Brash responds to George

December 7th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Garth George’s column in the NZ Herald last Thursday was critical of the 2025 taskforce chaired by Don Brash.

The Herald (as is their right) declined [UPDATE: they now have published] to publish a response from Don, so he has offered it to various bloggers. His response is below and it is a first class fisking:


Garth George was way off beam in his attack on the first report of the 2025 Taskforce.

Leaving aside the personal invective, he claims that the “biggest absurdity” in the report is the proposition that New Zealand can and should catch up with Australia. He says that “there is just no comparison between the two countries”, with Australia having five times our population, 32 times our land area, and huge resources of minerals. Well, those are factual statements about Australia, but they ignore some important facts which he would be aware of had he read the report.

First, there is no correlation between living standards and population – if there were, India would be super-rich and Singapore would be poor.

Second, there is no correlation between living standards and land area – if there were, Russia would be super-rich and Finland would be poor.

Third, there is no correlation between living standards and mineral wealth – if there were, the Congo would be super-rich and Japan would be poor.

In any event, a recent World Bank study showed that, in per capita terms, New Zealand has more natural resources than almost any other country in the world.

For most of New Zealand’s history, our standard of living has been very similar to that in Australia – sometimes a bit ahead, sometimes a bit behind. And the Taskforce didn’t off its own bat decide that catching Australia again by 2025 would be some good idea: the goal was set by the Government itself, and the Taskforce was set up both to advise on how best to achieve the (very challenging) goal and to monitor annually progress towards achieving it.

Too often in the past, governments have announced grandiose commitments to lift living standards – such as the last Government’s commitment to lift us into the top half of developed countries within 10 years – but then totally ignored those commitments, hoping that nobody would notice it. It is to the Government’s credit that they made a commitment and then established a mechanism to hold them to account.

Garth George accuses the Taskforce of recommending a whole range of things which we do not recommend. For example, he accuses us of recommending a flat personal income tax, and notes that if such a tax were established a whole range of low income people would have to pay more tax. But whatever the merits of a flat tax, the Taskforce did not recommend such a tax. What we did say was that, if core government spending were cut to the same fraction of GDP that it was in both 2004 and 2005 (29%), the top personal rate, the company tax rate, and the trust tax rate could comfortably be aligned at 20%. Under such a tax structure, all those earning above $14,000 a year would pay less income tax, while nobody would pay more income tax.

Nobody seriously argues that government was vastly too small in New Zealand in 2004 and 2005 (the end of the Labour Government’s second term in office), so why the ridiculous reaction when the Taskforce suggests reducing government spending to that level?

Mr George also suggests that we recommended abolishing subsidised doctor visits, and implies that we are advocating an American approach to healthcare. This is again utter nonsense. We suggested targeting subsidies for doctor’s visits at those who need them, either because they have low incomes or have chronic health problems.

He suggests that we favoured removing subsidies for early childhood education. Again, not true. What we said was that those subsidies – which have trebled in cost from $400 million a year to $1.2 billion a year over the last five years – should be focused on those who need them.

The recommendations of the 2025 Taskforce are actually totally in line with orthodox thinking in most developed countries, and are almost entirely consistent with the recommendations of the recent OECD report on New Zealand.

Don Brash
Chairman of the 2025 Taskforce

UPDATE: The Herald has also now run the response.

Garth George proposes gay marriage to John Key

November 5th, 2009 at 8:33 am by David Farrar

Garth George writes in the Herald:

It comes as no surprise that John Key and National remain top of the political pops a year into their reign. That’s pretty much all down to Mr Key, a Prime Minister the like of whom we have never seen.

I have met almost every prime minister since Sid Holland led the first National Government elected in 1949, and none of them resembles today’s incumbent.

Now I quite like John Key myself, but this sounds like a serious boy crush. Garth should just ask Bronagh directly if she is okay with him dating John also.

But that really sums up Mr Key. He is a man of the people, as yet unspoiled by the poisonous atmosphere of power politics, and in spite of his position and spectacular wealth remains one of us.

He is every bit at home in the company of a class of primary schoolkids as he is with the man and woman in the street, or in the company of the world’s high and mighty. He is amiable, engaging, good-natured, highly intelligent, humorous and, most of all, unaffected.

You feel comfortable in his presence; there is no “side” to him, no insistence on protocol, no efforts to protect him from the hoi polloi. And one of his most attractive traits, which he makes no effort to hide, is his unbridled enthusiasm for, and utter delight in, being Prime Minister.

Garth is right that Key has not changed greatly since becoming PM. Many media have remarked on this.

The enthusiasm for the job may well be part of his popularity, as it does not come across as enthusiasm for power in its own right. Helen Clark often said she enjoyed the job massively, but her public persona was almost that it was an obligation she had to endure to make life better for us all.

Unlike so many of our leading politicians in recent times, he has not graduated from the schoolroom or the lecture hall or the law office into politics, but has achieved significant personal success in the real world.

Thus he is short on theory and long on practice, and his readiness to admit to making a mistake or an error of judgment, so rare in politics, is just another quality appreciated by us Kiwis. He doesn’t U-turn; he simply closes one door and opens another.

Umm, I’m not sure calling a u-turn a nicer name, means it is not a u-turn!

Where I do agree, is that Key does not see a compromise as a sign of weakness. His commercial background has him seeing it as how you make progress.

Nor is he – as so many wealthy people are – miserly. He is reported to give freely to charitable causes, and insists on paying for his wife to accompany him when he has to travel overseas.

As a proud New Zealander, this makes me cringe. He is our Prime Minister, the chief executive of our nation’s business amounting to much more than $100 billion. He is, by private business standards, paid a pittance in salary and expenses.

As our principal face to the world, he should always travel in style, first class all the way, and should be able to take his wife, and even family, with him if he chooses – all at the Government’s expense.

And he should also be able to have an annual triumph, with the government paying for four sacrificial white bulls,  and giving him the right to execute his chief opponent he has vanquished. Also one slave to be supplied to whisper “Respica te, hominem te memento” in his ear.

Mr Key is an avid fan of the All Blacks, a frequent attendee at their games and a regular, potently encouraging presence in their dressing room.

He just sneaks in to gaze at Dan Carter in his jockeys.

This is a political stratagem of astounding brilliance. For if the All Blacks win the World Cup on October 20, 2011, New Zealanders will be in such a state of euphoria that National will stroll over the line in early in November.

If John is betting the entire election on the All Blacks winning the Rugby World Cup, that must be why he has promised Richie McCaw a Knighthood, if the All Blacks win 🙂

The cult of Destiny

October 29th, 2009 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Garth George writes:

In requiring its men to swear an oath of loyalty and obedience to Brian Tamaki, the Destiny Church – having glorified the messenger above the message – has begun to transform itself into a cult.

I’ve been of the view that it has had cult like features for some time.

In a seperate article, Mr George reports:

The leader of Destiny Church, Brian Tamaki, who not long ago anointed himself bishop of the church he founded, has now proclaimed himself the church’s “spiritual father” and designated the male members of the church as “spiritual sons”.

At a special service during the church’s annual conference in Auckland at the weekend, about 700 male members of the church swore a “covenant oath” of loyalty and obedience to Mr Tamaki and were given a “covenant ring” to wear on their right hands.

A church document describes the covenant as “a solemn oath of commitment that is binding, enduring and unbreakable. You are bound to covenant … Covenant is an irrevocable, undissolvable oath of commitment”.

Just hope they don’t put him in charge of the cool-aid.

Then comes the section entitled “Protocols towards our spiritual father”, which takes 1300 words to describe in jaw-dropping detail how the “spiritual sons” shall behave towards their “spiritual father”.

Under “Public Conduct”, the sons will in all conversation always speak of Mr Tamaki in a favourable and positive light; and in formal and/or public occasions, they will always address him and his wife, Hannah, first in acknowledgments and addresses at meetings “as a sign of respect to the father of the movement”.

If any “son” is honoured either by the church or secularly, he is to mention his “mentors and role models” – Mr and Mrs Tamaki – “because Bishop is one of God’s best-known representatives in our country”.

This may give Winston ideas for some new sections in the NZ First constitution. I suspect Anderton already has such clauses in the Progressive constitution 🙂

They must endorse what Mr Tamaki endorses, fully support what he promotes and ensure that what he is involved in is supported and successful.

“Whenever Bishop speaks all other talking stops: give him your full attention. Be careful not to cut in on him when he is speaking and ensure others don’t either.

“Don’t start talking or gesturing to somebody else while Bishop is speaking.”

The “sons” must never openly disagree with Mr Tamaki in front of others and must “be careful not to become familiar (which can lead to contempt)” with him “due to his friendliness and openness”.

I’m not sure what is sadder. That Tamaki himself is so lacking in self-esteem he needs a guide like this to make him feel important, or that any of his followers read this crap without bursting out laughing.

They should come to church anticipating that God will speak through Mr Tamaki and should always be dressed well at all meetings with him. “His dress code is your dress code.”

That will get interesting if Tamaki starts cross-dressing!

They must never tolerate anyone (regardless of who they are) speaking or talking critically of Mr Tamaki and his wife/family or the church. “You are not only to stop them in their tracks but warn them that they criticise you when they criticise Bishop.”

Oh yes how dare anyone criticise the great Bishop. They must be stopped.

Garth George on Key

March 19th, 2009 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Garth George writes about John Key:

In several classrooms, Mr Key, with his easy, seemingly ingenuous, almost childlike affability, connects with the children in a way few adults can, say long-time teachers.

He is fascinated with the interactive whiteboards for which Owhata Primary is noted, uses one to draw a picture of the Beehive with an arrow pointing at his office, takes a genuine interest in the children’s work and answers innumerable questions.

And, on Tuesday, he sent a message to the kids at Owhata Primary during his weekly appearance on TV One’s Breakfast show, which he’d been asked, but hadn’t promised, to do.

John Key is a Prime Minister whose like we have not seen. I’ve met many of our PMs over 50 years as a newspaperman – among them Holland, Holyoake, Marshall, Muldoon, Rowling, Clark – and none has had the easy, almost ingenuous, even childlike informality he displays.

Perhaps it’s because he is not yet a seasoned politician.

Nearly all our Prime Ministers until now have served long apprenticeships as MPs and Cabinet ministers in the hothouse environment of power and have acquired that veneer of superiority, an aloofness, common to the political elite.

Why I find Garth’s observations very interesting, is that much the same point was made to me last week by a couple of gallery journalists. They said that what they liked was that Key had not changed since becoming Prime Minister.  He hadn’t become aloof.

John Key is an enigma, for behind that friendly and smiling exterior there must lurk a needle-sharp mind and a spine of steel. You don’t survive, let alone succeed hugely, in the vicious game of international finance without those attributes.

Indeed. And once he makes a decision, he doesn’t tend to doubt it.

I have, over my career, watched a number of decent, honest blokes be corrupted by the foetid atmosphere of parliamentary politics – some even flagged it away – and it will be interesting to see just how long Mr Key can maintain his unaffected, ebullient, man-of-the-people mien.

Let’s hope it’s for many years to come, for it is as refreshing as a cold drink on a hot day.

The system does grind down over time. I suspect the next election is when the pressure will really come down.

The Gilchrist case gets murkier

December 18th, 2008 at 11:19 am by David Farrar

The Greens are understandably upset that Rob Gilchrist also spied on them for the Police. Not to be fair to the Police, I very much doubt they asked him to do so. He probably just sends them any stuff he thinks is useful. But there are real issues of judgement for the Police involved. They should have made very clear that he should only report on activities where people planned to break the law, not all sorts of protest action. If they are paying him $600 a week, they do have some responsibility for his actions.

If a group of protesters are planning to break the law by breaking into private property, and digging up GE potatoes (something that elements of the Greens have done in the past), then the Police are acting properly in monitoring this and trying to prevent this.

But if a group are just planning to hold a public protest against say the Police having tazers, then the Police have no legitimate role in collecting information about that protest.

This issue is posing some dilemmas for the Government, even though it all actually happened under the previous Government.

On the one hand the new Minister of Police doesn’t want to start the job, by undermining the Commissioner. They need to have a healthy working relationship. And also generally Police Ministers should stay as far away as possible from operational issues. Of course this rule is not absolute as we saw with the Commission of Inquiry into police conduct in the 80s.

But the element of possibly spying on a political party makes it a problem for the Government, especially as Rochelles Rees has scores of e-mails, documents and phone calls between Gilchrist and the Police. I imagine these documents will be revealed to the public a bit at a time over the next few months. And that means every few days the Government will be asked what is it doing about the issue. And the Greens will try and portray National as endorsing or being unconcerned about Police spying on protesters and even other political parties. The irony is of course it happened under Labour, and National has been victim of spying, leaked e-mails and secret taping more than any other political party. But perception is more important than reality, sometimes.

So is there a solution for the Government? Well, yes, a simple one occurs to me. Why not refer the issue to the Police Complaints Authority. This wipes the issue off the front page, and will ensure that some independent scrutiny is given to the issue. This is ideal for the PCA and is much better than having a formal external inquiry by a QC.

And here’s the clincher for me. I am 99% sure that after two months of released emails, documents and phone calls, Mr Hager or Ms Rees (or someone from the activist community) will themselves complain to the PCA. So why let it drag out in the media for weeks, and months. Just refer it to the PCA now.

Interestingly Garth George is also supportive of the Greens criticism.

Abusing Garth

December 11th, 2008 at 6:29 am by David Farrar

Garth George publishes some of the e-mails he received after a recent column. Now I disagreed with that column also, but no excuse for some of the following e-mails:

Laura: “I find it disgusting you call yourself a journalist. Go find a big tall mountain in your beautiful country and jump off of it.”

Alatea: “You are an idiot. If I was within 20 miles of you I’d make a point of seriously threatening your maleness by performing minor surgery, preferably with a dull knife.”

Alison: You are an unfortunate piece of s**t, and if anyone ever should have been aborted, it’s you.”

Almost makes Kiwiblog comments look civilised!

Disagreeing with Garth George

November 27th, 2008 at 8:19 am by David Farrar

Garth George says:

I have said it before and I say it again: The number one cause of abuse against women and children is abortion.

I disagree.

I think there would be less child abuse if there were more abortions.  The would would be a better place if those who are not suited to be parents did not become parents.

Garth George on freedom

October 23rd, 2008 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

An extraordinarily good column by Garth George about the election and freedom:

This election is all about freedom – the freedom of the individual to live his or her life with as little interference as possible from the state, its politicians and minions.

It’s all about being loosed from the tyranny of dogmatic “do-it-my-way-or-else” socialism, which contends that the state knows best how to spend our money, how we use our property and how we run our families.

It’s all about freedom from fear – from the anxiety generated by the doom and gloom merchants, the Greens in particular, who demand that we circumscribe our lives in certain ways because if we don’t the world will melt and come to an end.

It’s all about freedom from guilt. We want to be able to fill up our cars, turn on our heaters, light our homes, run our taps (and showers), eat our food, smoke a cigarette, have a few drinks, sell land or buy or develop property without being made to feel guilty.

The freedom from guilt and fear – so true.

There are times I want to strangle Mr George for what he writes, and times I want to buy him a beer 🙂

Garth George on deeds not trust

October 2nd, 2008 at 9:18 am by David Farrar

Garth George writes in the Herald:

Said Helen Clark when she announced the election date: “I think it does come down to who you trust on the basics.” Well, if that is so, Labour is out on its ear.

In spite of vast extra spending, the health service is less effective than it was when Labour came to power in 1999; same goes for the education system, law and order and justice. As for defence, the most sacred of any government’s responsibilities, the less said the better.

And what about fiscal stewardship? Who trusts a Finance Minister who robs the taxpayers blind of untold billions of dollars over eight years then, with an election looming, reluctantly offers insignificant tax cuts. According to figures published in this newspaper this week, even those who get the most from the cuts will receive barely enough to cover the increased cost of filling the tank of the family car.

Sure, I’m grateful for any increase in my pension, but that’s more down to Mr Peters than it is to Michael Cullen.

Nevertheless, according to figures published lately, New Zealanders’ living standards have dropped 24 per cent against Australians’ in the term of this Labour-led Government. …

A matter of trust? I think not. Rather it is, as the Bible puts it, a matter of “By their deeds you shall know them”.

Garth’s 8 reasons to dump Clark

September 11th, 2008 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Garth George gives his eight recent reasons to dump Helen Clark:

  1. Ramming through the Emissions Trading Bill in the dying days of this Administration.
  2. The allocation of stalls at the public trough to a whole bunch of Labour lackeys, contrary to the long-standing convention that such appointments should not be made within three months of an election.
  3. News that at least 400 New Zealanders die every year because of a shortage of hospital beds; that heart operation numbers in Auckland have taken a tumble, that cancer sufferers cannot get radiation treatment
  4. Figures showing that parents last year had to cough up well over half a billion dollars in fees and donations to keep our schools running, a whopping $56 million more than the previous year
  5. A Defence Ministry report revealing that our armed services can’t fly, can’t sail and can’t fight.
  6. The incomprehensible decision to deprive policemen of the right to stand for local authorities; and the gutless decision of the Commissioner of Police to refer to politicians the decision to arm some officers with Tasers.
  7. Labour’s moves to acquire state funding for political parties
  8. The Government’s continued insistence that it, and its Green component in particular, knows best what is good for us and how we should live our lives – everything from the food we eat to the cars we drive to the light bulbs we can use, to how we discipline our children, to whether we can sell privately-owned land for housing.

I don’t think one can describe Garth as a swinging voter!

Who dun it?

August 7th, 2008 at 9:22 am by David Farrar

There is a great deal of interest in the person who made the secret tape recordings. They claim to be not a member of a political party, but they are obviously an extremely dedicated anti-National activist to have done the following:

  1. Trespassed at a private function
  2. Lied about being a party member to MPs (he claimed he had joined Young Nationals)
  3. Lied about his beliefs (claimed to support nuclear ships etc)
  4. Asked leading questions to MPs with the deliberate intention of getting them to say something he could use against them
  5. Used the fact he was pretending to be a party member to try and entrap MPs, knowing they will give more sympathetic responses to a viewpoint from someone who is a volunteer for a party, than if they were a random member of the public
  6. Had wired himself up with a hidden tape recorder
  7. Knew enough about the media to then know who best to give them to

They incidentially am almost certainly a reader of this blog, because in the transcript with Bill talking about WFF, he refers to Lockwood’s spreadsheets. Now I recently blogged about how five years ago or so I worked with Lockwood on some tax and benefit modelling, and that is the only mention in recent times of those – so they are obviously an avid reader who remembers such minor details.

As I said, I am not entirely surprised that someone would do this one day – in fact had been predicting this. Somewhat sad though. I have had many candid conversations with Labour MPs, Greens MP, other activists over the years and could cause all sorts of nastiness if I was the sort to tape them. I do hope this does not start a trend.

Garth George pulls no punches:

Politics in New Zealand, despicable as it has been for decades, has reached a new low with the secret taping of private conversations at last weekend’s National Party conference.

And what I want to know is what sort of scumbag would do such a thing, then spill his or her guts to the media.

The Herald editorial also weighs in:

Whoever has released recorded conversations with unwitting National MPs at the cocktail function at their party’s annual conference last weekend probably believes the ruse serves a public interest. The country now knows, if it did not before, that National has compromised some of its policy desires for the sake of its electoral prospects.

Oh yes this is a well kept secret – known only to three million people. Never before has a political party compromised on policy desires. I mean we didn’t see a Labour Cabinet pass a resolution to steal over a million dollars a year from the taxpayer in state funding of their party operations, and then weeks later rescind it as it looked to damage their electoral prospects.

As revelations go, these are rather less remarkable than the method by which they were obtained. Discreet recording is done but not commonly published by ethical news organisations for two reasons.

First, it is not fair to release a reporter’s tape or transcript unless the subject denies something plainly said or the recording could serve a public interest somewhat more compelling than partisan politics. Second, the publication would damage the gathering of further information. Once bitten, a public figure is twice shy.

Nothing revealed from National’s conference sneak so far offers insights to its intentions that could not have been obtained by a journalist trusted to use a private conversation responsibly.

When you consider the nature of the setup – an imposter pretending to be a right wing party member trying to get National MPs to agree with him, it is remarkable nothing more damaging was said. MPs get bombarded at conferences with policy ideas from members, and often say stuff like “Yeah that is not a bad idea, and we can look at that one day, but not immediately”. You don’t tend to tell someone you think is a hard working volunteer for your party that their ideas are whacko and they should eff off.

If National’s conference mole was working for the Labour Party, as National supposes, it is a new dimension to desperate politics in this country, and readily copied. All parties will know how easily opponents could plant an observer in their conferences capable of circulating at the tea break and engaging leading figures in candid discussion of sensitive issues.

I am sure Helen Clark did not tell anyone to go out and do this. That is ludicrous of course. But whoever did it, was motivated by a desire to help Labour retain power, and it will be very interestign if the identity emerges to see what links are there.

The Labour Party appears convinced Mr Key has more drastic economic policies in mind than he will admit before the election. Would that it were so. The more safely Mr Key is playing the game at present, the more genuine his caution seems. And Mr English is even less daring. He led National back to centrist conservatism after the defeat of the Shipley Government and he would keep it there for the time being.

Anyone who thinks a Key/English leadership is going to suddenly in office sell everything in sight, is basically barking. As the Herald notes, some of us do wish they would be a bit bolder in some areas!