Hooton on MFAT

March 8th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

A good column in the NBR by Matthew Hooton:

Murray McCully may be positioning himself as a fiscal enforcer but he’s really a bit of a wuss.

Proposed $25 million cuts to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade ( Mfat), making 305 mostly Wellington-based bureaucrats redundant, simply bring it back to where it was in 2007/8 before Winston Peters announced his massive $600-million five-year spend-up.

Which was in fact more money than MFAT even wanted. He told them to triple the size of their budget bid around 24 hours before the deadline.

After all, Mfat, under its existing budgets, had successfully negotiated CER, the Uruguay Round agreement, the free-trade agreement with China and phase one of the Trans Pacific Partnership. It had won election to the UN Security Council, hosted Apec and CHOGM, installed Mike Moore and Don McKinnon to head the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Commonwealth, and broadly restored relations with the US.

It wasn’t obvious it needed vastly more money than previous foreign minister Phil Goff had provided for six years.

Goff now seems more passionate about defending every last MFAT job, that anything he did as Opposition Leader.

Mr McCully’s more important changes involve not the number of personnel but their deployment.

Mfat has long been the most conservative of departments.

The only way in was its graduate programme. Time served drove promotion. No one was ever fired. Its employment agreements insist that older people have first entitlement to new positions over younger staff. Consequently, it struggles to retain talented 30-somethings.

To the fury of ageing baby boomers, Mr McCully has aggressively promoted top Gen X talent.

Vangelis Vitalis, 43, has been appointed ambassador to the EU and Nato; Taha Macpherson, 40, to Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority; Reuben Levermore, 36, to the Philippines; and Justin Fepuleai, 38, to Afghanistan. Ben King, 39, is John Key’s new chief foreign policy advisor in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

While a late baby boomer, Patrick Rata has been appointed ambassador to South Korea after Mr McCully discovered him in a back-office role having committed the ultimate Mfat sin – taking a couple of years off mid-career, to be Mr Moore’s right-hand man at the World Trade Organisation.

Surprisingly, given Mr McCully’s ultra-partisan reputation, there has been no hint of political favouritism.

As a student leader, Mr Vitalis led protests against the National government in the early 1990s. Mr Macpherson spent three years as Mr Goff’s top aide. Mr King worked for trade minister Lockwood Smith, whom Mr McCully has fought in bitter intra-party warfare, and Mr Rata for Mr Moore. Dr Fepuleai’s PhD is in political science, surely something deserving Mr McCully’s scorn. Arguably only Mr Levermore fits the McCully stereotype, having played professional rugby in France.

With these and future appointments, Mr McCully has decided that talented Gen Xers shouldn’t have to wait until their late 40s or early 50s to reach the top tier. Nor should older talent be punished for working temporarily outside Mfat’s hallowed halls.

Not everyone at MFAT is unhappy with the changes. They are providing opportunities also.

As many as 166 kiwi diplomats are still stationed in the UK, continental Europe and the US, even excluding the delegations to the UN, WTO and Russia.

In comparison, just 23 diplomats are stationed in Australia, 41 in India and 44 in mainland China.

Mfat still has 11 diplomatic posts in Europe (excluding Geneva and Russia) but just two in Australia, two in China and one in India.

There is a full-scale embassy in Stockholm, which Helen Clark opened in 2008 and Mr McCully plans to close, and in Vienna, despite New Zealand’s exports to Sweden being just $72 million in 2010/11 and to Austria just $18 million.

In contrast, New Zealand has no presence in Chongqing, with its 30 million people and surging economy, nor is New Zealand represented in India’s boomtown of Bangalore.

Mr McCully is on the right track but he still has a long way to go to build a foreign service that properly reflects New Zealand’s place in the 21st century.

Matthew defends the changes so well, he could apply to be a ministerial press secretary :-)

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Hooton on charter schools

December 9th, 2011 at 11:28 am by David Farrar

Matthew Hooton writes in the NBR:

Charter schools have received most attention.

 So obviously will this idea benefit the most disadvantaged children that it is shameful it wasn’t implemented years ago, especially as it can be done under existing legislation.

 The concept is almost left-wing – that all children are different and require a school environment tailored to their needs, not the ideologies of bureaucrats or unionists – and New Zealand already has charter schools of sorts.

Indeed the schools are not new, but the extra flexibility they may have could be.

The Muldoon government first supported Te Kohanga Reo in 1982.  Lockwood Smith followed in 1993, providing the first funding for Kura Kaupapa Maori, Wharekura and Wananga.

Catholic integrated schools and those based on particular pedagogies such as Montessori or Steiner are also effectively charter schools.  Dr Smith’s tenure saw the first state-funded Hare Krishna school.

The idea is to give poor families the same educational choices as rich families, and bring new ideas into the system.

But there will be opposition!

The teacher unions, of course, oppose the idea with extraordinary ferocity.  They know that, if the charter school trial is successful, their vision of a single system, controlled by them, with no ability to compare either students or schools, and therefore no possibility of accountability, will be dashed.  They also know that, without their intervention, the trial is likely to succeed.

Vicious campaigns will be launched against the new schools and the teachers who work in them.

Pickets will try to prevent students from attending them.  The atmosphere the unions engender will encourage attacks on students planning to attend the schools …

Now Matthew may be resorting to a bit of hyperbole here, but if he is correct could we see scenes like the below in New Zealand?

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Who has the numbers?

December 5th, 2011 at 8:23 am by David Farrar

A very nicely done video by Whale of a duck counting numbers in caucus. If the numbers are accurate then Shearer would win 19 votes to 16. I presume there are 35 votes as it is not yet known whether Burns or Huo are in caucus.

Whale also has a conspiracy theory that almost all of Shearer’s endorsements have come from those who were at Matthew Hooton’s bbq last Sunday. Of course I wasn’t at the bbq (I was celebrating with friends down at the Viaduct), and have said I think Shearer represents a better chance for Labour to win in 2014.

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Labour v Leitch

October 1st, 2011 at 10:59 am by David Farrar

Labour doesn’t seem to learn. I’m now awaiting their attack on Richie McCaw. The Herald reports:

Rugby-netball double international Louisa Wall is sticking up for fellow Labour MP Darien Fenton over her attack on the public “bromance” between the Mad Butcher Sir Peter Leitch and Prime Minister John Key. …

But Ms Wall, who is back in Parliament for a second stint as a list MP, said the comments were misinterpreted, and she shared the disappointment at Sir Peter’s support for Mr Key – despite admiring his work.

 “We would have assumed Sir Peter was a working-class champion,” Ms Wall said.
But instead he is a class traitor, is the implication.
Ms Wall, who is contesting the safe Labour seat of Manurewa, said “personal is political”, and Sir Peter could not endorse Mr Key without endorsing his policies.
So if you say something nice about the Prime Minister, Labour thinks it means you hate working people.
The issue made the editorial of the NZ herald today:
For Ms Fenton, though, his broadcast utterances were political treason. That any member of the country’s working class could speak well of a “Tory” leader is anathema. Unthinkable. Unforgivable.

The Mad Butcher was shocked by her withering personal rejection and the attempt to denounce him for saying what he thinks. His former butchery business was also stunned by an inference some had taken that a Labour MP was calling for a boycott of the Mad Butcher stores, many of them in rock-solid Labour seats.

The Fenton comments would have been politically dumb and personally reprehensible at any time, given Sir Peter’s record for serving the communities the MP purports to represent.

But her timing, amid Sir Peter’s well-publicised but tentative recovery from cancer and the joy of all league fans at the Warriors’ late season success, was particularly damaging.
And Matthew Hooton lets loose in the NBR:

Labour has also rounded on Sir Peter Leitch, the Mad Butcher, who, after strongly supporting Helen Clark, now favours John Key. 

Labour List MP Darien Fenton declared she was, and I quote her directly, “never going near him again.” While he was “good in the past” he had “gone way out on a limb.” When asked whether it wouldn’t be better to try to win back his vote, she replied, and again I quote her directly: “Why?” Ms Fenton is guaranteed to be re-elected as a list MP, at the expense of quality Labour people like Kelvin Davis and Stuart Nash, who are both doomed.

At thestandard.org.nz, a blog written by Labour and union staffers and other leftist activists, the attacks on Sir Peter, who won his knighthood for services to philanthropy and the community, were even more vicious. One, defended on free-speech grounds by the blog administrators, was: “I wish the Mad Butcher would hurry up and die.”

Hooton concludes:

Such attacks on the Greens, left-leaning academics, the media and the popular Mad Butcher (in the very week his beloved Warriors will finally win the NRL!) suggest some kind of derangement syndrome caused by Labour’s fury at Mr Key’s popularity.

These people have learned nothing from their defeat in 2008. They despise the voters, whom they regard as ignorant and wrong. Unless such bitter and paranoid individuals lose influence within Labour, New Zealand won’t benefit from proper opposition until late 2014 at the earliest.

Matthew has commented that he received more positive feedback on this column, than any other he has written.

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Trevor joins the truthers and birthers

September 23rd, 2011 at 12:52 pm by David Farrar

The United States has mad conspiracy theorists on the right and the left. Those on the left are the truthers who are convinced Bush and Cheney blew up the Twin Towers and blamed it on poor old Osama. Those on the right are or were the birthers who were convinced that Obama was born in Kenya, and that his grand mother placed a fake birth notice in Hawaii in August 1961 just in case one day he decided to stand for President.

Back home we don’t have truthers or birthers, but instead the Labour Party Campaign Manager Trevor Mallard. He blogs:

Interesting disclosure from David Farrar yesterday. He, along with Matthew Hooton, and (waste of members money) PSA are bankrolling Bryce Edwards, one of the few remaining supporters of the Alliance, to provide the political commentary which mainly attacks Labour and the Greens from the looney left. The guy makes Margaret Mutu look like a well balanced academic.

As we all know the majority of Farrar’s income comes from the taxpayer via a “research” arrangement.

I wonder if Bill English signed the deal off or whether it was just a nod and a wink.

So Bill English secretly instructed me to secretly fund Bryce Edwards, so Bryce would attack Labour. With such insight, Trevor could apply to join either the birthers or the truthers.

First it is interesting to note his portrayal of Dr Edwards as more unbalanced than Margaret Mutu (who called for a ban on white immigration). This may come as a surprise to his many colleagues who have been interviewed by Dr Edwards for the OU Vote Chat series. His attack on Dr Edwards may remind readers of his attacks on Erin Leigh and others, and are perhaps a salient reminder of what awaits people if Labour gets back into Government.

I do wonder what Trevor’s colleague, tertiary education spokesperson Grant Robertson, thinks of Trevor’s attacking of an academic for his political views.

I should point out at this stage that Dr Edwards is what one would call left-wing. Like John Pagani, he used to work for the Alliance in Parliament around 10 years ago. It is of course very unusual for an academic to be left-wing. Almost unheard of.

Now let us get to Trevor’s discovery of this big secret, the sponsorship of NZ Politics Daily. It was a closely guarded secret until I revealed it in Stuff yesterday. Oh except for the fact that every single issues for the last few months has said:

New Zealand Politics Daily is produced independently by Bryce Edwards, Department of Politics, University of Otago, with the help of a research assistant who is paid for by the sponsorship of:
Curia Market Research – the place to go if you want to know what New Zealanders are thinking
Exceltium Ltd – New Zealand’s most successful corporate and public affairs consultancy
PSA – the public sector union advocating for strong public services and decent work.

On top of this daily disclosure by Dr Edwards, I blogged on the sponsorship back in June. The $100/week Curia pays doesn’t go to Bryce but to a research assistant who compiles the scores of stories included in the e-mail edition. I find the compilation incredibly useful as it lists every political story and major blog post for the day, and often discover stories I would have missed through it.

There is absolutely no input or influence over what Bryce writes as an intro summary to the daily bulletin. I would say I disagree with Bryce’s take on things probably twice as often as I agree with one! To give an example of some of Bryce’s recent summaries which in Trevor’s fantasy world Bill English is paying for:

  • This could be the year of the Greens – finally they might crack the 10% mark that has eluded them in every general election so far. And with the popular demise of Labour and the ideological confusion of Mana, the Green Party might end up being the real success story for the leftish side of the political spectrum.
  • With patience to delve through this analysis, anyone should be able see that the Police modus operandi and the Government’s attempts to help the Police out are rather outrageous.
  • The politics-free zone of the Rugby World Cup was supposed to deprive the Opposition parties of any significant media publicity in the main period leading up to the general election – but it might not quite work out as National intended. … Of course, the RWC opening night debacle has tarnished National’s competency reputation … Labour and the Greens are not just basking in National’s woes, however, but seem to be proactively attempting to get their messages out to the public while National has its mind on other things. During the last day or so, Labour and the Greens have been announcing all sorts of policies and campaigns. Labour’s policy on the Christchurch rebuild, in particular, might gain it some real kudos
  • There is no doubt that the National Government deserves the pressure that is currently being applied over the shambles of the Rugby World Cup opening night. …But the fiasco has certainly taken the shine off the National Government’s general appearance of competency. Murray McCully’s days as a minister suddenly seemed numbered.
  • National needs to be reminded that most people believe that we have governments and collective responsibility so people can feel protected from these bolts from the blue. 
  • Another chapter in the saga of malicious bungling by the Police has come to a ridiculous end with charges being dropped against 11 of the accused in the Urewera ‘terror’ case
  • Another chapter in the saga of malicious bungling by the Police has come to a ridiculous end with charges being dropped against 11 of the accused in the Urewera ‘terror’ case
  • The National Party list for the 2011 general election is disappointing and boring.
  • John Key hasn’t let the fact that he has not actually read Nicky Hager’s book stop him from voicing the same arrogant dismissiveness we saw in evidence in his initial handling of the Israeli spy allegations and the work of journalist Jon Stephenson on Afghanistan.
  • Apparently there will be a ‘welcoming committee’ there to greet the National Party ministers and thank them for all that they’ve done to start to rebuild the city. Unfortunately for National, this sarcastic ‘thank you’ will be in the form of a protest against the way that the city is being rebuilt

I don’t mind Trevor’s mad conspiracy theories involving me and Bill English. They are at least amusing, even if often copied from Whale Oil.

But I do think he owes Dr Edwards an apology for impuging his integrity.

Matthew Hooton is less kind to Trevor in his blog post, and Whale is his normal gentle self. Also Keeping Stock chips in.

Finally a video reminder of Trevor  at his finest, courtesy of Whale.

UPDATE: I’m relaxed about Trevor’s defamatory comments and have better things to do than talk to lawyers, But I understand others who were named are not so forgiving and have consulted their lawyers. No parliamentary privilege for Red Alert. Could be an expensive exercise for them as not only is Trevor liable but so is the Labour Parliamentary Party as the blog publisher.

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Someone is telling lies

August 20th, 2011 at 12:39 pm by David Farrar

The latest story on the Labour leadership makes it quite clear someone is telling lies.

Now I think most would agree that a blog post from Matthew Hooton on the Labour leadership should not be taken as automatically accurate. Of course neither does it mean it is automatically wrong either.

But Trans-tasman reported on Thursday :

Meanwhile Goff questioned his front bench colleagues last week as to whether he should resign as leader. The questioning took place at a pre-caucus meeting of the front bench group. It followed publication of at least three opinion polls showing Labour slipping heavily in electoral popularity.

Caucus sources says the response to the question was muted, with one senior MP saying

“it’s up to you Phil.” There was no disagreement. The catalyst for a leadership discussion is the realisation if Labour slips further respected list MPs like Kelvin Davis and Stuart Nash may lose their places.

This has greater credibility. It references to a specific meeting on a specific date, involving a specific group of people. It refers to multiple sources and uses a quote from one of the sources, who by definition must be a frontbench MP or a senior Labour staffer.

Then we have today’s Dom Post:

An increasingly angry Labour leader Phil Goff is again facing leadership speculation after conflicting accounts over a meeting with some of his closest and most senior colleagues.

He furiously denied reports in political newsletter Trans-Tasman that he asked his frontbench MPs whether he should quit.

Several frontbench MPs backed Mr Goff, either describing the report as “bollocks” or insisting the discussion never took place. Others refused to comment.

But one senior Labour MP said the conversation did happen. “[Phil] did consult the front bench over whether he should go.”

Now I don’t think anyone really thinks that both Trans-tasman and Tracy Watkins are simply inventing stories and specific quotes.

This leaves two possibilities:

  1. Goff did consult the front-bench on whether he should go, and is now lying about it
  2. A member of the Labour front-bench has invented this story and fed it to the media in order to destabilise Goff

It goes without saying that neither scenario is particularly good for Goff and Labour.

I suspect the conversation did happen. I don’t judge Goff harshly for lying and denying it, because it is a reality of politics that you have to deny stuff like this, otherwise you are fatally wounded. Goff probably never imagined that one of his front bench colleagues would leak that he asked his senior colleagues if he should quit.

One Labour source has described the polls as “OK Corral” territory for Mr Goff, with a number of well-respected MPs set to lose their seats should Labour’s support drop any further.

But another MP said Mr Goff’s leadership should be safe – even though there were probably the numbers to roll him should any of the contenders put their hands up.No one wanted the leadership because it was such a “a poisoned chalice” this close to the election.

This sounds like at a minimum three different Labour MPs are talking to the media about Goff’s leadership, so I don’t think one can blame all of this on Matthew Hooton. What is interesting is the assertion that if someone stood, they would have the numbers to roll Goff.

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No Right Turn on SIS

August 5th, 2011 at 2:30 pm by David Farrar

Idiot/Savant by his own words hates the SIS and hate Whale Oil. So when he concludes the SIS have acted entirely appropriately, it is worth quoting:

There’s a lot of shit going round the blogosphere this morning about the SIS’s release of a document which made Phil Goff look bad to a sewerblogger “in preference” to the media. … But it turns out that its nothing of the sort, and there is a very good reason for the difference in timeframes. From Stuff today:

Mr Slater was given the documents five working days after he made the request. Fairfax Media, who made a similar request, received the document last night along with a letter from Dr Tucker which said: “Your request differs from Mr Slater’s in that you have also requested reports prepared for the prime minister”.

Which seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation.

If you want to see some hysterical rants, check out John Pagani who has blogged six times in a row on the same issue, each time claiming the SIS have committed treason, by obeying the Official Information Act. How desperate can you get to distract people from the substantive issue, that Goff lied.

Matthew Hooton blogs:

I find it difficult to believe he is not lying about the meeting with SIS Director Warren Tucker on Monday 14 March.  If he is not lying then his memory faculties and/or his ability to multitask must be seriously in doubt. …

Mr Goff would have it that these documents are fakes.  Mr Tucker wrote things down, and prepared agendas and minutes, that were untrue. He then gave these false documents to the Prime Minister’s Office and to Whaleoil in order to discredit Mr Goff. 

This is an extraordinary allegation for Mr Goff to be making, even implicitly.  How credible is it that Mr Tucker would behave that way?  My intelligence sources tell me he has always been the ultimate straight-shooter and has done more than any of his predecessors to bring openness and transparency to the intelligence community.  Any personal political views he may have are, I’m told, completely unreadable and, as outlined above, he has maintained the confidence of every New Zealand prime minister from Muldoon, to Lange, to Bolger, to Clark to Key. It is impossible to believe he has now risked his reputation to take a cheap shot at Mr Goff, who he served loyally when he was Foreign Minister, Defence Minister and Trade Minister through the 2000s.

Isn’t it far more likely that Mr Goff, having previously said the matter had not even been mentioned to him at all, has been caught lying and is now forced, Nixon-like, to maintain the lie – even if it requires implicitly attacking Mr Tucker’s integrity to the extent of suggesting he has behaved illegally?

The sad thing for Goff is this is totally self-inflicted. It was of little political consequence whether or not he had been briefed or not. But because Goff was so stupid as to attack the SIS, rather than check with them, he has now been forced into a position when he is seen as dishonest rather than merely forgetful.

Idiot/Savant again notes:

As for the actual issue, Ministers and MPs receive a lot of information, and I would not be surprised at all if they forgot something mentioned in passing. And I’d expect them to be aware of that problem, rather than arrogantly assuming they have total recall of every document which has ever passed their desk

Unless you believe the paranoid conspiracy theory that the SIS has fabricated the briefing notes from March, it is obvious that Goff was briefed, and at a minimum had a quick read of the report.

He was distracted by the Darren Hughes scandal, and it is not a big thing that he doesn’t recall the briefing. but his arrogance is proving his downfall. In a measure of his credibility vs Warren Tucker, he doesn’t come out of it at all well.

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Key will serve full second term

July 29th, 2011 at 11:35 am by David Farrar

Matthew Hooton has written in NBR (offline):

As a rumour, it’s surprisingly prevalent.

  Just as he wanted to be a successful businessman, but not necessarily the world’s wealthiest, John Key wanted to be prime minister, but not necessarily the longest-serving.

  After achieving the top job, he would serve a few years before going out on a high.

  According to the theory, Mr Key would hand over to Steven Joyce sometime before the 2014 election.

This gets pushed a lot, mainly I suspect by Labour. There is a degree of truth to it. I don’t think John Key is obsessed with staying Prime Minister for as long as possible, and I think he could well retire before he loses an election.

However I’ve never thought he would not contest the 2014 election, and seek a third term (if he gets a second). Anyway Matthew asked Key the question about 2014:

When I asked Mr Key specifically this week if he intended to serve a full second term and lead National into the 2014 election, he barely bothered with the usual platitudes about “taking one election at a time” or “serving at the pleasure of the party and the public.”

His answer was not arrogant but it was unequivocal: yes, that was exactly his intention.

So that’s one little rumour we can put to bed.

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Did Parker tip off Hooton?

March 26th, 2011 at 9:32 am by David Farrar

I blogged yesterday how both Scoop and NBR have reports that Parker is planning a coup against Phil Goff.

Both media outlets quote Labour insiders, which means they have spoken to at least two separate people. It doesn’t mean that it is 100% certain a coup is on, but means that some people within Labour are saying there is one. Either Parker is planning a coup against Goff, or the rumour has been put out there by supporters of another leadership aspirant, to damage Parker (and Goff).

David Parker has claimed he doesn’t aspire to the leadership, but I’ve never heard an MP admit they do. Remember Winston saying he was happy to be the MP for Tauranga. I’ve seen three coups in my time in National, and they were all denied up to them occurring. If an MP truly wishes to make it clear they are not seeking the leadership, then their denial would take the form of a Shermanesque statement.

I have no special knowledge of whether a coup is on, beyond what Scoop and NBR have reported. I do have to say though that if Goff’s handling of the Hughes affair is not enough to get him rolled, I really don’t know what would be.

But there is one aspect to this that makes me very curious. Up until recently the only names seriously speculated about as leadership contenders were David Cunliffe and Shane Jones. Grant Robertson and Andrew Little are mooted as future leaders, but not current ones. So how did David Parker’s name come to the fore? And remember both Scoop and NBR say their Labour sources say that Parker will be the candidate, if there is a coup.

Well on the 11th of March, Matthew Hooton wrote in NBR (paywall):

Attention is turning within Labour to the question of Phil Goff’s successor. …

The overlooked candidate is David Parker, who has emerged as Labour’s genuine backroom intellectual and whose ambitions are now being made clear to selected media. …

As far as I can tell, this is the first time Parker’s name has been raised as a serious contender for the leadership. And the date is fascinating. It was two weeks ago. The Hughes incident was only known to Goff, King and Hughes at that stage.

Hooton makes it quite clear in his column, that he has been briefed by either Parker or someone close to Parker. And while you might wonder whether Hooton would have any relationship with Parker, the answer is he does. Off memory Hooton represented the interests of several major sectors or companies who wanted the ETS drafted a certain way, and Parker was the Minister in charge of the ETS.

So when Parker, or someone close to Parker, tipped Hooton off as a leadership contender, the Hughes affair was not a factor. In other words if there is a coup against Goff, the planning for it started before the Hughes affair – Goff’s handling of it will be a catalyst, rather than a cause.

Again I have no direct knowledge of if Parker is planning a coup. But when you consider someone obviously briefed Hooton several weeks ago, and that in the last 24 hours at least two Labour insiders have been putting Parker’s name out to Scoop and NBR, it does make you suspicious.

Adding to this is this article in the Dom Post by Tracy Watkins and Vernon Small:

The Labour Party is in turmoil, with senior figures questioning leader Phil Goff’s judgment over the Darren Hughes affair and a crucial frontbench meeting on Monday and Tuesday likely to discuss the issue. …

Yesterday he dismissed talk of a move on his leadership as “bullshit” and said he had received no criticism of his handling of the affair and expected none.

If Goff has received no criticism of his handling of the affair, then things are dire for him, as it means no one is telling him the truth. Worse, he comes across as arrogant in saying he expects none. By his own admission, his actions has been totally inconsistent with his previous statements and he has had to do a mea culpa.

But one of the party’s rising stars, who asked not to be named, said next week’s meeting was likely to crystallise how angry MPs were over Mr Goff’s handling of the issue and whether there was the will for a leadership challenge.

“It depends if people like Charles Chauvel, Shane Jones, David Parker and Trevor Mallard have the balls to say something.”

A rising star, is a term that can only apply to an MP or a very high profile candidate.

Sources said the appointment of Mt Albert MP David Shearer to the plum education job, after Mr Hughes was stood down, had only made the matter worse.

“How much consultation was there on that? There are already those in the 2008 intake who were brooding about being overlooked,” one source said.

Now that is definitely an unhappy MP being quoted.

Party president Andrew Little, who steps down on April 2 and is running for Parliament, is thought to be furious at not being told about the accusations against Mr Hughes, which he heard from reporters.

So he should be.

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Hooton on paying for Christchurch

March 4th, 2011 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Matthew Hooton says he’ll pay higher taxes for Christchurch in his NBR column (offline):

With horror still unfolding, it’s too soon to be arguing over how to finance the rebuilding of Christchurch but already politicians are being forced into positions against the public interest.

The government’s opening position was correct.  It would rule nothing in or out. John Key initially applied that policy to a national earthquake tax but, within days, media pressure had him limiting likely new imposts to increasing the $60 annual Earthquake Commission levy to $180.

Bill English also tried to hold the line, refusing to rule in or out cuts to Working for Families and interest-free student loans but was immediately over-ruled in theDominion Postby “a highly placed government source.” “A highly placed government source” with the credibility to over-rule Mr English surely had to be someone who outranks him.

Needless to say, after another day of media hysteria, Mr Key went public and as good as ruled out any interest on student loans.  He limited discussion of changes to Working for Families to those on higher incomes.

This is the point I was trying to make a couple of days ago. Ideally the Government should not rule anything out or in until we actually have a better idea of the fiscal and economic cost. But no Government can risk days of scare-mongering headlines such as “Govt considering tax hike” or “Govt considering abolishing interest free loans”.

Hooton then puts up his case for change:

It’s unconscionable that fit, healthy 65-year-old chief executives will get superannuation when Christchurch primary schools need rebuilding.

Interest-free student loans mean the taxpayer is paying to cut the real value of the loans of doctors, lawyers and accountants rather than rebuilding Christchurch Hospital. They should at least be adjusted for inflation.

The problem with Working for Families is not primarily that it gives welfare to high income earners (although that’s ludicrous) but that it churns billions of dollars and creates massive effective marginal tax rates.

I’ll happily pay higher taxes to rebuild Christchurch. In return, the government ought now to take these issues seriously.

My view is somewhat different. I also believe that the age of super should increase, that there should be interest on student loans and that WFF should be reformed – not because of the earthquake – but because it is good policy to do so.

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Hooton on TPP Free Trade Deal

December 20th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Matthew Hooton wrote in the NBR:

It’s ghastly writing anything that could be construed as support for the University of Auckland’s Jane Kelsey but the radical leftist has a point when she argues the negotiating text for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) should be released.

Her concerns are more the usual nonsense that a free trade agreement (FTA) could somehow stop the government from funding the Plunket Society. More real are concerns that, in their eagerness to do a deal, trade negotiators might undermine the true value of the TPP.

It’s a very warm day in hell when I agree with Jane Kelsey, but Matthew has a very valid point.

As the TPP’s founder, New Zealand should be absolutely staunch about who gets to join our club and the price of entry. There can be no compromise over agriculture, including dairy. If the US wants to enter our clubhouse, the terms are straightforward: ban all production and export subsidies, currently running at around $US20 billion a year for “farm income stabilisation” alone and eliminate all quantitative restrictions and tariffs. Only once those points have been conceded should New Zealand be prepared even to entertain the US’s complaints about intellectual property and competition policy.

A free trade deal which doesn’t require an end to agricultural protectionism (over time) isn’t worth doing. The US-Australia FTA was form over substance.

The fear is that it will be the other way around. New Zealand will agree to make immediate concessions, in exchange for the US agreeing to “work toward” the things we want, on an “agreed roadmap” but without any deadlines or even a timetable. Were that to happen, we’d no longer have the TPP as envisaged but just another Apec, doomed to drift and fail.

That is the fear. If we can get an end to agricultural protectionism, then yes we’ll have to concede in some other areas. But if we can’t get a “high quality” FTA, then we’re better leaving the TPP as it is, amongst existing parties.

The good news is that, on trade, Mr Key is absolutely staunch. When free-trade recalcitrant Japan asked about the club, Mr Key was unequivocal. If they were to join the talks, it would be on our terms or not at all. Agriculture had to be on the table and “sea anchors” weren’t wanted.

That was very welcome. I was amazed that a NZ PM was so blunt with Japan, but at least there is no room for misunderstanding.

To keep everyone honest, it couldn’t hurt for the negotiating text to be released. After all, a copy is held by the US State Department so it can only be a matter of time before it’s leaked to Wikileaks. Prof Kelsey, Julian Assange and Nicky Hager probably already have a copy. Better it’s released by the free-trade camp than by those three with their far-left spin.

I agree.

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Hooton on Greens

November 12th, 2010 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Matthew Hooton writes (offline) in the NBR:

According to their own rhetoric, and that of the foreign environmental lobbyists who dictate it, the Green Party believes that the next century, and perhaps even the next decade, will be characterised by severe global turmoil.

Climate change, they say, will cause mass migration unprecedented in human history, as hundreds of millions leave equatorial regions for the north and south.

The seas will rise, creating refugees not just from small island states like the Maldives and Kiribati but causing havoc in China and India, with their vast coastal populations.

According to the UN, Indonesia, with its 80,000km coastline, 17,000 islands and 240 million inhabitants, will be the country worst affected by rising sea levels, threatening regional security.

Everyone will suffer unpredictable and extreme weather.

And worse, it seems:

“Peak food” will be upon us, with Sue Kedgley foreseeing “a new era of tightening food supplies, rising food prices, food scarcity, panic buying, long food queues and political instability.”

Food rationing, she said in 2008, was already underway in US, as was rationing of rice in Auckland.

Now I have to apologise to Matthew Hooton. I can’t believe even Sue Kedgley said such things. So I resorted to Google. And it turns out Matthew was right – read here.

Pressure on other natural resources also risks global catastrophe.  When China runs out of energy resources, it’s likely to march.

In an effort to help, the Greens’ population policy welcomes “climate change refugees” but also demands that any effects on New Zealand’s environment, society and culture be limited.

Their new MP, Kennedy Graham, tells us that, with a population of 4.1 million, New Zealand is already part of the global population problem.  The global population, he says, must be “drastically reduced.”

Now again, surely Matthew is having us on. Did the Green Party really say the global population must be drastically reduced? Well Matthew may be prone to occassional hyperbole, but it seems he employees excellent staff to do his research, as he is in fact quoting their official policy.

If the Green Party really believes all this, then it must surely also believe that New Zealand’s territorial integrity is at risk, not some time later in the century, but imminently.

New Zealand is already capable of producing at least 20 times our own food needs.

Our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is 15 times our land mass and the world’s fifth largest, while the quota management system means New Zealand can expect to maintain our fisheries stocks long after others have devastated theirs.

Back on land, New Zealand’s coal reserves are greater per capita, in terms of their energy potential, than Saudi Arabia’s oil.

Total mineral reserves may exceed $10 trillion, which we’ve largely decided to leave in the ground.

How splendid that when everyone else has dug up and burned their coal, New Zealand’s reserves will still be in the ground, waiting. …

It’s true that New Zealand is protected by a 2000km-wide moat but that’s unlikely to be sufficient under the Greens’ prognosis.  You’d think they’d argue that New Zealand needs the strongest possible defence forces, up to and including an independent nuclear deterrent.

At the very least, New Zealand surely requires the capability to credibly threaten to sink a fishing or other vessel or to shoot down aircraft.

Surprisingly enough, this is not their defence policy.  The focus is on the UN, as if that organisation would operate effectively in the apocalyptic future they fear.

The Greens argue there should be no Anzac frigates or other warships, no anti-submarine capability and no air strike force.  All equipment not designed for peacekeeping, search and rescue, disaster relief, fisheries and border control tasks should be phased out.

And remember according to iPredict, Labour and Greens at the next election will only have 3% fewer votes than National, and might be able to form a Government. Dr Graham might be Minister of Defence.

Instead, New Zealand should lead the world in finding new ways of looking at and dealing with conflict.

Yep, that’ll do the trick – in a world, we’re told, where hundreds of millions of people are becoming homeless, hundreds of millions more are starving, the equatorial regions are uninhabitable, oil, coal and fish have run out everywhere but New Zealand and we’re all being bombarded with Hurricane Katrinas.

Could it be that, deep down, the Greens don’t really believe their own predictions of imminent environmental armageddon?

Or maybe they just think the UN will save us.

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Hooton on “good faith” industrial relations

November 1st, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

In the NBR (behind the paywall) Matthew Hooton wrote last week:

“Good faith” remains at the centre of New Zealand’s labour laws and, until now, has delivered relatively benign industrial relations.

The problem is that the Employment Relations Act’s authors couldn’t have anticipated a person such as Australian Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance boss Simon Whipp.

Australian unions are overbearingly powerful and notoriously corrupt, with historic links to organised crime. It was to people with that cultural inheritance that New Zealand’s actor unionists turned – implausibly, they claim, simply because they wanted a chat with the New Zealand Screen Production and Development Association.

In fact, Mr Whipp then conspired with other union bosses in Australia, Canada, the US and the UK to arrange a global boycott of The Hobbit, which would have cost more than 2500 highly-skilled, highly-paid jobs and unravelled an industry worth more than New Zealand’s entire exports of beef, butter or cheese.

But the problem has been solved, or has it?

Good faith is meant to be a mutual obligation, requiring parties to interact constructively. It covers the whole relationship between employer and employee, not just formal bargaining, and includes not only current but intended employers and employees – including those working under commercial contracts who want to become employees. …

Not even in their fevered imaginations could it be considered good faith to conspire with militant union thugs across the English-speaking world to organise a global boycott of a vitally important project which already pays above industry averages – and all without even giving prior warning to the employer of their intention to do so.

Actors aren’t alone in making a mockery of “good faith.” Similar conduct is under way in secondary schools from the PPTA, a union with a history of communist connections. It has no intention of dealing in good faith with the Ministry of Education because its true objective is industrial havoc in election year. The primary teachers’ union will no doubt also find a pretext for havoc in 2011, probably over national standards – a policy which, like few others, has received overwhelming mandates from parents and voters. Other unions plan to sabotage the Rugby World Cup.

So good faith seems to be rather lacking from the unions, Hooton says.

The government may also need to consider whether the law around “good faith” should be reviewed in the light of union antics. The provisions imposing good faith obligations on unions as well as employers could be strengthened. Or perhaps employers could be able to apply to the courts to have organisations like Actors Equity and the teacher unions proscribed and the requirement to deal with them in good faith removed. Or perhaps “good faith” needs to go altogether.

That would be a shame – but it would be Ms Walsh, Ms Ward-Lealand, Ms Malcolm, Ms Kelly and Mr Whipp who would be responsible.

By coincidence (or maybe not) I also had a phone call on Friday, saying that the laws around good faith need to be reviewed as the unions make such a mockery around them. Is it possible Mr Hooton is flying a kite for certain people within National who want to see change in this area? If so, they have certainly been given an opportunity to do so by not just the MEAA, but also PPTA and NZEI.

Like Matthew, I think this would be a shame. I think good faith is important in the employment realm. But it does need to apply both ways, not one way.

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Carter says Jones would be a better leader

October 15th, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Chris Carter has finally named an MP whom he says would be a better leader for Labour than Phil Goff – Shane Jones. The NZ Herald reports:

Yesterday on Radio Live, Mr Carter also mentioned Shane Jones as one of those he believed could be a better leader than Mr Goff. He has previously refused to name them.

By coincidence Matthew Hooton writes in the NBR:

Which brings us to Mr Jones.  Just as Mr Brown was ridiculed after his head-banging incident, Mr Jones suffered public humiliation from his penchant for porn.  But time heals, and Mr Jones is the latest manifestation of the Maori leader who can appeal across racial lines.  He’s the Labour man business thinks it can work with.

Moreover, his ambition is great, having been the golden child of his hapu from the day he was born.

Unpopular with Labour’s rainbow and feminist wings, securing the leadership would require him to produce polling showing him as capable of transforming Labour from a possible to a probable.  Even then, he would face opposition from party president Andrew Little, who needs Labour to lose in 2011 if his own leadership ambitions can be fulfilled.

Nevertheless, having decided to stick with politics despite his porn humiliation, Mr Jones is not there to muck around.

He’s already raising his profile and briefing journalists about his comeback.  The time for him to act is now.

And again, by coincidence, TV3’s Patrick Gower blogs:

Watching the miners in Chile, I can’t help but think of the Labour MPs – stuck down a dark hole, with an incredible effort needed to get them out.

It’s leader Phil Goff’s job to get them out – now he’s finished burying Chris Carter.

And one man who needs a lifeline is Shane Jones.

This call is never going to resonate as much as “Bring Back Buck”. But someone has to say it – Goff should “Bring Back Shane Jones”.

Is Jones Labour’s saviour in waiting?

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Goff’s discounted truffles

October 1st, 2010 at 2:25 pm by David Farrar

Matthew Hooton writes in NBR (off line) exposing another consequence of goofynomics:

Mr Goff’s policy would slash the price of American pomegranates, now selling at over $30/kg, New Zealand cranberries, selling at $25.30/kg, and Philippine figs selling at $2 each but would leave the price of low-fat milk, wholemeal bread and natural muesli untouched.

The ultimate in excess, fresh Alban truffles, currently selling for $6000/kg in Auckland, would fall by $800/kg under Mr Goff’s policy.  Good luck selling that one in West Auckland.

The residents of Epsom whose like French cusine, will be thanking Mr Goff for knocking $800/kg off the cost of their truffles.

But before they celebrate, I have to take issue with one aspect of Matthew’s claim. You see a truffle is a fungus, and is a fungus a vegetable?

I don’t know the answer for sure. But what I can guarantee is that when the answer is worth $800/kg, the court case will go all the way to the Supreme Court.

And think if the Supreme Court rules that a truffle is not a vegetable, for GST purposes. Then presumably mushrooms will also be deemed not to be vegetables. And so all the supermarkets will have to remove mushrooms from their fruit and vegetables sections.

We may end up with our own version of the 1893 Nix v Heddon when the US Supreme Court had to rule on whether a tomato was a fruit or a vegetable (it is a vegetable – well at least in the US).

I can see Labour’s GST policy attracting lots of votes from lawyers.

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Herald praises Goff

September 10th, 2010 at 11:55 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Hats off to the Labour Party leader, Phil Goff. In suggesting that New Zealanders should start talking about our country becoming a republic, he has gone where influential sitting politicians have feared to tread.

Most, including the current Prime Minister, talk about the inevitability of a republic but are unwilling to do anything to create it.

Others, such as former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen, wait until they have retired from politics to voice similar sentiments. Such passivity has dampened the prospect of debate.

I agree.  It has been frustrating that previous Leaders such as Helen Clark refused to openly engage on the merits of becoming a republic. Instead she did republicanism by stealth – changing individual aspects (such as the Privy Council) one by one, without actually engaging the public in a debate on republicanism.

I don’t want a republic by stealth. I want a republic that New Zealanders vote for, as a better way forward. For that debate to happen, senior political leaders like Phil Goff need to engage on the issue.

Yet this is an issue that, given the absence of stridency on both sides, will have to be galvanised by political leaders.

Mr Goff has acknowledged as much in stating emphatically that a republic would be the “making of New Zealand as a country”. If he has his way, that notion will have seeped into the national consciousness by the end of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.

But we should not wait until then.

Matthew Hooton also writes in the NBR today on a republic:

One day, though, Queen Elizabeth II’s reign will come to an end, the Prince of Wales will immediately become King Charles III of New Zealand, and we’ll panic and rush reform and get it wrong.

(That’s if he calls himself “King Charles III”.  Apparently he’s keen on being “King George VII”.  Go figure.)

The Queen has carried out her duties with impeccable integrity, never once having been known to interfere in New Zealand’s affairs, even privately, and in effect making us a de facto republic throughout her reign.

In contrast, King Charles (or is it George?), is an eco-extremist, advocate for neo-Roman architecture and devotee of quack medicine and cannot be so relied upon to operate as a responsible constitutional monarch.

Plus he talks to plants.

Heh, Matthew does not hold back.

We’re in the bizarre situation where all important New Zealand leaders, once out of office, apparently become advocates for constitutional reform but no one dares put a hand up when they could actually do something as an incumbent.

Exactly. And Phil Goff has an opportunity to say that if he becomes PM, he will push for having a public debate and vote on constitutional reform.

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An opportunity for Labour?

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

John Armstrong writes:

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

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

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

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

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The speech Goff should have given

June 18th, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Matthew Hooton in NBR pens the speech he thinks Phil Goff should have given. An extract:

I have told the worst offenders – Chris Carter, Shane Jones and Mita Ririnui – that they have no place in my Labour Party. I told them they will be demoted to the very back of Parliament, with no portfolio, and they will not be members of any cabinet I lead. Mr Carter said that, if I did this, he would resign. I told him that was a good idea. He has since resigned and there will be a by-election in Te Atatu.

National begins that campaign as frontrunner. They won the party vote in 2008. But we will fight hard, because Labour always fights hard for the people we represent.

As leader, I have invited the local Labour Party to find the best candidate – male or female, Maori or Pakeha, gay or straight – but I want a genuine Westie. I want someone who grew up in the tough streets, who knows what it’s like not having enough money to pay the bills, who started a small business, pays their workers well, has become a leader in the community, who coaches kids’ sport in the weekend. I want real Labour.

I like his ending also:

There will be room for Peter Dunne in my government to continue as minister of revenue.  I want the Greens involved in conservation and the environment.  And it is time for Labour and the Maori Party to put our differences behind us.  I apologise for Labour’s disgraceful behaviour over the foreshore and seabed.  We were wrong.  Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples were right.

A new era is being born out of the disgraces of the past.  The Helen Clark era is over.  The Phil Goff era has begun.

The full column is only in the NBR print edition.

If Labour do not mend bridges with the Maori Party, they probably won’t be able to form a Government. Without the Maori Party, Labour and the Greens need to win 62 seats to govern.

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Hooton on Privatisation

May 28th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Matthew Hooton in NBR points out that in Government Trevor Mallard pushed for private sector investment in some SOEs and/or their subsidiaries. Mallard was right to do so then, and it is still right today. Extracts:

The state manages an SOE portfolio with total assets of $47 billion, more than the market capitalisation of the NZX 50.

Nothing about the portfolio is rational, consisting simply of the leftovers from the large trade-sales of the 1980s and 1990s. Alongside overinvestment in sunset industries, like regional rail and post, sit electricity companies and odds and bobs including a mining company, a manufacturer of pest management products, 371,000 hectares of corporate farms and an educational materials publishing house.

And it is ridicolous to say that this must be frozen in stone for all time.

Mr Mallard hoped that some growth could be funded off SOEs’ own balance sheets but he was also keen for them to partner with the private sector to develop new subsidiaries, which would be listed on the NZX. This, he argued, would provide depth to our capital markets and improve the transparency of the SOEs.
Mr Mallard was clear he was not interested in the type of wholesale privatisations that occurred when Labour had last been in power in the 1980s, but stressed that sell-downs or sell-offs of discrete new SOE investments should be allowed.

This is the challenge. Some SOEs are doing well, and want to expand – often into riskier overseas ventures. They should be able to do so, but the capital for such expansion need not come just from the taxpayer.

Foreign ownership is the big political bogey. If the taxpayer retaining an overwhelming majority stake is not enough, it may even be possible to develop an equity product restricted to the proverbial Kiwi mums and dads. It wouldn’t be as valuable as if it could be on-sold to anyone but that would be something the initial subscribers would know in advance.

Such a policy would not in fact be contrary to WTO rules, as claimed by the CTU.

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Labour on Mobile Termination Rates

March 1st, 2010 at 5:57 pm by David Farrar

Clare Curran at Red Alert has blogged that Labour is not supporting the Drop the Rate Mate campaign, about mobile termination rates, and is annoyed at a statement from Matthew Hooton which implies they are.

Matthew commented in response that he has met with many Labour MPs who are supportive but apologises for any misunderstanding if this has been taken as presuming to speak on behalf of Labour formally.

Clare has responded that there is a difference between a public position and “what individuals may say in a meeting about an issue they don’t know much about”.

Amusingly if you go to the Facebook page for Drop the Rate Mate, a prominent friend is David Cunliffe – who was IT and Comms Minister for Labour in the last Government.

I hope Clare is not suggesting David (who did an excellent job in my opinion in the portfolio) was one of those MPs talking about an issue they don’t know much about :-)

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The Foreshore & Seabed

February 5th, 2010 at 1:59 pm by David Farrar

Matthew Hooton’s Exceltium has just put out a newsletter (EQ Summer 2010) focusing on the Foreshore & Seabed issue.It is a very interesting analysis of the extensive background to the issue, and some of the risks the Government faces. It is a complex area.

My firm, Curia, did some polling of New Zealanders on the issues around the Foreshore & Seabed, and Matthew talks about some of the interesting findings:

There is evidence of considerable public goodwill towards resolving the foreshore and seabed issue in a sensible way. According to the Curia polling carried out for Exceltium, 64% of the public support a reconsideration of the Act, including 54% of those who voted Labour in 2008, 69% of women and a massive 72% of those who voted National. This is despite 44% of the public saying they are happy with the ways things are now, with only 39% disagreeing with this proposition.

So most Labour and National voters support a reconsideration, but some also say they’re pretty happy with the status quo.

Neither main party’s handling of the issue in the mid 2000s now scores well among the public. There is strong agreement that Labour handled the issue poorly, with 46% saying its handling was “poor” or “very poor”, and only 16% prepared to say it was handled “well” or “very well”. In contrast to what polls suggested at the time, more people (36%) now claim to have disagreed with Dr Brash’s Orewa speech than those who say they agreed with it (25%). Remarkably, only 12% of National voters in 2008 now say they “strongly agreed” with their former leader’s speech. These figures suggest a degree of revisionism by voters about their own opinions in 2004.

I was surprised at how much opinion has changed over the five years. To some degree I think this is because of the media constantly referring to the Orewa speech in such negative terms.

As many as 70% of respondents to the Curia poll say they are “not at all informed” or only “a little informed” about the issues around the Act. Just 8% say they are “highly informed”. This is confirmed by the fact that 36% of New Zealanders believe that less than 10% of the coastline is currently owned privately and only 20% of people believe more than 20% of the coastline is in private hands. In fact, about 30% of the coastline is currently owned privately.

The unbroken Queens Chain is more myth than reality.

Of propositions tested by Curia, overwhelmingly the public agreed most strongly with the statement “the Government should ensure equal access to the foreshore and seabed for everyone”. As many as 59% of people strongly agreed with this proposition with another 27% somewhat agreeing. Just 6% disagreed. Access overwhelmed even ownership as an issue with 62% agreeing with the statement “I don’t mind who owns the foreshore and seabed, so long as I can access the beach whenever I want to.” Consistent with this, 59% say “private owners of coastal areas shouldn’t be allowed to exclude the public from using the area.”

Access is not the only issue, but for most Kiwis the biggest issue. They want more access, not less.

Second only to agreement with the proposition about equal access was agreement with the statement “the Government should not pass a law to remove the right of any group of New Zealanders to take a claim to court.” As many as 62% of New Zealanders agreed with that statement – 30% strongly agreeing – and only 21% disagreed. Half the population
agree with the statement “the courts are the right place to decide who owns the foreshore and seabed” with only 31% disagreeing.

That was 3:1 against the Government removing the right to take a claim to court.

“Special rights ” for Maori opposed but “custo mary rig hts ” ok

In contrast with the view that the courts are the best place to resolve the foreshore and seabed issue, 48% of respondents to the Curia poll agree the Act was “too generous” to Maori as it gave them “special rights”. It is not clear what the public defines as “special” because 53% of the population appears to agree the law should provide for local Maori to undertake customary activities on beaches where continuity of use since 1840 can be proved.

It is interesting how some people say they are against “special rights” but they are for “customary rights” when it is explained what these are.

What was also very interesting (to me anyway) is that some people said they both agreed the Foreshore & Seabed Act was unfair to Maori as it took away their right to go to court, but also that the FSA was too generous to Maori as it gave them special rights.

Now some of this may just be the way the questions are worded – they were designed to see how people respond to the issue being framed that way. But in fact, in my opinion, it is quite valid to have a view that the FSA was both unfair to Maori and too generous to Maori.

I’ve blogged on this before, but it comes down to the difference between depth and breadth.

In my opinion the FSA was unfair to Maori as it legislated away their chance to test in court their claims to foreshore usage, right down to the possibility of gaining title in some areas. This was unlikely, but it was possible. And if the law is that title exists, then that has to be negotiated away or compensated.

But while the FSA reduced the depth to which a claim could go, it increased the breadth. It made it much easier for a wider range of Iwi and Hapu to claim rights over a greater area of foreshore & seabed than the Court of Appeal decision would have probably allowed.

Now some in Labour claimed their FSA gave more to Maori than they would have got in court. Parekura Horomia said this in a debate with Derek Fox. Fox’s response was that may be the case, but they would the precedent of legislating away the right to go to court, in return for a unilateral “gifting” of rights is a bad one.

It will be interesting to see what proposals emerge from the Government. Exceltium strongly advocate that the matter should return to the courts. It is a pity that Labour in 2004 did not appeal to the Privy Council, rather than legislate, so we would have had the benefit of a definitive legal ruling from our (then) highest court.

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Hooton on 2025

December 4th, 2009 at 4:21 pm by David Farrar

Matthew Hooton writes in NBR:

In the government’s defence, its two major strategic decisions have been absolutely right.

First was Bill English’s decision to resist calls to stimulate the domestic economy, beyond the effect of the automatic stabilisers and Michael Cullen’s election bribes, in response to the financial crisis.

Second was Mr Key’s absolute determination to maintain trust with the people. …

The problem is that the desire to maintain sound political strategy has overwhelmed its raison d’être. Some in the Beehive now see it as an end not a means.

Worse, one or two appear to believe that the government’s high poll ratings mean they are some kind of political miracle-workers.

Wiser Beehive heads understand that there is nothing surprising about a new government – especially one which has defeated a tired, hectoring and corrupt regime – achieving 50%+ in the polls, simply by keeping its promises, managing the daily news cycle and ruling anything out that doesn’t enjoy clear public support.

The difficult bit is turning this into a worthwhile legacy. Unfortunately, there appears to be no plan or even informal modus operandi to integrate political management with policy goals. …

Ludicrous policies will continue, like interest-free student loans, and free GP visits and daycare for the children of millionaires. Labour’s Working for Families, which traps people with massive effective marginal tax rates and which Mr Key described accurately as “communism by stealth”, is now defended.

It’s easy to accept the political logic of all these moves but their cumulative effect is that it’s difficult to see what levers Mr Key has left if he truly wants to achieve anything important with his prime ministership.

I agree that the numbers of levers remaining is relatively few. I think the 2010 budget is an important one. National needs to do more than merely announce how it has allocated the $1.1 billion spending contigency.

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Hooton on ACC

October 16th, 2009 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Matthew Hooton has written on ACC in his opening salvo for NBR. It is only available in the tree version, but some extracts:

In 2001, Australian insurance giant HIH collapsed with debts of around A$5 billion, caused by gross mismanagement, including charging too little for premiums and failing to put enough aside for claims.

The Australian authorities took the matter seriously, including Prime Minister John Howard, who established a royal commission. The company’s principals were jailed for offences including knowingly disseminating false information, filing false financial statements, being intentionally dishonest and failing to discharge their duties in good faith and in the best interests of the company.

I think I know where Matthew is going with this.

This week, New Zealand’s biggest insurer, ACC, reported a NZ$4.8 billion loss on top of a NZ$2.4 billion loss the previous year.

Like HIH, ACC’s crisis was knowingly hidden from the public. The Treasury’s Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update, signed by then finance minister Michael Cullen, did not disclose it, a failure subsequently found by an independent inquiry to have breached the Public Finance Act.

Yes my suspicions are correct.

Even worse were the public statements of then-ACC minister Maryan Street.
On June 26, 2008, ACC was apparently strong enough for Ms Street to announce that 400,000 casual and seasonal workers would get improved cover.

On September 11, she had enough confidence in the company’s finances to announce a re-elected Labour government would cut the motor vehicle levy from $254 to $203.

Three weeks later, and just five weeks before the election, Ms Street was at it again, announcing an expansion of ACC entitlements to people over 65.

The most charitable interpretation is that the former university academic might suffer from some advanced form of oniomania that makes her believe that, despite ballooning liabilities and a global financial crisis, it was possible to keep buying new services from ACC, while cutting its revenue, and expect it to remain viable. Alternatively, perhaps she was just telling lies in the heat of a close election campaign.

I had to look up what oniomania is!

Far from turning itself in to the Serious Fraud Office, Labour now has the audacity to launch a new narrative that accuses ACC Minister Nick Smith and ACC chairman John Judge of establishing some kind of conspiracy to privatise the scheme.

Audacity is the nicest word for it. I still think it is a pity the Government did not demand prosecutions for the breach of the Public Finance Act!

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Hooton on Goff and ETS

September 11th, 2009 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Matthew Hooton writes (offline) in the NBR:

The clock is surely ticking on Phil Goff’s leadership. New Zealand’s most accurate polls, TV3 and Roy Morgan, both put Labour below 30%, half the support of National and its partners.

Worse for Mr Goff, while the Greens are secure in Parliament, Labour’s other essential ally, Winston Peters, has no chance of resurrection.

And Anderton is retiring. That means Labour and the Greens between them need to get at least 62 seats.  They currently have 52 but on the latest polls are below 50.

Mr Goff does not help himself with his choice of issues. This Tuesday he used all his parliamentary questions to quiz John Key on whether the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) had advised sending SAS troops back to Afghanistan before the cabinet decided to do so.

Mr Key easily swatted Mr Goff away, saying that no specific advice had been given. The cabinet would decide about putting kiwi soldiers into harm’s way, not bureaucrats.

Yet Mr Goff pushed on, asking increasingly detailed questions about what Mfat may have told Mr Key about security in central Asia. …

It’s difficult to see what Mr Goff hoped to achieve. Afghanistan is far from a driver of voting behaviour.Informed observers also know that Ms Clark was so committed to Afghanistan that she broke up her coalition with the Alliance and called an early election on the issue in 2002.

I’ve said it many times before. Labour keep concentrating on Wellington issues, not issues that connect with the average voter.

And a useful reminder of how committed Labour was to the war in Afghanistan.

Were Mr Goff prime minister, it’s likely he’d be far quicker than Mr Key to provide military support to the United States.

Most embarrassing, Mr Goff’s parliamentary attack coincided with revelations that Ms Clark had secretly sent kiwi spies to Afghanistan.

As her foreign affairs and then defence minister, there is no doubt Mr Goff was intimately involved in that decision. Only parliamentary rules prevented him being called a hypocrite.

The thought that Labour would turn down President Obama’s request for assistance from the SAS, after lending them to President Bush on three previous occasions is farcical. Of course they would have.

Mr Goff’s last hope lies with the emissions trading scheme (ETS). Labour understands that Mr Key became prime-minister-assumptive when he stood with Ms Clark on smacking.

Mr Goff knows that if a deal is done, he and Mr Key will stand as equals. Labour’s broad approach to climate change will be implicitly endorsed.
More importantly, the National/Maori Party/ACT Government would be seen as dysfunctional.

The business, farming and iwi sectors would be furious.
The ratings agencies and influential media such as the Wall Street Journal would continue lampooning New Zealand for our stupidity.

What international investment that might be possible in the midst of a global recession would evaporate.

National would get the blame for the $5,400 a year the ETS will cost a family of four.  And Mr Goff would be back in the game.

It is definitely an opportunity for Goff. His problem is whether he has enough control of his caucus to get them to back any compromise he does with Key.

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The National Party Presidency

July 17th, 2009 at 10:30 am by David Farrar

At the end of the month, National will elect a new President – indirectly. With Judy Kirk retiring this is the first vacancy under the new rules, where the members elect seven Directors to the National Board, and the Directors (including the Leader and a Caucus Rep) elect one of their own as President.

This has made predicting who will win much harder, as you have to get elected to the Board first, before you even get a chance to convince your peers to make you President. And to make it harder, many of the Board nominees are of sufficient calibre to be a viable President.

Two of the seven elected Directors are part way through their term, so are guaranteed to stay on the Board. They are Roger Bridge, the Canterbury-Westland Chair, and Peter Goodfellow from Auckland – a long time party activist. Both Bridge and Goodfellow are potential Presidents, regardless of formal declarations. They would serve if asked/elected.

Leader John Key and Chief Whip Nathan Guy also get a vote. Presuming they vote as a bloc, they will be influential. Key, Guy and whomever becomes President makes three votes out of nine. They only need two more.

Incumbent Director Scott Simpson is standing again. A former Auckland Regional Chairman, he is also a Presidental candidate. Fellow incumbent Grant McCallum from Northland is also standing again and as far as I know not seeking the Presidency.

According to Whale Oil (I have not had time to check directly with HQ), there are six other canddate for the Board. They are:

  • Alastair Bell, current Northern Regional Chair
  • Dennis Catchpole from the CNI Region
  • Sir Harawira (Wira) Gardiner, former Maori Vice-President
  • Kate Hazlett, Southern Region Chair from Southland
  • Bruce Mills, Rangitikei Electorate Chair and long-time LNI Regional presence
  • Pat Seymour, East Coast Electorate Chair for many years

Of the six non incumbents, only Wira Gardiner is also a Presidential candidate Alastair is a potential candidate also but I think isn’t seeking it at this stage.

Whale Oil makes his preferences quite clear, not being a Wira fan.

However Matthew Hooton in the NBR this morning wrote:

All candidates have been thoroughly vetted, with Mr Key’s preference said to be party stalwart Wira Gardiner. Mr Key judges, correctly, that Mr Gardiner – a businessman, former senior public servant, soldier and Mr Fixit for both National and Labour governments – has the administrative backbone to prepare National to take the fight to Labour. Moreover, Mr Key sees Mr Gardiner as important to securing a third term, given the Maori Party will hold the balance of power in 2014, if not 2011.

I’m not sure whether or not Matthew is correct as to John Key’s preference. I suspect John is keeping his opinion fairly tight as he has to work with whomever gets elected.

I know reasonably well all the Board candidates (except Dennis Catchpole) and have warm friendships with many of them. I think National is fortunate to have a good range of talent to choose from.

I won’t be blogging my preferences, as I’m not a voting delegate. But also because I designed the voting software they use to count the vote, so it is generally inadvisable for me to enter the fray in case anyone suspects I have a secret sub-routine in there that will favour my preferred canddiates :-)

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