July 24th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Some extracts from the valedictories delivered yesterday:

Dr CAM CALDER (National): Six years ago when I came into Parliament, some queried why: “Why has he come in? Does Parliament need yet another doctor?”. When I announced my intention to step down, again some queried: “Why him? Surely some mistake? Parliament is losing too many of its doctors.” There was no talk, as far as I know, of McCully having any incriminating photographs. 

Can’t rule it out though! 🙂

No Government can legislate love, but through careful formulation of policies and legislation we are succeeding in wrapping services around the most vulnerable and the less well loved. People need something to believe in and someone to believe in them. 

Very true.

In my maiden speech I outlined areas of special interest to me. Among them were: tackling New Zealand’s growing incidence of obesity, the need for more marine reserves, and a prostate cancer awareness programme for New Zealand men. I soon learnt some fundamental truths of Parliamentary life: few things move fast. As the French say: “Petit à petit l’oiseau fait le nid.” Little by little the bird makes the nest. One can plant seeds in soil, but the soil receiving the seed may or may not be fertile. The idea might lie there quiescent forever or receive a burst of interest from an unexpected quarter and suddenly flourish and be accepted. Certainly one never achieves anything in this House alone and success truly has a thousand fathers. I am gratified to note that the Government has made progress in all the above special interest areas, which I mentioned in my maiden speech, but today I make a call for more resources to be devoted to proven measures to combat the alarming incidence of obesity in New Zealand. The cost of such interventions will amply repay themselves in substantially reduced health care costs and in thousands of New Zealanders living longer, healthier, more productive lives.

I’m in favour of anti-obesity measures so long as they are about promoting choices, not taking them away.

JOHN HAYES (National – Wairarapa): This afternoon I come to say farewell and to share a few final thoughts with you, my colleagues, and the Wairarapa community. But first I want to thank the Wairarapa, * Tararua, and * Central Hawke’s Bay communities who three times elected me as their representative, each time by a greater margin. 

The seat was previously held by Labour.

Much of my first term here was spent reflecting on why I had come. The atmosphere was toxic, not helped by a Speaker who was shrill and screamed and loopy committee chairs * Pettis and Yates.

The good old days!

Were I New Zealand’s next Prime Minister, I would ensure that the next Parliament got rid of a plethora of unnecessary legislation and excessive regulation. Three years is not long enough. This year’s election is going to cost taxpayers $27 million, together with the time they have invested in MPs who are going to be distracted by parliamentary campaigning. Were I Prime Minister—and do not laugh, Brendan; it is not too late to nominate—I would promote a 4 or 5 year term to spread the cost over more years. Doing so would give Parliament a more reasonable time to implement its programmes.

I strongly support a longer term.

I was pleased in the last Parliament to complete a * Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee inquiry into New Zealand’s relationship with the South Pacific. The Government did not have a majority on the committee, and the report had more than 40 recommendations unanimously supported by all parties. 

That was very well done.

CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National): Thank you very much indeed for the call to give my valedictory statement. It is a privilege that is given to retirees—15 minutes of uninterrupted discourse, where the opportunity is given to say it the way it really is and the way I see it, and I intend to do that now. If we glance overseas back to Westminster, where our parliamentary system began before it was improved by the New Zealand system, we see that the parliamentary media over there have adopted the sobriquet of “pale, male, and stale” for those whose Cabinet warrants Mr Cameron should no longer hold. How cruel! How cruel is that to sensitive people? Well, if you cannot take the heat, do not stand in the kitchen. 

Very good advice.

I have achieved more for the electorate in the last year in the cumulative improvement in West Coast – Tasman health infrastructure than ever before, and have we not had such a wonderful Minister of Health?

Chris fought hard for the new hospital.

 I do not know of any other serving National MPs who are 69 years old, but as we sign up to 3 year brackets of tenure, would you really want to still be trundling around Parliament at 72? You need quite an ego if you thought you could not be replaced effectively by a younger person. I guess the only extenuating circumstance would be if you were a party leader who had a Scottish mother from the Isle of Skye, but even then you would be pushing it.

A great not too subtle poke at Winston.

 For me, the most significant part of the parliamentary process as a backbencher* is the select committee system. This is our second House, our senate, our * House of Lords, as this is where the public have a direct interface with the legislative process. This is where the public are asked what they think of the legislation being put forward. In my experience, the adversarial relationship between parties and individual members is subsumed to less of a partisan system, where members each consider the evidence put before them in submissions from people, often based on a personal or observed experience.

We do have a very good select committee system.

COLIN KING (National – Kaikōura): Thank you for this opportunity to make this, my final statement in the debating chamber* of the 50th Parliament of New Zealand. May I begin by acknowledging some of those who have put up with the 4-metre swells across Cook Strait* today to be with us

Sounds a normal day on Cook Strait!

Sir Henry Maine, speaking on social structure, put it well when he said: “Nobody is at liberty to attack private property and to say at the same time that he values civilisation. The history of the two cannot be disentangled, for the institution of private property has been a wonderful institution for teaching man and woman responsibility, for providing motives to integrity, for supporting general culture, for raising mankind above the level of mere drudgery, for affording leisure to think and freedom to act. To be able to retain the fruits of one’s labour, to be able to see one’s work made manifest, to be able to bequeath one’s property to one’s posterity, to be able to rise from the natural condition of grinding poverty to the security of enduring accomplishment, to have something that is really one’s own. There are advantages with this difficult to deny.” In drafting policy and bringing forth legislation in this House, may all members continue to recognise the value of those who toil in the sun or labour under the tin roof, neither despising the value of that work or thinking that it is beyond one’s dignity, because the wealth of this nation was created on the back of physically demanding labour. 

Great quote.

Hon CHRIS TREMAIN (National – Napier): In life there are many different definitions of success, and in Parliament the same goes. There are many different definitions of what makes a successful politician. Nine years ago I entered Parliament, and I have got to say I was pretty naïve. Some would probably argue that that has not changed too much. I had just won the Labour-held seat of Napier, the first time in 50 years, and I thought I had been pretty successful at that point in time. But like all politicians across this House, I entered this place with the intention of helping to create a better New Zealand. We all have the same purpose, just different ideas of how we might achieve that goal. But success in Parliament is not defined by just winning a seat or becoming a Cabinet Minister.

Very true.

One of the more memorable experiences was being asked to be the guest of the Go Natural Lifestyle Club to open its new gazebo. I consulted my wife, Angela, as I was too scared to go on my own. She agreed to join me. I spent more time that Saturday morning deciding what to wear than to any other occasion I have ever been to since. Should I be in casual or formal dress, or should I be in my birthday suit? Who knows? Well, we arrived at 11.30 a.m., in time for a tour and lunch. To this day I will never forget driving up the pine-enclosed complex, pulling over in the car-park*, , and watching the reception party walk down to greet us both. Ange leaned over and whispered in my ear: “My God, CJ, they really are naked.”


To Mac Dalton, Alistair Shelton, Pat Humphries, and Stefan Slooten, who have supported me in my parliamentary office, thank you. In particular, can I acknowledge Pat Humphries, who has worked in this amazing institution for much of her life. From junior backbench MPs to two Prime Ministers, Pat Humphries has supported MPs to rise to the top of the ladder. Pat, thank you.

Pat is a legend.

I am proud to see how much progress has been made in the area of Treaty settlements and to see the huge progress in my own rohe. Although there are still settlements that need to be completed, we are in a totally different place from where we started. The Hon Chris Finlayson will be knighted at a future time for his service in this area. You can hold me to that!

I think Chris would rather be a Judge – or a Cardinal!

Hon KATE WILKINSON (National – Waimakariri): When I first entered this House 9 years ago I was a list member of Parliament in a Labour-held safe seat. I leave this place as the electorate member of Parliament for Waimakariri in a National-held seat. This just goes to show that anything can happen and one should never ever take one’s electorates for granted. 

To win the seat off Clayton Cosgrove is no mean thing.

They say things happen in threes. Well, I was a member of Parliament in Canterbury. Under my watch the worst natural disaster, the earthquakes, happened. I was Minister of Conservation. Under my watch the worst environmental maritime disaster, the * Rena, happened. And I was Minister of Labour. Under my watch the worst workplace safety disaster, Pike River, happened. Can I say that at least as * Associate Minister of Immigration I did not let ** Mike Tyson into the country. Like every Canterbury member of Parliament, the earthquake events will always stand out for me. What a remarkable time to be a member of Parliament for an electorate and in a home town that was devastated by the earthquakes. I feel honoured to have helped our district in my capacity as MP through what has surely been its darkest time, from shovelling silt during those early days to informing residents of each and every new service and funding the National-led Government provided towards our recovery, as well as the hours and hours of work helping our residents navigate through the repair and rebuild of their homes. 

I think all Christchurch MPs have had a special connection with their constituents as they help them through the disaster.

The ink on my warrant barely had time to dry when I was told that my 90-day trial bill would be one of the first in our term to go on the * Order Paper. It has now been in place for just on 6 years. The protections we built into the legislation worked, and in that time there has been no amendment needed apart from, of course, extending it from small businesses to all businesses. Indeed, that one piece of policy and legislation was credited with having provided 13,000 new jobs in its first year. 

Yet Labour want to abolish it.

Most memorable, sadly, was the Pike River mining tragedy. I cannot resile from the absolute fact that 29 men died under my watch. Although I was not personally responsible, I was the responsible Minister, and it happened under my watch. We all wish we could turn back the clock and prevent such a disaster and keep those men safe. We cannot, but I am proud of the setting up of the Royal commission inquiry and now implementing its recommendations, putting the spotlight on workplace safety. We often have a national culture of “she’ll be right”, but it too often is not right. We lose a worker about once a week and a farmer once a month, and a farmer is hurt about every 30 minutes. So often those deaths and injuries could have been avoided. We need to change that culture and simply look after our workmates. Governments can only do so much and can only be so effective. Workplaces and workmates can do more. 

Workplace safety is indeed a shared responsibility.

Two more National MPs retire

November 7th, 2013 at 2:05 pm by David Farrar

Waimakariri MP Kate Wilkinson and Ohariu based List MP Katrina Shanks have both announced today they will retire from Parliament at the next election.

Kate deserves our thanks for taking Waimakariri off Clayton Cosgrove, and hopefully her successor can keep it. She also did some very good work in her former portfolios such as industrial relations.

Katrina has been a very hard working local MP in Wellington, and had to endure several campaigns against Charles Chauvel, which could get pretty nasty. She’s also well respected for her work last term as a select committee chair.

Kate entered Parliament in 2005 and Katrina in 2007. Their decisions to retire show that National is serious about continual renewal, and this is a real contrast to Labour where they have their MPs who entered Parliament in the 1980s still insisting they will never ever retire.

Renewal offers opportunities for National, but also challenges. Obviously both Kate and Katrina and female, and National needs to be pro-active about recruiting and supporting talented women to stand for Parliament. I don’t mean there should be quotas or guarantees of selections etc. I mean that National will benefit from having as many great candidate to choose from as possible – but you can’t just wait for people to come forward – you need to also go out and find them.

So far six National MPs have said they will retire in 2014 and rumour has it there could be anywhere from another one to six. These are not retirements because they think National will lose (the current public polls have been pretty good for National), but because they are accepting that you come in, make a good contribution, and then give someone else a turn.

A significant factor in whether National gets further terms will be its ability to rejuvenate. It is generally harder to do it in Government, than in Opposition. The fact that Labour appears to be doing almost no rejuvenation this election, and National is doing a significant amount, is encouraging.


Pike River Report and Wilkinson resigns

November 5th, 2012 at 4:04 pm by David Farrar

Just heard that Kate Wilkinson has resigned as Minister of Labour as the “right and honourable thing to do” as it happened on her watch. Indeed an honourable call.

The report is here, NBR has a good summary:

  • Setting up a new crown agency solely focused on health and safety. It would have an executive board accountable to a minister. It would be responsible for administering health and safety in line with strategies agreed with the responsible minister and should provide policy advice to the minister.
  • Setting up an effective regulatory framework for underground coal mining. This would include establishing an expert task force to carry out the work. Its members would include health and safety experts and industry, regulator and worker health and safety representatives, supported by specialist technical experts.
  • A change in the crown minerals regime to ensure health and safety is an integral part of permit allocation and monitoring.
  • A review of the statutory responsibilities of directors for health and safety in the workplace to better reflect their governance responsibilities.
  • The health and safety regulator should issue an approved code of practice to guide directors on how good governance practices can be used to manage health and safety risks.
  • The health and safety regulator should issue an approved code of practice to guide managers on health and safety risks, drawing on both their legal responsibilities and best practice.
  • An extension of the current regulations imposing general health and safety duties on the statutory mine manager to include detailed responsibilities for overseeing critical features of the company’s health and safety management systems.
  • Worker participation in health and safety in underground coal mines should be improved through legislative and administrative changes.
  • The regulator should supervise the granting of mining qualifications to mining managers and workers.
  • Urgent attention needs to go on emergency management in underground coal mines. Operators should be required to have a current and comprehensive emergency management plan which is audited and tested regularly.
  • An urgent review of the implementation of the coordinated incident management system in underground coal mine emergencies.
  • Legislative support for the activities of the New Zealand Mines Rescue Service. The adequacy and fairness of the current levies imposed on the mines to fund the services also need to be reviewed.
  • Operators of underground coal mines should be required to have modern equipment and facilities. This includes facilities suitable for self-rescue by workers during an emergency.

The Government has indicated it intends to implement at least most, if not all, of the recommendations but a formal response will take some time.

The Pike River explosion was deemed preventable, and we must make sure such a terrible accident does not occur again.

Tyson not coming

October 3rd, 2012 at 10:47 am by David Farrar

Kate Wilkinson has announced:

Mike Tyson’s visa has been cancelled by Associate Immigration Minister Kate Wilkinson today.

Ms Wilkinson says the original decision to grant a Special Direction to Mr Tyson was a finely balanced call and a letter of support from the Life Education Trust, that would have been a benefactor from the visit, was a significant factor in approving the application.

 “Yesterday evening the Life Education Trust contacted my office and asked for that letter to be withdrawn, making it clear that the Trust no longer wants to have any involvement with Mr Tyson’s visit.

 “Given that the Trust is no longer supporting the event, on balance, I have made the decision to cancel his visa to enter New Zealand for the Day of the Champions event.”

Ironically just this morning Tyson said:

Convicted rapist Mike Tyson has brushed off criticism from John Key, saying there is nothing the Prime Minister can do about his entry to New Zealand.

Key had earlier said:


Key today said Immigration officials also let in other people with similar convictions who were in New Zealand for short periods.

“It’s a marginal call and there are always issues that have to be reflected.”

A “fairly liberal” view was taken if the crime was a long time ago and there had been no further offending, he said.

“I don’t have anything personally against Mike Tyson. But I have something deeply personal against people who rape other people and commit crimes against women.”

Key said he turned down “numerous” people for New Year or Queens Birthday honours because they had convictions for violence against women.

“I will not allow them to have that honour. I don’t think that should be bestowed on someone. So it is not specific against Mike Tyson, I’m just not fond of what he’s done.”

Every year the honours list was checked by the police and while speeding tickets and historic drink-driving convictions were normally looked past, violence against  women was not, he said.

Tyson made it clear on television that he thinks he was framed for the rape conviction, which is rather different to someone who is remorseful for what they did.

The vulnerable campaign

September 11th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

NZ Herald reports:

A Dunedin-based cleaning company has taken its campaign online saying part of the Employment Relations Act is failing businesses – the site called “vulnerable minister” targets Minister of Labour Kate Wilkinson.

The site is here.

Crest Commercial Cleaning launched the website last week after three years of lobbying the Government to change part 6A of the ERA, which was set up to protect ‘vulnerable’ contract workers.

Under the law if a business changes its contract, ‘vulnerable workers’ are given the right to transfer their employment under the same terms and conditions – the outgoing contactor has a month to notify the new contractor if employees want to transfer.

Crest managing director Grant McLauchlan said the legislation was ambiguous and needed clarity.

He said his company were finding out the day before it took over a new contract.

“We want to be told in due course, because we get to the last day and don’t know if people are electing to transfer – we are left not knowing if we need to recruit our own people.

“It’s so ambiguous, and every time we try and work it out we end up in the employment court.
Personally I don’t think the clause should remain in law at all. A company winning a contract should not be obligated to hire the staff of the losing company.
But if such a clause is to remain, it should at least be workable.

How dare National not reappoint Labour appointees

May 16th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Danya Levy at Stuff reports:

Government cronyism is being blamed for delays in Employment Relations Authority investigations, caused by a 76 per cent turn over of its members in two years. …

The contracts of seven members had expired since 2010 and a further six would expire between June and the end of the year. They are appointed by the Governor-General, on the recommendation of Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson.

Labour’s industrial relations spokeswoman Darien Fenton said some members had wanted to stay on but their contracts were not renewed.

“The minister is clearly wanting to put her own people in there, what we would describe as cronies.”

How dare Kate Wilkinson appoint different people to whom Labour appointed. Just because they won two elections is no reason they should appoint different people to whom Labour did.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said the organisation was consulted on appointments and had a policy of approving the reappointment of competent members, regardless of whether it agreed with their decisions.

I’m a bit cynical that the CTU doesn’t ever link their agreement with decisions with whether they think someone is competent. Are they really saying they regard someone as competent if they disagree with all their decisions?

As far as I can tell the vast majority of ERA members under Labour were former union lawyers. Now as far as I can tell, there are a few ex-union lawyers on there, a couple of ex-employers assn lawyers and the majority have just worked privately (for both employers and employees). That seems pretty balanced to me.

Cosgrove trailing by 18%

November 12th, 2011 at 8:45 am by David Farrar

The Press reports:

Waimakariri Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove faces a crushing defeat as a new poll shows his National rival, Kate Wilkinson, has opened up a huge lead in the seat.

A Fairfax Media-Research International snap poll in the seat put Wilkinson on 53.9 per cent of decided voters against 36 per cent for Cosgrove. The only consolation for Cosgrove is that the poll of 250 voters had a margin of error of 6.2 per cent and a high proportion of undecided voters – 23.5 per cent.

The poll also showed a huge lead for National of 71.9 per cent to Labour’s 17.4 per cent.

That compares with 2008 when National won the party vote in the seat by 49.4 per cent to 33.9 per cent for Labour.

Paul Epplett of Research International said his best explanation for the huge shift in support was related to the earthquake and polling on that had been positive for National.

This will worry Labour greatly, to be 18% behind in a seat they currently hold. Having said that, the party vote figures look a bit extreme to me, so I wouldn’t take the exact margin as gospel.

But what will be worrying Labour, is if one seat they hold now has them 18% behind, what about the others? Their next most marginal seats are Rimutaka, Christchurch Central, Palmerston North, Wellington Central, New Lynn, Hutt South and Te Atatu.

UPDATE: Whale has a post pointing out that the woman in the advertisements Cosgrove is running who says “Why I’m voting for Clayton Cosgrove” is not even registered to vote in Waimakariri – she is on the Te Tai Tonga roll. He couldn’t even find someone from his electorate to endorse him so he got a union official

Caption Contest

April 15th, 2011 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The photo is from The Press, and for those who can’t recognise him from that view, yes that is the PM (and Kate Wilkinson).

Captions below please – as always they should be funny and not nasty.

UPDATE: Some of my favourites to date are:

  • Here do I swear
    By hand and by mouth
    Fealty to Gerry
    King of the South.
  • Like this five times a day & no bacon sandwiches.
  • Not to be outdone by Air New Zealand, Jetstar begins filming its new safety video.
  • PM responds to Treasury advice on Superannuation.
  • False alarm – it was just Gerry walking past.



A small shuffle

January 26th, 2010 at 6:27 pm by David Farrar

John Key has announced:

Steven Joyce becomes Tertiary Education Minister, allowing Anne Tolley to fully focus her efforts on the Education portfolio, and in particular the implementation of the Government’s national standards policy.

I said almost a year ago that I thought both Education and Tertiary Education was a huge workload, especially with no Associates from your own party.

I will be fascinated as to Steven’s approach to tertiary education. It has quite a few pressure points in it.

Kate Wilkinson becomes Conservation Minister, a portfolio in which she is currently Associate Minister. This change reflects the fact that Tim Groser is frequently out of the country representing New Zealand’s interests in the Trade and Climate Change fields.

In other words Kate has effectively been the Minister, so this makes it official.

Mr Groser, because he has primary ministerial responsibility for the international negotiations aspects of Climate Change, will have a change in title and becomes the Minister Responsible for International Climate Change Negotiations.

That should not take up too much time, as there isn’t much to negotiate. The US, China and India are all running 100 miles an hour away from an agreement.

Constructive work on holidays

December 20th, 2009 at 12:42 pm by David Farrar

The SST report:

WORKERS WILL be allowed to swap one week of their holidays for cash from next year.

The government will introduce legislation early in 2010, despite opposition from unions who see it as a move to rewind the Labour government’s law change two years ago, which increased the minimum annual leave entitlement for fulltime workers from three to four weeks.

This was of course election policy. It also may not mean great change for some people as if you do not take all your annual leave, and leave your job, it gets paid out to you anyway. Also it gives an employee the right to sto an employer closing the business for four weeks over summer, and forcing them to take four weeks leave then. They can now only be forced to tale three weeks leave, and get the fourth paid out as extra salary.

The government will also legislate to standardise the rate at which leave is calculated. There will be a single rate of pay for all leave whether annual, sick, bereavement or public. …

Wilkinson said the only workers who would be worse off under the changes were those who engaged in “gaming” the system; for example, by manipulating their work hours to maximise their pay while on leave.

Under current law, holiday payments factor in penal rates in the four weeks before the holiday. An employee could exploit that by working considerable overtime before going on leave.

Seems sensible, and much much easier administratively.

Wilkinson said the review was needed because the current system was so complex and confusing that even the courts had trouble determining disputes between employers and employees over rates of pay for leave.

“We are not reducing entitlements. We think the new formula for relevant daily pay will be easier to calculate. We also think it will be fairer to employees and employers and prevent the `gaming’ of relevant daily pay calculations.”

I suspect very few employers apply the law absolutely correctly because it is so difficult to understand. Most just pay leave at the normal rate anyway I suspect.

Helen Kelly, president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and a member of the review panel, was worried the government would allow bosses to transfer days in lieu and public holidays to avoid paying double time.

Although she was happy with the proposals as they stood, she was concerned that the final legislation could go further than the report, leaving workers worse off.

“There should be a condition [in the legislation] that the reason for transferring is not to avoid paying time-and-a-half.”

Nice to see a constructive approach by the CTU. They will of course be against the cashing in a weeks leave, but pleased to see not against the other changes necessarily.

Some workers spoken to by the Star-Times were pleased to hear of the law change, saying they would be keen to cash in their leave. Others though, would not. “Hell no, I don’t need the money…I would rather take the break from work,” said one.

And now they will have the choice, so both camps can be happy. Different employees have different needs. Those with kids probably love having a 4th week leave. Those without kids are more likely to love being able to earn some extra money by only taking three weeks. And there are also those in positions who find it hell to take too long a break, as the work piles up so much in their absence. So not treating all employees as wanting the same thing is good.

Among the 241 submissions was a call for March 18 to become a public holiday. Wilkinson said she was “amused” at the suggestion but was not interested in “legislating for behaviour that condones hangovers or the over-indulgence of alcohol”. March 17 is St Patrick’s Day.


No mandatory folic acid in bread

August 27th, 2009 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

No surprise, but the Government has confirmed there will be no mandatory addition of folic acid into bread – at least for the next three years.

Today, Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson said mandatory fortification of bread would be deferred until May 2012.

The Government and Bakers were now likely to focus on introducing a voluntary range of fortified breads.

The deferral was the “best way forward”, Ms Wilkinson said.

“I agree with public health advocates that folic acid is beneficial to the health of women and can prevent neural tube defects, but I also understand consumers overwhelmingly want to be able to choose whether or not the bread they buy is fortified.

“This approach will provide for consumer choice while also helping to address folate deficiency and increase the protection for babies resulting from unplanned pregnancies.”

Works for me.

Armstrong on Folic Acid

July 21st, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

The political furore over putting folic acid in bread is not confined to arguing the scientific merits of putting folic acid in bread.

It is about much more than that. It is an argument about the morals of mass medication. That raises all the connotations of “nanny state” knows best .

And no one is against people being able to buy bread with folic acid added to it. But why should every male, and every female aged under 16 or over 50 be dosed with folic acid, when the main benefit of it can not apply to them, and there is some uncertainity about risks.

Her handling of this hot potato has been lambasted largely on the back of a less than impressive performance on TVNZ’s Q&A programme the Sunday before last. Wilkinson seemed woefully under-prepared for the bombardment she received from interviewer Paul Holmes and the Greens’ food safety campaigner, Sue Kedgley. …

While making it clear she was looking for a means for New Zealand to escape its transtasman obligations, she looked like a minister hostage to the advice of her officials and seemingly powerless. Her solution that the decision to mix folic acid into bread be reviewed after its introduction may have satisfied legal considerations but it seemed somewhat farcical.

There were three basic positions you could take. One is you are against compulsory addition of folic acid in bread and are not going to let it happen. Another is you think it is a good thing to have folic acid added to bread and defend that decision. The third is that you are against adding folic acid to all bread, but won’t or can’t stop it happening. That is the worst position to adopt as it is saying I agree it is wrong, but I’ll let this bad thing still happen because I am powerless. It is a lesson for other Ministers.

Exit Wilkinson. Enter the Prime Minister. The Government will release a discussion document tomorrow with three options – deferral, rejection or the status quo. But Key has already said he prefers deferral, bringing the matter to a close. If this is another example of Key’s brute pragmatism, there are also lessons for his Administration.

The reason Key is so popular, is he is always getting involved and sorting out problems like this one, the old s92A etc etc. But over the longer term, the Government as a whole needs to be seen as performing very well – not just the Prime Minister.

Labour’s unwavering backing for folic acid in bread might have meant the issue was dead in terms of parliamentary politics. However, it has turned out to be very much alive politically outside the Beltway.

And Labour still back the mass medicating of folic acid. This means it may be an issue in the 2011 election as Labour will effectively be campaigning on their plans to make folic acid compulsory in bread. The review of the decision is timed for just a few months after the 2011 election so parties will be expected to have a position.

SST declares victory on folic acid debate

July 19th, 2009 at 11:15 am by David Farrar

According to the Sunday Star-Times, Cabinet tomorrow will throw out Labour’s decision to introduce mandatory addition of folic acid to bread:

THE BUN-FIGHT is over. Bakers will not be forced by law to add folic acid to our bread, bagels, crumpets and English muffins. The Key government will announce this week that it is throwing out the former government’s policy.

Cabinet is expected to formalise the government’s position when it meets tomorrow, effectively putting the controversial issue on the back burner for three years and, crucially, beyond the next election.

The government is not convinced that making folic acid a compulsory ingredient in all bread is necessary, and wants more time to assess the evidence. Folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk of babies being born with defects such as spina bifida, but bakers say women would need to eat at least 11 slices of bread a day to make a difference to the health of their unborn child.

The Key government favours a voluntary regime. It has been looking for a way to wriggle out of the trans-Tasman agreement, struck by the former Labour government, and due to take effect on September 1.

Community pressure mounted as the deadline approached. Radio talkback shows were last week inundated with indignant callers.

The Star-Times understands that Food Minister Kate Wilkinson on Thursday reached an agreement with the Australian parliamentary secretary for health, Mark Butler, that exempts New Zealand from the new standard.

That is a nice exclusive for the SST, by their political editor Grahame Armstrong.

And the agreement with Australia is much better than unilaterally pulling out. As I have said before, Australian politicians will understand how something can become a major issue.

Under the trans-Tasman agreement, folic acid was to be mandatory in all wheat flour products, including sweet breads and rolls, bagels, foccacia, English muffins and flat breads that contain yeast.

Crumpets, scones, pancakes, pikelets, crepes, yeast donuts, pizza bases and crumbed products were also to be fortified with folic acid.

It was going to be in pizzas also?

Katherine Rich, chief executive of the Food and Grocery Council, said many New Zealanders would breathe a sigh of relief because they did not like the idea of the government tampering with their bread.

There were genuine concerns about the health effects and the prime minister was right to delay any decision until all the facts were known, she said. It was also an issue about freedom of choice.

“It’s quite a scary intervention to dose an entire country,” Rich, a former National MP, said.

“A trip to the baker should not be a trip to the chemist.”

Heh – nice line.

The Herald on Sunday also reveals that Rodney Hide has warned and lobbied fellow Ministers about the issue three months ago.

The Folic Acid controversy

July 13th, 2009 at 9:29 am by David Farrar

Kate Wilkinson got a pretty tough grilling on Q&A yesterday as she was in the unenvious position of saying she thinks the compulsory medicating of bread with folic acid was wrong, yet she would not or could not stop it occurring due to our treaty with Australia – the best being offered is a review in October.

It is true that it is much easier to decide not to do something, than it is to pull out of a decision after it had been made by a previous Government – especially when it deos involve a treaty with a friendly Government. But the transcript shows the difficulty of trying to say we think this is a bad decision, but can’t stop it:

KATE The science is actually light on it.  I agree with what the Irish are doing, I’d have to say I agree with what they’re doing.

PAUL Well then do it.

KATE That’s why I’m doing it – the first opportunity I’m taking it and asking for a review.

PAUL I’m sorry you’re gonna put folic acid which may give me prostate cancer again, into my staple food, the bread, and then you’re gonna&

SUE And then review it.

PAUL And then review it, so you could be threatening the health of this nation.


KATE If you drill down into those studies though you’ll find that they’re not that qualitative or quantitative and it is a bit light.  Now if we can get a review through the Ministerial Council it’ll be done in three months.

PAUL Oh so we have three months of possible poisoning.

Holmes was very worked up on this issue.

PAUL Forgive me Minister, I read yesterday in researching this that is some link between excessive folic acid and prostate cancer.

SUE That is right.

PAUL And you are gonna put that in my bread?

SUE But Paul it’s the stupidity of this, that the Minister accepts there are these health risks.

KATE Yes she does.

SUE But she’s saying we have to do it so we’re eating up for Australia, we’re going to be forced because of some trade relationship with Australia, surely we should put – public health issues should be paramount, not some diplomatic relationship.

Never good when you let Sue Kedgley answer on your behalf

Worth remembering this, from NZPA:

Former Food Safety Minister Annette King said when the decision was made that it was “a triumph for humanity and common sense”.

I think this may become a bigger and bigger issue as September gets closer. If I was in Government I would be looking very hard at how to get a decision on this before the scheduled meeting in Australia. Surely one can get the agreement of the Australian Ministers by e-mail or something to allow New Zealand to suspend implementing the folic bread addition due to health concerns.

Rich on Food Safety

June 9th, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Former National MP Katherine Rich is now Chief Executive of the Food and Grocery Council. She writes:

If any government decides to mass-medicate every bread-buying New Zealander with a certain additive, it has to be very sure that the costs to the community don’t outweigh any health benefits, and that there are no long-term ill-effects on the population.

Minister for Food Safety Kate Wilkinson faces an interesting test as she decides whether to review or delay a controversial new food standard, which will force all bakers to add folic acid to every single loaf of bread.

The question is, will this centre-right politician – who campaigned vigorously on ridding New Zealand of the “nanny state” – endorse such a major intervention?

An excellent question.

Political ideology and the centre-right principle of freedom of choice aside, however, the big issue is the growing concern that too much folic acid might create long-term health problems for bread-loving Kiwis.

Folic acid has been seen as a miracle vitamin since the 1980s, when increasing pregnant women’s folic acid intake was linked to reductions in birth defects.

No one, and in particular bakers, disputes the beneficial effects on pregnant women. Pregnant women can benefit hugely from taking supplements and eating a healthy diet.

Where some part company is when regulators turn from targeted health programmes for small numbers of women at risk, to a programme of effective mass medication – dosing every man, woman, and child.

I prefer targeting.

Official reports written by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) have been made publicly available. Parts of the reports make disturbing reading to any sandwich-making Kiwi parent.

While it’s been estimated that a pregnant woman will have to eat 11 slices of bread a day to receive the amount of folic acid required, the NZFSA reports confirm in black and white that some New Zealand children will, as a result of mandatory fortification, eat more than their recommended daily intake of folate/folic acid.

In rather alarming advice, the minister at the time was told by NZFSA: “There are unknown risks that may not become apparent for one or two generations. Children will be exposed to much higher levels of folic acid than in previous generations. It may not be until this generation of children have their own children that adverse effects become apparent.”

Does not sound reassuring.

“We continue to have concerns that 13.8 per cent of males aged 5 to 8 years and 8.2 per cent of New Zealand females are going to exceed the upper level intake for folic acid …”

These are the “concerns” that will need to be explained in the event the Government endorses the food standard. It may not be a task the minister will relish.

Katherine is not going soft on her former colleagues!

It’s potentially a very unpopular move.

New Zealanders simply don’t like the idea of governments tampering with their bread. The New Zealand Food Safety Authority’s own research concluded “84 per cent of consumers interviewed, even after providing information on the reasons for fortification, did not support mandatory fortification”.

So listen to them, and don’t do it.

The Upper South Island Seats

November 13th, 2008 at 10:16 pm by David Farrar

The birthplace of Labour, West Coast-Tasman went to National on the party vote by 11%. In 2005 the had a 3% margin. Damien O’Connor had a 1,500 majority and lost to Chris Auchinvole by 1,000 votes. Auchinvole (who once famously told Parliament you pronounce his name like it was Dock in Cole or a rude version that is easy to work out) wan a strong campaign with 160 hoardings and a large campaign team. O’Connor is first in on the Labour List, so if Michael Cullen retires he will be back as a List MP.

National finally won the party vote in Nelson. Labour won it by 6% in 2005 but National has a 5% lead in 2008. And no one was surprised that Nick retained his seat, although his majority did shrink from 9,500 to 7,900.

Kaikoura was marginal in 2002 and today the party vote was won by 23%, up from 9% in 2005. Colin King doubled his 4,700 mJority to 10,100.

Clayton Cosgrove did well to hold on in Waimakariri with 500 votes against the competent and hard working Kate Wilkinson. National won the party vote by 15%, up from a 0.3% margin in 2005. Cosgrove’s 2005 majority on new boundaries was 5,000.

Christchurch East remains red with 45% party vote Labour to 36% for National. However that 9% gap is a lot less than 24% in 2005. Dalziel’s 11,000 majority halved to 5,500 – still very safe. However National now has a List MP in the seat and will have hopes for when Lianne retires.

Christchurch Central was a great battle. Labour won the party vote by 1.4% and held the seat by 900 votes only. Nicky Wagner ran a very strong campaign but seats ending in Central are very hard to win for National. In 2005 the party vote margin was 22% and the majority for Barnett was 7,800.

Ilam has National 53% to 27% on the party vote. Gerry Brownlee also drives his majority from 5,500 to 10,800. This may finally stop Gerry from referring to his seat as marginal 🙂

Wigram saw Labour win the party vote by just 2%. In 2005 it was 12%. And Jim Anderton scored a fairly safe 4,500 majority despite new boundaries.

Finally we have Port Hills. National won the party vote by 16%, yet Ruth Dyson held the seat by 3,100. In 2005 Labour won the party vote by 12% so there was a massive swing there, yet Dyson’s majority shrank from just 3,600 to 3,100.

Business NZ Conference Part VI

September 3rd, 2008 at 2:45 pm by David Farrar

This is on workplace issues. Panelists:

  • Trevor Mallard (Lab)
  • Sue Bradford (Greens)
  • Kate Wilkinson (National)
  • Peter Brown (NZ First)


  1. What changes to KiwiSaver and why?
  2. What changes to ACC and why?
  3. Will you allow grievance free probationary periods?
  4. Will you remove the union monopoly on on collective bargaining?
  5. Will you change the “relevant daily pay” provisions of the Holidays Act

Kate Wilkinson

  1. No policy released. Key has indicated some modest changes to be announced in due course. Against Labour’s KiwiSaver amendment passed this morning that makes total remuneration packages illegal
  2. Will investigate opening the work account to competition so incentives are there for good safety practices, and allow employers to insure for a higher stand of cover. Also will have an independent disputes tribunal for ACC to be fair to claimants
  3. Yes a 90 day trial period for businesses with less than 20 employees.
  4. Yes will allow a collective agreement with no union. Making employees form an incorporated society just to negotiate a collective contract is cumbersome.
  5. The Holidays Act is like the blackboard scribblings in A Beautiful Mind. Will appoint business and union reps to a working group to review the Act, esp for relevant daily pay definition. Not to reduce rights but make law more clear.
  6. General comment – important to be fair to all parties – no major changes but some improvements

Peter Brown

  1. Want to make KiwiSaver compulsory
  2. Do not support competition to ACC. Does support an independent disputes tribunal.
  3. Missed
  4. Passionate about allowing employees to do a collective contract without forming a union, but NZ First does not have policy.
  5. Thinks law has settled down but willing to be persuaded otherwise.

Sue Bradford

  1. Support Government, think it is great.
  2. Oppose any moves to competition. Want more emphasis on equitable compensation regardless of how someone is impaired.
  3. No.
  4. No.
  5. No.

Trevor Mallard

  1. Missed but I guess no major changes
  2. Against
  3. Current Act has probationary periods (but grievances still possible)
  4. Against
  5. Missed

What was interesting is that every speaker against Trevor just spoke to policies and issues while Trevor sounded like he was blogging at The Standard and was referring to Crosby/Textor and the like.

A mess

May 28th, 2008 at 8:23 am by David Farrar

The forced release of substance of National’s KiwiSaver policy is a mess. It comes at a time when Labour have got some momentum from the budget, and National needs to be error free.

I said a few weeks ago that I no longer think Labour can win the election, but that National can still lose it. That still holds true in my opinion. Now this episode by itself is not an election loser, but timing is everything in politics. If the TV stations are polling this week (and they probably are based on their normal cycles) then it may not National back a wee bit, and then you get stories about how the race is back on, and that continues to give Labour the momentum they badly need.

One can only feel some sympathy for Kate Wilkinson, even if tempered with some annoyance. Some MPs are known to be prone to speaking before thinking, but Kate isn’t one of them. It was an uncharacteristic mistake, but it really shows the importance of being very very guarded with speculation on policy – especially when Trevor Mallard is in the room! Trevor hasn’t looked this happy since he biffed Tau 🙂

The somewhat ironic thing is that it is a no brainer that eventually National would announce it would keep compulsory employer contributions to KiwiSaver. regardless of whether one approves of the policy, you can’t change it once 600,000 people have made investment decisions based on it. If you were going to not keep the contributions, you would have to have said so almost immediately so that people signing up would be aware that a change in Government would lead to no compulsory employer contribution.

National could have come out and said this at an earlier stage. But it presumably is looking at having some minor differences, and wanted to release a full policy on a timetable of its making. There are in fact two related but different issues with regards to the employer contribution. The first is whether it will be compulsory, and at what rate. The second is what subsidy the Government will pay employers as partial compensation.

John Armstrong makes a fair point:

The more obvious it appears that National is heading into Government and the longer it holds out on clarifying its stance on major policy matters, the more not-so-experienced MPs like Wilkinson are going to come under pressure at such meetings to spell out what the party would do differently.

Vernon Small also makes a similiar point:

But in “clarifying” her blunder National has announced what amounted to a $2 billion spending commitment over four years to a policy which is proving very popular – with 600,000 already signed up – and rather than doing it at a time of their choosing they have been forced to scramble out an announcement as a political save.

I guess that’s what happens in a policy vacuum;  there are just too many things you can’t say and too many things you might say.

To be fair, the budget was only a couple of working days ago, and there is a lot of work to be done on having a balanced alternative budget. So I suspect we will see a focus on policies with relatively minor costs (policy rather than spending) in the immediate future, and then some more of the bigger costing items once the sums are done.