Armstrong on Labour’s day of shame

August 6th, 2011 at 10:59 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

The Labour Party does not have very much cause to feel grateful for anything right now. But it should get down on bended knee and thank the Almighty that hardly anybody would have been watching Parliament late on Wednesday afternoon.

Anyone doing so would have witnessed a spectacle which would immediately have brought several words to mind – words such as pitiful, pathetic, embarrassing and disgraceful.

You can watch for yourself at In the House.

What matters now is that last Wednesday things shifted from straight filibuster to pure farce. The only characters needed to make this Trevor Mallard-orchestrated protest a complete pantomime were Chuckles the Clown and Dorothy the Dinosaur.

Labour not only demeaned itself, again – something it is perfectly at liberty to do – it also demeaned Parliament, and that is unacceptable.

For the best part of an hour, Labour MPs raised timewasting points of order and forced a series of pointless votes to try to stop debate on Roy’s bill from even starting.

Labour made repeated demands that Speaker Lockwood Smith be recalled to the chamber to rule on decisions made by National’s Eric Roy, who was chairing the House.

This went beyond the ridiculous by including decisions from Roy (no relation to Heather Roy) granting those very Labour MPs the call to speak in the debate – a perverse case of deliberately biting the hand that feeds.

Next time Labour protests the use of urgency, they should be reminded of this.

Some of the Labour MPs caught up in this episode must now surely regret it.

One such MP, Wellington Central’s Grant Robertson, felt obliged to post a lengthy explanation on Red Alert, the Labour MPs’ blog.

He made no apology for the ways in which Labour was trying to stop Roy’s bill. He admitted it was “unedifying” – surely the understatement of the week – but claimed it was all part and parcel of parliamentary practice.

Well, no. A clear line can be drawn between trying to delay a measure’s progress through Parliament by filibuster and trying to find and exploit gaps, loopholes and apparent anomalies in Parliament’s rules to subvert the will of the majority. Labour crossed that line.

On top of that, Labour’s filibustering has denied other parties’ MPs the opportunity to get their own private member’s bills – some of which are worthy measures deserving of enactment – on to the order paper.

That is unfair. But it is symptomatic of Labour’s lingering arrogance from its years in power.

Incredibly, it continues to try to pull the wool over voters’ eyes by promising to bring in private member’s bills to block things such as National’s plans for partial state asset sales. Such talk is poppycock. Such bills would first have to be lucky enough to be drawn in the ballot which determines which bills get on to the order paper.

In the last ballot, 24 bills were vying for a lone spot.

Furthermore, there has not been a ballot since November last year. No prizes for guessing who is responsible for that.

This has been the delicious irony. Labour have blocked every single Labour and Green private members bill from progressing, in their desire to ensure their mates retain compulsory funding. And it has all been for nothing.

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Armstrong on Key

May 11th, 2011 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

Labour was truly firing in Parliament yesterday – with the accuracy of an antique blunderbuss.

The major Opposition party is aiming all its barrels in John Key’s direction in the hope something hits. But the target has suffered only the occasional flesh wound and otherwise seems to be functioning normally.

Labour’s current parliamentary tactic is to turn ministers’ question-time into New Zealand’s equivalent of Prime Minister’s question-time in the British House of Commons.

The party devoted its allocation of five questions solely to going after Key.

But be it the cost of repainting Premier House or money for promoting the Maori tourist industry, Key was sufficiently well briefed yesterday to make mincemeat of his interrogators from Labour’s more junior ranks.

The only thing better than watching the House, is also viewing Twitter at the same time. A gaggle of Labour MPs complain in chorus about how dare the PM say this or that.

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Armstrong on Goff

March 24th, 2011 at 8:03 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

The Labour Party will not be judged by what Darren Hughes has or has not done in his private life.

It will be judged according to how Phil Goff handles the crisis which has enveloped one of Labour’s bright young rising stars and consequently the party as well.

Goff’s management of the crisis has already begged a major question. Why did the Labour leader not immediately stand Hughes down from his roles as Labour’s chief whip and education spokesman two weeks ago when the MP told him he was the subject of a police investigation?

It is a surprise that Phil Goff, Labour Party Leader, did not take the advice of Phil Goff, Leader of the Opposition. Here’s a quote from PGLOTO in 2009:

Opposition leader Phil Goff said today Mr Key should have sacked Dr Worth last week.

“The matter could have been dealt with rather more promptly,” Mr Goff said.

So let us compare the cases of Dr Worth and Mr Hughes.

  1. Dr Worth’s leader is informed of a Police complaint. He briefly investigates, and then sacks Dr Worth. All of this occurs before the Police complaint is even made public. PGLOTO claims the matter should have been dealt with more promptly.
  2. Mr Hughes’ leader is informed of a Police complaint. PGLPL does nothing at all until the matter becomes public.

John Armstrong notes:

Had he gone on the front foot then – rather than being forced to fess up yesterday in the face of rapidly snowballing media inquiries – Goff would have got some plaudits for being upfront.

He would also have got marks for consistency. Back in 2009, Goff launched into John Key for not immediately stripping Richard Worth of his ministerial warrant after the Prime Minister had been apprised of allegations of a sexual nature made against the then National MP.

Goff now risks being marked down for double standards.

Rather large double standards.

Goff’s political management accordingly starts to look misguided at best and downright stupid at worst.

I’ll be generous and say they are thinking with their hearts, not their heads.

UPDATE: Phil Goff just interviewed by Sean Plunket on NewstalkZB. Goff said it is up to the Police to decide if Hughes’ behaviour was appropriate. Plunket pointed out that no their job is to decide if his behaviour was criminal. Goff does not seem to understand the difference.

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Armstrong lashes Goff

February 1st, 2011 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

It being election year, Phil Goff has decided to hold a press conference every Monday to counter the Prime Minister’s use of his weekly media briefing to set the political agenda. Yesterday’s first effort was hardly an unqualified success.

Instead of setting the agenda, Goff found it being set for him by the media. The questions had a recurring theme – where is the money coming from to fund Labour’s seemingly ever-expanding list of promises.

I am amazed that Labour has embarked on this strategy to dent its credibility. At a time when deficits and debt are so high, you can’t just announce spending plans with no way to pay for them.

Goff’s reluctance to provide detail beyond saying Labour would ditch some projects – such as the scheduled $875 million missile upgrade for the navy’s frigates – turned the 18-minute press conference into the media equivalent of shooting a rather large fish in a relatively small barrel.

Having got rid of any offensive capability for the Air Force, it seems they want to do the same for the Navy. Regardless the $875m is a one off capital cost – these upgrades probably happen every 30 years or so. You can’t fund much operational expenditure from delaying a capital upgrade.

One example suffices. Goff gave a “heads up” on families from today having to pay an extra $25 to $35 a week in early childhood education fees, something he described as a “tragedy” for childhood learning.

So would Labour restore funding to previous levels? Goff confirmed it was a “priority”. Almost in the same breath, though, he said that would happen as spare revenue “becomes available”. Given other priorities, Labour would not be able to restore those previous levels in its first Budget.

That begged the question of when is a priority really a priority or when is a priority just something on a long list of things a new Labour Government would want to do if it had the money.

I think John has absolutely analysed it correctly – a priority means “would like to do it if we could”

Unwilling to say exactly where the money would come from, Goff sounds like someone who not only thinks he can have his cake, but also eat more of it than exists.


Labour faces a conundrum. It has no choice but to say where it stands to have any hope of jolting the polls. Goff’s reluctance to say how Labour will pay for it all is fast turning a question of credibility into a credibility problem.

There’s a reason we refer to it as Goofynomics. It s lacking in credibility.

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Armstrong’s Awards

December 18th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstring gives otu his awards in the NZ Herald:

  • Politician of the Year – John Key
  • Rising Star – Hekia Parata. Also mentioned – Amy Adams, Michael Woodhouse, David Parker, David Cunliffe, Brendon Burns
  • Quiet Achiever – Tim Groser
  • Best Speech – John Key on the day of the second explosion at Pike River
  • Best Speech in Parliament – Amy Adams for her personal account of the Canterbury Earthquake
  • Most extraordinary speech – Heather Roy’s “black swans” speech to the ACT conference
  • Wrong speech – Jonathan Coleman
  • Mission Impossible Award for Salesmanship – Bill English for getting GSt increased with hardly a murmur
  • Mr Bean Award for Complete Absence of Salemanship – Gerry Brownlee for mining in National Parks
  • Complete Lack of Political Bottle Award – Steven Joyce and John Key for not lowering teh blood-alcohol limit
  • Gone but not forgotten – Jeanette Fitzsimons
  • Gone and already forgotten – David Garrett
  • Foot in Mouth Award – Phil Goff for calling Cunliffe Caygill
  • Stunned Mullet Award – John Key for not reacting to Paul Henry’s comments on the Governor-General
  • Kim Jong-il Award for Self-Glorification: Chris Carter.
  • Tammy Wynette “Stand by your Man” Award: Pansy Wong for demonstrating what she thought of her role as Minister of Women’s Affairs by putting her husband, Sammy, first, her career second.
  • Oscar for Worst Performance in a Supporting Role: The CTU for The Hobbit.

Armstrong on National barbarians

November 30th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

For most Wellingtonians, Pukerua Bay is notable only for a couple of kilometres-long stretch of State Highway One where the speed limit briefly but annoyingly drops from 100km/h to 50 km/h and creates another bottle-neck on the slow trip north.

Not for me. My grandmother lived in Pukerua Bay and I would often train up there as a kid to spend weekends and holidays there. I have an intimate knowledge of all the playgrounds in Pukerua Bay :-)

It is here that a major shift in voter behaviour was noticeable in last Saturday’s extraordinary outcome of the Mana byelection. …

In Pukerua Bay, where a large proportion of people designate themselves as “professional” for Census purposes, National’s Hekia Parata won by 249 votes to 217. Go back to the 2002 and 2005 elections and you find Labour winning the booth on the party vote – the fairer measure as the candidate vote was distorted by the huge personal appeal of Winnie Laban, whose retirement prompted the byelection.

Pukerua Bay went narrowly in National’s favour in 2008 – an indication that Clark’s cross-over appeal was on the wane.

But the trend was replicated elsewhere in outlying settlements of Porirua City, such as Plimmerton and Pauatahanui. National’s share of the vote even increased in less well-off Titahi Bay.

There are still wealthy pockets of Mana, such as Paekakariki and Raumati South, where Labour’s support remains staunch. These settlements may have saved the blushes of Labour candidate and now MP, Kris Fa’afoi. But with the Key machine carving out more territory in middle New Zealand for occupation by National, Fa’afoi should not be relying on them remaining faithful next year.

Labour’s stranglehold on Wellington is under threat; the National barbarians are storming the city’s northern gates.

I’m going to be watching Mana with interest in the 2011 election.

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Armstrong on Labour

October 2nd, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

At the end of his column, John Armstrong states:

That change has been accompanied by a major attitude shift. Labour has distributed a flyer which seeks to deliberately trick people into thinking that National is responsible for the entire GST component of their bills.

Just as scurrilous is Labour’s bogus assurance that the $270 million cost (at least) of forgoing GST on fresh fruit and veges will be funded by the recent rise in excise duty on tobacco. That money is already accounted for in Government spending.

Goff is playing hard ball. He has little option. National beware. The old enemy is going to be a tougher and rougher election-year proposition than you might think.

This is a diplomatic way of saying Labour will not hesitate to lie and deceive – both over what National has done, and over how its promises can be paid for.

This will not come as a shock to National. They are well used to it. Remember the pamphlets authorised at the highest levels claiming National will sell state houses and evict the tenants? Pure lies.

I wonder if the Government should not amend the Electoral Act to make it riskier for Labour to try and use deliberate lies as a campaign strategy. S199A says:

Every person is guilty of a corrupt practice who, with the intention of influencing the vote of any elector, at any time on polling day before the close of the poll, or at any time on any of the 2 days immediately preceding polling day, publishes, distributes, broadcasts, or exhibits, or causes to be published, distributed, broadcast, or exhibited, in or in view of any public place a statement of fact that the person knows is false in a material particular.

Maybe have that apply for the final two weeks instead of final two days?

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Armstrong on Earthquake response

September 11th, 2010 at 11:35 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

The Prime Minister would be less than human if he wasn’t disappointed at having to cancel his weekend engagement as the Queen’s guest at Balmoral Castle, the royal family’s residence in Scotland.

Such an invitation to a New Zealand prime minister is unprecedented and shows the degree of rapport John Key has with the head of state.

I had also heard that indeed the PM and the Queen has developed a strong rapport. While I am a republican, I am also a big fan of the Queen’s integrity and sense of service – and like the idea that our Head of Government and Head of State get on very well.

This was the psyche of the one-time foreign exchange dealer prepared to take a calculated risk. Except in this case any benefit accruing from hob-nobbing with royalty would have been largely personal. And those pluses would have been totally outweighed by the minuses Key would have notched up back home.

I agree it would have been a very bad look to go ahead.

So far, National’s response to the crisis has been largely exemplary and criticism-free. The Government has been relentlessly single-minded in focusing on providing and co-ordinating a recovery strategy for Christchurch. It has driven the public service to the limit in getting that strategy implemented.

High praise.

If anyone needs convincing that Christchurch is a city on edge, they need only replay Wednesday’s speech in Parliament by National backbencher Amy Adams.

The MP, whose Selwyn electorate encircles part of Christchurch, came closer than anyone so far in capturing the horror of last Saturday’s quake and the psychological anguish felt by many in the after shock-filled aftermath.

I blogged it yesterday. It really made it real for those of us lucky enough to be unaffected.

This is a climate which does not look kindly at penny-pinching by the state. The country is expecting generosity for those who have suffered. Saturday’s earthquake has loosened National’s purse strings.

Twice in two weeks – the first being the payout to depositors in South Canterbury Finance – Finance Minister Bill English has had to explain why the Government’s books are still “manageable” when he previously argued there was no room for more spending.

National would argue the extra spending is a matter of necessity, not choice. But it has undermined English’s pleas for restraint elsewhere, while making it harder for him to find the money for election-motivated giveaways in next year’s Budget.

I disagree. I think the spending on SCF and the earthquake makes it harder for people to argue extra spending elsewhere. Teachers look petty striking for free laptops, when the Government is spending its very limited funds on rebuilding Christchurch.

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Armstrong on the politics of the earthquake

September 9th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

The politicians are already playing politics, however, though not too flagrantly. Saying you are not going to play politics – as Goff effectively did – is itself a political statement. As was John Key’s decision to cancel his trip to Britain and France. As was Labour’s suggestion that yesterday was not the day for the verbal combat of ministers’ question-time in Parliament to be on display.

I thought that was very smart, and impressed that Labour suggested it. The decision provoked some hysteria from No Right Turn:

Meanwhile, Parliament has cancelled Question Time today, on the grounds that holding the government to account might be upsetting to the people of Christchurch. So, the earthquake hasn’t just damaged several Canterbury landmarks, but our democracy as well. If the politicians believe it is unseemly to query and crow about the earthquake response (which has been good – an example of what government can do for us), then they could not do so. But to deem it unseemly to question the government in any way in the wake of a crisis comes disturbingly close to fascism.

Yes having the Opposition offer to have one less question time a year, is indeed close to fascism. I mean it is just like burning down the Reichstag.

Armstrong continues:

As was the PM’s second visit to Christchurch since the quake. As was Goff’s decision to ask to accompany Key in what was his second visit to the city in almost as many days.

Again thought that was a very neat thing to do.

Labour argues that Goff’s presence is justified by Christchurch being a Labour city.

Oh, just when they were doing so well. I was saying all these nice things about Labour, and they say something stupid. There was no need to justify Goff’s presence – he is the Leader of the Opposition. But to claim justification on the basis it is a Labour city is stupid. Does that mean that if the earthquake had hit the North Shore of Auckland, Goff would not visit – or if it had been another Napier earthquake?

Incidentally Christchurch is not the old republic it used to be. National received 4,889 more party votes in the five urban seats, and if you include the two rural seats, they received 21,472 more party votes.

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Armstrong on SCF

September 2nd, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Just caught up with John Armstrong’s column from yesterday:

Watching John Key and Bill English dispose of South Canterbury Finance yesterday was a bit like watching a python swallowing an antelope.

Except it all happened a lot quicker.

The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance must have swallowed hard at the prospect of forking out $1.6 billion under the Crown Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme.

They had no choice. But they did have plenty of warning of the likely receivership. So the Government was ready with a plan.

That involved wrapping its jaws around the company, swallowing it whole and spitting out anything which might have stopped it becoming the sole creditor.

That way the Government is now calling the shots, even though the failed company is technically under the control of receivers.

So good marks for the Government. And Labour:

Otherwise, this was one of the smoothest crisis-management operations conducted by this Government.

It is on such days that the Opposition is better off displaying bipartisan support.

Phil Goff, instead, took the line that the firm might have traded its way out were economic conditions more favourable. It was the Government’s fault that was not the case.

This line is truly hard to swallow given South Canterbury Finance’s difficulties sprang from the heady boom times in the property market when Labour was in power.

Goff would have been better advised to have said nothing.

One of the challenges of Opposition is to hold your tongue and not try for cheap publicity on every issue.

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An opportunity for Labour?

August 12th, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

Labour will have very mixed feelings about being forced by one of its MPs to fight a byelection in Mana, even though it is one of the party’s safest seats in the Wellington region.

The byelection sparked by Winnie Laban’s departure to a job at Victoria University is a nuisance for Labour and an opportunity.

I like the idea put forward by Matthew Hooton on National Radio this week. Matthew proposed that Labour should arrange an effective mini-election in November – by-elections in Mana, Te Atatu, Manurewa and Wigram.

This could be a circuit breaker for Labour – they’d get publicity for four to six weeks, and would probably win all four seats, achieving a massive rejuvenation. This would help their chances in 2011 significantly, as they would look a lot less like the bunch thrown out.

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Armstrong on Welfare Reform

August 11th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

While displaying a high degree of caution and retaining its right to change its mind up to the last minute, John Key’s National Government is clearly steeling itself to go where no National Government has gone before.

It is planning fundamental reform of the welfare system in an election year.

That much – though not much more – could be gleaned from the Prime Minister’s reaction to yesterday’s release of an “issues paper” produced by the Paula Rebstock-chaired welfare working group charged with reviewing the benefit system.

Great. A sacred cow left alone for too long.

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Armstrong flays National

August 7th, 2010 at 9:44 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong lets loose at National with both barrels:

Shame on National. That party’s behaviour in Parliament over the past couple of weeks has on occasion veered close to being a disgrace both to itself and the institution.

Not that many people would have noticed, however. National’s antics inside the House have been totally shrouded by those of Chris Carter outside. …

The upshot is that Labour – almost by accident – has given National an old-fashioned hiding on that most fundamental of all questions: which party can be can best trusted with the reins of economic management. The one compensating factor for National is that all this has happened largely out of public view.

However, it has given considerable momentum to the three-pronged strategy that Labour is developing in order to try to win the economic policy argument at next year’s election.

The first prong is to endlessly repeat that National has “no plan” – that National has no solutions which will lift economic growth.

That notion has gained currency following National’s recent clutch of policy reversals. The damage done to National’s 2025 goal is of considerable help in reinforcing that narrative.

Hopefully a few people are reading John’s column, and working on ways to prevent a repeat.

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Armstrong on Activists

July 24th, 2010 at 10:21 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

The left-wing activists who stormed the Sky City Hotel last Sunday in an inevitably futile attempt to force their way into the National Party conference should take a good hard look at themselves.

The noisy fracas with security guards inside Auckland’s Temple to Capitalism certainly got the activists what they wanted – top-of-the-bulletin coverage on that evening’s television news. But if they think such tactics are going to mobilise public opinion against the Government’s just-released package of workplace law reforms then they should think again.

Their actions were widely viewed within the Labour Party as unhelpful, though no one was saying so publicly.

Sue Bradford and John Minto charging a Police line just sends people into the opposite direction.

While others on the left have been quick to label National’s package as a “class war” being waged on the country’s workers, Labour has avoided using such over-the-top language.

When it comes to portraying National’s policy prescription, there is a danger of crying wolf. More so because much of the package is based on National’s 2008 election policy. That prescription pleasantly surprised some left-wing commentators for being so moderate and not a return to the Employment Contracts Act. They cannot now turn around and argue that the package released by Key last Sunday is designed to wage class war.

And many aspects will actually be welcomed by employees such as the ability to trade leave for pay.

Even the 90 day trial period will be popular with many employees I reckon. We’ve all seen new people hired at a workplace and within a week or two it is apparent they are not up to the job. It isn’t just the bosses, but the other employees, who often have to carry them until they finally leave.

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Armstrong on Foreshore & Seabed

April 1st, 2010 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

National’s long-awaited prescription for healing that weeping political sore otherwise known as the foreshore and seabed should be grabbed with both hands by the Maori Party.

It will not get a better deal than the one outlined in the discussion document released by Attorney-General Chris Finlayson yesterday. National has stretched beyond the normal limits of its flexibility to come up with a lasting solution.

A stark assessment.

The arrival (finally) of Finlayson’s discussion document heralds Decision Day for the party, however. It can no longer cling to the foreshore and seabed like some kind of comfort blanket.

It is now or never – or, at least, not for a long time to come.

That means swallowing National’s intention to make the the foreshore and seabed a “public domain” which no one owns, something which sticks in the craw of Maori who insist ownership of the foreshore and seabed is their inalienable right.

That can be insisted upon, but in no way is that what the Court of Appeal ruled.

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The whaling debate

March 10th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Claire Browning at Pundit pulls no punches:

Shame on Labour spokesperson Chris Carter and partisan blog The Standard for using anti-whaling diplomacy for short-term political gain

Never has the right-wing sobriquet “The Stranded” seemed more appropriate.

I am truly loathe to diss a friendly fellow blog, and I apologise for it already. But they asked for it. It stems from this hysterical politicisation of New Zealand’s IWC negotiating stance, here and here, by The Standard blogger Eddie, which even one of their own readers characterised as “partisan hackery”. “I’m not sure what I think of this [wrote Neil] but using it as an excuse for more partisan hackery is tedious”. That didn’t stop Labour spokesperson Chris Carter wading in:

And then:

Even more offensive than Eddie’s posts was colleague Marty G’s comments, excoriating anyone who might disagree on the comments thread, evidently mistaking ad hominem for wit: “I don’t give a crap about Palmer … have you suffered a head injury? … follow the link in the post, genius” … and so on.

Claire concludes:

Using dead whales as pawns in a political game is no less sickening than their original butchery. Carter says the Labour Party stands for their conservation. What I take from the past two day’s performance is that it stands for ill advised unnuanced politicking, over substantive hard policy choices.

John Armstrong also looks at the diplomatic proposal:

Has New Zealand sold out to Japan by backing a compromise proposal before the International Whaling Commission which would reopen the door to commercial slaughter of whales, albeit in limited numbers?

The answer is an emphatic “no”. If John Key and his Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, should plead guilty to any charge, it is to one of being realistic.

The one-dimensional “you are either with us or against us” nature of the debate between the pro- and anti-whaling brigades leaves little room for the subtlety and nuance of diplomacy which – despite the hairy chest-beating of Australia’s Rudd Government – is the only viable means of reducing the ever-increasing number of whales being harpooned in the southern oceans.

Even the merest hint of concession to the Japanese had the Government this week labelled as “pro-whaling” by Labour. That is absurd. It is equally absurd to paint the Government’s caution compared with Australia’s bellicosity as evidence National does not give a toss about the environment.

Were that true then Sir Geoffrey Palmer – someone with a passion for preserving the environment and the expertise in international law to make it happen in this case – would by now have presumably resigned as New Zealand’s Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission.

And what has happened under the present stand off:

The status quo on whaling is no longer tenable. Japan’s ships continue to steam through the huge loophole which permits whales to be killed for “scientific” purposes. The number of whales slaughtered each year for science has risen steadily from 300 in 1990 to an expected 3000 this year.

Australia’s threat to take Japan to the International Court of Justice might make people feel a lot better about those figures. It will not save one whale. It could in fact endanger many more.

It would be years before the court made a judgment. If Australia were to lose its case on the legality of whaling, it could be open slather on the species.

The only thing Australia is likely to achieve is wrecking any consensus on the plan to allow commercial whaling for a 10-year period, but with big cuts in the numbers killed each year,

This plan would buy time for the commission while restoring some control over the numbers killed – something it is powerless to do with regard to scientific whaling . …

With an election later this year, narrowing opinion polls plus a manifesto commitment to go to the international court, Kevin Rudd is having severe problems with digestion. His tough talk should be seen for what it really is – utter expedience, making New Zealand’s stance look principled in comparison.


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Armstrong on Labour and GST

March 6th, 2010 at 11:43 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

Axe the tax? Labour would if it could. But it can’t. So maybe the tax will stay. Maybe it won’t. Who knows.

Labour isn’t saying. And it won’t be saying for quite a while yet. …

National’s overall tax package will leave Labour nursing a big political headache – how to make up the $2 billion shortfall in revenue if Labour pledges to restore the rate of GST back to 12.5 per cent.

Labour won’t say how. But it can hardly talk of raising income tax rates which National will have just lowered.

No party – not least one coming from such a long way behind its rival – can afford to saddle itself with that kind of platform.

I would welcome Labour giving New Zealanders a clear choice, and campaigning on increasing personal income tax rates.

But that is one thing Labour will definitely not be doing. It is not going to be trapped into declaring a position which it might later regret.

Goff has been around long enough to remember National’s very own GST-induced political disaster.

When Labour introduced GST in 1986, National felt obliged to come up with an alternative – the long-forgotten “Extax”.

With Labour determining no items would be exempted from GST, National saw a gap in the political market. Extax allowed exemptions for basic foods, doctors’ fees, local authority rates and some charities. The tax was universally panned as an administrative nightmare.

The ridicule prompted senior National MPs to lose faith in the policy, resulting in mixed messages as to where National really stood on a broad-based consumption tax.

Not just National MPs. I was an office holder in National in 1987 and I actually voted for the Labour Party, partly because of National’s ridicolous Extax policy.

Meanwhile Bryce Edwards looks at the Axe the Tax campaign. He looks at whether or not is is electioneering regardless of the rules devised by MPs on what is legal:

The Labour Party obviously hasn’t learned much from the severe public ignomany suffered when it was revealed that the party had been paying for its electioneering Pledge Card with public funds while in government. Their latest rort – running a heavily branded bus campaign around the country – is no less electioneering, yet Labour has once again used taxpayer funds to pay for this political advertising. This blog post looks at whether such electioneering can really be called ‘legitimate’, even if the exercise is made to fit into the dodgy Parliamentary Service rules. Regardless of the expenditure’s legal status, few voters will appreciate having to pay for such overt political advertising.

Bryce goes on to distinguish between whether something is “legal” and “legitimate”

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All about Heatley

February 26th, 2010 at 6:28 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

It isn’t the amount of money that is at issue; it is that the declaration was inaccurate. Its inaccuracy raises questions of honesty and trust that should never have to be asked of a Cabinet minister.

Rather than immediately sacking him, the Prime Minister intended temporarily standing Heatley down from his portfolio responsibilities. This was a compromise position which made allowances for human fallibility on Heatley’s part, while at the same time calling in the Audit Office to run a fine tooth-comb through all the expenses he had claimed in the 15 months or so that he was a minister.

But John Key was seemingly gazumped by Heatley’s desire to resign altogether. That is the unusual feature of this resignation. Usually the minister is pleading with the Prime Minister to stay in the job.

Key urged Heatley to “sleep on it” before handing in his ministerial warrant. Significantly, that gesture did not extend to refusing to accept Heatley’s resignation. That is telling. It suggests although the Prime Minister is not ruling out Heatley’s return to the Cabinet, there is not much optimism that the Audit Office probe will not reveal further shortcomings with the ex-minister’s expenses.

Heatley’s route back to the Cabinet will require that everything is squeaky clean. It also presumes he wants his job back. Heatley’s statement about needing to spend a long time on National’s backbenches suggests he realises that is not going to happen.

I have commented at NBR along similiar lines;

For Heatley to return to Cabinet after resigning, he would need to have the Auditor-General provide an unqualified report with no finding of any fault at all. It is difficult to believe that the public sector watchdog will find that it is okay to describe a purchase of alcohol only, as a food or a meal.

Claire Trevett observes:

So it is that National finds the full truth of the maxim that “wine and women bring misery”.

Former minister Richard Worth resigned over rumours about women. Now Phil Heatley resigns over two bottles of wine. It was not a pretty sight. …

Small and Watkins in the Dom Post reveal:

But documents issued yesterday show Mr Heatley was warned on several occasions about providing all the paperwork needed.

In July and September, Mr Heatley was told by a Ministerial Services manager: “Due to the scrutiny that credit cards attract we would like to remind you that all records are open to review and should comply with the five expenditure principles … of the Ministerial Office handbook.”

While this was not about the two bottles of wine, it should have still served as a warning to the Minister and his staff, that one had to be very careful in this area.

Colin Espiner blogs:

I don’t think Heatley deliberately tried to mislead anyone, for the record. I think he genuinely didn’t understand the rules, or the political consequences of breaking them. But that’s still his responsibility, and proffering his resignation was the right course of action.

Key will be annoyed and embarrassed by this, but not overly concerned. Heatley was by all accounts a competent and hard-working minister, but there are others in National’s ranks who will do an equally competent job.

My money’s on Chris Tremain, the hard-working and capable Napier MP and chief whip to replace Heatley and take his housing portfolio. I’d leave fisheries with David Carter, since it’s a good fit with agriculture.

The issue of who will be the new Minister is an interesting one. It is possible no appointments will be for a while, but there are three possible courses of actions:

  1. No new Minister is appointed, and portfolios just reallocated. Carter is an obvious choice for fisheries. Housing is a tougher fit, as it is a quite time intensive portfolio.
  2. A Minister outside Cabinet is promoted to Cabinet (almost certainly Nathan Guy) and an MP is promoted to be a Minister outside Cabinet. If this happens, it is possible Guy could pick up Housing (so it is represented within Cabinet) and the new Minister picks up Internal Affairs.
  3. A backbench MP is promoted directly into Cabinet, possibly taking both of Heatley’s portfolios.

It is possible Key will use the vacancy to do a minor reallocation of portfolios also. The main interest however will be on which backbench MP gets made a Minister.

The consensus is it will be one of the two Hawke’s Bay MPs – Napier’s Chris Tremain and Tukituki’s Craig Foss. I think that is quite correct. They both hold one of the twp jobs which almost inevitably leads to becoming a Minister – Chief Government Whip and Chairman of the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee.

There isn’t anything much between the two MPs, and friends. And whichever one doesn’t make it this time, is pretty certain to be the next one through the time after. They are both judged to be “Minister ready”.

If iPredict does a stock on who it will be, I’d probably put a small bit of money on Foss, purely because Tremain’s role as Chief Whip is quite integral to the smooth running of the Government, and his promotion means you need a new Chief Whip, and if Jo Goodhew moves into that role then you need a new Junior Whip, and if they are a Select Committee Chair, a new Select Committee Chair.

A promotion for Foss is less disruptive. The Deputy Chair of the F&E Select Committee is Amy Adams, and she would be more than capable of steping up to be Chair, with Pesata Sam Lotu-Iiga a likely replacement Deputy Chair.

As I said though, it could easily be either one of them.

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Armstrong on the Agenda

February 20th, 2010 at 11:11 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

Those arguing John Key’s soaring approval ratings give him licence to live a little dangerously and implement some necessary but unpopular policies are forgetting a few things.

Despite a personal high of 58 per cent as preferred prime minister in last week’s Herald DigiPoll survey, right now Key’s reluctance to run down the vast political capital he has accumulated is understandable.

Implementing the Maori Party’s flagship Whanau Ora programme and settling the foreshore and seabed imbroglio could both end up exploding in his face any time soon.

Add to that volatile combination a less than popular rise in GST. Thursday’s TV3 poll revealed a 74 per cent rejection of an increase in GST from 12.5 to 15 per cent.

This negative sentiment switched dramatically to 45 per cent against and 52 per cent in favour when the rise was compensated by tax cuts.

This is no surprise.

On the same day the TV3 poll was released, Bill English was hosing down expectations that the top tax rate will drop from 38 to 30 per cent.

The finance minister indicated the top rate may fall to 33 per cent, while company tax may be cut from its current 30 per cent, especially if Australia drops its rate below that level.

This seems the smarter option. Cutting the top personal rate to 33 cents in the dollar rather than 30 cents will disappoint some higher income earners in National’s camp, but it will not impact on those earning less than $70,000.

The latter comprise the great bulk of taxpayers. It was going to be extremely difficult to persuade them a bigger reduction for a relative minority earning $70,000-plus was justified, given the impact of a hike on GST at the lower income end of the scale.

It was good timing that iPredict yesterday released some stocks on what the top tax rate will be next year.

The top tax rate should never fo course have increased from 33%. Cullen just wanted to punish the rich pricks. He didn’t need the money.

Politicians are now responding to rising public expectations that state entities justify their existence.

The result is a power shift from the state to its citizenry. Take Sweden’s public health system as an example. Patients have guarantees that if they are not treated within three months by their local health authority, they can go to a private hospital and the local health authority picks up the bill.

The Government here is a long way off adopting that kind of model. But this is clearly the direction in which National wants to head.

What a sensible policy Sweden has!


Reaction to PMs Statement

February 10th, 2010 at 10:38 am by David Farrar

The EU had a reception at the Backbencher last night, so lots of MPs and journalists there to chat to.  The typical opening line from a National MP was “So about that B grade” while from Labour MPs it was “Unlike Annette we won’t use Farrar and respect in the same sentence unless there are some other words in between” :-)

Phil Goff was there also, so I said I looked forward to him quoting me more often in future :-). Actually had an interesting chat generally on economic stuff, such as land tax. If Labour are bold they could consider proposing a land tax (tied to income tax reductions) for 2011. That could attract some support from economic reformers.

General consensus I got from pundits there was that there was definitely some good stuff in the Government’s work plan – in fact more detailed plans that most Governments announce in the PMs statement.

But what may trip the Government up is they misplayed the expectations game. Building the statement up as the “most important” one ever was a mistake, as was talking about it being a “step change”. Again, there is some good stuff there that certainly will help lift economic growth. But will the announcements alone close the gap with Australia? Of course not. But the rhetoric leading up to it, got expectations artificially high.

With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been better to have positioned the statement as a typical PMs statement – a general overview of the Government’s achievements and workplan, and then surprise the media and opposition when it turns out to have close to 30 specific initiatives in it.

As I said yesterday, I welcome the focus on growing the economic cake, not just how to split it up, and look forward to more details in the budget.

Reaction from others:

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The Armstrong Awards

December 19th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong first talks about who not not be Politician of the Year (a new rule stops someone winning it two years in a row so Key is ineligible), and then hands out the awards:

But when it comes to Politician of the Year, it is difficult to go past Tony Ryall. The Health Minister has hardly put a foot wrong in a portfolio which traditionally has been a political graveyard. Ryall’s political management in his portfolio has been exemplary, first with respect to the swine flu scare and then with the Labtests fiasco in Auckland.

Well done Tony. I doubt a Health Minister has ever won the award before.

Backbencher of the Year: Act’s John Boscawen. …

Polite to a fault, the Aucklander is not afraid of putting Cabinet ministers on the spot with well-timed and astutely worded questions that deliberately ignore or undercut Act’s alliance with National.

A self-employed finance and property investor before entering Parliament last year, he scored a minor coup in securing a much-needed select committee inquiry into finance houses.

And the other awards:

Rising stars: National’s Steven Joyce and Paula Bennett; Labour’s David Parker, Grant Robertson, Charles Chauvel, Phil Twyford and Chris Hipkins; the Maori Party’s Rahui Katene.
The “we wish 2009 never happened … please say it never happened” award: Shared by National’s Richard Worth, Kate Wilkinson, Melissa Lee and Kanwaljit Singh, and Labour’s Phil Goff and Chris Carter.
Quiet achievers: Foreign Minister Murray McCully, Trade Minister Tim Groser and (increasingly) Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee.
Jury’s out: Anne Tolley’s performance as Education Minister; Shane Jones’ chances of becoming Labour’s next leader.
Once were farmyard roosters, now feather dusters award: Act’s Rodney Hide and the Maori Party’s Hone Harawira.
Missing in action: The Greens’ new co-leader, Metiria Turei; the Greens in general; large chunks of Labour’s front bench.
Gone – but not forgotten: The Greens’ Sue Bradford.
Gone – and already forgotten: National’s Richard Worth.

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Armstrong on Labour

December 12th, 2009 at 8:56 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

What is really going on inside the Labour Party caucus? The show of unity following Tuesday’s discussion on the negative fall-out from Phil Goff’s “nationhood” speech did not quite square with some rather odd happenings the next day.

For starters, there was Goff’s opting out of Wednesday’s question time in Parliament. The Labour leader delegated his usual role of questioning the Prime Minister to his deputy, Annette King. That may not seem a big deal. But the ritual nature of parliamentary warfare dictates that party leader take on party leader.

I presume it was because they knew Goff would get so many hassles about delivering a speech neither he nor his Caucus believes in.

Amid all this, Parliament’s finance and expenditure select committee was treated to some extraordinary theatrics from Labour finance spokesman David Cunliffe at its meeting on Wednesday. Cunliffe’s attempted interrogation of Finance Minister Bill English was Perry Mason mixed with Basil Fawlty – cringe-making and hugely embarrassing.

Hmmn had not heard about this. Will be great if the Office of the Clerk can arrange for Parliament TV to also cover select committees.

Trevor Mallard, Labour’s education spokesman, may find Education Minister Anne Tolley easy meat. But the end-game here should be the huge segment of middle-of-the-road voters worried about what kind of education their children are getting – not the teacher unions whose opposition to national testing is driven by self-interest.

The unions’ supposed concern that schools in poor areas will be stigmatised by failing to meet standards is a cynical cover for their real worry – that teachers’ inadequacies will be exposed by league tables which will show exactly which schools in richer areas are failing to deliver for their pupils.

The smart, though admittedly brave, move for Goff would have been to endorse national standards and even raise the benchmarks for satisfactory performance. In one swoop, that would have outflanked National and nullified Labour’s image of political correctness.

Mallard’s onslaught on Tolley means that opportunity has passed.

I think education could be a real battleground issues next election, and that parents will overwhelmingly be on the side of the party wanting them to know how their kids are doing.

Labour this year has only caused National any grief on three issues – emissions trading, ACC and cutbacks to night-class education.

I don’t quite agree here.

National has taken some hits on emissions trading I believe – but from its own supporters for doing anything at all, rather than from the left for not doing more.

There has been some grief around ACC relating to specific stuff like motorcyclists, but Labour has totally lost the argument over the unsustainable nature of the status quo. In 2011 I think ACC will be a negative for Labour as people will be reminded of the mess they left.

And on night-class education, those protesting have been the providers and a few others. I think the vast majority of NZers have been appalled to find out that they had been paying taxes to subsidise silk scarf painting courses and the like.

National’s Tony Ryall summed it up on Wednesday when he said Labour was suffering from RDS – “relevance deprivation syndrome”.

The term may have been coined by Australia’s former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, but the Health Minister’s diagnosis was spot-on.

In short, Labour is desperately hunting for relevance and hurting badly in not finding it.

To be fair to Labour, most parties in opposition can struggle with that for some time.

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Pundits on Goff

December 9th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

Phil Goff emerged from Labour’s caucus meeting yesterday claiming his MPs were unanimous in their backing of both the tone and content of his now-infamous “nationhood” speech. There is no reason to doubt him. Short of doing what is currently the unthinkable – toppling him – the caucus had little option but to weigh in behind their leader – in public at least.

I’m reminded of the old adage that anytime a Caucus feels the need to pledge unanimous support for a leader, the coup is not far off. Not as Armstrong says, this is not the case at the moment – but unanimous pledges of support are things best avoided.

There could be no halfway house. The priority was to present a united front to the world outside. That was evident in Goff and party president Andrew Little, who has acknowledged party members’ worries with aspects of the speech, entering the meeting shoulder-to-shoulder.

Given Labour is rating around 30 per cent support in the polls – 20 percentage points behind National – the party could not afford go into the summer recess amidst internal dissent and with questions over the leader’s actions unresolved.

Goff insists he was not playing the race card when he gave the speech. If he was not overtly playing the race card, however, he knew perfectly well that he was producing enough evidence – be it the use of loaded language like “porkbone politics” or the choice of a provincial city audience for the speech – to lay himself open to that charge.

Yeah I’d love him to make that speech at Ratana, on even in Wellington Central, rather than Palmerston North Greypower. Instead Goff says he is not going to talk about the topic again. Dr Brash had the sincerity of his convictions and was happy to defend his views from one end of the country to another.

The PM put it this way yesterday: the tragedy of Phil Goff was that he had made a speech he did not believe in and as a result the Labour Party no longer believed in him. Not quite. The party has to believe in Goff because for the time being it has no one else it can believe in.

What Goff’s advisors do not realise is that the speech did not have credibility coming from someone who has been an MP for around 30 years and a Cabinet Minister in the last Government.

Colin Espiner blogs:

What I found interesting was that neither Goff nor Little tried to deny that there had been discontent within the party over the speech – they simply used the usual political euphemisms such as “robust debate” and the intriguing comment that “the Labour Party is not a Stalinist organisation”.

Heh the missing words are “no longer” :-)

Ironically while Goff claims Labour is not “Stalinist” and has always vigorously debated issues, that actually isn’t true. It didn’t debate very much at all when Helen Clark was in charge, and that’s why Labour was so successful.

I’ve no doubt the party is probably a more relaxed and even pleasant place to be now that Clark and her iron-fisted rule have gone, but the free flow of debate and opinion can always be interpreted the wrong way if one isn’t careful.

That’s all I think has happened with Goff’s speech – at least, so far. No one is going to use this to challenge the leader, partly because no one else wants the job right now and partly because there are so many people in that caucus who think they are next in line that they’d never get any agreement on a candidate to replace him.

I’ve always said it is likely Goff will survive until the election, but it will be fascinating to see who stands after the election. At a minimum you could expect Jones, Cunliffe and Little.

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Herald on Govt’s first year

October 31st, 2009 at 9:12 am by David Farrar

This weekend it is the Herald’s turn to do a big feature on the Government’s first year in office. Multiple article to quote.

John Armstrong starts with what I think is the most important aspect:

The first Herald-DigiPoll survey since last year’s election shows close to 80 per cent of respondents rated the Government’s performance in dealing with the effect of the global recession on New Zealand as good, very good or excellent.

Barely 20 per cent rated the Government’s response to the recession as not good or poor.

And this is the major issue voters have focused on. Not use of urgency, not the Super City, not RWC broadcasting, not any of the numerous beltway issues. Not to say handling of those issues is not worthy of focus, but they are not critical to the average voter.

In another article, Armstrong reviews Key himself:

Key’s sheer ordinariness has fooled opponents into making first impression assumptions that there is little substance behind the confident, smiley face he presents to the world.

Key would not claim to be an intellectual. But he is very bright. Those who have worked closely with him speak of a capacity to absorb mountains of information and a laser-like capacity to focus on what needs to be done.

I would almost call Key a data sponge. He loves soaking up information from numerous sources, and reflecting on it. He is constantly thinking, and analysing.

He is anything but ordinary. The chief executive of New Zealand Incorporated is nothing short of a political phenomenon.

As one Beehive operative of long experience puts it, Key is rewriting the rules of New Zealand politics. That is a sweeping statement. But it goes some way to explaining why public support for National – confirmed in today’s Herald-DigiPoll survey – has climbed to unprecedented highs for a ruling party in its first year of government and, just as crucially, continues to remain at that level.

The challenge for the Government is to build its own brand to complement Key’s strong brand.

Key cites his Government’s fulfillment of manifesto commitments and steering the country through and (he hopes) out of economic recession as crucial in consolidating support for his party. Cabinet ministers readily acknowledge, however, that National’s post-election dream run is overwhelmingly down to Key’s strong rapport with voters – especially females who shunned National in the past.

It is rare for a centre-right party to do well with female voters.

Labour Party insiders grudgingly agree, but with a subtle twist in the language: National’s popularity rests on Key’s popularity. When the latter starts to fade, the former will quickly evaporate.

As I said above, I agree with them that the popularity is largely Key. But that may change over time, as other Ministers become better known. Also the other Ministers have generally been doing quite well in their portfolios – what is lacking is more a coherent all of Government brand.

Or so Labour prays. Labour, however, has made a bad habit of underestimating Key.

And they still are.

One of the principal ways he is seen to be rewriting the rules is by applying a “will it work” test to policy proposals rather than first asking whether they sit comfortably with National Party ideology. Key’s willingness to search for ideas outside conventional boundaries is in tune with an electorate less hung-up about ideology than in the 1980s and 1990s.

Key has centre-right values and instincts, but he sees them as a guide not a straitjacket.

This may irk some colleagues who see the vast gap between National and Labour in the polls as a rare chance for National to adopt a more radical and right-leaning prescription. …

Key seems to have no difficulty with either proposition. However, he is extremely wary of breaching National’s 2008 manifesto. He believes it is vital that voters feel confident they can trust National in government.

I’m one of those who want to see the Government be more bold, and indeed use that vast poll gap while we have it. But it isn’t about being more “right”, it is about fighting battles that are important to our future such as tax reform, the union stranglehold in education, state sector reform etc. But I agree any reform has to be consistent with the election manifesto. But there are plenty of areas where initiatives were not ruled in or out.

Dunne also noted that “references to what happened in the 1990s, let alone what side one was on during the Springbok Tour or, heaven forbid, the Vietnam War are utterly irrelevant to the values of this new generation, as Helen Clark found out dramatically last year, and Phil Goff is continuing to find out”.

The battles of yesterday.

Though Goff is an effective communicator, Key operates on another level. Unlike some politicians, he never talks down to people. He instead likes to disarm his audiences – no matter how big or small – by kicking off proceedings with a witty anecdote. More often than not, the joke is at his own expense. And deliberately so. The self-deprecation helps to break the ice.

A typical example was a recent meeting with youngsters at a riding school. Praising their ambition to represent New Zealand in show-jumping at the 2016 Olympics. Key turned to their proud parents, telling them “and you’ll be able to watch it all on Maori television”.

Heh. More seriously I recommend anyone who has not seen Key do a Q&A, should attend one of his meetings. He really engages with the audience, and as John A says, never talking down.

Yet, a year on from the election, it is still difficult to discern the direction in which the Government is going. Presumably it knows, because it is a very busy Government. It would be useful if it told the rest of us.

If Key has a major flaw, it is in not drawing the big picture often enough.

I agree. I don’t think it has mattered much this year, for it has been a crisis year – fighting the recession. But as that fades as an issue, people are going to want to hear more about closing (or at least slowing) the gao with Australia.

Key’s power is at its zenith. But how does he intend to use it? What legacy does he want to leave? The next 12 months will be true measure of his prime ministership, judged on what is done to get his promised “step change”in New Zealand’s economic growth.

I think the 2010 budget is very important, even more so that the 2011 budget.

Claire Trevett reports 78% of NZers back the series of cycleways.

Patrick Gower talks to Rodney Hide about working with John Key.

John Armstrong also reviews Bill English.

Claire Trevett talks to Tariana Turia:

Do you still have that level of trust in National?

Yes. What I’ve enjoyed the most is our ability to be upfront with one another and be straightforward on issues. I have never found that they’ve said one thing to me in a meeting and done another.

I recall what John Tamihere said about how Cullen used to treat coalition partners!

Have there been difficult choices?

When you can see value in what is being proposed but there’s always downsides to it. We’ve had to think really carefully about ACC, the Emissions Trading Scheme, and adult education courses.

For example with the ETS, it’s been difficult to try to balance the interests of iwi – whose major focus is forestry, fishing and farming – when on the other hand we’ve got really poor communities who are going to have to pay and they’re not the ones causing the problems.

There are very few policies that don’t involve balancing the trade-offs.

Jon Johannsson talks leadership:

I believe we are watching an unusual prime ministership take shape. Key’s skillset is vastly different from what we’ve seen before. We’d possibly have to go all the way back to the entrepreneurial Julius Vogel in the 1870s to find an apt comparison. Vogel put in vital and much-needed infrastructure to connect New Zealanders with each other and then with the rest of the world. Vogel’s legacy is a hugely significant one in our politics. If Key could affect a 21st century equivalent – meaning nothing short of major structural transformation to better position New Zealand during its transition to an information-age economy – his future legacy would be assured.

And Key has pushed hard on infrastructure. But the structural transformation is not there – however stuff like the fibre to the home initiative may be part of that.

Key has also grasped that our politics is going through a non-ideological phase, which explains why much of the criticism of his Government’s performance has come from ideologues on either side of the spectrum. His acceptance of much of Labour’s policy inheritance reinforces this judgment. Keeping its promises, which National has largely done, thereby establishing long-term trust with the electorate, has given Key the prerequisite platform needed for greater freedom of action in the future.

Absolutely. You have to earn trust, to then have greater freedom of action.

But to return to where I began, Key’s larger context; his political vision has been quite parsimonious in my view. There is no overarching narrative that tells us where Key intends taking us or what policy mix will best maximise our future progress and choices.

Transforming education (surely the best incubator for our future economic prosperity), leading our democracy (think: the electoral referendum, the Treaty, republicanism), and how to best protect water, our most valuable strategic resource, are being managed, not led, in an entirely ad-hoc fashion.

I think this is fair criticism.

Finally John Roughan:

The most impressive member of the Cabinet is a complete newcomer, Steven Joyce.

He is doing the infrastructure projects, notably the duplicate broadband network, as well as those in his primary portfolio, transport.

He’s done the little things, like the car cellphone ban on which the previous government dithered for years, and the big things like the Waterview connection, which I thought was wrong but he put me right.

I remarked to the Dominion Post for their review that I thought John Key’s best decision was probably appointing Steven Joyce to such critical portfolios. The fibre rollout was Key’s signature initiative, and speeding up infrastructure investment also a iconic issue for Key. And Steven indeed is no ditherer.

Of course I still think he is wrong on the cellphone ban!

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Armstrong on Health changes

October 24th, 2009 at 8:49 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

It is not that long ago – only a matter of months – that the loss of 500 jobs in a crucial branch of the state sector would have been the major news story of the day. …

The same could not be said about this week’s announcement that the axe will fall on close to 500 positions in the Ministry of Health and across the country’s 21 district health boards over the next 18 months.

The media reaction was very ho-hum despite the layoffs actually being closer to 700 once 200 vacant positions in the Ministry of Health which will not be filled were included in the tally. …

Increasingly, the feeling is that the public has – to borrow from Helen Clark – moved on from the days when it could get outraged by the merest hint of slash-and-burn spending cuts or privatisation. The assumption was that National won last year’s election through John Key positioning his party more to the centre. It is clear now that a large portion of the electorate had already shifted to the right.

John is partly right here, but only partly. The public mood has shifted, but I would not call it a shift to the right. It is the same shift we have seen in the UK, where most of the public now support spending cuts.

It is not a change in political views, but a reaction to the recession. Part of it is a feeling of shared belt-tightening. If businesses and households can tighten their belts, so can the Government. And it is partly that people do understand huge deficits and massive borrowing is not sustainable.

The other aspect I would point out is that it is hard to call what Ryall is doing as slash and burn spending cuts. He has promised that Vote Health will not decrease, but the gains from the bureaucracy reduction will be transferred into frontline services. This changes things considerably.

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