Dom Post says Cunliffe leadership is a train wreck

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was the high point.

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

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

My God, that is a harsh editorial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Press rejects KiwiSaver compulsion

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

The Press editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

The evidence to date suggests exactly that.

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Dom Post on Cunliffe

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

The Dom Post editorial:

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

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

Ouch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

92 days to go.

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

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Herald on child poverty

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

The Herald editorial says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have an extremely generous welfare state.

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

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

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Herald, ODT and Gordon Campbell on Cunliffe

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

The Herald editorial:

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

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

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

Gordon Campbell is more harsh:

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

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

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

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

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

Also the ODT editorial:

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

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

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

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

And then the ABCs will strike.

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

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

The Herald editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A silly editorial

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

The Herald editorial:

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

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

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

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

A pretty appalling snobbery.

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

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The Press on Labour’s Christchurch policy

June 10th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

The idea of extending the jurisdiction of the District Court to create what would amount to a specialist earthquake court is undoubtedly eye-catching.

Its aim would be to provide a faster, less costly (to claimants at least) jurisdiction to deal with the multiplicity of disputes that have arisen over earthquake claims.

Whether it is necessary and whether it would achieve its aims, or achieve them without introducing perverse incentives, needs significant analysis. Insurance disputes can be complex and difficult. A new court is unlikely to make them any easier, though it may have the potential to streamline the process through them.

The High Court has for some time devoted large resources to a specialist list to deal with earthquake cases.

It began in May 2012 following a commitment by the Chief High Court judge that earthquake cases be dealt with as swiftly as the court’s resources permitted.

Most judges in the High Court are experienced and highly skilled commercial practitioners, well equipped to deal with insurance disputes.

A serious line-up of similarly skilled judiciary would be a bare minimum requirement for the newly proposed court.

Labour’s idea would allow claims of up to $1 million to be brought before the District Court, which has less expertise in complex commercial matters and would require expanding its jurisdiction from the present limit of $200,000.

Simply finding judges equipped to handle the work could be a problem. Labour says they would be found from among retired judges (which means they would be 72 or older) or suitably qualified senior lawyers.

What The Press is saying is that cases will be heard by retired district court judges, rather than high court judges.

Labour also says the government would cover all costs which means that claimants would have an incentive to lodge a claim, no matter how weak it was.

That’s the real problem. The courts would get swamped.

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Herald on ashes bylaw

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

The Herald editorial:

Now, the Auckland Council has ventured into this area. As part of a wider bylaw covering cemeteries and crematoriums, it wants to prevent people scattering ashes in any public place – including beaches and parks – unless they have written approval from the council or Wahi Tapu Maori Komiti, a Maori committee overseeing sacred areas. Even people wanting to scatter ashes in a public cemetery would need to fill in approval forms and pay an “applicable” fee to the council.

Predictably enough, the proposal has attracted a storm of protest.

That anger is justified on several grounds. The council documents on the issue provide no detailed background to suggest major problems are arising from the scattering of ashes, either in terms of health or other risk, cultural sensitivities, or the growing extent of the practice. While cremations have become more popular, there are still only about 3000 a year in Auckland, compared with 2200 burials. That is a long way from the situation in Britain, where problems have arisen from the 420,000 cremations annually.

This suggests that, in the main, the council is looking for a solution where no significant problem exists. 

Exactly. And if there is a problem in a couple of discrete areas, then all you need is a couple of signs there asking people not to spread ashes there. What you don’t need is a law requiring you to gain permission to spread ashes anywhere in Auckland – let alone pay a fee for it.

A funeral celebrant described the council’s proposals as “crass”. That is apt. On an issue that demanded subtlety, it has employed a sledgehammer. Its proposal warrants the most rapid of burials.

It seems Wellington City already has such a policy. It should also be scrapped. I imagine almost everyone just ignores it anyway.

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Herald on EU

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

The Herald editorial from Tuesday:

From time to time, national referendums have thrown a spanner in the European Union’s plans for closer ties between its members. But never has there been such a broad renunciation of that process as that delivered in the recent European Parliament elections. In an alarming number of the EU’s 28 member states, populist parties from the far right and far left triumphed over their mainstream opponents.

The impact was most notable in Britain, where the UK Independence Party topped the poll with 28 per cent of the vote, and France, where the anti-European National Front did likewise with 25 per cent support. Centrist pro-European parties will continue to be the dominant force in Brussels, but this is not an outcome that can be shrugged off.

It is clear that after 60 years, during which the EU and its forebears have, by and large, orchestrated peace and prosperity, many of its 500 million people have fallen out of love with the pan-Europe ideology.

They complain about the arrogance and expense of bureaucrats in Brussels who are intent on reducing the important of their national parliament. They regret replacing their national currencies with the euro, which, rather than making Europe more equal, has created instability. And those in the north decry an expansion that has saddled them with indebted nations in southern Europe. The EU has, says David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, become “too big, too bossy and too interfering”.

Especially the European courts over-riding national legislatures.

Others, however, believe the EU can be saved by reform.

The latter course can prevail if the European Parliament heeds the unmistakable lesson of this election and puts a brake on the drive towards ever closer union. It needs also to be less intrusive in the everyday affairs of its members. Equally, it must convince Europeans that it provides the framework to outperform other developed countries economically. The most convincing answer to the eurosceptics lies, as Germany’s Angela Merkel suggested, in “improving competitiveness on growth and creating jobs”. At some point, those countries using the euro must also embrace a more comprehensive fiscal union. If that is not done, a return to national currencies is the logical step.

You can’t have monetary union without fiscal union. Which is one reason Scotland won’t be able to keep the pound if they vote for independence – which is unlikely on the polls.

The economic tide is swinging in favour of the pro-Europeans. Much of the EU has been late to catch the global upswing, but even the weaker economies are starting to benefit. They will gain also from the tough measures taken over the past few years. Further, the conclusion of a successful free-trade pact with the United States would hammer home the message that union can deliver more wealth than individual endeavour.

A focus on free trade and freer economies is what the EU needs, not more regulations.

Oliver Hartwich also writes on the EU lack of democracy:

What is democracy? Well, usually democracy is when the people vote in an election and the winner then happens to form a government. It is as simple as that. And what is European Union democracy? It is when the people vote in an election and, regardless of the outcome, German chancellor Angela Merkel decides on the next president of the European Commission.

Oliver’s article is a fascinating analysis of the power games currently going on.

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Overstating our road toll

June 5th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

By just about any measure, New Zealand driving is worse than in any comparable developed country. When, 40 years ago, the carnage on the roads was much higher it was taken as the price to be paid for road travel. The losses suffered now, while tragic for individuals and families, are looked upon in the same way. They should not be. Just as 40 years ago a very large proportion of them were avoidable, so they are now. We should all be doing more to avoid them.

This is not true. We are near the middle of the OECD.

In 2011 18 OECD countries had a higher road toll per 100,000 population and 18 had a lower one. On 2013 data we would appear to be doing even better with 22 countries having a higher toll and 14 a lower toll.

This is not to say we don’t want to keep reducing the road toll. But an editorial which claims we are worse than any comparable developed country is quite simply wrong. The 2013 road toll was 5.7 per 100,000 population.

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Gower on the dirty deal

May 30th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Patrick Gower blogged:

The Hone-Dotcom-Laila political triangle is one of the dirtiest deals in New Zealand political history.

It is as dirty as National-Act in Epsom.

It is as dirty as the Key-Dunne deal in Ohariu.

Frankly, Lalia Harré made me feel sick today when she said “it’s time for New Zealanders to take back MMP”.

That’s because Laila Harré is wrecking MMP.

Hone Harawira is wrecking MMP.

And Kim Dotcom is wrecking MMP.

They are using Harawira’s seat and MMP’s “coat-tail” rule to get a back-door entry into Parliament.

It is a rort.

It is a grubby deal, made all the worse by the fact Harawira holds the Te Tai Tokerau seat – a Maori seat.

The Maori seats are special. They have a unique constitutional role which is to give the Tangata Whenua a place of their own in the New Zealand Parliament.

The Maori seats have been hard fought for.

Never, ever was it envisaged they would be used as a back-door entry for a German millionaire to get his proxy into Parliament.

His $4,000,000 proxy. We should refer to Laila as the four million dollar woman!

Gower is right to point out that this does weaken the case for retention of the Maori seats.

This will give those opposed to Maori seats ammunition to get rid of them.

A referendum on keeping MMP at the moment would be very interesting. Likewise on the Maori seats!

Sadly, the Internet Mana deal has diminished the mana of the Maori seats.

And even sadder too, this deal involves money.

Harawira wants Dotcom’s money.

Annette Sykes wants Dotcom’s money.

John Minto wants Dotcom’s money.

They are all willing to pervert the MMP system for the sake of money and it is a venal deal.

Don’t try and tell me Laila Harré cares deeply about the internet. She cares about getting into Parliament.

Her first press conference was about pretty much every leftwing issues there is, and almost silent on Internet issues except vague platitudes on the importance of the Internet – something that was dated even back in 1996 – when Harre entered Parliament initially.

I have a lot of respect for Harawira, Sykes and Minto. They have spent their lives fighting for what they believe in – for points of principle.

But that respect has been tarnished.

They are obsessed by power, obsessed by money and will trample over the rights of New Zealand voters to get it.

This Internet Mana deal is so wrong.

I feel sorry for all those who signed up to the Internet Party thinking it was about Internet issues. Instead it is merely a vehicle for Dotcom to fund the Mana Party into Parliament. They should be honest and cut out the middle man, and just have Dotcom give the money directly to Mana. Harre is not a candidate for the Internet Party. She is a candidate for Mana. I bet you there isn’t a single Mana Party policy she disagrees with, and she probably doesn’t even know what policies the Internet Party has.

The Press editorial is no less strong:

There can have been fewer link-ups in New Zealand politics more cynical and crassly opportunistic than the one just formed between Hone Harawira’s Mana Party and the Internet Party, masterminded and financed by the internet developer Kim Dotcom. There is not the shadow of any principle involved in it.

Before he arrived in New Zealand, Kim Dotcom’s public image was of a high-living, luxury-loving party animal. For all his technical skills, there is not the slightest evidence that either now or in the past he has had a serious political thought in his head.

It is almost certain his only contact with the poor and dispossessed whose interests Harawira purports to represent would have been as employees. Indeed he may be a little startled to find that he is financing the far-left Laila Harre, the newly announced leader of the Internet Party.

As for the internet issues the Internet Party is supposedly concerned about, if Harawira and Mana had any particular interest in them before Kim Dotcom and his money came on the scene they kept very quiet about them.

Sames goes for the Internet Party Leader.

The ultimate composition of the next New Zealand government may wind up in the hands of a fringe collaboration bankrolled by a German fugitive from American justice. New Zealand politics should be better than that, surely.

The Dom Post editorial notes:

Harre’s arrival sharpens a dilemma for Labour. If its Te Tai Tokerau candidate Kelvin Davis defeats Harawira, it could cut Internet-Mana’s throat and waste a lot of votes for the Left bloc. The best strategy might be for Labour to go softly on Harawira without actually cutting an Epsom-style deal with him. This would require a U-turn, even if it is done in semi-secret.

I understand there is a huge shit fight in Labour over this. Kelvin Davis thinks that he can win the seat as Hone cuddling up to German multi-millionaires will go down like cold sick with many Te Tai Tokerau constituents. If Davis is allowed to run an aggressive campaign for the seat, he could win it.

But Cunliffe and McCarten don’t want to win it. They need Mana-Dotcom in Parliament. So they’ve decided that they will unofficially not campaign to win the seat. This makes Davis the sacrificial lamb who would love to the MP for Te Tai Tokerau, not a List MP.

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Dom Post on marriage of convenience

May 28th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

So the Maori radical and the German squillionaire have spawned their odd little party. No surprise there. The deal suits both partners. The Internet Party now has a chance of getting into Parliament whereas before it had none. And Mana wins a chance of finding more supporters among the geeks and the worshippers of Kim Dotcom.

Radicals like Mana’s John Minto reject Sue Bradford’s charge that they have sold out to the wealthy German. Bradford, staunch and true to her ideals as usual, has predictably stormed out. But, in a sense, Minto is right. He has not abandoned his support for progressive taxes and soaking the rich. He has not had to swallow a dead rat.

What is glossed over is how can you stand up for low paid workers, when you effectively merge with a party controlled by a guy who is accused of not even paying the minimum wage to his staff.

The only question now is: will this political oddity, bred on the wrong side of the bed, have any appeal to the voters? Its best hope is to win about 2 per cent of the party vote – double what Mana got last time – and bring the still-unnamed leader of the Internet Party in on the list. If Annette Sykes won Waiariki, that would be a big dollop of cream on the cake.

Actually if Sykes won Waiariki, then the Internet Mana Party would have one fewer List MP and the Internet Party leader may not get in.

Maybe the geeks and the radical Maori and Pakeha can persuade enough voters to back their odd little band. It’s also perfectly possible that Harawira will lose his seat to Labour and Sykes will fail in Waiariki. That would sink the Internet Party, which will certainly not pass the 5 per cent barrier by itself. The whole strange experiment could easily collapse.

I suspect Labour will quietly tell Kelvin Davis not too campaign too hard so Harawira retains his seat.

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Editorials on polls

May 27th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Political opinion polls come so thick and fast during an election year it is tempting to pass over them with indifference.

The results of two announced at the weekend, though, were so contrary to conventional political wisdom that they demanded attention. …

A well-received Budget took the heat off last week, but the consensus was that the first opinion polls taken while those events were still fresh in voters’ minds would punish the Government.

The outcome was quite different – not only were National and the Prime Minister up and Labour, its leader David Cunliffe and most Opposition parties down, National would, if the results were translated into votes at the election, win sufficient seats not to need a support party. 

The well-received Budget may explain part of it. One of the polls found that even two-thirds of those who identified themselves as Labour supporters backed it.

But another part of the explanation for the poll results may be that what transfixes those in the Wellington political bubble can often be less than earth-shattering in the wider world where most voters live.

I think that is right.  I think Labour especially suffers from Wellingtonitis because so few of its MPs come from provincial areas. The test is what the mums are talking about at the school gates or what the chatter is in the smoko rooms. Almost none of them were talking Oravida.

The Herald editorial:

So much for Oravida, Judith Collins, Maurice Williamson. National’s troubles of the past two months have evaporated in two separate public opinion polls taken since the Budget. Colmar Brunton, for TVNZ, and Reid Research for TV3, both find more than half of their sample intending to vote National. This must be devastating for Labour, whose sustained barrage on Ms Collins in Parliament over the past two months does not appear to have moved any votes.

They have moved votes. From Labour to National.

Four months out from the election, Labour is the party in trouble. It ought to be polling well above 30 per cent by this stage to have much hope of success in September. If its result is not 10 or more points higher at the election, it must be doubted it could lead a credible government.

David Cunliffe said his aim is to poll higher than National – at a minimum get into the 40s. 116 days to go.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said of the latest polls, it is “still fairly early days” and they would “bounce right back again”. It is very late in the day. Most voters make up their minds well before the election campaign begins, though it is true that campaigns restore voters’ usual loyalties. Labour is likely to do better than 30 per cent, National will almost certainly fall short of 50 per cent.

But right now the prospects for Labour could hardly look worse. It has fired its best shots in the past two months and the voters are unmoved. The economy is growing, the Prime Minister is popular and so far there is no prevailing mood for change.

But as both editorial say, Labour might make it through a Labour-Greens-NZ First-Mana-Dotcom alliance.

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Editorials on Immigration

May 23rd, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Immigrants are easy prey for political vultures. Demagogues can win votes by using foreigners as scapegoats, as has happened repeatedly in New Zealand’s history. So the argument about the effect of immigration on housing could easily turn poisonous. It’s important not to let that happen.

The Budget’s big surprise was the revelation of a turn in the usual tide of migration. The outward flow has turned into a net inward movement, mainly because fewer Kiwis are moving to Australia. Now there is concern that the inflow will push up house prices.

Panic measures will not help with this problem, as Labour seemed to realise soon after pledging a cut in net immigration. Asked exactly how big the cut would be, Labour faltered and fudged.

It was almost comical. David Cunliffe said they’d reduce it from 40,000 net to under 15,000. Phil Twyford went further and said it would be 5,000. Then Cunliffe claimed he’d never said what he said and said Twyford had it wrong.

Immigration flows cannot be turned off and on like a tap. The present trans-Tasman inflow could quite quickly reverse as the rebuilding of Christchurch reduces, our growth rate falls, and Australia’s economy rebounds. Big cuts in immigrant numbers would then exacerbate the renewed outward flow.

The country is entitled to control immigration and there might be room for some temporary reduction in immigrants. 

Maybe Labour will campaign on reducing the quota numbers for the Pacific Islands, around South Auckland.

Winston Peters’ anti-Asian campaigns in the 1996 and 2002 elections also caused unnecessary alarm. There is always a receptive audience for this kind of trouble-making, especially among the older, the frightened, and the bewildered.

All the loose talk about the “Asian invasion” and the predictions of racial trouble turned out to be hollow. Auckland now has a large Asian population, but there has been no bloodshed, no ethnic violence, no outbreaks of hatred. New Zealand has shown that it is on the whole a tolerant and welcoming society which copes well with change.

One can debate the size and pace of immigration. These are legitimate topics. But as I pointed out several days ago the number of residency visas is actually lower today than in 2008. The big change is fewer Kiwis are leaving NZ, and more Kiwis and Aussies are deciding to live here rather than in Australia.

The Herald editorial:

In theory, Labour’s policy of managing immigration seems eminently sensible. The party would, said David Cunliffe, aim for “a steady, predictable, moderate flow that’s at a level that addresses skill shortages”. In reality, however, such an approach is impractical. New Zealand has had enough experience with stop-go immigration policies to know that while it might be easy to turn off the tap, it can be extremely difficult to return the flow to the desired level. …

Labour says that threat could be defused by restricting the annual migrant intake to between 5000 and 15,000. It did not dwell on how that would affect the external perception of a policy that could no longer be said to be stable, sage or welcoming.

To reduce net migration to that level, you would need to abolish all residential visas and almost all work visas. Christchurch construction would of course come to a halt.

Additionally, Labour’s policy is based on a false premise. The latest net migration statistics reflect not so much a flood of immigrants as far fewer people being lured across the Tasman, in particular, and an increasing number of New Zealanders returning from Australia. 

I’m glad the leader writes read my blog :-)

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Herald against tax cuts

May 22nd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial yesterday:

Six weeks ago, the Prime Minister was in no mood to offer encouragement to those who thought tax cuts might be in the offing. The Budget would have no plans for such a move, he told the North Harbour Club, while seeking also to dampen expectations of anything significant in the future. It was exactly the right thing to say. Now, however, John Key is singing a different tune. He is talking about tax cuts as a choice, and they are sufficiently in his mind to to have warranted a mention in last week’s Budget.

It stated: “Operating allowances from Budget 2015 will be $1.5 billion a year, growing at 2 per cent for budgets thereafter. This is a moderate increase that will provide the Government with options around investment in public services and modest tax reductions.” In effect, the growing economy is providing the Government with a bit more freedom. But this does not mean that, for the next term of government at least, they should be at the top of the priority list. Of far greater importance is the need to get debt back to under 20 per cent of gross domestic product.

The Government can do both, and it should do both.

As the editorial notes, any tax cuts would come out of the $1.5 billion operating allowance. So the surplus projections already take into account any tax cuts. It is basically a choice of whether the $1.5 billion goes just on extra spending, or a mixture of extra spending and tax cuts.

People say they want higher after tax incomes. The Government can not directly set incomes. That is between employers and employees. But they can set tax rates. The one sure way to boost after tax incomes for hard working New Zealanders is to give them a tax cut.

There is little to indicate that most people feel they are owed tax cuts. New Zealanders are aware that, while the country has emerged from the global recession in relatively good shape, there are more important priorities.

I disagree. Extra spending benefits the small group of NZers that it goes on. Tax cuts can benefit all working New Zealanders.

The surplus projections take into account the $1.5 billion operating allowances. Now a balanced Government might say let’s spent half on extra spending and half on tax cuts. That would not impact the projected surplus at all.

After three years, that would be $2.25 billion of annual tax cuts and $2.25 billion of annual extra spending. Here’s what you could do with $2.25 billion of tax cuts based on Treasury estimates.

  • Reduce the bottom tax rate (up to $14,000 income) from 10.5% to 4%
  • Reduce the 2nd bottom tax rate ($14k to $48k) from 17.5% to 13%
  • Reduce the third rate ($48k to $70k) from 30% to 26% and the second rates from 17.5% to 14%
  • Increase the upper threshold for the bottom rate of 10.5% from $14,000 to $29,000
  • Increase the upper threshold for the second rate of 17.5% from $48,000 to 67,000
  • Have the bottom 10.5% rate apply to $22,000 (from $14,000), the second rate of 17.5% apply to $56,000 (from $48,000) and the third rate of $30% apply to $78,000 (from $70,000)

The Herald is effectively saying that 100% of the operating allowance should go on extra spending. That should be just as unacceptable as having 100% of the operating allowance going on tax cuts.  What I want is political parties to deliver both extra spending and tax cuts.

The debate should be about what the mixture is, but not about whether there should be a mixture. ACT might say it should be 80% tax cuts and 20% spending. Labour might say 75% spending and 25% tax cuts. National might be 50/50. But I have no time for those who say there should be no tax cuts at all, once they are clearly affordable.

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Herald on journalists and politics

May 14th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

But if these misuses of company property had not occurred, Taurima’s position would still have been untenable. He not only joined the Labour Party while working in news and current affairs, he made an unsuccessful bid to be Labour’s candidate in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection last year. Strangely, after missing the selection, he was able to return to his position at TVNZ. There, his continuing Labour activities reached a level that, the report says, “would plainly be deeply embarrassing to TVNZ if it came to light”.

He must have known that would be so. It is elementary to journalists that joining a political party is not an option unless they plan to make their career in the party’s publications. Those who want to be credible reporters of news and politics for a mass audience cannot belong to a party. If they did, they would have to declare their affiliation, and their audience would rightly question the reliability of everything they reported.

The Public Service Association seems not to understand this. It thinks a recommendation to ban reporters, content producers and editors from political activity is a draconian and unnecessary breach of their rights as citizens. It believes the State Services Commission guidelines for public servants are sufficient for the state broadcaster and that TVNZ will set “a dangerous precedent for other public servants”.

Public servants serve the Government of the day. They can belong to a political party and take part in its activities after hours because the primary audience for their professional work is ministers and other politicians understand their code. State-owned media such as TVNZ and Maori Television are different. Their primary audience must know their reporters, producers and editors are not a member of any party in their spare time.

I thought the PSA position was appalling. They should be defending neutrality – but they were effectively arguing that political journalists for state television should be able to be party activists.

The Herald does not allow its editorial staff to participate in community or political activities that could compromise their work. This means not only membership of political parties but taking part in public campaigns that they could have to cover. Preserving this distance from politics is not an onerous restriction for those whose credibility is paramount. They have the privilege of observing, reporting and commenting on public affairs. Once they cross the line to partisan participation, there is no coming back.

Well stated.

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Sense from The Press

May 12th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

There was something both a little overwrought and naive about the attempt last week to drum up a fuss about the fact that some people had paid large sums to attend functions at which they would have the opportunity to meet and talk to politicians. All political parties put strenuous effort into raising money to keep themselves going and those efforts reach a peak in the period leading up to an election. To try to convert perfectly legitimate fundraising into something more sinister shows a view of the rough trade of politics that is touching but wildly unrealistic.

The ruckus was manufactured out of the publicising of the entirely unsurprising fact that the National Party has been running events which donors pay to attend and socialise with Government ministers. It became even sillier with the reporting of a perfectly ordinary Wellington event organised by a prominent National Party fundraiser that gathered (and properly reported) $45,000 for the party. It was suggested that the fact that Prime Minister John Key was there with his chief of staff somehow turned his presence into an official appearance and amounted to using his office to support the party.

That was probably the most farcical aspect of the Green inspired hysteria (which is designed to get compulsory taxpayer funding of political parties). The PM has two parliamentary offices – the Office of the PM and the Office of the National Party Parliamentary Leader. The chief of staff heads up both, and to say this his attendance at a fundraiser means it is an official appearance is farcical.

This is nonsense. Using high-ranking politicians and ministers as bait at fundraising events is practised by all political parties. As the Prime Minister and others have pointed out, the Labour Party at its last conference in Christchurch offered one-on-one meetings with its MPs for a hefty fee. It is perfectly legitimate and dubbing it “cash for access” and calling it a scam does not make it any less so.

Yet the Greens are silent on Labour selling one on one meetings with MPs. I don’t have a problem with them doing so, but the hypocrisy is massive – they decry MPs attending fundraising breakfasts and lunches – yet say it is fine for their own MPs to be pimped out for one on one meetings in return for a fee.

It is not as though there is anything exclusive in the practice. New Zealand members of Parliament, including ministers, are extraordinarily accessible and open to meeting anyone. Those who pay money to meet politicians are doing so not because the encounter bestows any particular benefit on them but because they are showing support for those of a like-minded political disposition.

Exactly. There isn’t a democracy in the world where politicians don’t attend fundraising functions.

There is, moreover, nothing wrong with ministers having general discussions about political issues at such gatherings. In fact, the more views politicians and ministers hear before they frame policy the better. Even if an individual is able to bend a minister’s ear about some policy or other, the policy must still make it through the meatgrinder of the political process where a thousand other voices are added to the outcome.

“Cash for access” is very far from “cash for favours”, of which New Zealand is blessedly free. New Zealand politicians are undeniably the least corrupt in the world and to suggest scams where none exist is mudslinging for no useful purpose.

The purpose is to get taxpayer funding of political parties, so parties no longer have to worry about relying on their own supporters.

To keep things above board, though, it is important that there is as much openness about what goes on as possible. Some donors to political parties, while willing to part with their cash to support their party of choice, come over all bashful about having their support publicly known. And both major parties unfortunately have been willing to indulge them in their shyness. Parties must declare the gifts they have received, but even after two rewrites of electoral finance law in the last decade it is still possible for an individual to gift up to $15,000 without revealing his or her identity.

I thought the previous limit of $10,000 was about right. Labour incidentally voted for the level to go up to $15,000. But still put that in perspective – $15,000 is less than 1% of the cost of a major party’s election campaign. It may be quite a lot of money to an individual, but it isn’t a lot of money to a major party.

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Herald on revealing CVs

March 11th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

The law is not always an ass but it can produce an absurdity. The decision of the Human Rights Review Tribunal to make a company disclose to a failed job applicant the CVs and reference checks of others going for a job is an example.

The aggrieved party complained to the tribunal that he was discriminated against on the basis of age. He wants to see the credentials of others who applied or succeeded in the process. Under the court system’s rules of “discovery”, which the tribunal adopts, all information pertinent to an action needs to be handed over from the defendant to the plaintiff. The tribunal has dismissed an application from the company involved, Alpine Energy, to block that discovery under a section of the Evidence Act which covers confidentiality.

So Alpine and its recruitment agency must give the man the information it has on the successful candidate and those who contested and lost. This would include not only names, applications and CVs (although the tribunal and the failed job-seeker have agreed it need not include addresses and contact details) but also reference and perhaps security checks.

A pretty appalling decision. You apply in confidence for a job. Revealing that you applied could endanger your current job. Also very unappealing forcing a company to justify why it didn’t employ someone. Employment decisions are often somewhat subjective – how well they interviewed, whether or not they would fit into the team culture, whether their CV had typos in it etc.

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The Press on Labour

March 4th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Labour leader David Cunliffe perhaps scored one or two electoral points last week when he visited – in her damaged home – an 85-year-old widow who told him she had been “pushed from pillar to post” in her dealings with EQC. …

Unfortunately, it was no substitute for a cohesive and well-articulated earthquake recovery policy from Labour, which continues to look lacklustre when it comes to explaining how it would handle the rebuild.

Cunliffe followed up his photo opportunity with a pledge to set up, if elected to Government, a $2 million fund to help individuals bring test cases against EQC and insurance companies, to “clarify the law, remove blockages and help get things moving”.

There is an immediate perception problem with the amount, which seems almost insignificant given the scale of the problem.

While Cunliffe talks of millions, the Government in election year is bound to keep repeating its mantra that it is funding $15 billion of a $40b rebuild.

Cunliffe’s rhetoric almost invites critique. If elected to Government, it would be better for Labour to clarify the law itself, even if that involves seeking its own declaratory judgments from the courts, rather than relying on citizens bringing test cases.

Paying people to take EQC and insurance companies to court might also create blockages, rather than remove them, at least in the cases of those who become involved in litigation.

It seems to be one of their more stupid policies. We’ll pay people to take our own insurance company to court.

And, given the length of time such cases take to be heard and adjudicated, then potentially appealed, it is hard to imagine how this scheme will help to get things moving to any significant degree.

A great way to delay things. Will they fund cases all the way to the Supreme Court?

It would be inviting them, in some cases, to sue EQC, a government department. What Cunliffe is saying, essentially, is that “if elected to govern, we will give you some money so that you can take our own officials to court, so that they can have a better idea of how they should be handling your case file”.

This is not what electors are looking for in a credible opposition party campaigning in election year.

It sounds like a policy a 22 year old staffer dreamt up the day before the visit. The key word in the editorial is credible. The policy is not credible, and neither is the party promoting it.

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Views on McCarten

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

Chris Trotter writes:

The New Zealand Left suddenly finds itself in the position of the dog who caught the car. For years, slagging off the Labour Party as a bunch of neoliberal sell-outs has been one of the Left’s favourite pub and parlour games. But now, with one of this country’s most effective left-wing campaigners just one door down from the Leader of the Labour Opposition, the Left, like the bewildered pooch for whom the fun was always in the chase, has finally got what it wanted and must decide what to do with it.

Yes, it is a huge victory for the far left.

If Cunliffe and McCarten are allowed to fail, the Right of the Labour Party and their fellow travellers in the broader labour movement (all the people who worked so hard to prevent Cunliffe rising to the leadership) will say:

 “Well, you got your wish. You elected a leader pledged to take Labour to the Left. And just look what happened. Middle New Zealand ran screaming into the arms of John Key and Labour ended up with a Party Vote even more pitiful than National’s in 2002! So don’t you dare try peddling that ‘If we build a left-wing Labour Party they will come’ line ever again! You did – and they didn’t.”
 
Be in no doubt that this will happen – just as it did in the years after the British Labour Party’s crushing defeat in the general election of 1983. The Labour Right called Labour’s socialist manifesto “the longest suicide note in history” and the long-march towards Blairism and the re-writing of Clause Four began.
Not sure comparison to Michael Foot are helpful to Labour.
The Dom Post:

So the dinosaurs are back. Richard Prebble returns to run ACT’s election campaign. Matt McCarten returns to become Labour leader David Cunliffe’s chief of staff. The ironies are multiple. These two were the chief brawlers in the brutal and byzantine ruckus within Labour over Auckland Central in the 1980s.

A generation later the two will once again be on opposite sides of the political war. 

Not opposite sides. Prebble is campaign manager for ACT, not National. McCarten is chief of staff for Labour.

Mr McCarten is a similarly divisive figure, and already his old comrade Mr Anderton has said he won’t work for Labour this year, apparently because of Mr McCarten. Labour is billing Mr McCarten’s return as a symbolic healing of the rifts in the Left-wing family, but clearly the rifts do not heal easily.

What was interesting is that Cunliffe said he was sure Jim would still be supporting Labour, and then Jim said he won’t be while McCarten is there. What is surprising isn’t Anderton’s views, but that no one spoke to him in advance and hence Cunliffe said something that was contradicted an hour later.

The Herald:

But that presumes Labour’s existing voter base also favours a move to policies aimed at attracting the lost tribes of the left. There is a risk surely that some working, non-unionised, moderate social democrats will see a Labour Party raising taxes, advancing union interests, expanding the state and redirecting wealth to support beneficiaries and the poor as altogether less appealing.

Most non voters are proportionally under 30. I’m not sure a return to 1970s policies will be appealing to them.

Labour’s result in 2011 was its worst for generations. Its poll rating now, under Mr Cunliffe, has not increased much at all from its early-30s standings under David Shearer, despite promising expanded paid parental leave and a baby bonus for all those earning up to $150,000 a year. 

In August 2013 when Shearer was Leader, Labour’s average poll rating was 32.4%. In February 2014 their average poll rating is 32.2%.

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A fail for the press editorial

February 27th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press says:

Cynics would say that the latest rise was an easy move for the Government to make. When the minimum wage rises by 50c, the Inland Revenue Department gets nearly 9c extra for every hour worked by a minimum- wage earner as the income tax liability increases. For workers with children, the Government’s Working for Families liability will decrease at the same time. All of this money will be funded by employers directly, and indirectly by the consumers who use the goods and services that those employers provide.

A number of people make this mistake. Putting up the minimum wage decreases the tax take for the Government. They have ignored the fact companies pay tax, and at a higher rate than individuals on the minimum wage.

A full time minimum wage of $13.75 an hour is $28,679 a year. Going to $14.25 an hour is $29,721. An increase of $1,042.

Tax on the former is $4,039 and the latter is $4,221. So an increase in tax of $189.

However the employer pays tax at 28%. Their profit will drop by $1,042 and hence the tax they pay drops by $292. That means a net reduction in tax to the Government of $103.

So a rather big fail for The Press editorial.

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Editorials on “gentlemen’s agreement”

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

The Press editorial:

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull is defending the agreement under which former Dunedin North MP Pete Hodgson was paid by Cull’s council to lobby the Government to retain the core functions of AgResearch at Invermay. Hodgson was paid $3400 for duties which included advocating on the council’s behalf, contributing to a letter to Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce and writing a 10-page report for the board of AgResearch.

The council says that Cull was its main point of contact with Hodgson, but it could not locate a single email, contract or any other document relating to the agreement. Cull said: “I could describe it as a gentleman’s way of doing business in the south.” …

In matters involving public money, it is absolutely essential that the principles of transparency and accountability are upheld. There are sometimes good commercial reasons for withholding some information, but they don’t apply here. Cull has done Dunedin ratepayers a disservice with this handshake deal and his cavalier attempt to explain it.

Also an editorial in the Southland Times:

Could you smell the port and stale cigar smoke on Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull’s breath as he defended the “gentleman’s agreement” under which his council paid former MP Pete Hodgson for lobbying?

Mr Hodgson was paid $3400 for his work helping the council advocate that Invermay retain its core Ag Research functions. He was plausibly the best person for the job. But it was done on a handshake with nary a contract – and all that tedious accountability that goes with it – in sight. …

Mr Hodgson says the fact that nothing was written up “would probably reflect their trust in me”.

As far as the public is concerned, what this should reflect is the untrustworthiness of all involved.

A council, a mayor and a former minister of the Crown should collectively and individually know full well that this was dodgy and then some.

The Taxpayers’ Union, while acknowledging that it isn’t an eye-watering amount, detects that the council isn’t applying the most basic internal controls.

It is the principle, not the amount. But when it involves public money with one politician awarding it to another politician, you need to be absolutely transparent.

The good news is that while there was no contract, there was at least an invoice. The Taxpayers Union is pleased with this, but asking the question who then authorised the payment. The Mayor keeps insisting it had nothing much to do with him, while the Council says he was the primary point of contact. So who signed it off?

The ODT reports:

Chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose said yesterday invoices should have been included in the OIA response, but the staff member writing the response ”was simply answering the question ‘was there a contract?’ and the answer seems to have been no”.

It was also a ”mistake” not to write a contract for Mr Hodgson’s services, she said.

”It appears that there have been more than one of these mistakes and it appears that there is a small number of managers who were not aware [of council policy].”

The council did not use ”gentlemen’s agreements” and had reiterated to staff all employment transactions, no matter how small, should be covered by contracts.

Good to see.

As readers will know, I helped found the Taxpayers’ Union. On a modest budget and limited resources we’ve already made a lot of impact with both local and central government in attacking wasteful or sloppy spending, including the $19 million spent by ACC which by their own accounting was at best returning 14 cents in the dollar.  You can join the union for just $5, subscribe to newsletters for free, and/or donate to help keep us going. The board members are all volunteers. As we head into election year expect more of a focus not just on wasteful spending, but making the case for taxes to be reduced as the crown accounts head back into surplus.

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Housing Warrant of Fitness

February 24th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial says:

At a first glance, Housing Minister Nick Smith’s announcement of a warrant-of-fitness scheme on state homes seemed like a step forward that was as significant as it was welcome.  …

On closer examination, however, there was much less reason for applause. The final words of Dr Smith’s announcement made it clear that the Government had not decided to apply the warrant of fitness to the private rental market or other social housing providers. Urgency on this issue is clearly not high on its agenda.

I think urgency and haste could backfire.

Dr Smith excused this inactivity on the basis that the Government should get its own housing stock in order first, and that the trial of 500 of its homes would show how a warrant of fitness could work. But there is little reason new rules for all rental housing could not be readily introduced.

I wonder if the writer of the editorial has ever been a landlord?

The trial includes a comprehensive 49-point checklist that means homes must be insulated and dry, safe and secure, and contain essential amenities such as bathroom and kitchen facilities. Each home will have to pass this checklist to get a warrant every three years. Any snags in this arrangement should quickly become apparent and be easily remedied. In only a matter of months, it should be possible to roll out the scheme to the private market. The Government, however, is unwilling to even signal that intention.

I think the person writing this has no idea about how demanding such a WOF would be. They think you can roll it out untested, and just makes any fixes as you go along. They think that one can suddenly have an army of house inspectors.

It could well be that there is merit in eventually rolling out the WOF scheme to private sector rental housing, but the history of Government is that of unforeseen consequences. If getting an WOF is too much of a hassle, or too costly to comply with, then it may lead to fewer houses being available to rent – which would push rental prices up for all tenants.

It is time to place some obligations on those offering homes for rent. Already, they benefit from tax breaks and untaxed capital gains. 

The Government has actually got rid of the tax breaks by eliminating the ability to claim depreciation on (most) investment properties. So I am unsure what this tax break is that the editorial refers to. And yes the capital gain is generally untaxed, but that is not derived from renting the property out.

I purchased a new apartment in 2011, and looked at keeping my old one and turning it into a rental investment property. I decided not to, as the potential return from renting it was so low after you account for rates, body corporate fees and maintenance, that it wouldn’t even cover the interest on the mortgage.

There are potentially benefits from a WOF scheme for rental housing, but the last thing you want is to have Government impose a mandatory new requirement on landlords without knowing how costly it would be, and how it might impact on supply and rental prices. Many things sound great on paper, but turn into disasters when they hit the real world.

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Dom Post on TVNZ

February 19th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

State broadcasters are like Caesar’s wife: they have to be above sin and seen to be so. That is why Shane Taurima had no choice but to resign as head of TVNZ’s Maori and Pacific Unit. He had used the broadcaster’s buildings for a Labour Party meeting, and its email to organise a Labour meeting held elsewhere.

He broke the rules that require taxpayer-funded broadcasters to be politically neutral. State broadcasters must not use their position to promote the interests of any political party of whatever kind. Mr Taurima sought the Labour candidacy at the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election last year, but the actual party brand is irrelevant. He would also have had to resign if he had held an ACT party meeting at his workplace.

It is not clear which other TVNZ staff members were involved in the meeting or in other party activities. The company’s internal inquiry will find out and then TVNZ managers will have to decide what to do. Mr Taurima knew he could not defend himself and did the honourable thing. 

The honourable thing would be to not have done it in the first place. According to TVNZ management Taurima told them when he was rehired that he would not stand again.

Mr Kenrick said TVNZ had sought commitments from Mr Taurima after his tilt for Labour at the Ikaroa-Rawhiti candidacy before restoring him to his role heading the department. “The key focus was to get him to make an explicit choice between journalism and politics, and to make commitments around that. We relied in good faith on those commitments.”

Did he lie, or just a few weeks later change his mind and not bother to tell them?

Whether other sackings are called for is a matter of judgment.

The staff in that unit are all basically taxpayer funded, as it is not a commercial unit.

State broadcasters have a special duty to be politically even-handed. This does not mean, as some believe, that the journalists should have no views of their own. Every sentient human being has certain political beliefs or attitudes, and journalists are no different. But state journalists must be professional and not push any party’s barrow.

Mr Taurima insists that he has never allowed his personal politics to influence his work as a journalist, and it is interesting that the prime minister has not claimed any political bias at TVNZ. In fact he thinks they are fair.

The PM has been very nice, when he could put the boot in. For my 2c I don’t think Taurima’s interviews showed political bias. He pushed David Shearer hard when he interviewed him. The issue is his breach of ethical standards, not his previous interviewing.

Mr Taurima was allowed to return to the company after he failed to win candidacy, and this is a defensible decision. Again, the expectation was that Mr Taurima, once he had taken off his Labour Party hat and put on his broadcaster’s one, would act in a professional and politically neutral way.

However, it is now reported that in January he facilitated a Labour meeting – held on a marae and not on TVNZ property – on how to win the Maori vote. This meeting was also attended by Labour leader David Cunliffe. Mr Cunliffe says he strongly supports a politically neutral state broadcaster. Did he ask himself, then, why Mr Taurima was running this highly political meeting?

I’m amazed warning bells did not go off.

Will Taurima still seek the Labour nomination for Tamaki Makaurau? Will they select him?

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