Much ado about nothing

February 12th, 2013 at 1:14 pm by David Farrar

Hamish Rutherford reports at Stuff:

Maurice Williamson is under pressure to stand down as Building and Construction Minister, because of his role as a director of a company associated with collapsed construction group Mainzeal.

Associated with! Sounds bad. Did Maurice make Mainzeal collapse? No the company is what is known as a supplier!

The National MP for Pakuranga is a director on Holyoake Industries, an air conditioning specialist which had worked on a number of projects with Mainzeal, which collapsed into receivership last week.

Yes. Companies work together on building sites. Plumbers and electricians work together. Architects and builders. Still yet to see what the issue is.

Labour Party deputy leader Grant Robertson said it was inappropriate for Williamson to hold the building portfolio while he was potentially making decisions concerning Mainzeal.

”He [Williamson] is the director of a company which has had a long and deep relationship with Mainzeal,” with projects the two companies had worked together on including the Supreme Court,” Robertson said.

”Our concern is that if he is making decisions about the future of Mainzeal, that may well have an effect on Holyoake industries.”

This is really desperate stuff. The Minister is not making decisions on the future of Mainzeal. The receivership is a matter for directors, shareholders and staff.

Labour and Green MPs have generally never worked in business. This allows them to claim any MP with any business interest is somehow conflicted. In their ideal world I guess no MP would have any business background.

Let us look at this issue. Grant Robertson is saying that it is possible that Maurice Williamson may make a decision on Mainzeal and that this theoretical decision could possibly have an effect on Holyoake and hence the Minister must resign his portfolio.

Are you serious?

In a statement Williamson said he had instructed officials that he would ”not receive papers on and would withdraw from discussions about heating and ventilation” because of his association with Holyoake Industries.

”I will continue to deal with issues related to Mainzeal, where that does not conflict with my declared personal interest.”

As is appropriate. But to claim that he can’t deal with any issue re Mainzeal because he is involved with a company that has done some work with Mainzeal is just ridiculous. It’s like saying if you are involved in a trucking business you can’t deal with any issues around supermarkets because they get their food delivered by truck.

A spokesman for prime minister John Key declined to comment other than to say it was ”not a story”.

Or shouldn’t be.

I would make the general point that I do think it is best for Ministers not to have outside directorships – for a number of reasons. But if you have them, you declare them and recuse yourself on issues affecting them – as Maurice has done. Calling for his resignation on the basis of he may make a decision on Mainzeal that may affect Holyoake is just silly politics.

UPDATE: This has just fizzled even more. PM has confirmed in the House that Holyoake is not a contractor or sub-contractor to Mainzeal. Basically they once worked on a couple of building sites together!

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Labour’s Political Management

November 22nd, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Jane Clifton writes in the Listener:

Like a dozen plotters before him, David Cunliffe has today paid the price for believing, against all historical precedent, that he could mime his disloyalty, and not get into trouble because he didn’t actually utter the naughty words out loud.

For all that his supporters, inside and outside the caucus, are insisting that he did nothing wrong, he really and truly did the coupster’s equivalent of waving his knickers at disembarking sailors. He followed several of the bog-standard, by-the-numbers steps taught in Coups 101, to the point that he might have studied at the knee of Maurice Williamson, Brian Connell or Richard Prebble.

1. You make speeches with tacit but heavily coded inferences that if they made you the leader, you would introduce kick-butt policies that the incumbent is too gutless/politically unsound/incompetent to contemplate – carefully omitting specifics.

2. You tickle up edginess among the many anxious party supporters who are panicking at what they perceive is a lack of progress in the party’s profile and poll fortunes.

3. You agree to a live TV interview on the morning of the party’s annual conference debate about the rules for electing the leader at which you conspicuously avoid expressing support for the leader.

Jane is right that DC did play a bit too cute at times with his speeches and his failure to appear more supportive of Shearer. However as Jane notes, this demotion is different to other ones:

It was easy enough for past perpetrators of disloyalty like Chris Carter, Brian Connell and Maurice Williamson to be dogboxed. At the time of their treacherous outings, they weren’t particularly valuable contributors to the big picture – or even useful low-profile Cinderellas. But the backbenching of Cunliffe is a massive loss for Labour. …

Of course, the uncomfortable corollary to Shearer’s no-brainer decision to dogbox Cunliffe is that the wider party is by no means of the same mind as the caucus. The flavour of decision-making at the weekend’s conference made this very clear. This remains both a risk for Shearer and an opportunity for Cunliffe. A lot of the party activists have bought the line that Cunliffe is the party’s criminally unrecognised saviour, and what they will doubtless see as his crucifixion today will intensify Cunliffe’s support base.

I’ve been thinking about how this all came to unfold. The catalyst was Cunliffe’s lines at the Labour Party conference, and this got me thinking.

Why in God’s name hadn’t all Labour Party MPs been given clear talking points about what to say regarding the leadership, for the conference?

I mean, the main focus of the conference was about the rules for electing the leader.  Did no one think that a journalist or two might ask some questions about where MPs stand on the leadership? Did the fact several bloggers and commentators on the left called for Shearer to go not ring a bell in the Labour Leader’s office that maybe some journalists will ask questions?

It is an absolute failure of political management that someone very senior didn’t make sure that all Labour MPs had very clear instructions on what to say if the media ask them how they will vote in February. And most of all, an absolute failure that someone had not sat down with David Cunliffe and negotiated acceptable wording for him. Cunliffe may have been ambitious, but if some lines had been negotiated in advance I believe he would have kept to them. MPs know a failure to stick to an agreed position is political death.

Some may say that is being wise with hindsight. That’s nonsense. I’ve been a parliamentary staffer through several coups. I’ve seen press secretaries spend hours negotiating exact wording of positions with MPs so they can keep their future options open (No aspiring leader ever wants to give a Shermanesque denial that they will never ever stand for the leadership) but minimise any speculation that they are seeking it now. I saw this negotiated with Bill English when Jenny Shipley was leader. I also saw (more from a distance) the negotiations when Don Brash resigned involving Key, English and Brownlee. By being pro-active on it, it meant that leadership changes were relatively orderly.

Even the stupidest political staffer should have worked out that it would be a good idea to negotiate exact talking points with David Cunliffe (in fact the entire Labour caucus) before the conference. And even if the Chief of Staff somehow overlooks this most basic step, then surely the Deputy Leader (who used to be H3) or the Chief Whip (also an experienced former staffer) should have thought of this.

All they had to do was give to caucus a set of acceptable lines to be used in case people asked about the February vote. If they had, then this sacking may not have happened.

So it begs the question. Was the failure to do so incompetence or deliberate?

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How many will be sacked?

November 20th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Vernon Small at Stuff reports:

David Cunliffe will be stripped of his portfolios and banished to the back benches for disloyalty today after a leadership vote in which Labour leader David Shearer is set to win unanimous backing.

As expected, yesterday Mr Shearer summoned his MPs to Wellington for an urgent vote today in an attempt to force Mr Cunliffe to “put up or shut up”. …

Party sources said once he received the expected unanimous backing from MPs he would dump Mr Cunliffe from the top 20 and send him to the “unranked” back benches.

Some in the caucus are calling for his close supporters to also be demoted, which could mean bad news for shadow attorney-general Charles Chauvel and energy spokeswoman Moana Mackey.

MP Sue Moroney, seen as in the Cunliffe camp, said she would back Mr Shearer.

But no-one would say what they would do in February’s vote.

“I don’t think there has been any challenge issued, actually.”

Before Mr Shearer had sought her backing, no-one had asked for her support for a leadership bid.

She had seen no evidence of disloyalty by Mr Cunliffe.

“I’m quite surprised at the level of the attack on David Cunliffe . . . in the last 24 hours,” she said.

There’s a fair few in Labour arguing that it is unreasonable to expect any MP to state how they will vote in a secret ballot in three month’s time. Having said that, I think Cunliffe could have chosen words that would not have been so destabilising, yet left him wriggle room.

Former Labour Party General Secretary Mike Smith says there was clearly a coup planned:

My first indication that something was up was the rising temperature of comments on the Standard, culminating with anonymous posts days before the conference calling for Shearer to stand down. I don’t know if the posters are Labour members or not, but it now looks like an attempt to destabilise Shearer days before his first conference speech. …

The next intimation I had that something more was afoot was when I turned up at the Conference on Friday night to be told that the affiliates meeting had ignored the Party Council’s recommendation for what may trigger a leadership vote across the Party, and supported a motion from Northland and Te Tai Tokerau to turn the long-standing majority confidence vote, held at the start of each year, to an endorsement vote with a 60% threshold. 

This was quite unexpected by the Party leadership but as became clear in the debate the following day, not unexpected by some in the unions, a few caucus members and some of the electorates. …

Cunliffe refused to rule out a February challenge. If it walks like a duck…

I was the first to say that the three posts (and one column) calling for Shearer to go were orchestrated. Quite a few doubted that. I’m pleased to see Mike Smith saying that he also saw it as part of a destabilization attempt.

A pro-Cunliffe view comes from “Blue” at The Standard:

The ABC club would have us believe that David Cunliffe has ‘openly undermined’ both David Shearer’s leadership and Phil Goff’s before him.

They appeal to the need for a ‘unified team’ and want David Cunliffe shot at dawn for supposedly threatening it.

These attempts to rewrite history are amusing but factually inaccurate. We all know who undermined Phil Goff’s leadership and it wasn’t David Cunliffe.

It was Grant Robertson and Trevor Mallard who made the decision to keep Phil Goff off the Labour billboards at the last election, openly admitting during an election campaign that they considered their leader a liability. Phil Goff’s stumble in the ‘show me the money’ debate was no one’s fault but his own – he got caught out not having done his homework on a flagship policy and only the most determined denier of reality could try to pin that one on anyone else.

We also know who has been undermining party unity during David Shearer’s leadership, and again, it isn’t David Cunliffe. It’s the ABC club who ring up Duncan Garner for a giggle about how much they hate their own colleague.

I think the great winner from all this has been Grant Robertson. He has kept entirely out of this, allowing the two Camp Davids to go to war against each other. If Shearer’s leadership becomes unviable at some stage then Robertson is poised to take over.

Grant has huge sway within the party. His supporters are in all the influential positions on the NZ Council and the like. If he had taken a call in the debate and argued against the 60% threshold for a vote in February, then I believe that would have made the difference in what was a very close vote. But he was smart and has kept his name away from all the infighting – making him the unifying choice in future.

UPDATE: NZ Herald editorial says:

A more experienced leader would have dismissed any suggestion he should try to “call out” a challenge with an early vote. When a leader wins – as usually happens the first time – the question does not go away. It merely leaves the party divided and ensures the discontented faction will choose its moment to make another bid.

The damage is long lasting. The Cunliffe faction will be seething at the fact that Chris Hipkins so publicly slammed David Cunliffe and accused him of undermining both Goff and Shearer. They understand that such a public denunciation means that Cunliffe can never have a meaningful role again under Shearer. You can’t say someone has been backstabbing leaders for the last four years and then rehabilitate them.

But if at some stage Cunliffe did become Leader, then MPs such as Hipkins would be unable to continue in a senior role also. Having called Cunliffe a backstabbing fink, he could never serve under him. This is why it is so very rare for MPs to openly denounce each other. They have to work together day in day out – sometimes for years to come.

What will be fascinating to watch next year is what new rules get agreed to for selections and list ranking.

UPDATE2: Zetetic at The Standard names names:

For the past four years, Labour has been controlled by a clique of 3 has-beens and 2 beltway hacks: Goff, King, Mallard, Robertson, and Hipkins.

This old guard clique led Labour to its worst defeat.

Trevor and Grant ran the campaign. Goff and King fronted. Not sure what Chippie did!

A year later, with their second choice frontman as leader after they ignored the members’ will, Labour’s still below its 2008 result and on track for another defeat. (Funny story, since the start of the year, Hipkins has been telling all and sundry in all seriousness that ‘if these trends continue’ Labour will win in a landslide in 2014 – I parodied him here – now, take a look at the real trend)

Oh Chippie is the polling guru!

The Douglas clique at least had an ideology they were working for. This clique what do they stand for? What are their values other than power for themselves? The failure of Labour to define a value set over the past four years is a reflection of this clique’s lack of values.

The membership voted no confidence in the old guard on Saturday. In retaliation, they’ve gone nuclear on the membership. The response of the old guard has been to unleash a nasty side that many who watch Labour politics have known about for some time, but never thought we’d see expressed quite this openly.

Next year’s conference could be fascinating.

The attacks on Cunliffe usually take the form of what we’re seeing right now, with unnamed ‘senior Labour MPs’ telling media Cunliffe is a ‘fink’ and an ‘egotist’ and calling for him to be ‘cut down’. This talking campaign has been going on since beore the last election and I know because I’ve heard it from the old guard’s proxies more times than I care to count. Mostly this doesn’t surface publicly, except for the odd stuff up like when Goff and King went to Garner to shop a story that Cunliffe was despised by the caucus in an effort to undermine his position. It’s been relentless.

Most people assume it was Trevor. Interesting speculation that it was Goff.

They’ll try to take him down today with an open ballot leadership vote – a Stalinist tactic that will hurt them next year and will be fruitless today because Cunliffe has launched no challenge and today’s vote will be unanimous. Their goal is to get Cunliffe and the membership out of the way so that when Shearer is replaced – it will be an open field for Robertson

While I doubt there is a lot I agree with Zetetic on, I agree with him that the real end goal is Robertson succeeding unopposed. Not so sure it will work.

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Garner on Shearer

November 2nd, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

3 News Political Editor Duncan Garner blogs:

Labour promised an exciting back story that would impress and a new front man to rival the Prime Minister.

Sadly for Labour – they’re still looking for that person. David Shearer has failed. Labour’s lucky it’s not getting done under the law for false advertising.

Let’s be honest, Labour leader David Shearer doesn’t have it. He’s a nice, mild mannered, likeable, warm but a stuttering, incoherent mess that is the opposite of what an alternative Prime Minister should look like.

And before you say ‘give him some time’, he’s had a year and I think he’s gone backwards – not forwards.

He has no presence and his television performances are a disaster. That’s where voters make up their minds.

However Labour is up in the polls from the election.

The reason Shearer remains safe is disingenuous and it’s time to call it.

Labour MPs believe Grant Robertson is perhaps the next leader, but they don’t believe he’s quite ready – nor do they want to install a gay leader just yet. It shouldn’t be an issue – but it always is.

That’s why he remains the deputy. He knows politics is all about timing. Shearer has become the fall guy. Like Phil Goff was. It’s dishonest.

I think that is basically correct in that Robertson will be the next Leader, beating out Cunliffe and possibly Little. It could be messy though as Auckland Labour people are not that keen on their local guy being passed over in favour.

Duncan then tells a story about how strong the paranoia is about Cunliffe in Labour:

I tried to get a Labour face on TV this week to talk about capital gains taxes. I approached Shearer who was in Hokitika and too far away, David Parker in Dunedin and Cunliffe in Auckland.

Cunliffe was the easiest to get hold of. But, without naming names, the hoopla I was put through before he was ‘allowed’ on TV was fascinating. Even Cunliffe was nervous – but keen.

It took six hours of negotiating to get him on. It was quite simply, outrageous. It took me one text to get Russel Norman on the telly. It took two phone calls to get the Prime Minister to agree to a one-on-one interview.

So just two phone calls to get the Prime Minister of the country on, and six hours of negotiations to get the Opposition Economic Development Spokesperson?

Shearer has been promoted above what he’s capable of in my view.

I’m sure he’s entirely capable behind the scenes – you don’t do what he’s done by being stupid – but I’m just saying he’s not cut out for the hurly-burly, think-on-your-feet world of opposition politics. Robertson and Cunliffe are.

Shearer was handed the benefit of the doubt as pointed out by Gordon Campbell in a column this week and he’s failed to deliver on any of it.

For my 2c I think Shearer’s problem is more than he hasn’t been able to stamp a policy direction on the party. Even his own spokespersons contradict him.

Put simply, Shearer does not look, act or sound like a man ready to take over the Treasury benches and drive New Zealand out of this recession. The voters see it.

They see a Labour Party unconvinced and confused by their own choice. Until that changes, Labour will stay in opposition.

Possibly, but the current Government only has a one seat majority, without the Maori Party. Labour could well end up in Government, even if they are unconvinced and confused.

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Transtasman on Robertson and Cosgrove

July 12th, 2012 at 1:35 pm by David Farrar

Transtasman reports:

Cosgrove’s party did not exactly leap to defend him either.

Deputy leader Grant Robertson said all Cosgrove did was help a constituent, and everyone immediately recalled the last Labour MP this defence was used for, Philip Field, went to prison.

What’s more, Robertson was in then-PM Helen Clark’s office when she used the defence. It is theoretically possible Robertson’s comments were made innocently, just as it is theoretically possible to build a perpetual motion machine.

Heh. I actually think the phrasing was incompetence, not malice, but I seem to be in a minority on this issue.

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Heh

April 28th, 2012 at 1:28 pm by David Farrar

From today’s Herald.

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Two more Shearer staffers leave

April 27th, 2012 at 11:22 am by David Farrar

I understand that David Shearer’s Chief Press Secretary, has resigned her job and will be leaving the Labour Leader’s office in the near future.

Also Senior Advisor John Pagani’s contract terminated this week, and he no longer works for David Shearer.

Grant Robertson is almost going to run out of friends to fill these new vacancies :-)

UPDATE: A reporter has tweeted A Labour media spokesperson says “as far as we’re aware Fran has not resigned”. She’s not answering phone calls.

My understanding is that Mold did resign by e-mail some time ago. This was before Nash left the office. However even after Nash’s departure was confirmed, she told other senior staff that she still intended to leave. Maybe she has been persuaded to change her mind. I have this from a very reliable source. I would suggest media ask specifically about any e-mails that include the word resignation or resign in them.

UPDATE2: A reporter has tweeted Mold denies she has resigned. Again I suggest people ask about whether or not she e-mailed her resignation or at least an offer of resignation in recent times. It is possible she has been persuaded to change her mind for now.

UPDATE3: A commenter has stated:

She resigned and announced it to colleagues some time ago. She has been talking about going off on an OE.

Maybe it has all changed now Nash is out of the way.

The commenter is someone with Labour Party connections, as is my original source. That is two independent people who have said Mold has or had resigned and more so announced it to some of her colleagues. Changing one’s mind (if it has changed) does not negate the fact it was announced originally.

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The unfortunate experiment

April 27th, 2012 at 8:58 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

CONFESSION, THEY SAY, is good for the soul, so I have a confession to make. I was wrong about David Shearer. I made the mistake of believing that a politician with a brilliant back-story couldn’t fail to give us an equally brilliant front-story. Well, as Sportin’ Life tells the true believers in Porgy & Bess:

 “It ain’t necessarily so.”
And, now I (and I suspect you) know it ain’t so. David Shearer is a thoroughly likeable, thoroughly decent bloke, and his record at the United Nations is truly inspirational, but, come on, let’s face it: he ain’t anybody’s kind of leader.
David Shearer, like David Lange, is a creature of the factional and personal animosities dividing the Labour caucus. Bluntly: he was put there by an unholy alliance of right- and left-wing MPs to prevent the Labour Party’s choice, David Cunliffe, from taking the top job.
Personally I think people are over-reacting. It has only been three months since Parliament resumed this year. But stories like this become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But those two speeches showed not the slightest trace of “big picture” thinking. On the contrary, they showed every sign of having been inspired by an Auckland-based focus-group, and composed by a Wellington-based committee. The only picture they painted was one that revealed Labour’s deficiencies. That not only did the party lack leadership, but it also lacked ideas. 
This is the problem you get when Labour doesn’t know what it stands for, apart from opposing National.

So, what have we learned from this debacle? What has Labour learned?

If by “Labour” you mean its caucus, I would say absolutely nothing. If you’re talking about the party itself, nothing it didn’t know already: that Caucus picked the wrong guy.
It’s time for the Labour Caucus to put an end to “the unfortunate experiment” and begin a new one. They could call it “democracy” – and stop taking their party for Grant-ed.
I read this as a pretty clear sign that if or when Shearer falls, Robertson will not become Leader unopposed. You can see this in the Waitakere News blog by Mickey Savage who says:

Nothing good will come of this activity.  It is damaging to the party.  Despite National being in disarray the polls are static.  Labour is not moving upward.  A hint of disarray is the worst thing that a party can show.

And interestingly Cunliffe may now be Shearer’s best chance of survival as Labour Head Office and the Beehive are filled with Robertson supporters. 
This continuous attack on Cunliffe and the current undermining of Shearer show the same techniques being used and suggest strongly that the same “mastermind” is behind this.  In the interests of the party and of the country they should stop. 
MS does not say who this mastermind is, but by process of elimination there can’t be many choices. The Shearer v Cunliffe leadership contest was a fairly friendly good natured affair. I’m not sure a Robertson v Cunliffe contest will be.
In related news, Tracy Watkins at the Dom Post reports:

The Labour leader’s office appears to be in turmoil after David Shearer’s chief of staff abruptly left Wellington.

Former Labour MP Stuart Nash, who has been in the job just a few months, was seen leaving Parliament yesterday after a meeting with Mr Shearer’s incoming chief of staff Alistair Cameron. He later confirmed that he would be working on projects from his home in Napier for the next couple of weeks. He is due to finish on May 31.

Mr Nash rejected suggestions he had been “frogmarched” out of the building or given orders to clear his desk but his abrupt departure coincides with rising conflict in the Labour Party over Mr Shearer’s continued poor polling and lack of a clear strategy.

It is highly unusual for there not to be a cross-over period, and for one COS to leave before the next one starts – especially if the outgoing one has no job to go to.

Some of that conflict has been laid bare in leaks to a Right-wing blog that could only have come from either senior MPs or highly placed members of the leadership team.

Or both :-)

UPDATE: And by coincidence David Cunliffe has a column in the Herald on how NZ needs better leadership.

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Pressure on Shearer

April 23rd, 2012 at 8:13 am by David Farrar

The two latest polls will increase the pressure on David Shearer. I actually think it would be silly for Labour to panic over polls just six months after an election. Rebuilding and changing a brand takes time. Their biggest challenge is not their leadership but defining what they stand for.

However it is clear there are rumblings in Labour. The Standard and Tumeke have both run posts openly disscussing whether there will be a leadership challenge. It is also clear from reading comments that many Auckland activists still think that the caucus erred in not choosing David Cunliffe, who arguably was the party’s preferred candidate.

Also Steve Gray has blogged (in less diplomatic terms than expressed here) that the Wellington gay community has been discussing that Grant Robertson will challenge Shearer in the near future.

I may be wrong, but I don’t think that anything will happen this year. But neither is Shearer guaranteed to the election, as Goff pretty much was. I think the danger zone would be early next year, if Labour stay flatlined all year.

The problem for Shearer is that he may now be in a vicious cycle. The more speculation over the leadership, the harder it is to get resonance with the public. However it is worth noting he is still being given a fair chance by the public. Only 26% say they think he is performing poorly, while Goff’s comparative figure peaked at 54% performing poorly.

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Edwards endorses Robertson

April 2nd, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Brian Edwards blogs:

Just four months after an election then, political commentators are suggesting replacements  for the current Labour Party leader.

My own view is that the strategy, devised by his Chief of Staff Stuart Nash, of having Shearer stump the country making speeches, rather than leading the charge against the Government in the House, has been misguided. The effect has been that Shearer is rarely seen on prime time television, while the Greens, Winston Peters and his own Deputy make the 6 o’clock  running. Out of sight really can mean out of mind.

So let’s just indulge in a little speculation. Between McCarten’s and Hartevelt’s front-runners – Little and Robertson – who might make it to the finishing line? I’m going to plump for Robertson. Yes, Little enjoys the support of the unions and is a forceful debater in the House. But it’s hard to see this rather dour, uncharismatic unionist as the face of a rejuvenated Labour Party. At 41, Robertson, on the other hand, who lists his interests as ‘watching too much sport, playing a bit of indoor netball and squash, cooking, movies, listening to New Zealand music and reading New Zealand literature’, projects a youthful, energetic, upbeat  and thoroughly modern image. And he’s fiercely ambitious.

In talking this issue through with a gallery journalist I suggest the danger time for Shearer was the beginning of 2013. The journo reckoned it will all be over well before then.

So are we ready for a gay Prime Minister? I can only speak for myself. I find the idea invigorating. Other than prejudice, I can’t really think of any objection to it. And we Kiwis are for the most part an open-minded lot. After all, we had no trouble electing the world’s first transsexual MP.  And we didn’t seem to mind a mincing John Key.

It’s true that gay Prime Ministers are thin on the ground. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, elected Prime Minister of Iceland in 2009, was not only the country’s first woman Prime Minister but also Europe’s first openly gay head of state. She was followed in 2011 by Belgium’s Elio Di Rupo. When asked whether he was gay, the new Prime Minister replied, ‘Yes. So What?’ That strikes me as the only sensible answer to the question.

I don’t think it is useful to conflate mincing with being gay, but for the wider point I agree that the sensible answer is “Yes, so what”.

However sexuality can have some bearing, if it impacts politics. There is a difference between a politician who happens to be gay, and a politician that campaigns on gay issues. Chris Finlayson is very much in the former category while Chris Carter and Tim Barnett were in the latter category. I’d place Grant Robertson somewhere in-between.

I agree that at this stage the next leader of the Labour Party is probably a contest between Grant Robertson and Andrew Litttle, and Robertson is heaving favoured to win. The bigger issue is when will the vacancy occur!

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Listener on Grant Robertson

March 8th, 2012 at 2:10 pm by David Farrar

An interesting profile of Labour Deputy Leader Grant Robertson in the Listener:

Look at Robertson and you see a big guy with glasses, a slightly sloppy student politician. Talk with him and you find a highly professional MP with a disciplined and meticulous mind. Call him cautious, though, and you make him angry. He doesn’t want to believe that the hesitation that allows him to avoid political pratfalls could also sap his courage to make change. At times his courage trumps his caution. To advance the equality agenda he believes gays should be able to marry and also to adopt children.

“I can’t see any reason why a gay couple who are good functioning human beings can’t provide that environment. It’s about the best interests of the children.” He also wants Labour to adopt a policy of allowing gay marriage. “I am really proud of what we did with civil unions, but I get that for people it is not absolute equality,” he says.

I agree with Grant on gay marriage. However I do think the cautious tag is an accurate one for him. Grant is very cautious in his press releases, in his statements etc. It’s the caution of someone who expects to be a party leader one day, and doesn’t want to have words from the past comeback to haunt him.

“There are gay bus drivers. There are people in all walks of life. It is important that people understand that. That’s one of the issues we have to get past: believing that there is a particular type of gay person.” He knows his sexuality would be more of an issue if he were Labour’s leader and considered that when deciding whether to challenge for the top job. “I thought about, is New Zealand ready for there to be a gay Prime Minister, or a gay leader, and I actually think we are.

I agree. If the good citizens of Wairarapa don’t blink at electing a transsexual as their MP, I can’t imagine the majority of New Zealanders will have a great issue over the sexuality of the Prime Minister. The challenge for Grant, once he ascends to the leadership, will be that his sexuality doesn’t define him (there is a difference between being an MP who is gay, and a gay MP), but I don’t think he is at any risk of that.

The next question was, am I ready? Is this where I should be?”

His answer was no. “I’m 40 and I think I’ve still got a bit more to learn.”

A bit more? As in a year or two?

Labour will also review its policy of extending Working for Families tax credits to beneficiaries. He says there may be other policies to ensure income is “redistributed” to help those children.

Or one could redistribute their parents from welfare to work?

Robertson has little experience in the private sector, but doesn’t see that limiting his understanding of businesses. “You can be the Minister of Health and not be a heart surgeon.”

True. But not have any practical knowledge of how the private sector works is not the same as not being a specialist in an area. Far too many MPs do not have any background at all in the private sector.

I once went from doing the finances for a charity to doing the finances for a small advertising agency. The difference was huge. In just a few weeks I discovered the huge difference between being profitable on paper, and  cashflow and the challenges of paying bills on time. No textbook really teaches that. My two years with that small business taught me a huge deal about the realities of business.

Key started the recent trend of “non-political” leaders and Shearer was chosen to match him. Clark was a politician, Robertson muses. Jim Bolger was, too. And they both led long-term governments. He knows that this is not yet his time, but he senses it may come. “I want to take it as far as I can take it and we’ll see how long that takes.”

Is Grant talking weeks, months or years?

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Better late than never

February 11th, 2012 at 2:05 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett reports at NZ Herald:

Labour’s deputy leader Grant Robertson said Parliament should consider changing the process of dealing with electoral law breaches to speed it up – including giving the Electoral Commission powers to fine or penalise for some breaches.

Mr Robertson said the Electoral Commission was the expert body on electoral law, yet it had to send any breaches to Police to decide whether to act on them.

I’ve been advocating this for years, including in submission to select committees. Sadly, Labour never voted in favour of changing the law.

While their sudden enthusiasm to do so, seems rather opportunistic, it is the right thing to do.

“The bigger issue is the number of complaints they’ve sent to the Police that nothing has happened with. So maybe there is another way. For instance, could you set a threshold under which the Electoral Commission was able to impose some sort of penalty rather than have to have Police prosecute it.”

Time and time again the Police have shown, with all due respect, a total disinterest in enforcing electoral law (the most notorious case being the non charging of Labour over their $400,000 deliberate over-spend in 2005). They would obviously rather be catching muggers  etc.

Even worse, the Police seem to have a deliberate policy to not decide on any complaints until after the election. They see this as not interfering with the election, but it is in fact a worse form of interference. It means parties and candidates and others can breach electoral laws, and not have to worry about the stigma of being charged prior to the election. This encourages rule breaking.

I will once again be submitting to change the law to the 2011 election review later this year. I look forward to Labour voting for removing the Police from any role in electoral law enforcement, and other parties doing the same.

What should happen is that the Electoral Commission itself can levy small fines for relatively minor issues such as late returns and the like, or missing promoter statements on ads that still have a clear author. For more major issues they should be able to lay charges directly with the courts.

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Views on Blanket Man

January 17th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Pat Brittenden writes:

If society can be judged by how we treat the least, then the death of ‘Blanket Man’ tells us we suck

I disagree.

We spend $13 billion a year on welfare. Hama would have qualified for welfare if had wanted it. He qualified for community or emergency housing. A number of places had standing offers for him to stay there. He declined them.

The Wellington City Mission checked up on him weekly.

Places like Burger King gave him free food.

He got free health care, and died in a public hospital, where people who cared had taken him.

Grant Robertson also blogs:

He was the face of homelessness in Wellington. It is true to say that he shunned the idea of moving off the streets in recent years, and indeed of taking on much in the way of formalised help. He was beyond that, and wanted none of it.

Hana was a very sad case, but i reject that his death is in any way any sort of reflection on the generous society that is New Zealand. The old saying goes that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

Unless you wish to champion a law that allows the state to forcibly detain those who lives on the streets and lock them in community housing, there will always be cases like Hana.

We have a real shortage of emergency accomodation, affordable accomodation and accomodation for those with mental illness. The different agencies involved are getting better at working together to find solutions, but still need to be more coordinated and flexible if we are to truly address these issues. Its not just government either, the community has a responsibility too. Many private landlords will not take on those who have a history of mental illness.

But Hana was offered plenty of accommodation. There was no shortage when it came to him.

His real problem was his mental illness fuelled by drug addiction. The problem is there is no sure fire way to cure either mental illness or drug addiction. There are many courses (mostly 100% taxpayer funded) that help cure or heal some of the people some of the time. But with mental illness there is no universal cure.

If there is any lesson to be taken from the death of Hana, it is not to turn the homeless into icons and glorify their existence. Once this started, Hana refused more and more help.

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Labour and MUNZ

January 13th, 2012 at 10:01 am by David Farrar

Whale has this photo sent in by a reader. MUNZ receives $285,000 rent for space in their building.It is unknown how much comes from the electorate office rental.

MUNZ only has 2,580 members today. Doing pretty well to own their own building. Of course it helps if you have Labour MPs having the taxpayer pay rent on their behalf.

I’m generally against electorate offices being rented from political parties, or people or groups affiliated to a political party. A total ban is difficult as some MPs have purchased an electorate office so that they can secure the location, and in fact rent them back at well below market rentals.

However despite their good intentions, I think it is time to put in place a ban, so that unions and parties do not get this backdoor funding. The latest review of parliamentary spending recommended:

That MPs entering Parliament from the next general election not be able to receive public funding for out-of-Parliament offices owned by an MP or an interested party. The funding for premises owned directly or indirectly by current MPs should be grand-parented while the MP continues in Parliament.

MUNZ is affiliated to the Labour Party and should be seen as an interested party.

Another alternative to a ban, is my suggestion to have the rent set at say 66% or 75% of the market rate, so that the party or union or MP is not seen to be benefiting from the arrangement.

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The market backing Robertson

December 7th, 2011 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The latest prices on iPredict for the Labour leadership and the next PM continue to intrigue.

David Shearer is at 70.4% to become the Labour leader. The stock on whether the PM after the 2014 election will be Labour is 52%, so if you multiply them together the chance Shearer will become PM should be 36.6%. However the price for Shearer to become PM is 29.6c or 29.6% which suggests that the market thinks Shearer becoming leader is a negative for Labour winning in 2014 by 7.0%.

But Cunliffe has the same issue. His leader stock is 28.2% suggesting his PM stock should be 14.7%. But in fact it is 7.4%, which suggests that Cunliffe as leader damages Labour chances by 7.3% – much the same as for Shearer.

So how is this possible? Well the answer is that despite not being a candidate for this leadership ballot, Grant Robertson is at 5.7% to be PM after the election. As the price for a Labour victory is 52% this suggests that the market thinks there is an 11% chance Grant will roll whomever gets elected Leader before the 2014 election.

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Mike Smith endorses Robertson to replace Goff

November 25th, 2011 at 6:34 pm by David Farrar

Mike Smith is the former General Secretary of the Labour Party. He has just blogged:

Grant Robertson – good electorate MP, got a strategic brain, good communicator. It’s time for a new generation leading Labour in my view.

That is significant for such a senior former official to say Goff should go on the eve of the election.

I think Grant will be Labour Leader and Prime Minister one day. If I was Grant though I would not stand next Tuesday, but instead wait until after the 2014 election.

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Labour on Key

October 27th, 2011 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

An unusual media strategy from Labour’s Campaign Spokesman Grant Robertson:

I think that everyone can see that John Key is an extremely popular Prime Minister …

I hope Grant keeps on talking about how Key is so popular, and what he is implying about his own leader.

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Labour’s Rainbow Policy

October 13th, 2011 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Labour’s just released Rainbow policy states:

Many GLBTI New Zealanders continue to be subject to insult, verbal and physical abuse, and to be made to feel inferior, most damagingly in schools.

This comes from the party whose MPs (Mallard and Cosgrove) yell out “Tinkerbell” when a gay National Minister is speaking in the House.

ACT Wellington Central candidate Stephen Whittington referred to this in the Rainbow Candidates meeting last night. And do you know what Grant Robertson and Charles Chauvel said? Did they apologise for their colleagues? Did they say they had asked them to stop? No, they lied and denied that any Labour MP had ever said that. They actually accused Whittington of making a personal attack on them.

In case anyone actually thinks Robertson and Chauvel told the truth, look at this video here of Trevor Mallard (start at 2.30). Also note this interview with Green MP Kevin Hague who said:

Hague said he had never been the target of taunting over his sexual orientation since entering the halls of parliament in 2008.

The same, he said, couldn’t be said for other gay MPs, citing “prejudice” directed at Attorney-General and Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Chris Finlayson.

“Trevor Mallard, and also Clayton Cosgrove, refer to Chris Finlayson as `tinkerbell’. And I f—ing hate it,” Hague said. “That sort of overt taunting as a `fairy’, it is nothing other than prejudice. I don’t like that culture of abuse.”

Now in case you think the video is doctored and that Kevin Hague is the liar, instead of Robertson and Chauvel, you can also look at Hansard here and here.

Discrimination against GLBTI people worldwide continues. The worst manifestation of this is the criminalisation of consensual adult same-sex activity, and its punishment as a capital offence.

This comes from the party which has a List MP who said (from Wikipedia):

In July 2005 Choudhary came to the public’s attention again when he refused to condemn outright the practice of stoning people for homosexual and extramarital sexual behaviour. In TV3’s 60 Minutes show on July 4, 2005, Dr. Choudhary was asked: “Are you saying the Qur’an is wrong to recommend that gays in certain circumstances be stoned to death?” He replied: ” No, no. Certainly what the Qur’an says is correct.” He then qualified his statement, “In those societies, not here in New Zealand”.

When Whittington raised this at the Rainbow debate last night, again Labour again accused him of lying.

So how does Labour reconcile its rainbow policy with having an MP who said it is fine to stone homosexuals and adulters to death, so long as it is not here in New Zealand?

National is far from progressive on gay issues, but I can’t recall a National MP ever saying that it is fine to kill homosexuals, if it is done in other countries.

Then we look at their detailed policy.

Modernise the law relating to the care of children to ensure that the widest pool of suitable adults is lawfully available to provide care to children in need

My God, why can’t they just say they will allow gay couples to adopt? Are they so scared of having the words gay and adoption in the same sentence? There are thousands of children being raised by gay parents and gay couples already. The law should focus on what is best for the child, and if that is a gay couple, then they should be allowed to adopt. What is so hard about saying that explicitly?

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Health itches

August 30th, 2011 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Grant Robertson blogs at Red Alert:

The conventional wisdom is that Tony Ryall is making a good fist of the Health portfolio. Now that I am up close in the area I can say that he keeps a tight rein on matters health, and is managing the portfolio effectively.

I’m trying to recall the last time an Opposition Spokesperson said the Minister is managing the portfolio effectively. Good on Grant though for acknowledging the reality. Of course he has a criticism:

But there is a big difference between managing the politics of health and actually doing what is right for the long term health outcomes of New Zealanders.

So what does Grant mean by this:

The best evidence of that is the release today of the Child Health Monitor Report. It shows, among other things, that in the last two years there have been an additional 5 000 avoidable hospital admissions for things like respiratory illness and skin infections. The authors of the report note that the cost of going to the doctor, especially after hours is a factor in whether children are getting the healthcare they need, along with a range factors associated with child poverty.

I am not saying all of this is down to the Health policy of the current government. But the focus on the narrow range of health targets set by the Minister means that child health is not the priority it should be. The Minister has narrowed the health targets in such a way as to scratch the itches of waiting lists and time spent in ED, but it is at the expense of early intervention and public health programmes.

So what are these itches that Grant refers to? An itch suggests something that isn’t that important, but is noticeable. Well the six targets are:

  1. Shorter Stays in Emergency Departments
  2. Improved Access to Elective Surgery
  3. Shorter Waits for Cancer Treatment Radiotherapy
  4. Increased Immunisation
  5. Better Help for Smokers to Quit
  6. Better Diabetes and Cardiovascular Services

Now it might just be me, but I doubt many people would regard shorter waiting times for cancer treatment as just scratching an itch, or having more people get elective surgey or having shorter waits in ED Departments.

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On the substance of VSM

August 4th, 2011 at 3:14 pm by David Farrar

Grant Robertson blogs:

For me student associations are like local government. Enrolling as a student makes you part of a community, and the student association is the organisation that helps govern that community.

I am amused by how the justifications for compulsory membership of these incorporated societies has changed over the years. Initially the compulsion supporters said that they are student unions, which are like trade unions, and should be compulsory as trade unions were.

Then trade unions lost their compulsion. So the next argument was that student associations are like the Medical Association or Federated Farmers. But over the last 20 years almost every professional industry has separated out its advocacy side from its regulatory side. Hence the Medical Council regulates doctors, while the NZ Medical Association is voluntary. The comparison was of course never valid anyway, as student associations are the exact opposite of a professional association.

Then their next false comparison was to local government. Grant would have you believe that VUWSA is just like the Wellington City Council. I’ll return to this argument later, but for now quote Graeme Edgeler from the Red Alert comments:

I’ve never liked this analogy.

If a university student is like a resident of a community then the local council is the University Administration, and the Students’ Association is a local residents’ association.

If you want to live in an area then you have to pay (directly or indirectly) rates to the local council.

If you want to attend university, you have to pay fees for tuition and services to the university.

In either case you can, you can choose to belong to an association that will fight for your rights with the local government/institution, and may, if the issue is important enough, even address the government(/government).

As I said I will return to the weaknesses in Grant’s arguments shortly. First the most recent false comparison that compulsion defenders are making. They are saying that as KiwiSaver is opt out, so should student associations be. So now they are comparing an incorporated society to retirement investment funds. The analogy is pitiful enough as it is, but also consider that you have a choice of 30+ KiwiSaver funds, while at a campus you get no choice of compulsory student association.

Anyway Grant’s comparison to local government is complete nonsense, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say we accept that student associations are like local Councils, and should have the power to take money off people against their will.

Let us look at the safeguards the Government and Parliament has put around local Councils. They include:

  1. A Local Electoral Act to ensure Councils are democratically elected. There is no requirement for a students association to be democratic.
  2. A Local Government Commission to set wards, maximum pay rates etc.
  3. Statutory requirements for Councils to regularly consult their ratepayers on annual plans etc
  4. Over-view from the Office of the Auditor-General
  5. Subject to the Official Information Act
  6. Ability for the Minister to sack a dysfunctional Council and appoint Commissioners

Student Associations have none of these safeguards. Parliament has terribly let students down by granting student associations the powers of compulsory fees, but not putting any safeguards in place.

I said to the select committee, and have said for over a decade that if you wish to keep compulsory student associations, then as a minimum Parliament should act to put in place some safeguards for students. Grant and Labour never ever did anything about this during their last nine years in office. If they had, then some of the pressure for VSM would have subsided. They only have themselves to blame – they gave their mates a legislative power to have compulsory fees, and refused to put in lace any safeguards for students, as we have for ratepayers and their Councils.

If Grant was sincere about his analogy, then he would agree to some or all of the safeguards above. But never once has Labour shown any concern for those students who have been forced to fund incompetent and even corrupt student associations, against their will. VSM is one answer to the problem, but there were others. I’m not saying I’d prefer the other options to VSM, but Labour has refused to meaningfully engage with Student Choice on any of their concerns.

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Southland Times on Labour’s stop campaign

April 23rd, 2011 at 3:04 pm by David Farrar

The Southland Times editorial:

It was inevitable, of course. The only real surprise is that it has taken almost three weeks for Labour’s latest attention-grabbing bid to crash and burn.The “Stop asset sales vote Labour” campaign, launched in Auckland on April 4, effectively died of scornful, mocking laughter on Thursday. It should not be lamented, even by the most ardent of Labour supporters.

Except Grant and Trevor who like General Custer keep claiming victory.

So the concept was good. The only parts missing were the skill, finesse and luck.

Whoever came up with the concept of plastering the message on imitation road stop signs should be led away to a disused shed out the back somewhere, put under 24-hour guard and released only after the next general election is over.

Now this is a good way to find out if Labour really think their campaign is a great success. Let’s have the MP or staffer whose idea it was to use imitation road signs put their hand up and identify themselves. If they are not willing to do so, that speaks volume.

Whoever then came up with the idea of selling these signs to the party faithful at $10 a pop should be made to share the shed.

But a desert island, a really remote desert island, should be reserved for the genius who came up with the idea of putting the signs, signs with the same shape and colouring of real road stop signs, along the median strip of a road in the Hutt Valley this week.

That surely would be Trevor.

You’d think that even if someone was a sheep short in the top paddock he or she would realise that slapping big stop signs along a busy road might have caused a few problems for motorists, but no.

Obviously more than one sheep has escaped the paddock.

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Use of Urgency

April 12th, 2011 at 8:00 pm by David Farrar

In a first for the blogosphere, Kiwblog and Red Alert have teamed up to do co-ordinated posts on the use of urgency.

Both the current and former Governments have been criticised for their use or over-use of urgency – which is the provision that allows the House to sit for extended hours, and sometimes bypass the select committee process.

I wanted to do a proper study of the use of urgency since 1999, and Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson kindly agreed to help supply the information (which comes from the Parliamentary Library). We agreed that it would be good to do co-ordinated posts on this issue as we think that both parties should commit to less use of urgency.

It’s important to note that not all urgency is the same. Some uses of urgency (to sit on a Wednesday morning for example) are relatively benign, while other uses (by-passing select committees) are bad and should be done only when strictly necessary.

Hence, this analysis goes well beyond just the headline figures, and examines the use of urgency in depth.

There are effectively four parts to the parliamentary cycle. Year 0 is the brief period after an election and before the calendar year ends. Year 1 is the first full year of Government. Year 2 is the mid year and Year 3 is the portion of the third year that falls before an election. Generally we have compared Year 1s with Year 1s as they have different profiles. The year after an election is often very busy implementing election promises. Year 3 is often not so busy.

  Year 1s   Year 2s
  2000 2003 2006 2009   2001 2004 2007 2010
                   
Sitting Hours 624 594 482 576   591 583 529 600
Urgency 70 89 19 155   79 117 32 134
Ordinary 554 505 463 421   512 466 497 466
Sitting Weeks 34 33 29 30   32 31 31 31
Av Hours/Week 18.4 18.0 16.6 19.2   18.5 18.8 17.1 19.4
Week x 17 hrs 578 561 493 510   544 527 527 527
Extra hours 48 33 -11 66   47 56 2 73

 The total number of hours the House sat was a record 624 in 2000 – the first year of a new Government. National’s total number of hours in 2009 was below the average for the former Government. However in 2010 the House sat for 600 hours – a record for Year 2, but only nine hours more than in 2001.

Where there is a difference is the number of hours spent in urgency. National had the most hours in urgency in both 2009 and 2010. However be aware that this includes time which would normally be ordinary sitting hours. For example the House normally sits for 6.5 hours on a Wednesday. Under urgency it sits for 13 hours. All of those 13 hours count as time under urgency, even though 6.5 of them were normally scheduled anyway.

As the sitting week is normally 17 hours, I’ve tried to estimate how many “extra” hours occurred each year due to urgency. They do clearly show that National has been using urgency the most to gain additional hours – 73 hours in 2010 and 66 hours in 2009. That is equal to almost eight additional weeks of sitting time over two years.

The House used to meet for 34 weeks a year, and in recent years has been 29 to 31 weeks. One solution to reducing urgency could be to schedule more sitting weeks.

Now let us look at what was done legislatively during these sessions

  Year 1s   Year 2s
  2000 2003 2006 2009   2001 2004 2007 2010
                   
Bills passed 93 127 91 70   102 111 113 127
Bills passed not referred to select cmte 2 3 1 3   0 1 1 7

 The number of bills passed is not necessarily a good or a bad thing. If you like the bills it may be good, if you do not like the bills it may be bad. In terms of quality of law making, it is also subjective. If you pass very few laws it may indicate a Government not able to deliver policies, but if you pass too many laws they may not be getting the attention they deserve.

The total number of bills passed averaged 95 for Year 1s, and 113 for Year 2. Not a big difference between Labour and National Governments.

But it is in the area of bills passed without going through a select committee, that National should attract the most criticism. In 2009 and 2010 it passed 10 bills without giving the public the chance to submit on the bills at select committee stage. Sometimes there may be a good reasons to do so (Canterbury Earthquake etc), but the total level is far too high. The power to bypass select committees should happen very very rarely – it was only 1 – 2 times a year under Labour.

People unhappy with the level of bypassing select committees, should let their local National MPs know. Note that in 2008 National also passed seven bills into law without select committee – now again some of these could be justified as implementing clear election promises or a simple repeal – but 17 bills bypassing select committee in just over two years is frankly an outrageous level. National needs to not just look at these bills in isolation, but about the collective total and the message it sends. 

  Year 1s   Year 2s
  2000 2003 2006 2009   2001 2004 2007 2010
                   
Weeks with an urgency motion 8 5 3 11   8 7 2 9
No of urgency motions 8 4 3 15   8 7 2 7
No of extraordinary urgency motions 1 1 0 0   0 0 0 1
Friday Sittings 1 1 0 2   3 3 1 1
Saturday Sittings 1 0 0 1   0 0 0 0
Question Times     81 86       87 87

 As I said earlier, not all urgency is the same. Urgency sessions which extend past Thursday into Friday and Saturday are the “worst” as they seriously disrupt MPs scheduled activities in their electorates. The number of urgency sessions in 2010 is slightly more than in 2001 and 2004, but the number of Friday and Saturday sessions is reduced.

This indicates the Government is using urgency to extend sitting hours on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but generally avoiding Friday and Saturday sessions. This puts pressure on select committee attendance and means MPs have to stay at Parliament until midnight instead of 10 pm (or 6 pm on Thursday) but apart from that isn’t too bad.

Extraordinary urgency is very rare, as it needs the permission of the Speaker.

Urgency normally takes precedence over all other business, so it has traditionally meant that question time and/or private members day is cancelled. Indeed, it has sometimes been suggested that Governments go into urgency to avoid question time. But as you can see the number of question times is as high or higher in 2009 and 2010 than it was in 2006 and 2007. This is because the Government has deliberately sought to include provision for question time in urgency sessions. This is commendable, and it would be good to have standing orders change so that question time always occurs, regardless of urgency.

So what’s the overall position in terms of the current Government and urgency:

  1. The total number of sitting hours in 2009 and 2010 are consistent with 2000 and 2001.
  2. The number of hours spent in urgency were higher in 2009 and 2010 than any other year, reflecting an increase in the average number of hours the House sits each week, but fewer sitting weeks.
  3. The total number of bills being passed is not significantly changing
  4. National has so far passed 17 bills under urgency, bypassing select committees. This is a massive increase on past practice. Labour on average only passed 4 bills per term under urgency bypassing select committees. Such a high level of select committee circumvention undermines good parliamentary practice.
  5. Thoe House has gone into urgency more often than in the past, but the number of urgency sessions extending beyond midnight Thursday have not increased.
  6. Despite the increase in the use of urgency, the number of question times has stayed constant, as the Government has generally maintained them during urgency

Some thoughts or recommendations for all parties and/or MPs and to consider for the future:

  1. That standing orders be changed so that a bill can bypass select committee stage only with approval of the Speaker (as is needed for extraordinary urgency).
  2. That standing orders be changed so that question time automatically carries on, even if the House is in urgency
  3. That the number of sitting weeks be increased, hence reducing the need for so much urgency, from 31 to 33 by reducing the number of two week recesses from five to three.
  4. That standing orders be amended to distinguish between “extended sitting hours” which would merely extend the sitting hours on Wednesday and/or Thursday and full urgency (where you specify particular bills, and the House keeps going until they are disposed of)

 I quite like the suggestion Grant has made, that you could have the House sitting as the Committee of the Whole on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. This would free up House time more for first, second and third readings.

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Grant Robertson

April 2nd, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Derek Cheng in the NZ Herald has a profile of Grant Robertson. It includes some quotes from me. Worth noting those quotes were given a few weeks ago, before Goff’s stuffing up the Darren Hughes affair. So the context wasn’t around Grant challenging Goff (which he won’t), but over his promotion to the front bench.

Kiwiblogger and right-wing commentator David Farrar believes Robertson will be at the forefront of a leadership challenge within the next two terms, but there will be a transitional leader – maybe David Cunliffe, he speculates – before then.

“Robertson has very good political judgement, can work with opponents, is smart, and makes very few mistakes and certainly doesn’t make the same ones twice.

He is very careful with what he says about things that may come back to bite him one day. He’s already developed that instinct that you need to become a leader one day, thinking four or five steps ahead. “I do certainly see him as a potential Prime Minister.”

It’s those strategic smarts which I rate Grant for. It’s not that he is making headway against National Ministers in the House. Tony Ryall looks as unbothered by Grant, as he was by Ruth Dyson at this stage. But Grant generally is careful not to position himself somewhere that will bite him in the future.

He feels equally strongly about adequate state assistance for the vulnerable and the excluded, which aligns with his view that the Government should actively provide a level playing field, especially through health and education, so that every person has the chance to reach their full potential.

“That will mean redistributing wealth in some instances …It’s a complete no-brainer. If you have people in poverty and on the fringes of society, if you bring them in, give them education, keep them healthy and get them a quality house, they will be a good functioning member of society and the economy. Why would you want to exclude them from society?

I don’t have a problem with redistributing wealth to help people in poverty. But Grant’s party has gone well beyond that. They all too often appear to want to redistribute wealth to punish people for being wealthy, and to buy middle class votes. Labour didn’t spend one extra cent increasing benefits for those in poverty beyond the inflation rate, but spent billions on middle class welfare so more families have ipods etc.

And unlike many lefties, he supports free trade with China in spite of the human rights issues and lower wages that price New Zealand workers out of the global market. …

When pressed, he says he would draw the line at a bi-lateral FTA with Burma. (He is relaxed about the ASEAN-Australia-NZ FTA, which includes Burma, and does not prevent New Zealand from imposing sanctions on Burma).

Good to see a Robertson led Labour will be sane on trade policy.

Farrar notes Georgina Beyer’s success in Wairarapa as the world’s first transsexual MP, and believes most New Zealanders wouldn’t care. “I don’t think his sexuality would be at all a factor in stopping him from becoming Prime Minister.

“He’s gay. Some MPs make a massive issue of it, like Chris Carter. Grant doesn’t try to have it define him, but will talk when appropriate on gay and lesbian issues and show his support.”

Farrar also says writing a lot about sports – whether a deliberate tactic or not – has shown Robertson to be well-rounded, breaking the gay mould.

This is the only part where the comments as reported don’t quite reflect my intent. My reference to Grant writing about sports breaking the mould, wasn’t referring to a “gay” mould. Gay and sporty are not opposites in my mind. The mould I was meaning was the perception (arguably unfairly) that many Labour MPs live and breathe politics and it is their entire life. Mike Moore wrote about this once. By bloggins about sports, Grant shows that he is someone who cares about more than just politics and power. I’m not suggesting that Grant doesn’t genuinely love sports (he is well known to be a sports fan), just that his decision to blog about them on Red Alert was a considered one.

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Dom Post on Labour

March 29th, 2011 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial today:

Mr Goff’s leadership should be over. The party he leads is bereft of energy and bereft of ideas. Instead of looking like a government in waiting it looks like a dysfunctional rabble. What confidence can the public have in its ability to manage the affairs of the country when it cannot manage its own?

Looking at how Goff has managed the last couple of weeks, you do have to wonder how he would have handled a global recession, finance company collapses, two earthquakes and Pike River.

However, speculation about a move to oust Mr Goff is just that – speculation. Labour has no obvious alternative. Shane Jones is still too closely linked to pornography in the public mind, David Cunliffe has had zero impact as finance spokesman, David Parker is unknown to the public, Mr Shearer is too inexperienced politically and so is another well-regarded newbie, Grant Robertson, about whom the party may have to consider another question at some point. Is New Zealand ready for its first gay prime minister?

For my money, I think Grant will become New Zealand’s first (openly) gay Prime Minister, and I don’t think his sexuality will be of relevance to most New Zealanders.

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The rise of Robertson

February 4th, 2011 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Vernon Small writes:

The meteoric rise of Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson to Labour’s front bench will further fuel speculation that he could be a future leader of the party.

I’ve long said that I think Grant will become Labour Leader, and indeed probably even a Labour Prime Minister.

I don’t think he will be the next leader, but the one after that. He is young enough to be able to wait his time.

However, asked about his leadership ambitions before yesterday’s reshuffle, he said: “Every politician has got ambitions. Every politician … wants to be a minister but it is also really important to take one step at a time and not get too beyond yourself.”

Which is saying of course he wants to be Leader/PM, but one step at a time. Quite nice to have an MP not deny he has ambitions – after all most of them would like to be PM.

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