Roughan on public health campaigners

May 3rd, 2016 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

John Roughan writes:

Why else, the campaigners ask, would rational people fail to do everything in their power to improve public health?

Well, I can think of a reason but I’m running a risk in advancing it, because health campaigners are so convinced of the righteousness of their cause they can only conclude that anybody who questions it also has a vested interest. I’m constantly surprised how quickly these people, who must be good-natured, public-spirited, socially responsible and intellectually stimulated, play the man, not the ball.

The first thing they do when challenged is to call into question the challenger’s motive. If the person works for a think tank that is privately funded it will almost certainly have the relevant industry among its sponsors. Expose that and health professions see no need to address the argument. Their own reliance on grants awarded for research that tends to reinforce an institutional view is, in their view, not the same thing.

You see this constantly playing the man, not the ball. They are very bad at being able to debate ideas on their merits, and resort to personal attacks on motives.

The reason governments don’t regulate and tax these vices to near extinction, I’d suggest, is that while health is important, it’s not all important. Other things are important too, such as the integrity of the tax system. Health professionals may be aghast at that suggestion but tax principles are socially important.

We have a simple, fairly comprehensive tax on consumption that should not be made more variable, complicated and compromised without very good reason. Discouraging sales of fizzy drink or hamburgers is not, to my mind, sufficient reason.

The soda tax idea is a great example. Would massively complicate the tax system, and would have a near zero impact on obesity as calories from sugary non alcoholic drinks make up a minuscule 1.8% of average daily calories.

Disagreeing with Roughan

November 10th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

John Roughan writes:

What a strange thing it was that Sonny Bill Williams did. All the previous strange things in his career have been blamed on his manager but there was nobody in Sonny Bill’s ear when he decided to give his Rugby World Cup winner’s medal away.

It was his own spontaneous gesture to a lad who had run out to the All Blacks during their victory lap and had been tackled by a Twickenham security guard. The kid was not hurt and probably not surprised to be tackled. Williams and Steve Hansen picked him up, put an arm around him and Williams steered him back to the fence where on a parting impulse he gave the kid his medal.

A trifle excessive, I thought. Also a bit demeaning for the prize the All Blacks had just won, and I wondered what his teammates thought. I also hoped the boy’s parents would realise it was a needless gesture, probably made in a moment of excitement when the man was not thinking clearly, and one he would later regret.

I hoped they would later offer it back, which indeed they did, Williams has said. But he told them, “Nah, better he has it than it hang on my wall”. Was he modestly depreciating his generosity or did he really not want this thing?

I think it was a spontaneous gesture with the best of motivations. It was a realisation that to a young fan, the medal would have perhaps a lifetime of impact, which was greater than having it was to Sonny Bill.

This doesn’t mean he doesn’t value it, but that what he values more is the actual achievement of helping win the Rugby World Cup, rather than the medal that goes with it. The memories, the photos, the actual event are what mean the most to the players. The medal is a tangible record of it, but is not the end in itself.

He is not alone among top sportsmen is having little interest in keeping memorabilia – but it is fairly unusual to give it away a moment after it has been draped around their neck. Insulting too. His teammates might never say whether they found it insulting but as a fan, I did.

It felt like a betrayal of our enthusiasm for their achievement and the exquisite agony of those early mornings on the couch.

I don’t know whether I’m more disappointed in Williams or the many who see it as an utterly admirable act of generosity.

I’m one of those. I think it was a reflection of the All Black culture we now have about being role medals, and inspiring young people. There should be no expectation ever that any sportsperson should do what SBW did, but when it happens as it did, let’s just celebrate it in an uncomplicated way, rather than psychoanalyse it.

Most human beings get pleasure from giving other people pleasure. It can be as simple as that.

More redundancies at the Herald?

September 19th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

NBR reports:

It’s now understood that other senior staff at the NZ Herald being ‘consulted’ about the proposed plans to facilitate the creation of NZME’s “world-class integrated newsroom” (ie, more than likely being made redundant) also include Canvas deputy editor Greg Dixon, feature writer Alan Perrot and columnist John Roughan.

They seem set to join veterans John Drinnan, Brian Rudman and Michele Hewitson (see below) on today’s casualty list.

Must be tough times for those at the Herald.

If John Drinnan goes, it will be a pity. As a writer who focuses on the media, I read all his columns religiously and often learn stuff I didn’t know. I didn’t agree with everything he wrote (of course) but found him far more balanced that Mediawatch on Radio NZ (which I also listen to always, but find it has such an anti-commercial flavour). He also engages regularly on Twitter, in a useful way.

I’ve never understood why anyone ever agrees to be interviewed by Michelle Hewitson, as she generally skewers them not so gently. But I almost without fail read her interviews as they can be insightful in a way few are.

Rudman’s views are always pretty predictable, but his focus on Auckland issues was good. We need more scrutiny of local government.

John Roughan writes far less than he used to, but I like his columns as he would often go against the prevailing mood, and argue something unpopular.

One NZ Herald staff member says, “It’s a bloodbath.” Another tells NBR that 30% of editorial staff are getting the chop. The number is unconfirmed, but would still mean editorial is getting off more lightly than sales where sources suggest that up to 40% of staff could receive their marching orders.

The print media commercial model is failing, and online media revenue is not in the same league. Eventually business models that work will come through, but until they do it’s a hard time for those in the media.

The John Key Biography – the early years

June 26th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

NZ Herald editorial writer John Roughan has published the first biography of John Key – John Key, Portrait of a Prime Minister. It’s a fascinating insight into Key’s childhood, business career and then political career. There’s a lot of material that hasn’t been in the public domain before, as not just Key, but Bronagh and Key’s sisters agreed to be interviewed for the biography.

People often wonder why Key gave up his business career to become a backbench MP. He had been fantastically successfully in business. In fact the book reveals that he was seen as a candidate to become the global CEO of Merrill Lynch. Why give that all up, to enter politics? It wasn’t a deep ideological conviction like Ruth Richardson or Norman Kirk. It wasn’t because he wanted to be famous like Kevin Rudd. It wasn’t because he needs the money. It wasn’t because he defines political success as critical to his self-worth like Helen Clark.

I’ve had the occasional contact with John Key, and like most, think he is a pretty amazing guy – both as a political leader, and as a normal Kiwi, who is devoted to his family and treats everyone around him well. This is rare than it should be in politics.

But despite that occasional contact, I have never been able to work out what motivated him to enter politics. He was on track to become a global CEO, and was succeeding in a role which didn’t require  interrogation  by media every day, or 17 hour working days.

The book helps answer that question. I’l get to it in the third part of thsi review, but in my opinion it relates back to his mother and her expectations of him.

The book is an easy read at 248 pages, but there’s a lot of material in there. I’m going to summarise and review it in three parts – Key’s early years, Key’s business career and then Key’s political years.

It starts with an interesting and amusing tale about how Obama came to invite Key for that round of golf. Tony Abbott asked Key to introduce him to Obama at Mandela’s funeral, and that is where Obama asked Key if he was going to be in Hawaii in January, and if so would he be keen to play some golf. The amusing part is that Key only told MFAT about the invitation two days before it occurred. I can just imagine the panic it set off!

Key’s early years

  • Key was born on 9 August 1961, when by coincidence they lived at 9 August Place, near One Tree Hill
  • His parents had a contract to run the cafeteria at a milk treatment plant
  • When Key was six, his mother Ruth left his father George, and they moved to first Wellington, but then Havelock North where they lived in a caravan. They then moved to Christchurch where Ruth Key got a job as a night porter.
  • George Key died when John was 7. His mother said he shouldn’t go to the funeral, and in fact he doesn’t know where his father is buried. Roughan discovered it is at Waikumete Cemetery in a soldier’s plot.
  • Key missed not having a father when he was playing rugby, and only his mum was there. Also a funny story about how he went to a father and son sex education talk with a family friend, and it was far more graphic that they expected, and quite uncomfortable to be having that talk with a man who is not your father.
  • George Key left Ruth with a debt of around $40,000 in today’s money.  She had the choice of bankruptcy but decided to pay the debt off. The only mitigating factor is as a widow, she now qualified for a state house. She managed to pay off the debt by 1973.
  • Ruth actually supported Labour, and John started debating politics with her around age eight. It was their debates that fueled his interest in politics.
  • When he was nine, he told the family he was determined t do two things in life – make a million dollars, and be Prime Minister – in that order.
  • At age 13 John wrote to Bill Rowling asking what should he do to become Prime Minister one day. I presume the answer wasn’t wait for Big Norm to die!
  • To wind up his mother, he presented her a National Party rosette when Muldoon won in 1975 (she did not like him at all). He thought it would have been long thrown away, but they found it in her collection when she died.
  • Ruth used to smoke, and John nagged her for around five years to stop smoking as he didn’t want to lose her, and at age 15 he won, and she did stop.
  • Ruth never spoke about her time in Austria (my grandmother was absolutely the same) and John only found out what happened to her relatives in 2010 when Murray McCully mentioned his ancestry to the President of Austria. He found out that sadly her uncles died in the holocaust
  • Later in life, John phoned his mother basically every day, no matter where he was in the world.

In the next post, I’ll cover his business years.

Roughan on Super age

February 16th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

John Roughan writes in NZ Herald:

To my astonishment I have passed the age of 60. In fact two more years have passed since that milestone flew by. In no time at all, I’m going to wake up one morning to realise I can claim the public pension and Winston’s card.

This is ridiculous. It really is.

Babyboomers have begun to declare 60 the new 40 because it’s true. It’s not just that we feel as fit and well as we were at 45, but human longevity has visibly rocketed in our lifetime.

My grandfather died at 66, my father is now 86. At this rate, unless the age of entitlement is raised I could be receiving the pension for a quarter of a century.

I have no need to stop work at 65 and I know I am not unusual.

I believe the age of eligibility should increase. Also a case for means testing, so long as the administrative cost of doing so wasn’t too high compared to the spending saved.

John Key has not made many political mistakes but even on his side of the fence there is a feeling he went too far when he solemnly promised the terms of national superannuation would not be altered while he was Prime Minister.

It was a mistake. No one should ever make a promise beyond the next term. We have elections to allow parties to offer different policies in the future. It is unfortunate that Labour’s scaremongering over superannuation in the mid 2000s resulted in Key going too far with his promise. I suspect he regrets making such an commitment.

But he did. He not only promised no change while he is PM, he pledged in writing that he would resign as both PM and an MP if he broke his word. I do not want him to break his word, because it would result in a Labour/Green/Mana Government. I suspect Labour would ever have signed up to increasing the retirement age except for the political benefit that it puts pressure on Key to break his word, which would politically cripple him.

It should be a lesson for future leaders that they should never be pressured into making a commitment beyond one election.

Roughan on Auckland rumblings

May 25th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

John Roughan writes in NZ Herald:

The little church basement where the Campbells Bay Community Association holds thinly attended public meetings was packed on Tuesday night. People were polite to the Auckland planners and patient with the deceptive language that planning employs.

A man at the back, English by his accent, lost his composure when it was confirmed that three-storey apartments could be built on either side of him and he would have no right to object. The rest of us absorbed the news quietly, as New Zealanders do.

Just about all our properties were zoned for this prospect on a map projected on a screen at the front of the room. Mine was in a strip designated a special environmental area, which appears to mean the trees could prevent multi-unit developments, but most were not so fortunate.

The man with the English accent declared that he was going to sell to a developer as soon as he could, in case his neighbours did so. …

I haven’t seen real suburban unrest before. This isn’t a “rates revolt” where people come to public meetings and sound off about an additional hundred dollars as though it matters. There is a deathly quiet about this plan.

The impact of higher rates is tough on people, but not devastating. Losing your view and being forced out of your family home does instill as Roughan says, a deathly quiet.

The debate over the containment of Auckland’s sprawl appeared to be about whether the bulk of the additional population projected by 2040 could be accommodated in suburbs that have a railway station.

I’ve been criticising this notion for years, arguing that people come to Auckland primarily for its climate and coastal attractions and that planners who want to reshape the city to support public transport are swimming against the tide.

The Unitary Plan was designed by town planners for town planners. It is of huge benefit for them and for the Council as an institution. But not so much for actual Aucklanders.

The mayor has stressed that the plan is a draft and will be changed, but it would be dangerous to rely on that. It is the careful and deliberate work of members of a profession who believe fervently in what they do.

They have been producing this sort of scheme for a blessedly powerless regional body for the past 40 years. They knew that every time a council tried to impose their desired densities on a place such as Panmure, the residents rebelled. But they persevered, convinced that urban planning should not be led by the plain preferences of ordinary people.

Nimbys, they call us. We prefer that our backyard not be overlooked and shaded by apartment blocks next door. If that is too much to ask of Auckland’s planners then I think the rumbling in the suburbs is going to become an eruption that will have its way.

An eruption. Words that may well come true.

Roughan says investors should thank Greens and Labour

May 4th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

John Roughan writes in NZ Herald:

Investors in Mighty River Power should send the champagne next wnment!eek to Russel Norman, Green Party, Parliament Buildings, Wellington.

The stock looked a good buy even before he talked the Labour Party into threatening price control on electricity. It looks an even better one now.

Yep I reckon they saved me $600 or so.

Brokers and fund managers expect the bids from institutions to be at the bottom or even below the range the Government considers fair value. Taxpayers should send the Greens’ financial larrikin something else – a bill.

Brian Gaynor has estimated the likely cost to the public purse at $400 million.

And that’s just what they managed in opposition. Think what they can do in Government!

Shearer is a sensible man. To enact Norman’s scheme or Labour’s version of it, he would need to ignore all the economic advice available to him.

Electricity is the prime fuel of every modern economy. It is hard to think of a more important price.

The elaborate market that established a price every 30 minutes at numerous different points on the grid might not be perfect – none are – but it is bound to be better at matching supply and demand than a panel of public servants in Wellington.

That is they key point. California with its rolling black outs is an example of what happens when supply and demand get out of sync.

Incredibly – and I mean that – this omniscient agency would pay generating companies different prices based on what it reckoned their costs of production to be. That would leave the companies no reason to contain their costs and every reason to increase them.

Having the Government set the price of power will not lead to it being cheaper, just more expensive in the long run. And that’s not just my view – but the view of Labour’s David Parker when he was Minister of Energy!

Roughan on one sided TV

September 22nd, 2012 at 11:03 am by David Farrar

John Roughan writes:

Do you know how they chose which schools to close in Christchurch? I don’t. I could find out butI shouldn’t have to, there has been so much television coverage of the subject this week we should be well informed.

I have seen sad, angry and bitter teachers. I have been told over and over what a blow this is for people who are still trying to recover from earthquakes, particularly when their school suffered little damage.

I have seen school children lined up for the cameras and saying the same things, exactly the same, as the sad, angry and bitter teachers. I have seen the kids with placards made in class and I’ve seen them having a protest march.

Has anybody explained to them how and why their school is on the list, or are they simply learning this is what you do when you don’t like a decision? That strikes me as a good reason to close the school but doubtless there were other criteria.

I have listened to John Campbell, thinking he would want to know what they are, but if he knows he doesn’t seem to think his audience needs to know.

I watched his reporter cover a school protest meeting the other night, jumping excitedly from one sad, angry, bitter teacher to the next and then to one well-primed child after another, and Campbell thanked him for that report.

Maybe I missed an interview where an education official got a chance to explain the reasons but I would have thought the rationale, whatever it is, would be mentioned in every report.

Journalists are trained to cover all obvious questions. When one is left begging like this, be very suspicious.

One can only agree – no balance at all. No attempt to explain, just to elicit an emotional response.

Roughan on Key

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

An interesting column by John Roughan on John Key:

Labour, however, staked its whole campaign on opposition to asset sales.

The Opposition did far more than Key to ensure the election was a referendum on them.

Mercifully, I wasn’t here to see what happened but it seems to be agreed National was returned despite its programme, not because the nation was reconciled to it.

Labour and the Greens were sufficiently heartened by opinion polls then and since to oppose the sales all the way to the enactment of the necessary legislation this week.

Polls continue to find most people against the idea but the Government has not suffered very much.

Its polled support is down to around 47 per cent, which is high considering the state of the economy and the steps it is taking.

The election result and everything that has happened since can be explained, I think, by Key’s business credibility.

The voters have responded like small shareholders in a large company when a good chief executive proposes to sell some lucrative assets and they know they will lose him if they vote against it.

Shareholders in this situation can quite comfortably accept decisions they don’t much like or barely understand, because they like the chief executive, trust him, respect his judgment and want to keep him.

Leaders can make unpopular decisions, so long as the public believe the leader has a honest belief in their policies. John Howard was a great example of this – winning four terms despite introducing what was an unpopular GST, taking part in Iraq and a refugee policy which at the time was very unpopular.

When someone like Key looks at a profitable state-owned enterprise he doesn’t simply see a stream of future dividends as most people do – and as the Greens did when they calculated the sale of power companies would be a net loss to the public.

Key looks at those properties and thinks of the cost of the capital he is having to borrow for other public purposes.

Because he is running a country, not a company, he thinks the best use of his capital is in public services that cannot operate profitably and attract private capital.

Labour and the Greens think so too – that is why they haven’t undertaken to buy back the assets Key will sell. And not many of us would want them to. It is a curious thing that while there is heavy opposition to privatisation there is no public enthusiasm for nationalisation.

Indeed. But Peters is saying nationalisation will be a bottom line. Of course he once said no baubles of office also.


The Shearer defence

May 5th, 2012 at 11:38 am by David Farrar

Fran O’Sullivan backs David Shearer:

But unlike Cunliffe and Robertson he is not hostage to Labour’s past policy positions. He wasn’t an active player in policy formation for the 2011 general election. This has proved to be a strength – not a weakness – as he quickly jettisoned one of Labour’s more wacky election policies, wiping GST on fruit and vegetables. He followed through yesterday by abandoning another ill-considered Labour policy to support Government borrowing offshore to top up the Super Fund.

Shearer’s moves display political courage. He is not afraid to upset grassroot Labour Party members. By adopting a classically rational approach he will increase Labour’s appeal to centrist voters from across the voting spectrum.

I agree, so long as he can carry his party with him. Trevor Mallard was attacking National’s suspensions of contributions to the NZ Super Fund just two days before Shearer announced he is adopting National’s policy.

Also John Roughan writes:

Shearer seemed a normal guy who is not a natural at the arts of politics. For that reason I’d like to see him succeed.

Not too soon, of course. John Key is doing good things and if he continues the way he is going he will deserve the three terms New Zealand voters usually give a government. But Labour’s turn will come and when it does I hope Shearer is still there.

I think that is being optimistics. If Shearer doesn’t win in 2014, I find it hard to imagine he will be there in 2017.

Holmes on Waitangi Day

February 11th, 2012 at 1:49 pm by David Farrar

Paul Holmes writes in the HoS:

Waitangi Day produced its usual hatred, rudeness, and violence against a clearly elected Prime Minister from a group of hateful, hate-fuelled weirdos who seem to exist in a perfect world of benefit provision. This enables them to blissfully continue to believe that New Zealand is the centre of the world, no one has to have a job and the Treaty is all that matters.

I’m over Waitangi Day. It is repugnant. It’s a ghastly affair. As I lie in bed on Waitangi morning, I know that later that evening, the news will show us irrational Maori ghastliness with spitting, smugness, self-righteousness and the usual neurotic Maori politics, in which some bizarre new wrong we’ve never thought about will be lying on the table. …

Well, it’s a bullshit day, Waitangi. It’s a day of lies. It is loony Maori fringe self-denial day. It’s a day when everything is addressed, except the real stuff.

Never mind the child stats, never mind the national truancy stats, never mind the hopeless failure of Maori to educate their children and stop them bashing their babies. No, it’s all the Pakeha’s fault. It’s all about hating whitey. Believe me, that’s what it looked like the other day.

John Key speaks bravely about going there again. He should not go there again. It’s over. Forget it. It is too awful and nasty and common. It is no more New Zealand day than Halloween.

Our national day is now Anzac Day. Anzac Day is a day of honour, and struggle, bravery and sacrifice. A day on which we celebrate the periods when our country embraced great efforts for international freedom and on which we weep for those who served and for those who died.

Waitangi Day is an important day in terms of the treaty between the Crown (Government) and Maori. But it is not, and should not be, our national day.

John Roughan also writes on Waitangi Day. I’ve observed that Roughan tends to be fairly liberal on Maori and treaty issues generally, so that makes his column quite significant:

Protesters forget that Maori have to act in good faith too.

If you or I imagined we were plugged into the deepest yearnings of the people, raised our flag, stood for election and collected a miserable few votes, we’d probably fold our tent, slip away and revise our view of the world.

But we’re not that special breed of human life known as the protester. Votes don’t count for much in the protesters’ idea of democracy. The Mana Party came to Waitangi last weekend as though the election had never happened, or perhaps to say it didn’t matter.

Good faith is indeed required both ways.

Roughan on Goff

November 5th, 2011 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

John Roughan at the NZ Herald writes:

When Phil Goff called John Key a liar on television the election was over for me. Goff has no class. The more difficult decision on election day could be the referendum. Should we keep MMP?

Goff thinks calling the PM a liar is a good strategy because that what his most fervent activists think and believe. But it does not go down well with swinging voters. You think they would know that from 2008.

Key could have responded and said Goff lied over the SIS briefing. He could have said Goff lied when he ruled out raising the super age just three months ago. He could have easily lowered himself to Goff’s level.

I wish I could see the election result first. There is only one question to ask about any electoral system: will it give a result everyone can respect?

A number of people are saying that. If the election produces an outcome where Winston or the Maori Party decide the Government, then MMP’s popularity will plunge I predict. A vote for change will mean a second referendum in 2014.

Roughan on DOC campsites

January 23rd, 2011 at 12:16 pm by David Farrar

John Roughan writes:

Not much that happens in summer grinds my teeth but last weekend the Herald on Sunday reported outrage among a certain class of campers because the Department of Conservation might let private operators run its camp grounds.

Their outrage was particularly rich because the previous Sunday the same reporter, Kieran Nash, had found at Urupukapuka Island in the Bay if Islands that some of DoC’s regular customers are cheating those who would like to share the pristine places we pay for.

In case you missed it, they book out their favourite places every season by reserving much more than the tent site they need. One way they do this is by booking a site for every person in the tent.

They don’t have to be very clever, the department’s online booking clerks don’t appear to care how many sites someone takes. The sooner the place is booked out the better for the booking team. They were all on holiday when the paper sought comment.

Nor do the greedy need much money. In the hallowed principles of public ownership the department lets each site for as little as $8-$15 a night.

You could take three or four sites for the price of a night in a privately run camping ground.

No wonder DoC’s website usually has no vacancies. It is only when disappointed customers make a day trip that they find just a few scattered campers enjoying paradise.

Which is one of the reasons why subsidies often lead to inefficient allocation of resources.

In principle the Conservation Department wants as many of the public as possible to enjoy the estate their taxation maintains. In practice, it is not very good at making that possible.

Happily the department also has to minimise the public outlay and supplement its income where possible by allowing some commerce in the parks. Profit-makers are very good at maximising public use.

They have the right incentives to do so.

The department is talking to the New Zealand Holiday Parks Association about running its camp grounds and there is consternation in the wild.

A petition is circulating against roads, bollards and marked sites. The Green Party says the camps will resemble the suburbs people go on holiday to escape. Labour’s tourism spokesman predicts “canvas subdivisions”.

I camped in a canvas subdivision at a Coromandel beach last week. It was not the sort of suburb I live in – it was open to the neighbours, children played everywhere, family life was public. During the day people walked around totally unconcerned about how they looked. In the evening they socialised.

I thought people who talk of caring, sharing and social equality liked this sort of thing.

No, no, no, no. One can’t actually mingle with the masses.

So what exactly would be the problem for critics of private enterprise? It can’t be the cost because DoC’s fortunate few will pay that much for multiple sites. And it can’t be the environment because a camp operator would have an interest in helping to protect it.

Their problem, it’s very obvious, is people – too many people sharing their space and in their face. There’s no snob like a social democrat.


Driving around the Coromandel last week it struck me again how daft we are to lock up the mineral wealth of that whole peninsula. It is not wild and rugged like the Southern Alps, it is not covered in native rainforest like the Ureweras. It has attractive coasts, common in the north.

This country is not so blessed with economic resources that we can preserve the conservation estate for an intrepid few. Obviously a beautiful lonely landscape has to be kept that way for its economic value but there is plenty of room in our pristine environment to hide accessible resorts operated properly, profitably and fairly for the greater good.


Roughan on Bethune

April 10th, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

John Roughan writes in the Herald:

Peter Bethune mortgaged his house to build himself the boat of his imagination, a weird biofuelled motor trimaran, and set out to race around the world in it a few years ago. That adventure ended when his craft collided with a fishing skiff of Guatemala and a fisherman was killed. He was detained by Guatemalan authorities but not charged and was allowed to leave after paying compensation to the dead man’s family.

So Bethune has had a collision before, and was liable for a man’s death to the extent he was obliged to pay compensation for the death.

If someone wants to hurtle around a working ship with the expressed intention of getting in the way of its operations I don’t have much difficulty deciding where fault lies.

Sea Shepherd have had eight collisions with other boats. As far as i know the Japanenese whalers have never ever collided with another boat – except Sea Shepherd ones.

Sea Shepherd has done stuff like stick 100 tonnes of concrete on their bow to enable it to ran and disable other ships. They have even laid mines three times on ships to sink them. They throw acid at crew members.They have fired guns at police.

Even Greenpeace regard them as violent nutters. Before he became their biggest fan in Opposition, even Chris Carter denounced them:

New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter criticized Sea Shepherd as irresponsible for using tactics such as running into the other vessel with a “can opener” device, a seven-foot steel blade on the starboard bow designed to damage the hull of an enemy ship

While today Carter says:

He has a few sympathisers in this country. Labour MPs like Chris Carter call him a “great New Zealander”

Such consistency.

In this case Bethune is probably content to stay where he is for a while, drawing continuing attention for his cause. Back here, his family may be missing him but they are accustomed to long absences. When he got himself taken by the whaler his wife Sharyn said: “Nothing really surprises us these days.” She estimated that over the past five years he had been home for a total of one.

Puts into context the newspaper stories about how upset his family were that he would not be there for a child’s birthday.

Hat Tip: Keeping Stock

5:1 support for national standards

February 6th, 2010 at 9:46 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Like it: 73 per cent
Hate it: 14 per cent

This is a Nielsen online poll of Herald readers. Not as reliable as a phone poll, but I doubt the results would change a lot if it was.

The key findings:

Those in favour of national standards:

YES – 73.2%
NO – 13.8%
DON’T KNOW – 13%

Do you understand how the new system works?

FULLY – 11.9%
NOT AT ALL – 26.2%

The effect of national standards on your child:

GOOD – 53.9%
BAD – 36.5%
NONE – 9.5%

Will standards create school ‘league tables’ for parents to plan their child’s schooling?

YES – 56.3%
NO – 17.1%
DON’T KNOW – 26.6%

Would that be a bad thing?

YES – 38.8%
NO – 47.9%
DON’T KNOW – 13.4%

John Roughan also writes:

This week the New Zealand Educational Institute, the union that protects these people’s jobs, has put a bus on the road to oppose new national standards of reading, writing and maths that would be tested and the results reported in a way everyone could understand.

It is the last bit the NZEI really hates. Schools already test kids constantly for their own purposes but they are not supposed to share the results with parents. They’ll provide your child’s test scores if you know to ask but they’d rather you didn’t.

Roughan correctly ascertains that this is a battle about reporting, not about testing. Should parents get told how well their kids are doing in clear language? Labour and the unions say no.

All of this is anathema to educational theorists and the teachers’ unions that want us to believe no school is better than any other, no teacher weaker than any other, and no child fails in the system they control.

And they do control it. State education is a law unto itself. Industries are normally answerable either to voluntary paying customers or to elected governments depending on how they are financed.

The NZEI seems to think the only role for the Government is to shut up and pay the salaries of their members.

Roughan on Integrated Ticketing

November 9th, 2009 at 10:01 am by David Farrar

John Roughan writes:

National public transport officials share their Auckland counterparts’ dislike of the Snapper proposal. This I’d read before the Snapper man came to see me but I didn’t know why.

Nor, he claimed, did he know. But as he outlined the mechanics of his fare-paying system I had an “ah ha” moment, to borrow a mediator’s phrase.

He said his was the only bid offering more than a public transport ticket. Snapper’s card could be loaded to a value of $300 and used for small transactions of any kind in any place that had a card-reader.

It could be used on buses, at train station barriers, coffee kiosks, in taxis, at parking buildings … Ah ha.

Public transport planners do not want their ticket transferable to taxis and, heaven forbid, carparks. Their mission in life is to discourage private travel by any means they can and promote their fixed-route services.

This could explain a lot. Rather than go for a flexible multi-use electronic payment system, they want one you can only use on their buses and trains.

I’m a regular snapper user. Its great on Wellington buses, will be usable in taxis shortly I believe, and can also use it as various retailers.

Those suspicions were reinforced this week at the press conference to announce the terms on which the Auckland ticket can proceed. When the Transport Agency’s chief executive, Geoff Dangerfield, was open to the possibility that a transfer card could be used for other transactions, his officials were quick to step in.

“I think it’s really important that we keep to our business,” said one. “Our business is operating public transport and transit applications [by which he meant park-and-rides and cycle lockers].

“We want to think about our business first and the spin-off retail opportunities second. Fares are what it is all about. We’ve taken a particular interest in how a system will perform in the public transport real environment, not necessarily spin-off applications.”

Blah. Public transport is their business, public service is too wide a brief. For them a transfer ticket is a marketing device, giving their network a distinct image in shops, which would be fine if taxes didn’t have to pay for it.

And as taxpayers are paying for it, the wider public service angle should be taken into account.

The Snapper man said something else that accorded with my limited comprehension of computer programming. The more open a card’s applications can be the less expensive the system becomes. The cost lies, he explained, in setting up the exclusions.

It sounds expensive enough to programme a card for the buses, trains and ferries of Auckland; to make it applicable also to the routes, fare stages, discounts and subsidies of all municipalities nationwide sounds impossibly fraught unless the card has some of the convenience of cash.

I haven’t any shares in Infratil but I’m beginning to wish I did.


Roughan on Smacking

August 2nd, 2009 at 3:13 pm by David Farrar

John Roughan’s column on the smacking referendum is one I have to respond to:

There is something very creepy about this smacking referendum now arriving in the mail. What exactly do the citizens behind this initiative, men like Bob McCoskrie, mean by “good parental correction”?

Well for me it is being able to legally give your child a light smack on the hand or behind if they misbehave. Something probably 90% of parents have done – s0 how is that creepy?

Their publicity pretends they mean nothing more than the smack that an anxious or annoyed parent might use to stop or prevent dangerous or offensive behaviour. But that can’t be all they want because the law now expressly permits the use of parental force for exactly those purposes.

To prevent disruptive behaviour yes, but not to correct it. And that distinction is silly personally.

To cite one example. If you have told your child not to touch something, then it is legal to give them a smack on the hand if you are quick enough to do it as they try to touch it. That is preventing disruptive behaviour.

But if they have been fast enough to do it, it is illegal to them smack them on the hand a few second later as correction.

Delayed, systematic parental correction is the old-fashioned hiding. It was often called a “good hiding”.

That is what the recent amendment to the Crimes Act has criminalised. That, I suspect, is the “good parental correction” we are being asked to endorse in this referendum.

This is such a red herring. Almost everyone I know who does not like the current law, says they think the Borrows amendment would be a good outcome, rather than go back to the old law. The Borrows amendment would define “reasonable force” massively below a “good hiding”. It would exclude any use of an implement, anything that causes bruising, in fact anything where the effect is beyond trifling and transitory. And it would allow it for correctional purposes, as well as the other stuff such as preventing disruption etc.

Here is what many people do not know. The current law does not define what is reasonable for the purposes of preventing disruption. It does not rule out a whack in the head. If your child is screaming abuse at you, you could punch them to the ground and potentially claim that was reasonable force to prevent or stop the disruption. You could hit them with an implement and argue reasonable force.

You see the Bradford law did not change the definition of reasonable force from the old law – despite all the horror stories told. All it did was say you can no longer use reasonable force for correction, but can for preventing disruptive behaviour etc.

The Borrows amendment would provide far greater safeguard, as it would set the definition of reasonable force as low as possible and apply it to all situations.

Those who initiated the referendum know what the new law says. They know it permits reasonable force for all the preventive situations they are fond of citing.

They pretend it does not because they could not attract majority support for the restoration of the right to flog children. Don’t be deceived by them. Should a smack, as part of good parental correction, be a criminal offence in New Zealand? Absolutely.

I think it is sad when invents motives for those you disagree with, rather than rationally debate the issue.

My challenge to John R would be to look closely at the Borrows amendment and then explain how this would be inferior to the current law.

Roughan gets it wrong also

July 4th, 2009 at 11:39 am by David Farrar

John Roughan joins Chris Trotter (and most of the media) in blaming the foreshore & seabed legislation on Don Brash. He writes:

A backlash encouraged by Don Brash revived the National Party and unhinged Helen Clark’s government. Labour’s legislative cancellation of the court decision alienated one of its most loyal constituencies, giving birth to an independent Maori Party that bids to be a permanent force in our future.

The Court of Appeal decision was on the 19th of June 2003. Helen Clark said that she would legislate on the 20th of June – the next day as it was an issue for Government, not for Judges.

Don Brash was not Leader of the National Party until November 2003 – five months later.

So to write that a backlash encouraged by Don Brash unhinged Helen Clark’s Government in relation to the seabed and foreshore is simply false. Clark made the decision months before Brash was leader.

Roughan on alcohol and competition

May 25th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

John Roughan on Saturday had an excellent post on the benefits of competition:

Twenty years ago a visit to a wine shop was not much better than a prowl around supermarket shelves today. There was a limited range of popular varieties, some priced to clear.

You made a selection with minimal assistance and knew from bitter experience not to try anything unfamiliar, particularly if it was red.

Twenty years ago, when Parliament passed a law allowing wine to be sold in supermarkets, everybody supposed it would spell the death of the wine shop. So much for supposition.

I have a nearby supplier these days who has noted what I like, knows my modest price preference and, more often than not, has a new vintage to recommend. Invariably, it is superb.

This is key – not all competition is price based. It is service based also.

Here’s to him, here’s to all the customers that keep him solvent, here’s to supermarkets that force him to compete on service, here’s to the Sale of Liquor Act, 1989.


I mention this because the liberal liquor laws of the late 20th Century are in imminent danger of reversal. The sale of alcohol from supermarkets, the proliferation of suburban liquor stores and the lowering of the minimum purchasing age to 18 are blamed for under-age and binge drinking, domestic violence, even armed robberies.

And much more no doubt.

I don’t know if higher prices will deter binge drinking and other sins. The researchers assure us it will. Nor do I know whether wine shops will continue to offer an assiduous service if supermarkets can no longer advertise today’s price differentials.

What I do know is that the benefit competition has brought for consumers like me is unlikely to figure in the decision. The benefits of competition seldom attract social research.

Eric Crampton has already analysed some of this research and found that it only looks at costs, not benefits. Any decisions on alcohol should be made on a rational basis.

Roughan on Super Fund

February 28th, 2009 at 11:04 am by David Farrar

John Roughan writes:

If your income is down in the recession and you are taking on debt to maintain the family’s living standard, would you borrow a bit more to put into a superannuation fund?

Nor would I. Nor would John Key, Bill English, Phil Goff, Jim Anderton or Peter Dunne, I suspect.


Goff, smelling fear, declared Labour opposed to suspension and called on the Government to make its position clear. Anderton called it “raiding the piggy bank”. Dunne, minister of tax collecting, declared it “a very bad idea”.

All of them know it would be sensible.

Yes I refuse to believe Phil Goff is that stupid. He knows it is the sensible thing to do, and why Cullen designed the scheme to allow a contributions suspension. But he is getting a bit desperate with his ratings, so punted for stupidity, even though he knows better.

Deficit adds to the debt loaded on future taxpayers, unless inflation erodes its value in the meantime. Either way, its a thankless legacy.

To increase public debt by a billion dollars and put that money in a superannuation fund risks presenting our tax-paying children with costs that could exceed the fund’s earnings on that sum.

And to date the Fund has generated less money, than if it had been in risk free Government bonds.

Roughan also has a go at tax cuts, saying it is unfair to cut taxes in a deficit. He forgets (or omits) that you can also cut spending to reduce the deficit, and longer term a low tax eonomy will have better economic growth than a higher tax one.

The problem is not the rate of tax. It is that NZ is not producing enough income to generate that tax. And you won’t generate more income by increasing tax rates. You’ll destroy it.

Roughan on Clark

February 7th, 2009 at 8:40 am by David Farrar

John Roughan looks at Helen Clark:

Through the latter half of the 20th century it became evident that National was this country’s “natural” government. Labour would be given an occasional turn but National was the default setting.

This was the state of politics Helen Clark set out to change when she came to power at the Century’s end.

And she did. There is absolutely no way the National is the natural party of Government. Of course MMP is a factor in this also.

For six years she would take no political risks. She followed the political studies textbook, doing no more or less than she had promised at the election, suspending ministers at the first whiff of embarrassment, returning media calls, making sure her decisions were understood.

Those decisions, if not exactly courageous, were usually in accord with common sense and her answers to interviewers were invariably concise, informative and fairly convincing.

I note that Roughan talks about her first six years as different to her last three. I have often said the third term Helen was very different to the first two terms.

But she fell short of greatness for me. She lacked a largeness of spirit that truly great leadership requires. At one level that deficiency could be seen in her response to the suggestion that Sir Roger Douglas could be “our greatest living New Zealander”.

He is not that either, for different reasons, but now that she has rescued Labour from his legacy her comment could have been more generous – as generous as John Key was to her nomination.

Indeed, and when was the last time you heard John Key denigrate an opponent?

Waitangi asks a lot of political leaders. They will not be feted there until they have had the courage to front up to whatever might happen. Helen Clark would not, could not.

She claimed she would not risk the dignity of her office but that was not the real reason.

Well there were so many reasons. Such as not being a morning person as a reason not to attend the dawn service.

Roughan gets it

November 15th, 2008 at 11:46 am by David Farrar

John Roughan in the Herald:

A week ago, when the votes were in and National didn’t need the Maori Party, a deal didn’t seem to me to be worth doing. How wrong I was.

If this deal can be done it will be the better because neither side needs to do it.

Exactly. It is more durable and genuine when it is unforced.

The Maori’s choice this week was National or nothing, which are both serious options. If National is offering next to nothing Maori might do better to wait. What’s another three years after 168? I bet that was said at all the hui held these past few days.

And I’ll bet something else: if National’s offer is accepted , the reasons that persuaded the hui will have little to do with the positions and portfolios agreed with John Key. The decisive reason will be the Maori leaders’ reading of National’s new attitude.

And more specifically John Key’s attitude. He has spent a long time building up a constructive relationship with the Maori Party, supported by his MPs.

It will have to be a radically new attitude for the National Party.

Roughan may be surprised by how keen rank and file activists are for a deal also.

My guess is they will have made it very clear they are not content with a relationship in which they are given a couple of self-contained responsibilities in Maori Affairs and Social Welfare and left alone with them.

They are more likely to want an assurance of being treated as an equal partner in all major decisions the Government will make.

That does not mean a right of veto but it does mean they are brought into the discussion, their viewpoints are taken seriously, disagreements respected, and each side makes genuine and strenuous efforts to reach decisions that satisfy both.

I guess the combined Maori Caucus of 11 MPs could play a role also.

No agreed formula of words is sufficient to make that sort of arrangement secure. Its success will depend completely on the heart of the more powerful partner. Key and his Cabinet will have to genuinely want this partnership and even be excited by it.

They should be excited. They have on their table a historical opportunity such as no incoming government has been given. They could be the authors of a constitutional precedent that will do more for the social wellbeing and national identity of New Zealand than they can yet imagine.

Okay, now John’s getting a bit too excited. 🙂

But indeed it is a future with some promise.

Roughan on Bridges

September 25th, 2008 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

NZ Herald Assistant Editor John Roughan interviews the next MP for Tauranga – SImon Bridges. Well worth a read.

And the Dom Post reports on Bob Clarkson’s two second valedictory speech.

Roughan on Obesity

July 12th, 2008 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

A column from John Roughan I can only agree with:

One of the blessings of a change of government is that it changes the prevailing ethic. Should National win this year we might not see another headline like this week’s: “Rugby cards promo breaks anti-fat rules”. …

Freedom in fact was the default principle after 1984; if it was to be compromised the reason had to be watertight.

No regulator would have dared argue, as the Health Ministry has, that a child might buy 50 packets of chips and consume more than a kilogram of fat to get a complete collection of All Black cards.

Even five years ago somebody would have pointed out that children don’t collect things alone. They trade. Those who don’t want a collectable item give it to one who does, usually for something in return. …

The darkest hour in a phase of unbalanced ethics comes just before the dawn. Right now the promoters of health above all else seem blithely unaware that a change of government will probably soon restore some weight for individual rights and personal responsibility.

When John Key declared the other day that National would tackle obesity mainly with sport and recreation programmes to get children more active, he was quickly rubbished on National Radio by a woman who wants to ban unhealthy advertisements.

What’s the point, she said, of her putting out healthy eating messages when children saw contradictory enticements on television.

Food nazis is not a term I want to use but there is something very chilling in the attitude that the expression of conflicting interests is not permissible.

Helen Clark, who tackled tobacco advertising when Health Minister in the late 1980s, has resisted most of the excesses suggested during her premiership but at times it has seemed a close call.

Deliberately or not, she brought a wowser culture to power which prefers to address problems like obesity and binge drinking by restrictions on liberties that her outlook doesn’t value as high as health and safety.

A change of government will not put an end to public health campaigns and nor should it. We are better off for being aware of the fat in fast food, for ridicule of uncivilised drinking and the expulsion of smokers from confined places.

But it is time to for some balance. Credit us with the intelligence to make choices, especially children, before we create a community of fools.

It is about balance, and most of all not punishing all New Zealanders for the weaknesses of a few.

Roughan on Peters

April 12th, 2008 at 10:06 am by David Farrar

Very good analysis from John Roughan:

Winston Peters says every Chinese leader understands his position. I believe him. Winston personifies everything they fear in elective democracy.

China’s leaders see free elections as an invitation to egocentric individuals to play politics for personal gratification rather than social improvement. They genuinely think that where multi-party competition is permitted it will only produce politicians like Winston.

Bingo. Dead on the money.

It must be hard for people with no experience of free elections to believe that in educated democracies such as ours the vast majority of voters in fact are not seduced by politicians like Winston. It is hard enough to convince some in this that all politicians are not like him.

This is important. The vast majority of MPs, from all parties, are sincerely dedicated to improving NZ, and believe their policies will do so.

A tiresome popular misconception, assiduously cultivated by himself over the years, holds that all politicians except him are unprincipled and self-serving. The truth is exactly the reverse. Winston is unique but not for the reasons his admirers think. Just about everybody else in our Parliament is there with a sense of the social good.

Again, Peters is near unique in his populism without conviction or belief in anything but that he should be in power.

That is what we all thought. But the reason he gave this week was quite different. The agreement was too soft, he said, the tariff reductions too slow. He was hoping for better.

Bullshit. Phil Goff’s word is the only apt description for Winston’s politics. Our tariff phase-downs might be faster than China’s in this deal but those China has agreed to are rapid by comparison with New Zealand’s voluntary reductions over the past 20 years, which Winston of course opposed. He has opposed every important economic step the country has taken during his time in Parliament. If he operates by a principle beyond personal survival it is simple conservatism: do nothing drastic, nothing much is wrong, leave us alone.

Peters reasons for not voting for the FTA are bizarre. The Greens have a sincere opposition to the FTA- to be blunt they don’t like trade as it is bad for the environment.

But Peters says the tariffs in China are not coming down fast enough. So his solution is to do nothing, as if that will be better for our exporters!! He complains that we reduced tariffs unilaterally in the 80s and 90s.  Well yes we did, and now have the lowest unemployment in the developed world because we have a modern competitive economy. But can no one see through the faulty logic of complaining we have already lowered our tariffs, yet refusing to vote for something which will lower barriers for our exporters?

Yet both major parties now plainly hope he will return. Since they have to deal with minor parties to govern under MMP, they both would sooner deal with personal egos than principled parties. It is easier to satisfy a Peters or a Dunne than Act or Maori or the Greens.

Oh I would not say they “hope” he will return. Personally I would take a principled party you can trust over a politician you can never trust, any day of the week. But parties don’t get much of a say in who they get to deal with – the voters do, and then you see how a Government can be formed.

Each side at different times has been able to finesse Winston with a sinecure. National made him Treasurer, a position that didn’t exist before or since. In that role he was an impeccable presenter of the monetarist principles he had damned up and down the country for the previous 10 years.

And he sold Auckland Aiport!!!

Now he is Foreign Minister for everything but trade, which seems rather like being admiral of everything except the ships.

Superb analogy.

But to give him his due, his flexible ego has made him a force for stability in our new system. He was genuinely upset when Jenny Shipley could not maintain a coalition with him, and timed his decision on Labour’s China deal this week to ensure he did not undermine it.

Here I disagree. People have short memories. Peters killed the Coalition by staging a walkout from Cabinet, six hours *after* the dispute over Wellington Airport had been solved. And running newspaper ads attacking the agreement the day after the PM has signed it looks like undermining it to me.

Nevertheless, our politics would be better without him. He has been a misleading voice in national debates, a negative influence on public confidence in the country and those who genuinely serve it, a mischievous, evasive, obnoxious muck-raker with the charm of an attention-seeking child.

Poetry, sheer poetry.

He has fooled his admirers for too long. May this be the year that voters wash him out of our public life.

Hear hear.