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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Herald supports call for broadcasting law change

August 14th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The NZ Herald editorial:

How absurd that radio programmers cannot play a song that mocks John Key because it may breach the Electoral Act, and how ironic that the singer has been gagged by an act of the previous Labour Government. Darren “Guitar” Watson’s song contains a lyric that, in the words of the Act, “appears to encourage voters to vote or not to vote for a political party or candidate”.

News bulletins on radio and television are exempt from the restriction on “third party advertising” and no doubt by now most people will have heard Mr Watson’s voice and seen an accompanying video that its creators consider more “subversive” than the song. But it is simply silly that the song and video cannot be given airtime in their own right to enliven the election campaign.

Helen Clark’s overreaction to the Exclusive Brethren seven years ago has created a regulatory minefield for anyone outside a political party who wants to inject some argument or entertainment into a New Zealand election.

National shares the blame. It reviewed the advertising rules when it came to office but made only minor alterations to them.

This restriction can’t be blamed on the Electoral Finance Act, or its successor. The restriction on any political programme being broadcast has been in the Broadcasting Act for decades.  The Broadcasting Act gives the state a monopoly on political broadcasting – nothing can be broadcast that isn’t funded by the allocation given out by the Electoral Commission.

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Herald on Craig

July 29th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

National Party election strategists have made a fateful call against an accommodation with the Conservative Party of Colin Craig. On current polling, the Conservatives have about 2 per cent of the vote nationwide, enough to bring possibly three members into Parliament if one of them was to win an electorate. Now National’s decision not to hand them an electorate means they could win up to 4.9 per cent and all of those votes would not count towards returning National to office.

Not quite. If a party gets 4.9% of the vote, then it is wasted vote and the practical effect is for half of that vote to go to National.

John Key and his team would have weighed up the fact that even one seat won by a potential ally can make all the difference to an MMP election result. If Act had not won Epsom at the last election, the government would have been chosen by New Zealand First, the Maori Party and Peter Dunne, who could all have gone with Labour. The Conservatives, like Act, have nowhere else to go.

Again not quite. Peter Dunne had ruled Labour out prior to the election. But it is correct that without Epsom, the Maori Party or NZ First would have had the balance of power.

Spurned by National yesterday, Mr Craig raised the possibility of a post-election deal with Labour but it is not credible. His social conservatism is the polar opposite of Labour’s beliefs on just about every issue. 

And Labour has ruled him out.

National must have calculated, probably rightly, that to make room for Mr Craig in East Coast Bays would have cost National more votes than his support might be worth. 

That’s my view.

Looking to the long term, National needs the Conservatives to do well without its help. It needs another party on the right with a solid, reliable voting base, much as the Greens have established on the left. Act has failed to find such a base and has come to depend on National’s concession of Epsom. NZ First is a right of centre party but it is based on its leader’s personal appeal and will not survive him.

In an ideal world there would be both a classical liberal party and a conservative party in Parliament.

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The Press on Labour’s need for discipline

July 23rd, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Worse than that, however, the attack on Cunliffe was yet another illustration of the continual indiscipline afflicting the Labour Party at present. It also demonstrates Cunliffe’s inability to get his party inside the House and outside focused on what they must do if they are to have any chance at all in the general election.

The attack, which first appeared in the Sunday-Star Times at the weekend, was done behind a veil of anonymity. The source was described as a senior Labour figure, but it could not be discerned from the story whether it was a person in the caucus, two-thirds of which is said to support someone other than Cunliffe, or someone in the wider party. Either way, it seemed calculated to do the maximum harm.

Labour are suggesting the source was not an MP. But that is hard to reconcile with the quotes in the SST:

“We will be having a talk to David at caucus about his work ethic on Tuesday. We’ll be letting him know he’s got two months to turn this around, and we’re backing him and right behind him but he’s got to lift his game.”

The only people who attend caucus on Tuesday are MPs, the Chief of Staff and the President. I assume it isnt Matt McCarten being quoted or the President, so hence it must be an MP.

It was the latest in a series of stories that has put Labour in the headlines all right, but for all the wrong reasons. From Trevor Mallard wittering on with some harebrained thoughts about the genetic reconstitution of moa, to Kelvin Davis breaking with the party line over a contentious highway in Northland, to a half-baked suggestion about changing the burden of proof in rape trials, to Cunliffe’s own cack-handed apology for being a man, the stories are a corrosive distraction from whatever substantive policies Labour is trying to promote. The party’s message is being swamped by them.

And banning some perfumes and cosmetics.

But if Cunliffe wants to present himself as an alternative prime minister, and the party as an alternative government, he must bring some discipline to it. Otherwise, voters will, quite rightly, write him and the party off.

Sound advice.

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Herald on electoral law

July 18th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

It is only a matter of time before bad law comes back to bite those who made it. Provisions of the Electoral Act regulating independent advertising in election campaigns were passed by the previous Labour Government with the support of the Green Party, and only slightly altered by the present Government. Now, seven years after its enactment, the electoral finance law is frustrating environmental groups that want to make climate change an election issue.

Six of them, including Greenpeace, Forest and Bird, Oxfam and WWF New Zealand, started a campaign called “Climate Voter” last month, aiming to force all parties to address climate change before the election. Whatever view may be taken of their cause, no democrat would deny them the right to put it in front of voters. But if they do, the Electoral Commission has ruled, their material will be deemed election advertising and subject to a discouraging array of statutory registration and accounting requirements.

The rules are less restrictive since National rewrote them, but they remain bureaucratic, which makes them onerous and off-putting for people who are not routinely organised for the purpose. The Climate Voter campaign is aggrieved to find itself subject to the act and has decided to challenge the commission’s ruling in the High Court.

“This is about freedom of speech,” said Steve Abel of Greenpeace. “There is a very real risk that if this law goes untested, many advocacy and civil society groups in New Zealand could be gagged. Some may even be forced to take down entire websites.”

I campaigned against the Electoral Finance Act. The most repressive portions of that were removed, but National did a deal with Labour and the Greens and agreed to keep in restrictions on third party advocacy. I believe that was wrong. I don’t think there should be any restrictions on third party advocacy during elections except to correctly identify the promoter of the advocacy.

He is echoing the warnings this newspaper and other critics expressed seven years ago. It is a pity green groups did not speak out at that time.

They went along with the Clark Government’s overreaction to pamphlets circulated before the 2005 election by a small religious sect, the Exclusive Brethren, whose material had been particularly harsh on the Green Party.

Now, the environmentalists want the courts to draw a distinction between that sort of campaign and theirs. “We think the law was clearly not intended to capture non-partisan, civil society groups,” says Mr Abel.

Typical hypocrisy. They’re saying that the restrictions that they no doubt supported, should apply to everyone but themselves.

The Greenpeace campaign is clearly aimed at influencing how people vote. There is a difference between commenting generally on issues, and running a campaign designed to change voting behaviour.

The only reason to regulate such advertising is to prevent it being used to circumvent financial restrictions on party advertising in an election period.

That purpose could be met if the law applied only to overt endorsements. In seeking to regulate all paid advertising of political issues in the three months before an election, the law remains too broad. Its registration and financial reporting requirements are too onerous for all but the most organised pressure groups, such as trade unions, and discourage others who could afford to promote their interests or concerns.

I agree. The law should be amended.

Environmental advocates seem to be under the impression the law applied only to the rich and the conservative. The courts are unlikely to see it that way.

Hoist by their own petard.

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The revolution that changed our lives

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

Has someone told Labour today this?

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

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

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

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A sensible Dom Post editorial

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is the Christchurch Town Hall affordable?

July 10th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

The Christchurch City Council’s decision to pause its project to restore the Christchurch Town Hall until its financial position is clearer is plainly a wise one. The council had intended to begin seeking expressions of interest from companies who wanted to be involved in the project in May. But that has not gone ahead while the council awaits the outcome of negotiations with is insurers. That makes sense. There would be little point in committing a lot of time and money to the project if in the end there would be no rational way for the council to complete it.

The Council is already struggling with debt.

The Town Hall was insured for $69.1 million, but not all of that is necessarily recoverable. In any case, repairs have been estimated to cost $127.5m, more than it cost, in inflation-adjusted terms, to build.

So the net cost to ratepayers is at least $58 million.But it sounds like they won’t get the full insurance and we all know government construction projects tend to cost more than originally estimated. I would not be surprised if ratepayers end up having to pay over $100 million. That is almost $800 per household. If you asked households if they would rather have the $800 themselves or spend it on the Town Hall, I know what the answer would be.

 

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NZ Herald on West Coast logging

July 6th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

The Government ensured some good will come from nature’s devastation when, under urgency, it passed the West Coast Windblown Timber (Conservation Lands) Act. This was necessary because the Conservation Act makes no provision for timber recovery in such a circumstance. Notably, Labour’s West Coast MP Damien O’Connor and Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirakatene supported the legislation, going against their party’s stand.

They could not convince other Labour MPs that the interests of the West Coast should take precedence over support for the position taken by the Greens.

The policy differences between Greens and Labour shrink by the day as Labour moves left.

Their stand was right. Conservationists have some qualms about the logging of the high-value trees, especially in terms of the removal of vital nutrients from the forest ecosystem. But it is surely possible to take logs without seriously disturbing the biomass. Indeed, removing some of the trees will probably aid regeneration. Additionally, the legislation contains enough safeguards to suggest appropriate care will be taken.

It’s a win-win. Helps the forest regenerate, and creates jobs.

Cyclone Ita felled an estimated 20,000ha of forest and caused significant damage to a further 200,000ha. In all probability, only a small part of that will be removed. Nonetheless, hundreds of jobs will be created both in the logging and the processing of the timber. That, and the safeguards, mean the public good associated with exploitation far outweighs any concerns about the impact of the logging.

Nor is the protection of native forest being compromised. That Labour and the Greens declined to see as much suggested they were concerned about more than just the felled timber. Several references to the conservation battles that culminated in a halt to the logging of these forests confirmed as much. Probably, they worried that the exploitation of the timber without dire consequence being the cue for the resumption of selective logging.

There is no suggestion of that. Felled timber is being removed from low-grade conservation land for a limited period. Nothing more. This is surely a practical response to an event dictated by nature, and one that benefits one of the country’s least prosperous regions.

It is a practical response. Very sad that Labour joined the Greens in opposing what is pretty common sense.

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Herald on Labour’s school fees policy

July 4th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Most parents willingly pay the donation. Most school boards of trustees also go to great lengths to ensure that pupils are not discriminated against if their parents do not pay. They are also fully aware of the financial circumstances of the community from which they draw their pupils and, in the case of schools in poorer communities, gain an injection of equity from decile-based funding. A donation that represents just over $1 a week should be affordable to all but the most strapped household. On that basis, Labour’s policy may have rather less appeal than it hopes.

The fact that schools will still be allowed to charge activity fees “for the actual costs of extra-curricular activities such as school camps” adds to that likelihood. The danger is that many will accept the $100 per pupil, but then use other targeted fees to lift the payment from parents. Keeping track of this when it might involve a mountain of costs, such as van rentals for school teams or up-to-date technology, would be extremely difficult. If other fees become commonplace, little will have been gained for parents.

That is the worry – parents end up paying twice. They pay the $100 through their taxes, and still get stung for say $100 through activity fees and the like.

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Dom Post on MFAT

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rotorua Daily Post on Coffey

June 29th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Rotorua Daily Post editorial:

Labour candidate Tamati Coffey no doubt learned a few lessons about politics and the importance of perception this week.

The former TV presenter organised a protest at Simon Bridges’ Tauranga office on Saturday asking for immediate action to ban oil and gas exploration in the West Coast Marine Mammal Sanctuary.

He said at the time the protest was not linked to the Labour Party and was a personal crusade. That point, understandably, was lost on many.

Those who gathered for the protest also appear to have been confused because many displayed their political affiliations.

A few days after the protest, Labour leader David Cunliffe said the party actually approved of oil exploration in the sanctuary if it was done responsibly.

In the wake of the statement, Mr Coffey said he stood by his protest “100 per cent”, but did appear to soften his stance to toe the party line.

On Saturday, he was calling for a ban on drilling within the sanctuary. Now he says he and Mr Cunliffe are “on the same page” in regard to oil exploration in the sanctuary – requiring the industry to have to prove it would cause no harm to the Maui’s dolphin before any new consents would be granted.

Apart from the stupidity of saying one must prove no harm (you can’t generally prove a negative), Labour’s policy is now much the same as National’s. Coffey led a protest against Simon Bridges, and then had his own leader pull the rug out from under him.

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NZ Herald on bias

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

The Herald editorial:

It is common in election years for political parties under pressure to attempt to shoot the messenger. In 2005, the Herald was stridently criticised and accused of bias by National supporters for our reportage of Dr Don Brash and the Exclusive Brethren. In 2008 it was the turn of Winston Peters and his New Zealand First people to call for resignations of the editor and political editor for the inconvenient revelation of funding from millionaire Owen Glenn, despite his “No” sign. Last election it was National partisans again, livid at the Herald on Sunday and Herald for John Key and John Banks talking openly before a microphone accidentally left on their “cup of tea” table in a cafe.

This year it is the turn of Labour and its leader, David Cunliffe, incensed at reporting on the donations to the party and its MPs by the controversial Chinese migrant Donghua Liu — and that party’s connections to him.

When you upset everyone equally, you’re probably doing fine.

I would dispute however that the microphone was accidentally left there, but that is ancient history.

Investigations editor Jared Savage began his reports in March on Donghua Liu and the circumstances of his being granted citizenship. The focus then was on Liu’s donations to National after his citizenship was approved by a National minister against official advice. Savage then revealed Liu had been charged with domestic violence, followed by the revelation that National’s Maurice Williamson intervened in Liu’s case by contacting the police — which led to Williamson’s resignation as minister and criticism from some in National of the Herald’s story.

Savage then learned Liu had made donations to Labour as well in 2007, the party claiming no record of such funding. 

This is what is hilarious with the people suggesting the Herald is trying to smear Labour. The story was a story about National, and damaging to National. It just happens that Labour waded in and got all sanctimonious, and then it transpired that they had also been advocating for Liu, and accepting donations from him. It was luck, not planning, that the story ended up biting them.

The core issue remains, however: At a minimum, removing Mr Barker’s China trip and a donation to a rowing club the MP’s daughter belonged to, Labour faces Liu’s claim that he made $38,000 in donations to the party and anonymously through MPs.

Yep. And where did the money go. Hopefully we will find out in time.

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Herald on Labour’s tax the rich pricks more plan

June 26th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Taxing the rich seems a defining policy of the Labour Party. It plays especially well to its left wing, a point underlined by the Council of Trade Unions’ hearty welcome to the announcement that Labour proposes lifting the top personal tax rate from 33c to 36c for those earning more than $150,000 a year. On other grounds, however, the policy doesn’t make a lot of sense. Not only is it unnecessary but it will surely raise far less additional revenue than anticipated.

Labour says the new top rate would raise almost $200 million in the 2015-16 year, increasing to $350 million a year by 2020-21. 

It won’t. The 2000 tax hike for those earning over $60,000 did not produce any significant extra revenue, and may in fact have reduced it. It will just drive high earning NZers to set up a company (28% tax rate) or to move their tax base overseas.

Nor is much of value likely to come from its plan to clamp down on tax avoidance by internet-based multinational corporations such as Google and Facebook. As welcome as this instinct may be, and as unwelcome as the practice of avoidance is, there is little hope that its approach will yield anything like $200 million a year. 

It won’t bring in $1.If anything, it will see them pay less tax in NZ, as they close their NZ subsidiaries, and just have people deal with say their Australian one.

The only was one can deal with global companies choosing a tax base in a low tax country, is through international agreement. Not press releases.

 

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Dom Post on Labour’s List

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Herald on Sunday on Labour

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald on Sunday editorial:

What would John Key have done in David Cunliffe’s position this week? Labour Party members must be asking themselves that question and they probably know the answer. Facing persistent questions on something he had denied, a more cautious leader would have suspected he might be wrong. Cunliffe could have said something such as, “I don’t recall ever assisting a residency application for Donghua Liu but in view of these questions I will check my records”.

That is not Cunliffe’s style, it sounds more like … David Shearer. Less than a year after Shearer relinquished the leadership, Labour’s prospects have gone from bad to worse. This week a Herald-DigiPoll survey found the party on 30 per cent, 20 points behind National. Polls the previous week for One News and 3 Newshad almost exactly the same figures. A fourth poll, published on Thursday, was worse. Labour had dropped to just over 23 per cent.

This is abysmal for a major party just three months out from an election.

Talking of polls, The Political Scientist looks at the Fairfax poll and finds the major trend is Labour voters going undecided. He looks at the support levels if you leave the undecideds in and it is National 44%, Labour 18%, Greens 9% and NZ First 2.5% with around 22% undecided.

The Labour core support is almost half that of November 2012.

Now that they are inside the three months, Labour MPs can change their leader if necessary without reference to the wider membership and affiliated unions whose votes put Cunliffe into the leadership last year. This week, Cunliffe said the Labour movement had a word for any such move against him. The caucus would have recognised that veiled reference to “scabs” as a rallying call to the unions and left-wing members. When its leader has to resort to that sort of talk, Labour is in disarray.

They can’t even release their party list on time, because they’re in crisis.

With no alternative leader coming forward, the party’s only hope is that Cunliffe can be an effective campaigner. There were signs in the leadership contest last year that he might be. His supreme confidence and his theatrical gestures could shine in television debates. But stubborn pride could be his undoing if it prevents him admitting uncertainty or conceding he could be wrong, as it did on the Liu letter this week.

I say he should stand firm, and keep refusing to apologise!

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Dom Post says Cunliffe leadership is a train wreck

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was the high point.

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

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

My God, that is a harsh editorial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Press rejects KiwiSaver compulsion

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

The Press editorial:

The Labour Party yesterday announced that if it were to win the next election it would seek to change that. It would make KiwiSaver compulsory for all employees aged between 18 and 65. …

It is more likely that those who are not part of the scheme at this point are those who have decided, for good reasons of their own, not to participate in it. Some may, for instance, have decided it makes more sense for them to pay off debt – student loans, mortgages and the like – than to save through a super scheme. Others may not be able to afford to enter it. Forcing them to do so will require them either to borrow or forgo other spending. The spending is likely, at this point in their lives when they are younger, to be more valuable to them than a larger payout would be in old age.

Whatever the situation, it is their own choice not to enter a superannuation scheme. Compulsorily enrolling them is almost certainly going to make them worse off than if they were left to decide for themselves.

It’s patronising big government. Labour is telling people they are incompetent and can’t decide for themselves how best to save for their retirement.

Labour’s proposal is designed to increase what are said to be “chronically low savings rates”. Whether KiwiSaver does that is open to debate. It appears more likely it simply redirects saving rather than increasing it.

The evidence to date suggests exactly that.

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Dom Post on Cunliffe

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

Ouch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

92 days to go.

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

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Herald on child poverty

June 20th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial says:

Dr Boston’s mistake was to suggest that the poorest New Zealand children were now no better off than some children in the slums of India. This statement, he said, was based on observations made when he spent a month late last year in Delhi where his wife worked as a volunteer doctor.

“India has about half of the world’s poorest children, but there are children in New Zealand living in circumstances that are not that much different from those in the slums of Delhi,” he said. “They are in houses that don’t have heating, in caravans that don’t have running water, and in families that simply don’t have enough food of the right kind every day.”

It is undeniable that some New Zealand children are living in the circumstances outlined by Dr Boston. But, equally, it is drawing the longest of bows to equate their plight to that of the many, many children living in the sort of slums associated with India. Child mortality statistics from agencies like the World Bank underline this.

Then there is the matter of the social welfare net in New Zealand. Dr Boston talks of a continuum in which some New Zealand children overlap with the circumstances of children in developing countries, but few will be convinced that the comparison he is making is valid.

Here’s what taxpayers currently fund to help families with children:

  • $1.15 billion in accommodation assistance
  • $182 million in childcare assistance
  • $260 million in hardship support
  • $1.25 billion for the DPB
  • $16.9 million for out of school care
  • $267 million in child support
  • $1.93 billion in family support
  • $494 million for in work tax credits
  • $176 million for paid parental leave
  • $32 million for parental and family tax credits
  • $1.58 billion in early childhood education subsidies

We have an extremely generous welfare state.

It would be a shame if the comparison with the slums of India undermined the book’s impact. But this, unfortunately, is not an isolated example of attempted emotional manipulation by child poverty campaigners. They have also not done their cause any good by insisting that as many as one in four New Zealand children live in poverty. Such statements devalue their case and cast them as extremists. The children they aim to help would gain more from advocacy that is as sober as it is sound.

Comparisons to India help no-one, especially the authors.

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Herald, ODT and Gordon Campbell on Cunliffe

June 20th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

The Labour Party says it has no record of any contributions from him but there is more than one way to donate to a party. At a Labour fundraising auction in 2007 Mr Liu bought a book signed by Helen Clark for which, the Herald’s sources say, he paid $15,000. The same year he paid an unknown large sum for a bottle of wine at a fundraiser.

Mr Cunliffe, who became Immigration Minister in 2006, claimed this week that not only had he never advocated for Mr Liu in an immigration application but had never met him. Now that the first claim has proven false, the second takes on a different hue. Sadly, it is all too likely that an MP could write in support of an application for an immigrant he had never met.

But none of this matters as much as the word of a party leader bidding to be Prime Minister in a few months. Mr Cunliffe cannot afford to fall from his high horse more than once. This denial might not force his resignation or ouster but it has done Labour no favours. Next time its leader puts on his scolding face, it will be less convincing. That is the price he has paid.

Gordon Campbell is more harsh:

Who knew that David Cunliffe’s speech to last year’s Labour Party conference was not a new beginning, but the last gasp of the credible phase of his leadership? In itself, his 2003 letter to the Immigration Service was innocuous. Yet only a Jesuit could make the fine distinction that Labour is now trying to make between Cunliffe’s inquiry about how long Donghua Liu’s residency application was taking, and outright “advocacy” for that application to be approved. Not surprisingly, such letters are seen by officials as “hurry up” reminders, and are intended to serve as such. This was advocacy; the same advocacy that Cunliffe had just this week denied ever making. Probably he did so unknowingly. Either way though – fool or knave – it’s not a good look.

The inability of Cunliffe and his staff to adequately research Cunliffe’s track record with Liu is also lamentable – especially given that photos of Labour MPs in the friendly company of Liu had already emerged. Yet earlier this week, Cunliffe had been left to paint himself into a corner of denial, only to be sandbagged by the revelation of the letter’s existence. As yet, we are still reliant on Labour Party researchers to verify whether Labour did or didn’t receive a sizeable donation from Liu. It should be remembered that National Cabinet Minister Maurice Williamson resigned because of his meddling in a Police investigation and not over a donations scandal, per se. Yet Labour had gone on to use the meddling/donation link to Liu as ammunition in its general attack on National and its fat cat donors. All it will take now is evidence of a donation from Liu to Labour to put the noose firmly around Labour’s neck.

Clearly, Cunliffe is now virtually a spent force as Labour leader.

Campbell is not so keen on Labour’s next leader:

There is no visible alternative. Grant Robertson is cut from the same hyper-calculating, micro-positioning cloth. What really ails Labour is that it is a centre left party whose parliamentary caucus is terrified – literally terrified – of its own left wing shadow.

Also the ODT editorial:

The grubby pit of current New Zealand politics became even more distasteful yesterday when it was revealed Labour leader David Cunliffe appeared guilty of the actions of which he had accused his National Party opponents.

Despite his denials at a hastily-called press conference, a letter signed by Mr Cunliffe, as MP for New Lynn, shows he advocated for businessman Donghua Liu in a letter to immigration officials, contradicting earlier assurances he had not lobbied for the political donor. …

Labour MPs will be discussing the situation intensely, given the party’s ongoing poor showing in the polls and Mr Cunliffe’s personal polling, and now credibility, sinking lower by the week. …

Morally, Mr Cunliffe should resign as soon as possible, but unless someone taps him on the shoulder to take over the poisoned chalice which is the leadership of Labour, he seems likely to stay on and ride out the controversy until the September 20 election.

And then the ABCs will strike.

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Herald against and Labour undecided on people needing to prove their innocence

June 19th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

The most contentious idea involves changing the burden of proof so it lies with the perpetrators of child abuse and domestic violence, not the victims. Allied to this is a review of the adversarial system that is said to place an excessive burden of proof on victims, and to lead often to drawn-out proceedings that further disadvantage victims and put many into significant debt.

The report says people with experience of the present model had indicated they would favour a more collaborative system.

The report is not totally out of step in advancing these views. A flipping of the deeply embedded precept of the burden of proof, whereby the necessity to provide proof lies with whoever lays charges, is no longer beyond the pale. Abusive parents must now prove to Child, Youth and Family that they are no longer a threat. As well, bail amendment legislation requires a person on a murder charge or repeat violence, class A drug or sex charges to persuade a judge that the community will be safe if they are released. New Zealand’s appalling family violence record — the police respond to a call relating to this every seven minutes, according to the report — convinces some that there is good reason to further override the principle.

These are about people who have already been convicted of an offence. That is very different to saying anyone charged should have to prove their innocence.

But any such impulse should be resisted. Arguably, the two steps taken by the Government are valid responses to extraordinary circumstances where there is a clear danger to members of society. Both do not involve such a sweeping inversion of the burden of proof principle as would be the case if it were applied to all alleged perpetrators of child abuse and domestic violence.

The precept that a defendant has the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty is too fundamental to our legal system and too strong a safeguard against wrongful conviction to be so comprehensively dismissed.

Absolutely. But sadly Labour is incapable of even deciding they’re against such a thing.

So I’ve got an idea. If Labour is open to reversing the burden of proof on allegations, then we should start the process by alleging that they have filed corrupt false donation returns and require them to prove they are innocent!

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A silly editorial

June 14th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

No fewer than 14 National MPs are retiring at the coming election, plus a couple from other parties. While the turnover is refreshing for public life, it carries a cost if every departee gives a valedictory address.

That cost became apparent this week when the Prime Minister remarked that the loss of John Banks’ vote would not make much difference to the Government’s remaining legislation because valedictories would take up much of the time left in this term of Parliament. Really?

They’re a factor, but a minor one. Valedictories are generally 15 minutes so 14 valedictories is a total of three and a half hours.

But if so many are leaving that their valedictories may take up sittings over several days, it is time to ask whether all deserve one. Few voters could name many of those retiring this year. Many are leaving because they have not been able to make much impact and accept that they should give others a chance. More credit to them, but valedictory time should be reserved for those who have made their mark and will be missed.

A pretty appalling snobbery.

No not all retiring MPs are high profile Ministers. But MPs who work to improve laws on select committees, who help develop policy, who represents the interest of their electorates are an invaluable part of Parliament, and the suggestion that some of them shouldn’t be allowed a 15 minute valedictory is nasty, mean-spirited and s form of snobbery

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