Herald on troops decision

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

The Herald editorial:

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

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

The editorial continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doing nothing is, in my opinion, simply wrong.

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Dom Post on Islamic State

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I agree.


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Herald on Catton

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

The NZ Herald editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the Herald editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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Uber editorials

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The Press takes a more enlightened approach:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Herald on speed tolerance

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

The NZ Herald editorial:

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

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


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

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

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NZ Herald on economy

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

The Herald editorial:

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

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

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Dom Post on Wellington Local Government

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

We don’t need eight Mayors for the region.

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Dom Post opposes alcohol sponsorship ban

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

That is the key difference.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Press on SIS report

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

The Press editorial:

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

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

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

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


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

Political staff have political discussions with bloggers. How surprising.

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

Incompetence rather than malice. As is often the case.

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

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The Press on regional air services

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

The Press editorial:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Press on the Christchurch District Plan

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

The Press editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Press on tall poppies

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

The Press editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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


We should celebrate his success, not condemn it.

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


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Herald on ISIS

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

The Herald editorial:

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

They key word is “If”.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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The Press on offence

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

The Press editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Green soul-searching

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

The ODT editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep. The challenge is how to expand beyond those.

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The Press on the Dotcom sideshow

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

The Press editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A train set for Christchurch

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

The Press editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NZ Herald editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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