hands of parents might not be spent on warm clothes, school books, lunch and home heating. Child poverty is not simply a matter of income.

If it were, then all children being raised on current benefits would be poorly housed, clothed and under-nourished. People’s circumstances vary greatly and the welfare system has become much better at providing allowances for particular needs.

Living off welfare is hard, but most families manage to do it without disadvantaging their kids significantly. And there is a lot of flexibility with hardship grants for those who need it.

The much maligned benefit reforms of 1991 reduced base rates and introduced or boosted grants for accommodation and the like. Ms Turei, as it happens, became a single parent in 1993. She referred to this in her speech, noting that her daughter has grown up in an era of “shocking levels of deprivation and poverty among our children”. Yet in that era she managed not only to raise a child but obtain a law degree with the help of a training incentive allowance.

Six years after becoming a sole parent, Ms Turei graduated from Auckland University and began work with Simpson Grierson. Her experience suggests that the welfare system as it exists is not necessarily a poverty trap.

Absolutely.

National argues the cure for poverty is employment, not just because work can pay more than welfare but because it provides the social mobility that a benefit does not. A job is liable to bring opportunities to broaden skills and responsibilities, increase earnings and productivity.

Work is about more than higher incomes. It brings masses of other benefits.

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