The John and Bill team

November 7th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Two interesting articles in the Herald. The first:

Prime Minister John Key has admitted he had to be persuaded to back off his bid to press the Reserve Bank into exempting first-home buyers from the banks’ new rules on loan-to-value ratios (LVRs) by Finance Minister Bill English.

Mr Key went into bat very publicly for an exemption for first-home buyers in June, during the bank’s consultation period on LVRs, which limit low-deposit or no-deposit mortgages by retail banks.

At the time he said he didn’t want the LVR to work for a “bunch of rich people and lock out a whole lot of first-home buyers.”

But in a joint interview with Mr English this week – marking five years in power for the National-led Government – he indicated that Mr English thought taking on the independent bank would be more trouble than it was worth.

“So I took a step back from that and said ‘yeah, okay, well fine’. That’s the way it goes.”

There is a line between advocating and directing. It is important the Reserve Bank is independent. Sadly Labour proposes ending that independence.

Mr Key also admitted he had been very reluctant at first to raise GST in 2010 but was persuaded fairly quickly about its merits.

“I’d be the first to admit I was a bit nervous about raising GST thinking can you actually politically sell all of that,” he said.

“Actually after we did all the modelling and we worked on it together, we were absolutely convinced it was fair and would actually work and it would deliver the sort of policy outcomes we wanted. And actually it’s definitely delivering results for the economy.”

The pair said they did not have arguments or rows.

Mr Key said the measure of any decent relationship was that you worked your way through all sorts of issues and respected each other’s views.

They are a hugely effective team.

Mr English made much of what he described as Mr Key’s instinctive ability to communicate with the public and maintain its support, and knowing how to set boundaries in terms of policy constraints.

They cited the example of state tenants’ entitlements.

Mr Key said successive Ministers of Housing and Housing officials had wanted the income that any state tenant received from boarders to be received to be counted as income in terms of calculating entitlements.

“But my view is well that would be seen as a step too far for large families or families that are trying really hard to make ends meet.

“And in the end if they are prepared to go the extra mile of having someone live in their home and cook them a meal, they are just good New Zealanders trying to get ahead.

“It’s like the carparking [dumped fringe benefit tax] issue.

“In the perfection of the IRD officials, we should have carried on with putting an FBT on those carparks – but that’s how you lose the public,” he said.

Mr Key also indicated that he had put constraints on labour market reforms.

You don’t get to implement much policy in Opposition. You fight the good fight on issues worth it such as the GST tax trade-off and the partial asset sales, but why take a hit on relatively minor issues such as FBT on car parks. No one will thank you in 20 years time for that one.

A second article looks at the John and Bill team:

The lingering question is how this pairing has avoided the pitfalls which have seen governments paralysed when the two pockets of power have stopped trusting one another and started undermining one another.

Told, the Herald wants to focus on their partnership before and after National was returned to power in 2008, Key turns and looks at English and exclaims “Okay, love” and laughs. English replies in typically droll fashion: “As a loyal deputy, I can assure you, it is not a partnership.” He means not that sort of partnership.

The humour, however, has an edge which leaves the listener wondering just how well the two men actually get along.

Very well, because they both understand which job they have, and Bill is not seeking a promotion (and in fact has ruled out ever standing for the leadership).

English’s tentacles certainly extend way beyond the confines of his finance portfolio. He was the one pushing hard for meaningful welfare reform. He has basically overseen the big changes in the housing of the poor. He keeps a watching brief on the public service and its adoption of new methods of delivering services. Given the almost-universal involvement of the Treasury in any reform, however, it is par for the course that the finance minister is involved.

Bill is constantly thinking about how to improve the performance of the Government as a whole. He has dozens of little pet projects on the go at any times ranging from championing open data to some funds for small local councils to do anti-truancy measures.

Bill on John:

• “(John) has more ideas than we know how to handle. My framework is a bit more conventional so I spend a lot of time just dealing with issues in a reasonably predictable way but the PM is always stretching the boundaries.”

• “He’s endlessly capable of everything, I assure you – catching fish, cooking pasta, making up policy, being friends with the Queen. There is nothing this man can’t do.”

John on Bill:

• “They are quite complementary skills. I do a lot of going around the country opening things and cutting ribbons and being the kind of face of the party that’s interacting with the public. And Bill is doing a lot of the long term thinking, heavy-lifting and policy design, all the things that involve ministers … I’m kind of the retail face.”

I wonder how David Cunliffe and Russel Norman or David Parker will work together, if they become Government.

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A dumb argument

November 6th, 2013 at 11:15 am by David Farrar

Audrey Young reports:

Labour says it will reduce the dominance of overseas-owned insurers, keep profits in New Zealand, and bring competition, flexibility and choice to New Zealanders.

Cunliffe implied that National’s opposition to the policy is because it received big donations from the insurance industry in 2005 and attempted to table the Hollow Men documentary on the Nicky Hager book.

Please tell me you are joking? Did the Labour Leader really claim that National’s policy in 2013 is influenced by some donations made in 2005? That’s just desperate.

Finance Minister Bill English said the idea of a bank taking on more insurance risk “is about the dumbest proposal that could possibly be made in the light of events following the global financial crisis.”

“We have already got the bill for $7 billion of Earthquake Commission risk. Why would we take on more?”

It was glorious day outside but English was having none of that. “Having low-income people working in the rain, paying their PAYE and underwriting financial risk is as dumb an idea was you can have in the 2020s.”

KiwiAssure, if it came to pass, would also be New Zealand 97th insurance company.

The other 96 are not good enough?

Key responded on KiwiBank. Yes it was a good little business.

“I might point out though this it has taken $860 million of taxpayers’ money and it has never paid a dividend in 10 years.”

It’s arguable that KiwiBank doesn’t even cover the cost of capital, and is effectively subsidized by the taxpayer.

He challenged Cunliffe to name another bank operating in New Zealand that had an insurance company, and offered insurance on the same property they were lending on.

“They do not do that.”

Cunliffe: “Is he aware that ASB Bank own Tower Insurance? If he is, why is he asking such a stupid question.”

Within minutes of Cunliffe’s comment, National’s research unit – or perhaps a few friends in the insurance industry – had got the message to Key that Cunliffe was wrong.

ASB did not own Tower. They sent the list of owners. Key tried to read through the list.

That’s a big fail.

Eventually Labour’s deputy, David Parker, and possibly the source of his leader’s error, did the honourable thing and acknowledged the error by asking Key: “Has he received any advice that ASB in fact own Sovereign Assurance?”

Key: “Yes it does own Sovereign and let us get to the better bit…Sovereign provides life insurance, and the way [Cunliffe] is going, he will need life insurance.”

I don’t think Labour are proposing a state owned insurer to provide life insurance. It is obviously targeted at property and contents insurance, the idea of having a bank own a property insurance company is a great way to have it go bankrupt.

 

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Watkins on National’s popularity

November 2nd, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins gives five reasons for why National is still polling in the mid to high 40s after five years in office.

  1. John Key
  2. Steering a course through the global financial crisis
  3. Softly, softly government
  4. Tragedy and disaster
  5. Raising the bar for ministerial performance

With the second point, Watkins notes:

Key made a point of highlighting National’s determination not to slash and burn in response to the global financial crisis and the massive debt burden that welcomed it into office.

Previous National governments would have worn the scorched-earth label as a badge of honour, and Key’s government came under pressure from some quarters to hack into government spending under cover of the crisis. That National resisted doing so – and even increased spending on welfare initiatives at the height of the GFC – has earned Key a reservoir of goodwill with voters and neutralised Labour’s attacks on him as a Right-wing wolf in sheep’s clothing.

National is on track to get the books back into surplus, without “slash and burn”. The challenge when we get back into surpluses is to have a balanced policy where some of the surplus goes on debt reduction, some on extra spending and some on tax reductions. I believe NZers support a balanced approach. Labour only does tax reductions at the point of a gun – they believes surpluses mean just spend as much extra money as possible.

Key is known to keep his ministers on their toes by putting them through yearly performance appraisal reviews and laying out his expectations during individual chats at the start of each year.

I’m not certain of the timing, but it could be more frequent than annually. But he certainly does take a CEO approach to the Government, and regularly gives feedback on where things are going well and not so well.

He shocked many when he dumped Cabinet ministers Phil Heatley and Kate Wilkinson at the start of this year for under-performance, an unheard-of occurrence.

And there may be another reshuffle next year. Not because any Ministers need to go, but because it is important to rejuvenate the team.

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Key in Christchurch

November 1st, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

David Cunliffe would have you think John Key is a hated neo-lib who would sell his own mother. But a fair few Christchurch people seem to disagree. Stuff reports:

Shoppers in central Christchurch gave Prime Minister John Key a rock-star-like welcome when he visited the Palms Shopping Centre this morning.

Key, who was in town to launch the National’s Party’s Christchurch East by-election campaign with its candidate, Matthew Doocey, was mobbed by shoppers as the pair walked through the shopping centre.

Key posed for dozens of photographs and even filmed an impromptu video on an iPhone for the Whanau School Community’s student attendance class which is graduating soon.

He mingled with mothers and their children, staff from nearby retailers and barely made it past the first five shops in one wing in 30 minutes – such was his popularity.

The shopping centre is in Shirley, which isn’t like Fendalton. The average income is near identical to the city as a whole, and their average deprivation is decile 8 (10 is most deprived).

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Cunliffe gets personal

November 1st, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

3 News reported:

Despite criticism of the sales, Mr Cunliffe says Prime Minister John Key would sell his mother if he got the chance.

I don’t think the public will respond well to snide personal attacks. You can follow the link and see the video at one minute 30. I can’t imagine any swinging voter will respond well to the combination on display there.

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MOM vs SOE model

October 29th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stacey Kirk at Stuff reports:

If Solid Energy was partly privatised, it probably would not be in the mess it is in now, Prime Minister John Key says.

Continuing to defend the Government’s sell-down of state assets, Key said today a deal to bailout Solid Energy might not have been necessary had the company been partially floated.

“My own personal view is if we’d had the mixed ownership model applied to Solid Energy, it may well not have gotten itself in the mess it did,” he told Firstline.

“That’s because the external analysis would have rung a lot of bells and demanded a lot more accountability,” he said.

This is absolutely right.  Companies listed on the NZX have continuous disclosure obligations. They have a share price which indicates what the investment experts and shareholders think the company is worth. You get far far more accountability with an NZX listing than you do with an SOE.

He also said other state-owned assets such as TVNZ and NZ Post, had proven not to be good long-term investments to hold on to.

TVNZ and NZ Post will probably both be worth next to nothing in 10 years times. We should be selling them while we can get a cent for them.

“People look at it through rose-tinted glasses, but the reality is the SOE [State-Owned Enterprise] model is not actually a brilliant model,” he said.

“The mixed-ownership model is probably a better model,” he said.

I prefer a full private ownership model if the company is a commercial trading company, but MOM is certainly superior to SOE.

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Cunliffe won’t reveal euthanasia stance

October 16th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Labour leader David Cunliffe said the coroner’s recommendation was “interesting”. Mr Cunliffe, a staunch Anglican, said he would not reveal his personal stance on legalising euthanasia, which wouldbe decided by a conscience vote if itcame before Parliament.

“I have a personal view, but given my current responsibilities I’m going to reserve that until my caucus has an opportunity to discuss it.”

I’m sorry, but the Labour caucus has already discussed it. Street would have needed the permission of caucus to lodge her bill last year.

Why can’t Cunliffe just tell us his view? Is he worried that it may upset some people.

Prime Minister John Key said he broadly supported the principle of voluntary euthanasia and would consider it if he was terminally ill.

He said the Government would not introduce it as policy because a clear party stance was required and many National MPs would not support it.

Mr Key said he would not back Ms Street’s bill because he felt it went too far.

A good contrast. Key gives his personal view, and even says how he would vote on Street’s bill. You know where you stand with him.

UPDATE: Even weirder Cunliffe has previously said he would vote for Street’s bill, so why is he now being coy?

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Q+A with the PM

October 12th, 2013 at 11:41 am by David Farrar

Audrey Young interviews John Key:

How many leaders have you met withduring the Pacific Islands Forum in the Marshall Islands, Britain and France and the United Nations last month and Apec in Bali and and the East Asia Summit in Brunei this week?

[Calculates aloud] Seventy. In my time as Prime Minister, this has been the most intense.

That’s a busy month!

Who made the strongest impression on you this week and why?

Xi Jinping [China's President] has a lot of presence about him. He has a very different style to Hu Jintao. Hu Jintao was less communicative – he stuck to the script whereas Xi Jinping, you feel like you are developing a relationship with him. It’s actually very true of Li Keqiang as well [China's Premier]. They [have] quite a different style to the previous Chinese leadership and they interact with you. You get feedback on how things are going.

Xi Jinping is relatively young (just turned 60). He has been a consistent advocate of attracting investment and boost a free market economy.

Which of the leaders you’ve seen this week are you text buddies with?

Aquino in the Philippines, definitely. Najib in Malaysia, obviously Tony Abbott in Australia.

I think people would be surprised how often various national leaders text each other.

You’re an elder statesman at Apec now.

If I was to reflect back to the first Apec in Peru in 2008, in a sense it shows you how much you learn in five years in the job. There’s always things you don’t know and always things that change but you get so much more comfortable and familiar. Five years ago, Kevin Rudd was the Australian Prime Minister and he went around and introduced me to a lot of the leaders because I really didn’t know anybody. This time I introduced Tony Abbott to people. Funnily when I was chairing the TPP meeting I didn’t feel at all nervous. We took it really seriously but I wasn’t nervous. It was a fun part of the job.

I’m not sure being introduced by Kevin Rudd to people would be an advantage!

Perhaps you’d like an international job like Helen Clark after politics.

I’m touched, but no thanks.

I’d be picking after politics, Bronagh gets to pick what they do next! :-)

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Herald on TPP talks

October 8th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

New Zealanders will be mildly amused that their Prime Minister has stepped into the breach left by US President Barack Obama’s inability to be at Bali this week to chair an important meeting of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. But we can be proud, too, that New Zealand still has a leading role in this project. …

It would be easy for such an ambitious project to become unwieldy and lose focus as more countries join the talks. There is always the risk that late-comers are joining the talks for the sake of appearances rather than with a serious intent.

But the last to join, Japan, seems serious. In fact its reformist Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, may be the leader keenest to have something definite agreed by the end of this year. That goal, set by President Obama, should concentrate the minds of the meeting that it falls to John Key to chair.

If Japan agrees to a phasing out of agricultural tariffs, that would be huge.

But if it can lower barriers to our exports, New Zealand may have to make concessions in other areas. Since trade negotiations typically proceed in secrecy so that positions are not solidified by political pressure, the possible concessions can arouse fearful speculative opposition.

Opponents of TPP in New Zealand fear the Government will have to compromise on pharmaceutical purchasing, forcing Pharmac to buy prescription drugs on terms dictated by suppliers, particularly in the United States. More generally, opponents warn that the foreign companies will be able to claim damages in international courts against any Government decision that harms their investment here.

The other area of potential concern is around the US proposed intellectual property chapter. It has provisions in it such as extending copyright from life plus 50 years to life plus 70 years. I think life plus 20 is more than enough personally.

To date the NZ Government position has been to reject clauses that would require a change to our existing IP laws. I hope that position continues. There can be economic costs to having overly restrictive IP laws – as Australia has calculated.

 

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Key subs for Obama

October 7th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Audrey Young reports:

Prime Minister John Key will replace US President Barack Obama as chairman of a top-level meeting in Bali this week.

On Friday afternoon, Obama cancelled his trip to the leaders’ summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum on the island because of the American Budget crisis that has resulted in about 800,000 Government workers not being paid.

US Secretary of State John Kerry will represent Obama at the summit, and at the Trans Pacific Partnership meeting on the sidelines.

NZ Trade Minister Tim Groser said it was decided yesterday that Key should chair the meeting of the 12 countries negotiating the TPP agreement.

The 12 countries are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. Their combined GDP is around US$25.4 trillion.

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Key calls for UN reform

September 28th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Prime Minister John Key has used a speech to the United Nations to launch a scathing attack on the Security Council, warning that inaction over events like the humanitarian crisis in Syria had damaged its credibility.

In notes for a trenchant speech lasting nearly 20 minutes, Key said the UN was in urgent need of reform – a key pitch in New Zealand’s bid for a seat on the Security Council.

“Its key organs, particularly the Security Council, have become hostage to their own traditions and to the interests of the most powerful,” Key said.

“We now seem to have a practice whereby the permanent members can not only block council actions through the veto. They also appear to have privileged access to information and can stop the council from meeting if it does not suit their collective purposes.

“Such behaviour damages the reputation and credibility of the wider organisation and must be challenged.” …

Key has been in New York drumming up support for New Zealand’s Security Council seat bid.

He said New Zealand was not advocating revolution “but we are asserting the council can and must do better in the way it conducts its business.

“That is the approach New Zealand will bring to the Security Council if we are elected next October,” he said.

“From the 1950s to the 1990s we could blame the Cold War when the Security Council did not act.

That does not wash today.”

Key called this week for permanent Security Council members to be stripped of their right of veto over acts of genocide or war crimes.

I wonder if one potential reform is that you need two permanent members to veto something, not one. That would still hold some protection from the tyranny of the majority, but would mean Russia and China would no longer have s sole veto. Of course US, UK and France would also lose a sole veto but two of them together could still veto – as could Russia and China.

Of course there is little incentive for any holders of the veto to weaken its power.

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Key wanted to vomit on the press gallery

September 25th, 2013 at 5:35 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Prime Minister John Key says he wanted to vomit on the press – literally – but managed to keep his stomach down.

John Key is probably not the only Prime Minister who has wanted to do that! :-)

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The PM and the Queen

September 24th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

I’ve been trying to think of the last time a NZ Prime Minister (and their family) was invited to stay at Balmoral, and I can’t recall it ever happening before.

The Queen has had 14 New Zealand Prime Ministers during her reign, and according to media reports Key is the first to ever be invited. He even had the 87 year old Monarch drive him around the estate!

The UK PM does get invited regularly, but it is a first for a NZ PM, and I think possibly for an Australian or Canadian PM also.

The question is why was Key invited, when no other NZ PM has been? He is not the longest serving.

I think it is purely the strength of their personal relationship. I recall when in 2008 the Herald profiled Key and spoke to former colleagues and competitors. Despite working in a cut throat industry, no one had a bad word to say about him. Likewise in the job as PM, he has struck up warm personal (on top of the purely professional) relationships with Julia Gillard, David Cameron and it seems the Queen (and Prince William).

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Caption Contest

September 20th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

capcon

 

Oh dear, how can one resist a caption contest for this. As always captions should be funny, not nasty.

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Key v Cunliffe Day 1

September 18th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

If the deputy leadership was a lost opportunity for symbolism, Cunliffe’s first head-to-head battle with Prime Minister John Key was another. In a sign of how heavily caucus headaches had been weighing on his mind, Cunliffe’s usual polish deserted him and he muffed his questions to Key not just once but twice.

That won’t upset his supporters too much; even on a bad day Cunliffe’s sure-footedness in the job is a marked contrast to his predecessor David Shearer.

And Jane Clifton:

Brain experts are always telling us that the subconscious is never off- duty, and it was pretty clear yesterday that David Cunliffe’s deeper mind hijacked his mouth during his first clash with the Prime Minister as Labour leader in Parliament yesterday.

He’s had an intense few weeks of campaigning for the new job most caucus colleagues didn’t want him to have, and 48 hours of demoting some of them, and sacking their staff. So when the time came to demand answers from John Key about the Government’s protection of tech company Chorus, out came the word “caucus” instead. Quite the Freudian slip.

He kept his composure during the resulting laughter, but when he repeated his question, about a phone call from the chairman of Chorus, out came “caucus” again – followed by another volley of hilarity.

It was repeating the mistake that really led to the hilarity.

“Why don’t we try that one more time?” he said wryly to Speaker David Carter, before finally managing to say “Chorus” – which drew him a chorus of mock approval from the Government benches. And possibly a caucus of mock approval from his own benches.

Heh.

John Armstrong writes:

The bout everyone had been waiting for began just before 2pm with a lengthy handshake, the Prime Minister making a rare crossing of Parliament’s chamber to the Opposition benches to congratulate David Cunliffe on his new job before returning to the Government trenches with every intention of demolishing yet another Labour leader.

It ended at 2.16pm with the new Leader of the Opposition resuming his seat, perhaps a little bruised, but otherwise intact, having failed to do likewise to Key. …

As a former Communications minister, Cunliffe well understands the issues. He certainly floated like a butterfly, at times diverging from his set list of questions if warranted.

But the fuss over the Government’s stance on a Commerce Commission ruling is complicated. Cunliffe’s eight questions to Key failed to build a convincing case of “crony capitalism” on the part of National and Chorus.

Key had come well-briefed, the mass of blue stickies splicing his papers being the clue. Cunliffe thus stung like a butterfly.

The only harm was self-inflicted. At one point, Cunliffe referred to the chairman of Chorus as the “chairman of caucus”. When the laughter died down, he inexplicably did exactly the same thing again. When he finally got it right a third time, National MPs burst into ironic cheers and applause.

And Fran O’Sullivan:

David Cunliffe leveraged the “axe the copper tax” campaign in Parliament yesterday to signal he intends to keep waging war against John Key’s Government over claims it is indulging in “crony capitalism”. Cunliffe’s question was direct: “Does he still think that Chorus will go broke if his Government does not intervene to change the pricing for access to the old copper-based broadband network as proposed by the Commerce Commission; if so, why?”

It was a marked change from the fatuous and deeply repetitive questions that Cunliffe’s predecessor David Shearer used to lob in each week asking Key if he “stood by all his statements”.

It was a welcome change from that silly question.

Cunliffe has strong support from the unions who played a huge role in catapulting him into the top job.

It’s inevitable that business lobbies will be seeking an assurance that a future Labour Government will not be purely a creature of the union lobby, that it will be pragmatic and not doctrinaire.

He didn’t get 70% of their vote for nothing!

And finally Audrey Young:

Prime Minister John Key walked across Parliament’s debating chamber and shook David Cunliffe’s hand to congratulate him on his election as Labour leader before the battle commenced. …

Mr Cunliffe twice questioned Mr Key about getting a phone call from the chair of Chorus, but opened himself up to a right hook from Mr Key.

Perhaps with the memory of his first caucus meeting today fresh in his mind, he twice referred to Mr Key getting a call from the “chair of caucus”.

On the third attempt, he got it right to mocking applause from the Government benches.

“One thing is true,” said Mr Key, “I do get a phone call from my caucus, but they all voted for me….

I can only imagine what the phone call from Trevor is like in San Francisco at the moment.

I suspect Trevor will get a round of applause when he returns to the House.

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Labour candidates competing for anti-Key statements

September 7th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

First Grant Robertson borrows from Russel Norman:

John Key, Robert Muldoon, Kim Dotcom?

I am in the middle of a leadership contest but what I do know is that the first two of those people have such similarities; it would be very hard to choose between them.

So Grant also thinks John Key is like Sir Robert Muldoon. I’mm not sure if he is demented or just playing to the audience.

But Shane Jones goes one better:

Labour leadership hopeful Shane Jones says he wants to string up Prime Minister John Key with a bungy cord around a “sensitive spot.” …

“I’m going to tie a bungy cord around a sensitive spot and then I’m going to get those callipers and cut them and then the mercenary of capitalism can suffer what he deserves – a dead cat bounce.”

Imagine if say John Key had spoken about Helen Clark like that. He would have been denounced by every newspaper and media outlet in New Zealand.

Speaking from the Marshall Islands this morning, Key said Jones’ intentions towards him “sounds painful”.

“If they want to spend their time taking about parts of my anatomy or my personality they are free to do so. I don’t think it will win them a lot of votes,” he added.

Key is pretty much the opposite of Muldoon when it comes to dealing with with personal attacks.

 

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Please Labour stop blaming the person who needs protection

September 4th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Labour’s police spokesman Kris Faafoi said the results showed a high level of use of the DPS by John Key.

“It shows how much the PM has stretched them.”

A spokeswoman for Mr Key said police made decisions on DPS staff assignments.

“The Prime Minister highly values his protection staff who are extremely professional and very hard working in sometimes challenging circumstances.”

I really wish Labour would stop their multi-year campaign of attacking the PM because he has Diplomatic Protection Squad Police accompany him. Its disgraceful. Their antics create a culture where politics may affect decisions around safety of the Prime Minister.

The PM (and previous PMs) get DPS protection because people threaten to kill them. It is not a perk of the job. It is a sad necessity. Labour should not blame the victim!

I hope when National is in opposition they are never so desperate as to criticise a Labour Prime Minister for having DPS accompany them.

Mind you if David Cunliffe wins, he may need the DPS to actually attend caucus meetings to protect him from his colleagues :-)

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Wired Wellington

August 26th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Strathmore Park blogs:

Nicola Young yesterday hosted what is, as far as I know, the first face to face between Wellington’s homegrown ICT companies and … the Prime Minister. In what has to be the coup of the local body elections to date, Nicola Young managed to get John Key to come and spend some face time with over forty of Wellington’s local geek powerhouses at Prefab in Jessie Street.

The messages were clear. Nicola Young understands the value of the ICT community in Wellington, and given she is also running for the Lambton Ward as well as mayor, that’s important for that community as they live, breathe, work, and do business in that ward. We know that she has an inner geek, she’s admitted that she codes her own website manually.

I went along to the meeting and it was excellent. The range of people there ranged from some of the more well known ones locally such as Catalyst and Powershop to ones which are doing great stuff globally such as the firm which has sold more than 3 million educational devices globally.

Let’s look at some of the messages out of this event.

Firstly, Nicola is serious. To organise an event like this takes a lot of effort and long days. 

Secondly, Nicola is serious about ICT as an industry in Wellington. She could have organised any number of industry groups, but she singled out ICT as a sector and did something for them. It shows a passion for the industry (you can’t hide that inner geek).

Third, John Key turned up and spent a good deal of time talking with the various geeks face to face about what they were doing, challenges, and so on. I want to stress something else here. This was an event with no mainstream media, I suspect that David Farrar and I will be the only ones to write about it. It wasn’t a PR stunt on John Key’s part, and that’s interesting, because that means that Nicola Young has the ear of central government all the way up to the Prime Minister.

In other words, the Prime Minister didn’t turn up because he was going to score media points, he turned up because Nicola asked him to come.

This definitely wasn’t a media opportunity. In fact Nicola and the PM spoke for less than five minutes. After that the PM talked one on with one with each person there over the next hour and a half or so. So it was a great opportunity for each local firm to let the PM know about what they were doing.

I was also very heartened that when the PM did speak, he talked about how the Government is very focused on not having big projects such as the new IRD computer system become something that only global multi-nationals can realistically tender for and that the path they are heading down is to do it in a series of smaller developments rather than one big project. This is exactly what people like Rod Drury had been advocating.

Also was interested to talk to Ari from Powershop and find that they now have around 19% of residential customers. That’s a great success story for a company just a few years old that operates almost entirely over the Internet. It also shows how competitive the retail electricity market is if they can go from 0% to 19% in five years.

Well done to Nicola for organising the event. I think it would be a great template for other centres to use also – instead of masses of speeches, or a cocktail function, you actually give 20 to 30 entrepreneurs face time with the PM.

WCC Watch covers this also.

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Sunday Times on Steffi Key

August 25th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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The (UK) Sunday Times reports:

Nude portraits of the Prime Minister’s daughter are creating a stir in the art world.

Stephanie Key, 20, studies at the prestigious Paris College of Art in France.

Her photographs, in which she poses naked with food positioned in strategic places, are being used to promote this year’s Paris Design Week.

One of the images shows Ms Key naked with sushi on her breasts and an octopus over her groin.

In another she poses with burger buns covering her breasts.

Art experts have called the work “visually arresting”.

They’re not nude portraits of course, but that sounds more sensational. They’re pretty typical modern art. The story has been picked up by TVNZ and I guess will be on both channels tonight and all the newspapers tomorrow.

NewstalkZB reports:

What would dad think? PM’s daughter poses nude

I’m sure he is incredibly proud of her as a talented young woman. The fact her father is PM shouldn’t interfere with her work at an art school in Paris. It is the Paris College of Art that choose to use her art to promote Paris Design Week, which suggests she is doing very well there.

I can understand the public interest, but this isn’t an issue where people should be asking the PM for comment. His only role here is as a father, not as PM.

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This is the other image. Again it is a long long way from being “nude” (not that there would be any problems if it was anyway). You see more revealing photos on Facebook all the time.

Not that I am an artist, but the McDonalds one appeals to me much more. The buns and fries are cheekily done, and the red and yellow is visually appealing – with the red wig matching in well.

The sushi one is pretty cool, but the thought of an octopus on the skin just isn’t for me!

If you choose to comment, be aware I will delete anything I consider inappropriate or even borderline.

 

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Trotter on Key

August 16th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

UNDERESTIMATING JOHN KEY is a serious mistake. Helen Clark did it in 2008, and Key knocked her out of the ring. He did the same to John Campbell last night.

When is the Left going to come to terms with the fact that John Key is National’s toughest, smartest and most dangerous leader – ever? Defeating “The Candidate from Central Casting” was never going to be easy, but our consistent failure to grasp the brute reality of Key’s clear superiority – when compared to just about every politician the Opposition can throw at him – is turning his defeat into a near impossibility.

Defeat is far from impossible. In theory a Labour/Greens/NZ First/Maori/Mana combination is within striking distance of governing.

However I do agree that many on the left under-estimate Key constantly. They forget his performance vs Cullen in 2005, Clark in 2008 and Goff in 2011 – each a 30 year veteran of Parliament.

We are, after all, talking about a politician whose popularity seldom dips below 40 percent in the Preferred Prime Minister ratings. We are looking at a National Government which, in 2011 increased its share of the Party Vote to an unprecedented 47.3 percent. And that was three years after it had been elected with an MMP record-breaking 44.9 percent. Why don’t we “get” how extraordinary this guy is? Since when does a prime minister’s (let alone a government’s) honeymoon last five years?! 

Simply because it is not a honeymoon. The actual honeymoon lasted around nine months.

Think about the televised encounter between John Key and John Campbell on last night’s Campbell Live (Wednesday, 14 August 2013) and then consider the Prime Minister’s tactics in the light of the following observations about political debate:

“This is the very first condition which has to be fulfilled in every kind of propaganda: a systematically one-sided attitude towards every problem that has to be dealt with … When they see an uncompromising onslaught against an adversary, the people have at all times taken this as proof that right is on the side of the aggressor; but if the aggressor should go only halfway and fail to push home his success … the people will look upon this as a sign that he is uncertain of the justice of his own cause.”

The source of these observations? Mein Kampf – by Adolf Hitler.

Another politician who was seriously underestimated by his enemies.

Chris often takes the hyperbole a step too far. In this case, it is several steps too far.

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Key on Campbell Live on GCSB

August 15th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Campbell Live have been running a week long jihad against the GCSB Bill. I’m actually fine with that. Media are allowed to take stands on issues, and I prefer media to be upfront about their leanings, than pretend they are neutral when they are not. It is no secret that John Campbell’s politics, and the show, lean far to the left of Labour.

As I said that’s fine, just as NBR leans to the right.

But considering Campbell Live is clearly crusading against the bill, it is was quite remarkable that the PM agreed to go on the show. But he did so last night, you can watch the video at this link.

I thought the PM did an excellent job of calmly explaining the bill, to fairly frenzied questions or statements from John Campbell. The PM is much better when he is the “explainer-in-chief” than when he is swiping at people who disagree on the bill.

As for John, I leave the commentary to his biggest fan:

Again, I recommend people take the time to watch the video. Here’s Wallace Chapman on it:

I agree with Wallace that the PM was superb. Cool, calm, collected, factual and reassuring.

If I was in the Labour Party, I’d be getting quite worried about next year’s election debates.

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A further Parliamentary Service cock up

August 3rd, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

United Future leader Peter Dunne is considering legal action and Fairfax Media is alleging a “cover up” after it emerged yesterday that Mr Dunne’s emails with reporter Andrea Vance were sent to an inquiry investigating the disclosure of a sensitive report.

The latest twist in the Henry Inquiry saga follows earlier revelations that Vance’s phone records were sent to the inquiry, along with logs of her movements around the parliamentary precinct recorded by a swipecard.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet released all emails relating to the Henry Inquiry late yesterday. One included an attachment containing emails between Vance and Mr Dunne, which was sent to the inquiry by Parliamentary Services on May 21.

About 40 minutes after the message was sent, Parliamentary Service officials tried to recall the email and asked the inquiry to call urgently.

The head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Andrew Kibblewhite said the file was deleted immediately and could not have been opened because the email system was incompatible with that used by DPMC.

Unbelievable. And note it was not authorised:

 Parliamentary Services told the inquiry on May 20 it believed it had the “necessary approvals” to release ministers’ emails. However, the next day, Mr Thorn emailed Chief of staff Wayne Eagleson to ask about Mr Dunne’s emails, adding “I am happy to provide the information as requested.” Mr Eagleson said he told Mr Thorn he was uncomfortable about authorising that because Mr Dunne was not a National Party minister, and Mr Dunne would have to give permission himself.

Which he did not.

The Henry Inquiry had asked for calls made “to and from” the ministers’ phones and Miss Vance’s but specified “we do not want the call logs for (Vance’s phones)” as it was outside conditions of the inquiry.

So twice Parliamentary Service provided private communication details, despite explicit statements that that information was not to be included!

People will try to blame this on the PM or his staff, because that is the nature of the politics game. but really, it looks pretty clear to me that the PM’s Office was very careful not to over-step the mark. The problem lies with Parliamentary Service.

However there is a political management issue here, that may involve both. This info should not be coming out piecemeal. Once it was known such information was sent by mistake, it should have all been disclosed together. But it seems DPMC (seperate to the PMO) only mentioned the e-mail incident yesterday to the PM’s Office.

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A bit of rewriting history

August 1st, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

The Prime Minister sounds genuinely surprised that somebody in a company operating Parliament’s telephone system would give the records of a journalist’s calls to an inquiry the Prime Minister had commissioned. John Key must not know his own power. …

The Prime Minister ought to have been alert to the risk that something like this would happen when he started a witch-hunt over the early release of the Kitteridge report into the GCSB. When he reflects on the continuing saga of embarrassments he might come to the conclusion that the root of it all is his own impulse to launch inquiries into things that do not warrant them.

This is a significant rewriting of history. In fact the Greens, and other opposition parties, were demanding there be an inquiry into the leak of the Kitteridge Report. This is Russel Norman on 9 April 2013:

Dr Russel Norman: In light of the fact that the cover note on the report says that the appendices are legally privileged and highly classified, does he believe that the leaking of the full Kitteridge report is a serious offence?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That may be possible, but we have yet to see what aspects of the report have been leaked.

Dr Russel Norman: If it does turn out that the full report has been leaked by someone in his Government, what consequences should face the person who leaked this information, which the Government Communications Security Bureau describes as legally privileged and highly classified? What consequences should that person face?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: If appendices that have been given a security classification have been leaked, then there would be significant consequences for the person who leaked them.

Dr Russel Norman: Why does the Prime Minister seem confident that the appendices have not been leaked?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is a matter of whether they appear in the public arena. The Prime Minister does not have the capacity to guess whether someone has them sitting in a shoebox under their bed, but I assume that if they think there is some political effect from leaking those appendices that is worth the risk, then we will eventually see them. They are not in the newspaper today.

Dr Russel Norman: Given that so far the only member of his Government who, he has told us, has had access to this report is the office of the Prime Minister, did he or a member of his staff leak the report?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is not what I said, actually. What I said to the member was that the report has been circulated fairly broadly across Government agencies in the last couple of weeks.

Dr Russel Norman: If he does not know who leaked the report, will he launch an inquiry to get to the bottom of it, given his previous support for an inquiry into a leak at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade over documents that were probably quite considerably less sensitive?

The opposition were demanding an inquiry into the leak. They thought (wrongly) that the PMs Office had leaked it as a distraction (a moronic thing to think, but they thought it). If the Government had not held an inquiry into the leak, it would have been pilloried by the opposition with accusations of a cover up.

For the Herald to suggest that there was no need for an inquiry, and it was some impulse from the PM, is simply wrong. This is an inquiry that the opposition demanded.

Here’s Russel again suggesting the PM or his office leaked it:

Dr Russel Norman: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Was the timing of the leak part of a communication strategy to divert attention from his inappropriate involvement in the appointment of Ian Fletcher, and to have other Ministers front questions in Parliament?

So the Herald editorial is rather silly. I think they are still sulking over the teapot saga.

Andrea Vance writes of her anger on having her phone records released:

 In other circumstances, I could probably find something to laugh about in revelations that the journalist who broke a story about illegal spying was snooped on by Parliament’s bureaucrats.

Let alone, the irony that the reporter in question previously worked for the News of the World, the tabloid at a centre of a privacy violation scandal.

But I am that journalist and I’m mad as hell. Anyone who has had their confidential details hacked and shared around has the right to be angry.

My visit to Speaker David Carter’s office on Tuesday left me reeling. My jaw gaped open when he sheepishly confessed that a log of all calls I placed to people around Parliament over three months was released to an inquiry focused on the leak of the Kitteridge report on the GCSB.

On Tuesday, an IT staffer showed me pages of “metadata” – a record of hundreds of calls I made between February and May.

The conversations, of course, aren’t disclosed. But you can glean a lot from matching numbers, time and the dates of published stories.

After the news broke, I fully expected my line to fall silent as sources shied away from being burned. Thankfully, it hasn’t.

That is the very chilling impact from having those records released. If those phone records showed (for example) which Labour MPs had been called the day before a story regarding rumblings about Shearer – then those MPs would effectively be outed.  Journalists work very hard to protect their sources, and they don’t expect their phone records to be handed over to anyone – unless there is a court order or a warrant for them.

 

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GCSB Changes

July 23rd, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

John Key has announced the following changes to the GCSB Bill after negotiations with John Banks and Peter Dunne:

  • A set of guiding principles will be added, in line with requests from Mr Banks and Mr Dunne.
  • The Inspector General will be supported by a two-person advisory panel.
  • The removal of the proposed Order in Council mechanism which would have allowed other agencies to be added to the list of agencies able to request assistance from the GCSB. Any additions beyond the Police, NZSIS and NZ Defence Force will now be required to be made by a specific amendment to the legislation.
  • To ensure effective oversight in the issuing of a warrant, the Bill will be amended so the Inspector General is informed when a warrant is put on the register relating to a New Zealander.
  • The GCSB will be required to report annually on the total number of instances where it has provided assistance to the Police, NZSIS or NZ Defence Force.
  • The GCSB will also be required to report annually on the number of warrants and authorisations issued.
  • The Intelligence and Security Committee will hold public hearings annually to discuss the financial reviews of the performance of the GCSB and the NZSIS.
  • There will be an independent review of the operations and performance of the GCSB and NZSIS and their governing legislation in 2015, and thereafter every 5-7 years.
  • Mr Dunne will have a role in the Government’s upcoming work to address the Law Commission’s 2010 report Invasion of Privacy: Penalties and Remedies. This work will include a review of the definition of ‘private communication’, which was highlighted as an issue by submitters on the GCSB legislation.

These are good changes. I had talked on TV about one area of concern being the proposed ability for the Govt to add other agencies onto the list of agencies the GCSB can assist with interceptions. Having Parliament, not the Government, make any changes is desirable.

Despite these significant changes, Labour appears to still be voting with the Greens against the bill. Ironic as it was a Labour Government that caused this problem with their 2003 law change.

Dunne and Banks have shown how you can have a constructive role in improving legislation.

Also the Herald reports:

Mr Key said today that he did not believe that the GCSB had engaged in the mass collection of metadata and he confirmed that it should be treated the same as communication and any collection of it would require a warrant. He planned to make a clear statement about it in the bill’s second reading.

Also welcome.

 

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Young on Key and GCSB

July 20th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Audrey Young writes:

 Labour made the GCSB story about John Key, not Kim Dotcom, or the agency itself. And with a few victories against him, such as fingering him for shoulder-tapping an old school mate for the GCSB directorship, it could not bring itself to support Key’s bill.

Key has not been given credit for much in the process. But he clearly had concerns about the GCSB before the unlawful spying on Dotcom.

It had been run by a tight club within the defence and intelligence community and established some disturbing work habits, as the Kitteridge report exposed.

The notion that everything was hunky dory back in the days of former Chief of Defence Force Sir Bruce Ferguson is myth. Most of the legally dubious spying on New Zealanders went on under his, and Labour’s, watch.

Of the 88 cases, only four were warranted, according to the agency itself.

Ian Fletcher’s appointment should, at the very least, be seen as an attempt to break the stranglehold of the old boys’ defence network on the agency and letting some civilian light into it.

Rebecca Kitteridge’s appointment said a lot too. As Cabinet secretary she is not the minute-taker but the guardian of proper process, ensuring that things are done by the rules and the law.

It is clear from her report that the GCSB was not following the law on the issue of collecting metadata on New Zealanders and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security thought it was.

Key is cleaning up a mess entirely uncreated by him. The only area of real criticism is not being more forthright over his ringing Ian Fletcher to let him know about the job. Labour created the mess with their 2003 law change and seem to be refusing to play a constructive role in fixing it. In fact they have said a public inquiry should review if we even stay in the Five Eyes network with Australia, Canada, UK and US – possibly the stupidest of all their policies.

There are three things he could do in the coming week that would make the bill more acceptable than it is now, to the public and other parties.

First, he could write two reviews into the bill, one to begin in 18 months, straight after the next election, and one every five years after that, as the Australians do.

It’s effectively what Labour is promising.

Several weeks ago Key said he would promise a review only if it would get Labour on board.

He should do it to get the public on board, whether or not Labour agrees.

Secondly, he should go back to the Kitteridge report for a lead on how to beef up oversight. The report cited this quote from the 1999 Inspector-General as evidence of how woeful oversight had been: “The fact that there are very few complaints and little need for any inquiry … of the GCSB indicates … that the performance of their activities does not impinge adversely on New Zealand citizens”. …

Thirdly Key, as Prime Minister and the minister responsible for the GCSB, needs to make a clear statement on metadata (information about communications).

Specifically, he needs to say what the GCSB has done in the past and what constraints it will operate under in the future. He should admit that the agency has previously, on many occasions, collected metadata on New Zealanders unlawfully – believing it was doing so lawfully.

He should reassure New Zealanders, if he can do so truthfully, that there has been no mass collection of metadata passed on to intelligence partners overseas and there won’t be in the future.

He should assure the public that any collection of metadata of New Zealanders in the future, like other communications, will have to be by warrant.

The first two seem sensible. The third could be more challenging. People use the term metadata in different ways.

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