Herald critical of Labour’s bribe

February 5th, 2016 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

A universal entitlement to three years’ free tertiary education has overwhelming public appeal. Whether it is in the public interest is another question. The policy is expensive: $1.2 billion when fully implemented.

That is a considerable lump of public spending. As always when something of this magnitude is proposed, we should not look at its merits in isolation. Governments do not have infinite budgets and there is a limit to the taxation an economy can provide and remain healthy.

Labour needs to be asked, is this the most worthwhile use of $1.2 billion Is it even the most worthy use of funds allocated to education?

Many professionals (outside the tertiary sector at least) would say raising funding of pre-school education is more socially urgent and productive than relieving school-leavers of an obligation to contribute to the cost of their qualifications.

Most of the $1.2 billion will go to wealthy families who planned to go to university anyway.

University student associations have complained about course fees and loans to cover them since they were introduced. But many thousands of graduates have paid their fees and repaid their loans over the past 20 years.

Tertiary education has seen spectacular growth over that period, attracting foreign fee-paying students as well as meeting New Zealanders’ needs. Why change the funding system now?

Or to put it another way, what problem is this policy designed to fix? Labour’s leader presents it as an answer to the frequent and unpredictable career changes people will need in the workforce of the future. But this “future” has been present for many years now and there has been no sign the costs of retraining have become a problem.

The student loan scheme is effectively a temporary targeted tax on those who undertake tertiary study. Once you eanr above a certain level, you pay a 12% higher tax rate until the loan is paid off.

So what is fairer – those who get the benefits of tertiary study paying a temporary higher tax rate, or all New Zealanders paying a permanent higher tax rate?

The economy is strong in large part because public spending is under control. Expensive proposals that waste money purely for political gain could put the country’s prosperity in peril.

It’s the old tax and spend.

Herald and Hosking on TPP

February 4th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Looking back, it is hard to recall a greater diplomatic achievement than the comprehensive trade and investment agreement that will be signed by representatives of 12 countries in Auckland today. The post-war creation of the United Nations in which New Zealand Prime Minister Peter Fraser played a role may be as proud for those who remember it. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is directly in that tradition.

It represents another advance on the principles of the World Trade Organisation, formerly the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt) that was one of the multi-lateral institutions formed by nations seeking world peace and prosperity after two devastating wars.

Even 70 years ago, it proved harder to unite the world on rules for international business and trade than to establish a World Health Organisation and UN agencies for the likes of education and science. The Gatt did not become the WTO until the 1990s when just about all countries in the long communist experiment finally turned to capitalism for the prosperity the West enjoyed.

Now we just need Labour, Greens and NZ First to embrace capitalism again!

Mike Hosking writes:

Good morning and welcome to TPP signing day.

I know, I know, I know. We’ve thrashed this thing to death, but here’s your reality: It’s a done deal.

It will get signed today, the legislation will be passed, and all there is left to do is sit back and basically sees who’s right.

Will it be like every other free trade deal and open new markets, bring new opportunities and boost our wealth? Or are the doom merchants right and we’re heading for corporate armageddon, where we spend the rest of our lives in court and have our sovereignty whipped out from under us?

The really big question not many people seemed to ask in this whole debate was: Why would our Government sign us up to all this so-called trouble?

What Government in its right mind would take us down a path of disaster, and with it the political fallout?

Further, why would 11 other Governments do exactly the same thing?

If this is such a dastardly deal, how is it possible that a dozen countries all got sucked in and put their name to the sort of trouble and political mayhem the placard wavers are proclaiming?

12 Governments have signed it because they all stand to gain more from it than they lose. Trade is not a zero sum gain.

Long term, here’s Labour’s potential nightmare: Assuming those of us who like trade deals are right, as the numbers roll in, as the sales get made, and if this deal is like every other deal, it actually produces way more than the paper work ever indicated, think the China deal which is many times better than was initially thought possible.

As that all happens, Labour is going to be backed into a corner explaining just what it was it couldn’t see that the rest of us could.

The benefits of the China FTA have been much much greater than projected, If TPP goes the same way, Labour are going to look very foolish for campaigning against it.

Herald backs Greens costing policy

February 2nd, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Amid the fanfare surrounding Labour’s education policy release at the weekend, it should also be acknowledged the Green Party has made a good start to the year, with a proposal that is reasonable, moderate and financially responsible.

The suggestion an independent unit should be set up within Treasury to provide costings of each party’s election policies is one the Government will find tough to turn down.

Much as it might like to, social policy initiatives from the Opposition can easily be dismissed as fearfully expensive without reliable figures – Labour’s free tertiary plan being a timely case in point.

Labour have a long history of under-estimating the costs of policies – interest free student loans and KiwiSaver ended up costing many times more than they originally said it would.

I support an independent costing agency, but one has to realise that there will always be assumptions which are debatable.

To cost Labour’s education policy, the first step is to work out what would be the cost if the Government paid all the tertairy fees for current students, instead of lending them money for them. That is quite easy to do, and uncontroversial.

The harder part is calculating how many more people will enrol if tertiary education is free. Labour say they think there will be a 15% increase. I think this is massively low. Tertiary providers will be able to earn $15,000 or so if they can sign up any adult who has never been to university (or other tertiary). They’ll be going through rest homes convincing retirees to enrol in courses.  It could well be a 100% increase.

An independent costing agency will have to try and make a “best guess”. This may be based on what has happened in other areas when something is made free – for example what increase has there been in public transport use by retirees since they got free travel. They may be able to look overseas. But even Treasury in the past has vastly under-estimated the cost of policies such as Kiwisaver and interest free loans. Humans respond massively to incentives, and this policy provides huge incentives to providers to sign people up.

The public would be best served if once a policy was submitted to the unit its findings were automatically made public.

Parties might not welcome the risk, and might withhold some proposals from an evaluation, but that would do nothing for their credibility.

The agency should be subject to the OIA.

 

Dom Post on WCC secrecy

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

Yes, we do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dom Post on costing policies

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

I agree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Press on a 4th term for Key

January 27th, 2016 at 8:32 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

So what are the potential threats to Key’s hopes for a fourth term? Unless something goes drastically wrong between now and the second half of next year, it looks unlikely the Labour Party under Andrew Little will be in a position to pull together the next government.

They need to persuade 200,000 more NZers to vote Labour to be in with a chance.

In terms of successors to Key being actively groomed or quietly blossoming within the National Party’s caucus, there will be some definite contenders post-2017. But In terms of challengers who might actively challenge his leadership before that election or after, that is harder to foresee.

Near impossible to imagine.

If Key does lead National to its fourth successive victory, it will then become a question of when he might stand aside. Would it be within a few months of the election or as late as possible? That last strategy runs the risk of locking a leader into the next election campaign and yet another possible term as prime minister. Voters will need to know how far into that fourth term he might stay as leader.

He can’t say in advance because you become lame duck, but my pick would be during the latter half of the 2nd year, so after around 11 years in the job.

Who might be Key’s possible successor? It depends who you listen to, but the personable, fifth-ranked Paula Bennett is a rising star of some charisma. Now minister of climate change issues as well as social housing and state services, she is also associate minister of finance, a sign, some say, that she is being groomed by Key.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English is a steady pair of hands but would be a case of “been there, done that”. Steven Joyce has vast experience and is in the same mould as a Bill Birch or Michael Cullen, but does not have the populist touch needed. Neither does Gerry Brownlee.

Then there’s Judith Collins – she has her supporters in caucus but may be a bit too divisive. Jonathan Coleman and Simon Bridges are possible leaders of the future, and so is Amy Adams, but she is currently a long shot.

I should point out Bill English has said he will never seek the leadership again.

That Key says he realises he is not indispensable appears an encouraging sign of self-awareness, a trait some other leaders have struggled to master. Short of a major change in fortunes, he could well still be prime minister in two or three years’ time.

Key has actively worked to promote successors, unlike some of his predecessors.

Herald calls for fern flag to fly on bridge

January 11th, 2016 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

This is a serious and urgent request of whomever is running the Government in the Prime Minister’s absence. Please fly the proposed new flag from the Auckland Harbour Bridge, either on one pole alongside the existing flag, or on both poles.

We will be voting on them in just two months and it is vital to see the proposed alternative in action before we can decide.

Until we see how it looks fluttering in a breeze, lying limp and performing in various conditions, we cannot know whether its design really “works”.

I agree. Both the current flag and the alternative one offer should fly. Having New Zealanders seeing them on flagpoles will better allow for an informed vote.

Dom Post on Iraq

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a beginning, but a useful one.

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

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

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

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

Herald backs down on uninformed editorial

December 24th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

On Friday the NZ Herald editorial proclaimed:

Strange things started to happen rather quickly. Not enough subscribers were keen to switch to the more expensive connection, so Chorus raised the price of copper connections to $45 a month to make fibre more attractive.

An organisation of users protested. The Commerce Commission, which can regulate network pricing, stepped in and forced Chorus to lower its copper charge to $32.45. At that, Chorus appealed and the commission has spent the past three years reviewing its calculations.

The following Wednesday their editorial back downs:

Last Friday, our editorial expressed concern that the charge being set for telecommunications on the copper network was being artificially inflated to make the Government-inspired roll-out of fibre optic cable more competitive.

That view has been strongly contested and we need to reconsider a number of issues. Few costs in an economy are more important than the price of its vital infrastructure.

Chorus, the network provider, does not set its own charges. They are done entirely by the Commerce Commission. We have been assured the charge determined by the commission last week has nothing to do with the cost of fibre connections, the uptake of which is at 16.4 per cent of customers served so far.

Kudos to the Herald for admitting they got it wrong. Not so good they did an editorial in the first place they was so poorly researched.

Herald is right – leave it to Pharmac

December 5th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Theirs is an invidious task, never more so than this week when it had to tell us it would not fund a drug for melanoma, Keytruda, that is being hailed as a breakthrough in the treatment of this cancer. Clinicians say it is the only treatment that seems to be effective against advanced inoperable melanoma. Chemotherapy and other regular cancer treatments are not.

Keytruda is state-funded in Australia and England but here Pharmac’s assessment committee has marked it low priority for funding, because of uncertainty about its benefits and extremely high cost. A course costs around $300,000, which anyone given a terminal diagnosis would pay if they could. Some can and do. But it is beyond the means of most and beyond Pharmac’s budget when it weighs up all the demands on its funds.

There was a hint yesterday that the Government could come to the rescue. “Watch this space,” said one of its MPs, Judith Collins, on breakfast television. She compared it to the breast cancer drug Herceptin, that was not accepted for funding by Pharmac but in 2008 the National Party promised to fund it if it came to power, and duly did so. Pharmac does “a great job”, said Ms Collins, “but every now and then something comes along and you’ve just go to say, something has to give on this”.

The Labour Party had been even quicker to take the decision out of Pharmac’s hands. “We would fund it,” said its health spokeswoman, Annette King. With politicians like these, who needs professionals to assess efficacy against costs?

If a Government provides additional funds to cover the costs of a particular drug, it does not upset the careful decisions that Pharmac has to make about the best use of its budget. But each time a Government does so, it reduces the integrity and fairness of the public health system. It is easy to make emotional decisions, especially where cancer is concerned. And of all cancers, melanoma may be the most scary.

I agree with the Herald. We set Pharmac up so medical and other professionals could assess which drugs provided the most benefit for their cost. This is the right way to do things with a limited budget, and MPs should not step in over them to fund additional drugs based on the success of a lobbying campaign.

ODT on reshuffles

November 30th, 2015 at 10:55 am by David Farrar

The ODT editorial:

Labour leader Andrew Little has previously said he intends to provide a new look for his team before Christmas, but how he can do that with such a limited number of MPs will need some imagination.

I expect the reshuffle will be relatively minor.

There are a limited number of options for Mr Little.

He wants to lead a so-called new team into next year so the voting public can see Labour is a government-in-waiting.

But surely, if someone is going to set the political stage on fire from the Opposition benches, they will have done so by now.

The Greens have stolen the thunder of Labour by electing relatively unknown James Shaw as co-leader.

Mr Shaw has hogged headlines and is often the first call for media when seeking an alternative opinion to the one espoused by the Government.

I often hear from media that Green MPs respond quicker as they just say what they believe, while Labour MPs have to have multiple conferences to come up with a position on an issue.

Labour’s top three MPs, Mr Little, deputy-leader Annette King and finance spokesman Grant Robertson are all from Wellington.

And from all accounts that will not change. No Australian leader would be electable if his or her top three MPs were all from Canberra.

In all honesty, former failed leaders, Mr Goff, David Shearer and David Cunliffe must go.

However, their personal interests outweigh the best interests of the party, despite anything they may say.

Labour does not look or sound united.

There is a reason for that!

I’ll do another post later today on the actual reshuffle, after it is announced at 11.

Dom Post editorials dripping with venom

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

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

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

Some quotes:

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

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

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

Herald seems to blame security services for terror

November 26th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Governments will also be aware that each time public fears are heightened, the political climate becomes more difficult for some immigrant communities. In Australia, three-quarters of the population believes a large-scale terrorist attack is likely within the country and a quarter believe one is imminent, according to a poll at the weekend.

Australia has had two terrorist attacks in recent months, and several more attempted. So it is quite rational to believe more are likely.

New Zealand is not immune to these fears and tensions, or indeed the threat that causes them. But so far, our Government has not seen fit to raise the level of alarm. The Prime Minister says one or two of about 40 people under watch are under fulltime surveillance. No country should have cause for terror if its security services are doing their job.

I profoundly disagree with that sentence. It is blaming the security services of terrorist attacks succeed.

Think if one wrote

No country should have cause for fear of crime if its Police are doing their job

Just as the Police can not stop crime in advance, security services can not stop all terrorist attacks. It is impossible. Hopefully they stop most. But if one or more people are determined to kill unarmed members of the public, they will often succeed.

Herald on Goff

November 24th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Pointedly, Mr Goff offered to bring “a different personality” to the role in his announcement on Sunday. The pity was that he did not offer much else that was different, or indeed much at all. He promises to eliminate wasteful spending and needless bureaucracy. So do they all.

Can he point to any spending committed to by the current Council he does not support? If not, then why should people think rates won’t continue to skyrocket?

He aims for rate rises no higher than at present.

No higher than 10% per annum!!!

He supports higher density residential development and the central rail link. He will not allow the port to expand but he will not sell it, or even shares in it. He will not sell any “strategic assets”.

These are all off-the-shelf positions for a candidate from Mr Goff’s side of politics. Nothing he said on Sunday gave any sign he has been thinking deeply or originally about Auckland and the problems of the council, and what he might do with the sole executive powers of the mayor. Mr Goff has had a long time to consider these things.

It’s swapping one Labour Party Mayor for another.

 

Herald says Len should not go to Paris

November 21st, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Many Aucklanders would have been open-mouthed with amazement at the announcement that Mayor Len Brown is going to the world climate change conference in Paris at the end of the month. The audacity of the discredited mayor never ceases to amaze. He ought to have resigned long ago but any credit he recovered with his decision last week not to stand for re-election next year probably evaporated with this announcement. What purpose can he serve at the climate change conference?

Sight seeing?

The conference is going to hear that his council has set a target of reducing Auckland’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2040, and that it is preparing for the impacts of climate change such as severe weather events, floods and sea level rise.

The Council’s target is nonsense because the Council has almost no ability to impact the level of greenhouse gas emissions in Auckland.

National governments can impact the level of greenhouse gas emissions by imposing a charge on such emissions, determining energy sources etc. A local authority has no such power, so the 40% target is basically wankery.

NZ Herald implores people to donate to Labour

November 20th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The NZ Herald editorial:

The Labour Party’s financial deficit problems should be of concern to all New Zealanders. It is not necessary to be aligned with National or Labour to recognise that a healthy democracy needs two parties capable of providing sound government. …

The country will go to the next election with sensible alternatives on offer, to re-elect National for a fourth term or decide it’s time for a change. Three-term governments have usually been enough for New Zealand voters, but normally the mood for change is evident by this time. Labour may have to hang in for a longer haul and it needs help. It deserves a fair deal from those doing well in an economy that took two parties to put right.

So the NZ Herald is imploring people to donate money to the Labour Party. Good to know where they stand.

Tertiary fraud

November 16th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

A little over a year ago we learned a tertiary education provider, Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi, had given the players and staff of the New Zealand Warriors league club an 18-week tourism course in one day. An investigation into such funding irregularities resulted in the institution returning $5.9 million to the Tertiary Education Commission.

Since then, investigations into six tertiary institutions, from Southland to the Bay of Plenty, have identified more than $25 million in misappropriation. One of them, we reported this week, has been stripped of its registration.

Why is this happening on such a scale? And how is it that only one of these places has been deregistered? On the face of it, this is fraud with public funds.

This is a reasonable question. If the only sanction for shall we say creative accounting is that you have to pay the money back, then these issues are likely to continue.However if the sanction is deregistration, then tertiary providers should be far more cautious.

It is well past time that when found out, these places face much greater penalties than merely handing back the money if they can. The Serious Fraud Office needs to make an example of someone. A salutary prosecution could wake up the sector to take its social responsibility seriously. It needs to ensure no course is a waste of money and everyone’s time.

If we prosecute people for stealing $1,000 from the Government, shouldn’t we do it if they steal $25 million?

Dom Post says Little not the right leader

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

This was creating a desert and calling it peace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herald says Len should have gone by now

November 10th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Mr Brown ought to have resigned a long time ago. He has done no good for Auckland by remaining in office once it had become obvious to all around him that he could not again be effective. For two years, the council has been drifting and fractious, lacking leadership in the position that was given more executive power than any other in New Zealand local government.

His decision not to seek re-election next year is the next best thing to an admission that he no longer should be there.

His main legacy will be the 9.9% rates increased after he promised 2.5%.

Herald backs Ardern

October 19th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Labour needs to project the image of a fresh, new potential government.

Ms Ardern can help project that image. Ms King cannot. The bigger problem for Mr Little may be that Ms Ardern probably projects that image better than he does, and the last thing he needs is a deputy whose promotion might cause her to be seen as a rival to himself. Ms Ardern no doubt would deny any wish to replace him, and mean it, but if her public reception was much better than his, she would be a contender.

That is the trouble. Ardern as Deputy Leader might soon overtake Little in the Preferred PM polls.

This time next year, if the polls have not improved for Labour, some in the party may well push for yet another change of leader. Having held two contests in the previous term of Parliament, it is running short of candidates. Grant Robertson, who stood in both unsuccessfully, has accepted he will not be the next leader. Ms Ardern, who was going to be Mr Robertson’s deputy had he succeeded, has not been tarnished by the result. She could be a credible candidate; all the more so if by then she has been deputy leader for a year.

That’s almost an endorsement of Ardern to be Leader!

Clark, Labour and TPP

October 6th, 2015 at 10:06 am by David Farrar

The NZ Herald editorial:

Sometimes it takes someone a little removed from the fray to put the right perspective on an issue.

New Zealanders have sorely needed such insight on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, so deeply polarised are they about its potential benefit to this country.

And there could be few people better placed to supply this than former Prime Minister Helen Clark. …

Ms Clark’s statement, a rare one on a domestic issue since she became the Administrator of the UN Development Programme, emphasised how foolish that would be.

What had always haunted her as prime minister, she said, was the development of a series of trade blocs of which New Zealand was not part. That would be “unthinkable” for this country as an export-orientated, small trading nation.

“So, of course, New Zealand has to be in on the action with the TPP and go for the very best deal it can as the agreement expands beyond the original four economies to a wider regional agreement.” …

Ms Clark’s statement also carried a message for her former Labour colleagues.

Curiously for a party that formerly embraced free trade, it has insisted its support for the TPP is contingent on the meeting of several “non-negotiable bottom lines”.

Labour may imagine this plays well with those people adamantly opposed to the pact.

But most importantly, as its former leader implies, it reveals a failure to to appreciate the big picture. That dictates a small trading nation cannot afford to stand aside from an agreement of such magnitude for the Asia-Pacific region.

The partisan part of me wants Labour to vote against TPP, as I think it will continue their descent away from electability. But actually it would be a bad thing for NZ to lose its long-standing bipartisan support for trade deals.

Liam Hehir writes:

When Helen Clark came out in broad endorsement of New Zealand’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, she lifted the lid on what is going to become a real headache for Andrew Little. If negotiation of the mammoth trade treaty is completed (which could well have occurred by the time you read this) the Labour Party is going to have to make a decision about whether or not it will throw its support behind New Zealand joining the bloc.

Until now, Labour has been assiduously ambiguous on the subject. This seems to be because some swivel-eyed members of the party base are convinced that the treaty is a sinister National Party scheme to outsource sovereignty to Halliburton, Pfizer and the Rothschild family. Not wishing to alienate these noisy activists, the party has been careful to avoid expressing any enthusiasm for the deal.

Yet …

But at the same time, it has not ruled out supporting the deal should agreement be reached. A significant chunk of Labour’s parliamentary caucus is serious about governing. They care more about pragmatism than party slogans and, when pushed, they care more about the national interest than they do about oppositional politics.

But are there enough of them? I’m not sure there are.

The problem is that weasel words will only get you so far. Complaining about the secret negotiating process won’t cut it once the negotiations have been wrapped up and the terms of the deal have been laid bare. The debate then has nowhere to go but to the ultimate merits of the thing.

Despite persistent claims to the contrary, joining the TPP is going to require the enactment of implementing legislation. When those votes are called, Labour MPs will need to make a call on turning its back on vastly improved access to markets representing nearly 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. Whatever decision is made, somebody is going to have to be disappointed.

I think it will be the party activists. If the TPP represents a halfway-decent deal for New Zealand, my bet is that Labour MPs will give it their blessing. There will be some public handwringing, of course, and reservations will be loudly stated. Unlike NZ First or the Greens, however, Labour is simply too integral to our political system to indulge in fantasies of the country prospering as a hermit kingdom closed off from the world economy.

I hope Liam is right, but I am less optimistic. They have abandoned bipartisan support for stable monetary policy that targets inflation, and in recent elections have had a policy of effective nationalisation of electricity generators.

For Helen Clark, the only Labour leader to have won a general election in almost 30 years, to say that “of course” we should “be in on the action with the TPP” starkly exposes the reality of the situation. Labour is a serious, mainstream party. It is inclined to deal with the world as it is.

If Labour don’t support TPP, I can see a number of election ads quoting her words back to them!

Dom Post editorial supports free speech

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

Dom Post on Pandas

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

So true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idiotic Dom Post editorial

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herald on anti flu vaccine health workers and unions

August 5th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

It beggars belief that any nurses employed in public hospitals would be allowed to decline vaccinations against winter flu. It strains credibility further to hear these nurses complain they are obliged to wear face masks in the wards. And it is nothing short of disgraceful their national union, supported by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, backs them up.

I agree.

The flu is not chicken pox. People die from the flu. Lots of people. Why would a hospital worker not want a free flu vaccine?

Plenty of people outside the public health services decline flu vaccines, even when provided free in workplaces. This is a free country and people are free to make unhealthy decisions for themselves, even when their decision reduces the immunity that can be provided for the community. The best health authorities can do is to promote and practise good sense, based on medical research.

Nurses and other health professionals are also free to question the wisdom of immunisation or any other medical practices if they wish, but if so they should look for a job with an alternative provider.

If you accept a job in a hsopital working with sick people who are especially vulnerable to illnesses such as influenza, then you lose discretion over whether or not to have a vaccine. Just as if you accept a job as a teacher, you may have a dress code to comply with.

And Waikato DHB hasn’t even made it compulsory. They’ve just said wear a mask, if you won’t get one – and you work in clinical areas.