Caption contest

October 24th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

171013HOSNMPMGALA14_0

 

Captions below. As always, funny not nasty.

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Ridiculous criticism

May 17th, 2012 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn blogs:

Why are we paying for Murray McCully to stay in hotels in Auckland?

According to his latest Ministerial credit card receipts [PDF, p. 12], we paid for McCully to spend two nights at the Heritage Hotel in Auckland. The expense is justified as “accommodation during RWC”. This would be entirely uncontentious, except for one thing: McCully represents an Auckland electorate, and I am informed he is on the electoral roll there. Which means he has a home of his own to go to in Auckland. So again, why the hotel? …

Ministers are given credit cards to cover actual, reasonable and necessary expenses – not because they feel like spending a night of luxury on the taxpayer, or just can’t be arsed driving home.

I’m sorry but this is ridicolous. First of all staying for two nights in the Heritage hotel is not a night of luxury. I’ve stayed there as TVNZ put you up there if you are up for one of their shows. It is a very standard hotel. Nothing wrong with it, but not a luxury hotel.

As for why McCully was staying there for two nights, during the Rugby World Cup. Well he was the Minister in charge of a event which is broadcast to a billion people, and has overall revenues of hundreds of millions. At an event like that you could well have meetings starting very early and finishing late, plus a hotel room allows you to hold meetings in it.

I speak from experience. I was the Chair of the organising committee for the ICANN meeting in Wellington some years ago. This is a fraction of the size of the RCW, but was a fairly major event to host, as you had 500 – 700 Internet policy makers here. Despite living in Wellington, I stayed at the official host hotel of the Duxton (and if anyone calls that a luxury hotel, they have not been there often) as it was decided that the extra cost was fairly minimal in the context of the importance of smooth management, which was having all the key decision makers staying together so that as issues arose, decisions could be made quickly.

In the context of an almost billion dollar events like the RWC, a decision by the Minister to spend two nights in the Auckland CBD rather than what can be an hour away in East Coast Bays, is unremarkable and trivial – and frankly criticism of it is ludicrous, especially painting it a night of luxury.

I think those that glamorise hotels have never stayed in one themselves. In the main they are just places they supply a bed you can sleep in and a bathroom you can shower and freshen up in. Sure there are some luxury hotels with stunning views and the like, but 95% of staying in hotels is just about a well located bed.

When I go up to Auckland, I much prefer crashing at a friend’s place than staying in sterile hotels. However sometimes I will reluctantly go into a hotel, because the location in the CBD allows you to do business more efficiently.

Why did McCully stay in a hotel for two nights in Auckland? The exact same reason – it allowed him to do his job as RWC Minister more efficiently.

UPDATE: Looking closer at the actual DIA documents, the title page is headed up “Credit Card Statements and Reconciliations – Staff of the Office of Hon Murray McCully”. This means it is not McCully’s credit card, but his staff’s ones. And when they are paying for something on behalf of the Minister, they always note that. So when there is no such notation, then the expense is presumably for them, not the Minister.

Having made inquiries, it turns out that in fact the two nights at the Heritage was for a Wellington based staff member who was in Auckland for RWC duties. So I look forward to NRT doing a retraction.

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Unintentionally hilarious

April 5th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

To the list of credibility-deficient statements like “the cheque is in the mail” and “your table will be ready in a few minutes” you can now add “Murray McCully is not a micro-manager”.

In the Foreign Minister’s absence – McCully was heading for China yesterday – another minister, Chris Finlayson, drew the short straw in having to answer questions in Parliament on McCully’s behalf as the Opposition continued to press its attack over the botched restructuring of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Finlayson had been making a reasonable fist of deflecting that attack until he suddenly made his hard-to-swallow statement about McCully’s management style.

McCully has been the power behind more thrones than Robespierre and Rasputin combined. The picture painted of McCully as some political innocent oblivious to the goings-on in his ministry had the Opposition benches in stitches of genuine laughter.

I have to confess I was also laughing out loud to the statement that “Murray McCully is not a micro-manager”.

I recall this story in the Herald:

The diplomatic corps has been wildly complimentary about the forum. “Spectacular” one described it yesterday – both in terms of organisation and diplomatic opportunities.

McCully has been up to his elbows in the detail of organisation, making Helen Clarks’ micro-management style look like neglect. Yesterday he was still at it, arranging for a New Zealand rugby expert to sit next to China’s Vice-Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai at the opening World Cup game to explain the oddities of the game.

If Murray isn’t a micro-manager, then Grace Quek is a virgin.

Having said that, it is worth noting that Murray’s fine attention to detail sometimes leads to very good outcomes – the Rugby World Cup organisation being one example, and the Pacific Forum another. However it doesn’t generally win him many nominations in the “Most loved Minister by the civil service” category.

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Meurant v McCully

March 27th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Controversial Kiwi businessman and former cop Ross Meurant has come out swinging at proposals by Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully to make it easier for New Zealand to ignore the United Nations when imposing trade sanctions on other countries.

Meurant, a polarising figure since his days as head of the notorious police “Red Squad” during the 1981 Springbok Tour, says McCully is seeking to “demonstrate his subservience to America’s blueprint of who should rule the world”, and if New Zealand gains the right to impose autonomous sanctions, it will be used to stifle trade with countries the US does not approve of, such as Syria.

McCully told the Sunday Star-Times his proposal, if approved by his cabinet colleagues, wouldn’t come to pass for at least a year and is not yet aimed at any particular country. He said if passed, his proposal would follow the lead of legislation passed in Australia last year (which has allowed them to impose autonomous sanctions against Iran, Myanmar, Fiji, North Korea and Zimbabwe).

I thought the proposal was fairly unremarkable. I suspect in the vast majority of cases we will only impose sanctions when the UN does, but there may be occasions when one wants to impose sanctions for sound reasons, without giving Russia and China a veto.

Meurant has a particular interest in Syria because since 2007 he has been involved in an abalone aquaculture project there. Six months ago he began setting up a business exporting phosphate from Syria to New Zealand for agricultural use, but the deteriorating political and security situation halted those plans.

While New Zealand currently has no restrictions on trade with Syria, Meurant says US restrictions on financial transactions with Syria make things complicated.

“I was thwarted by the US financial transactions blockade in making payment in US dollars to Syria for a sample container of phosphate.”

Oh I was wondering why Meurant was interested in this. He doesn’t want any sanctions against Syria, no matter how much they butcher their citizens, because of his business dealings. Typical.

 

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Diplomatic appointments

March 18th, 2012 at 9:39 am by David Farrar

Michael Field in the SST writes:

Women are rapidly disappearing from the frontline of New Zealand’s diplomatic service, with Foreign Minister Murray McCully overseeing a halving in the number of females serving as ambassadors and high commissioners.

In the last year of Helen Clark’s government 30 per cent of posts were held by women; under McCully it is 16 per cent.

McCully, who gets the final say in the appointments, blames the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFat) while the ministry has told the Foreign Service Association (FSA) women themselves are at fault.

“We have had some explanation from the ministry that women are not applying for the posts,” FSA representative Warren Fraser said. “It is not something we instinctively feel is true but we have not been able to verify ourselves.”

It is a pity neither the story nor the FSA has verified this, because it is quite central to the story. If the decline in the number of women at high Commissioners and Ambassadors is because they keep getting rejected in favour of men that is a very different story, to one where simply few women have applied.

Political commentator Matthew Hooton blogged during the week that McCully’s agenda was to promote “Gen X” men, people now in their late 30s and early 40s.

I blogged what Matthew said in NBR (it was the print edition not a blog incidentally), and he never said McCully’s agenda was to promote men. The addition of “men” is made up, and I note not in quote marks. Matthew said:

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.

Yes the examples given were all men, but there is a world of difference to say that his agenda is to promote men.

All his six recent appointments were men and only one, Afghanistan ambassador Justin Fepuleai, was not white.

Good God, so now they are trying to paint McCully as racist and sexist. The trouble is, rather than five in six being “white”, I think it is “two” in six. If anything, someone could accuse McCully of bring politically correct in recent appointments.

I understand Taha Macpherson is Samoan and Patrick Rata is NZ Maori. Adding them to Justin Fepuleai and in fact three out of six are Maori or Pacific Island. And a fourth is a Greek immigrant, which arguably doesn’t fit the rather bizarre categorization in the story of being “white or “not white”.

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The McCully e-mails on 3 News

February 21st, 2012 at 6:55 pm by David Farrar

3 News is fast becoming the place to go with secret or illegal material. The secret recordings in 2008, the secret taping in 2011 and now the McCully hacked e-mails.

The e-mails that appeared on 3 News appear pretty ho hum – in fact I’d argue will help McCully’s popularity.  They are about cost cutting, wasteful “crap” and how someone went to Noumea just to do a 12 minute presentation. I think most people will be glad we have a Minister wanting to reduce waste.

Personally I thought the Cactus Kate version of the e-mails was far better :-)

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The McCully e-mails exposed

February 16th, 2012 at 9:22 am by David Farrar

Cactus Kate has an exclusive sampling of the hacked e-mails to and from Murray McCully.

 

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McCully not the Supreme Commander

September 15th, 2011 at 12:04 pm by David Farrar

Dean Knight at Laws179 blogs on the legal situation around the waterfront:

Much has been made of Murray McCully’s so-called “nationalisation” of the waterfront for RWC party central, through the exercise of reserve powers under the special legislation for the Rugby World Cup. 
The legal position is, however, very different.  While some regulatory approvals for standard event-based activities may be fast-tracked through a special process under the RWC 2011 (Empowering) Act, the RWC Act does not give the Minister the ability to “take control” of the waterfront.  The Minister’s statutory role is reactive only, namely, considering applications made to and assessed by the independent RWC Authority. Any ability for the government to “take the lead” on the party central activities must have been garnered collaboratively, and does not come from the exercise of power under the RWC Act.
In any event, the applications presently being made urgently are conjoint applications from the Ministry of Economic Development and the Auckland Council’s events team.  These applications were, I understand, in the process of being prepared collaboratively before the Minister’s announcement. And the fast-tracked approvals currently being sort are largely mundane. …
The legislation also provided for an even more expedited process “in circumstances of urgency that, for good reason, were not foreseen”.  A higher threshold was required (necessary to “secure public safety”, to “avoid seriously compromising” the RWC, or to “provide support for” RWC organisers). 
A different, and more expedited, process was provided for. Rather than being determined by the RWC Authority, the RWC Authority only assesses the application and makes an recommendation to the Minister for the RWC.  There is no obligation to subject the application to a participatory process.
The decision about whether the approval should be granted then falls to the Minister for the RWC.  He must consult the Minister for Economic Development and other relevant Ministers.  He must take account of (but is not bound by) the recommendation of the RWC Authority.  His decision is final.
That’s all.  They are the only “special” powers under the RWC Act.  The Act does not provide any power to assume control over or nationalise events.  The Minister’s role is reactive, as ultimate decision-maker, once an urgent application is made. And then only after the independent RWC Authority has scrutinised it.
That’s a very useful clarification on what is happening. So the waterfront is still a joint management exercise between the Government and the Auckland Council. But McCully will be approving various applications under his special powers.
Dean also raises the issue of whether the Minister is conflicted as the decision maker, as he is also the proponent of the changes. It’s an interesting academic argument but I doubt anyone would be silly enough to try and have a judicial review of the applications.
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Govt takes over Auckland waterfront

September 13th, 2011 at 3:43 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Government will use special powers under Rugby World Cup legislation to take control of the Auckland waterfront set aside for the celebrations during the tournament.

Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully will this afternoon outline his intention to tomorrow call up reserve powers available to him under the Rugby World Cup Empowerment Bill.

It has been revealed, ahead of the announcement, that McCully has ordered Government officials to write a new plan to manage the waterfront beyond its own Fan Zone at Queen’s Wharf.

The plan, which turns responsibility from the Auckland City Council over to the Government, will expand management measures and create more space for partying.

“Some of my critics have been suggesting I should take responsibility, well I am. I am stepping in to a space that the Government has not previously occupied,” McCully told Stuff.

“We’re getting on the front foot here and showing a determination to provide a larger footprint and a wider range of measures to assist with the management of crowds and the delivery of amenities.”

About 200,000 turned out to the Auckland waterfront for the opening of the Rugby World Cup on Friday night. Only about 12,000 were allowed in the Queen’s Wharf fan zone, where there were no problems.

McCully said he felt the preparations for outside of the Queen’s Wharf area – made by the Auckland City Council’s responsible group – were “thoroughly inadequate in respect of the crowd control and amenities”.

“It would be fair to say there was not adequate provision made for toilets and for other amenities and that was a significant contributing factor to the problems,” McCully said.

“Neither were there proper arrangements for the flow and management of people which led to difficulties.”

The new Government plan was being finalised this afternoon and McCully had been advised the only way to give the new plan legal effect was via special reserve measures in the RWC Empowering Bill.

So as I understand it the Government was managing the Queen’s Wharf fan zone and the Council the rest of the waterfront, and as with any split responsibility things fall through the cracks.

I imagine the thinking of the Minister is that if the Government is going to be held responsible for what happens on the waterfront, they want to be able to manage it. Who wants to be held accountable for something they do not control?

Of course the risk is that if problems continue, the accountability will clearly be with the Government. So it is quite a ballsy move.

Hopefully any problems will be minimal, so as many fans as possible have as great a time as possible.

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Quote of the Week

September 10th, 2011 at 12:06 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald reports on the Pacific Forum:

McCully has been up to his elbows in the detail of organisation, making Helen Clarks’ micro-management style look like neglect.

Heh that is such a great quote. Mind you Murray will like the previous sentence:

The diplomatic corps has been wildly complimentary about the forum. “Spectacular” one described it yesterday – both in terms of organisation and diplomatic opportunities.

MFAT will be relieved. A happy McCully is a relatively benign McCully.

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The whining Bethune

July 13th, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Before I deal to the latest whines from Bethune, first I’ll share this document which a reader sent to me.

SS Application Ady Gil

Note Paragraph 11 which states:

11. The Ady Gill must not interfere with vessels of the Japanese whaling fleet i n ways that may entail risk of collision or other consequenc that might result in marine pollution and with it risk of more than a minor or transitory effect on the Antarctic environment, as well as risk to human safety

This was in the official Ministerial notification to Sea Shepherd.

Two letters from Murray McCully also worth reading – Bethune letter McCully 4 Dec 2009 and Bethune letter McCully 18 Dec 2009.

We all know what happened of course – there was a collision – which is exactly what Sea Shepherd wanted. They have a long history of collisions, and we now have it confirmed that they have no problems lying to further their cause.

But the Herald also reports a statement from the PM in response to Bethune’s whining:

At a press conference today, he said Foreign Minister Murray McCully had instantly sided with the Japanese, saying he should have known what he was getting himself in for by boarding the vessel. …

Mr Bethune should remember that he got himself into the situation, Mr Key said.

“He had a letter that said ‘I do not want to be taken off the boat under any circumstances and I do want to be taken to Japan’ and he was.

And further to this, Paul Watson is quoted as saying:

“I think what the Japanese have on their hands is a hot potato and they’re going to want to get rid of it, because this is going to make Pete Bethune a national hero in Australia and New Zealand and a hero for conservationists worldwide,” he added.

Watson also mentioned that Bethune is fully prepared to engage the Japanese court system and state his case that what is happening in the Southern Ocean is wrong. “I’m prepared to go all the way, I’m prepared to do whatever time it takes,” said Bethune.

So McCully was absolutely right that Bethune knew exactly what would happen, when he boarded – he wanted it to happen. He is whining about someone telling the truth – a foreign concept it seems.

And as further proof, we have this story from after when he boarded but before he was arrested:

“Sea Shepherd anticipates that the Japanese will hold Captain Bethune as prisoner onboard the Shonan Maru 2,” the group’s statement added.

Personally I think Bethune should be sent a bill for the cost of all the consular assistance he got.

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Bye Bye Andy

July 9th, 2010 at 12:41 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Now, on the same programme, he has this week commented on historic sex allegations against former All Black Robin Brooke, made by two unnamed women, one of whom subsequently laid a complaint with police.

“There’s a bloke called Hugh Grant. He got into a bit of trouble like this and I think if the cheque bounces sometimes, they only realise that they’ve been raped, you know, sometimes,” he said.

Haden said there were two sides to every story.

“It’s an equal society now, some of these girls are targeting rugby players and targeting sportsmen and they do so at their peril today, I think.”

Rape support groups have hit out at the remarks.

Minister responsible for the Rugby World Cup Murray McCully said he was only made aware about the comments last night and was now considering the issue.

The problem with Haden isn’t so much the issues he talks about, but the way he talks about them.

My 2c advice for Murray McCully is to consider whether he really thinks it is possible Andy Haden can go another 13 months without one or more utterances like this.

Do you want to sack him after the third, fourth, or fifth occurrence – or get it over and done with now?

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Dim Post on McCully and China

June 20th, 2010 at 4:14 pm by David Farrar

Superb as usual:

Foreign Minister Murray McCully has been severely reprimanded by Chinese Ambassador Zhang Limin for exercising poor judgement when using his Ministerial credit card, the Chinese Embassy announced today.

Previously Prime Minister John Key has defended McCully’s $2000 laundry bill and high alcohol expenditure but the Chinese Ambassador has overruled Key’s position, calling McCully’s spending ‘unseemly and non-magnificent’, and issuing a formal reprimand of the Foreign Minister.

‘We feel the Minister’s level of decadence is inappropriate and counter-revolutionary,’ the Ambassador announced. ‘This behaviour is not acceptable from Party functionaries and will not be tolerated.’

McCully has accepted the censure and thanked the Ambassador for his criticism. ‘Only through the wisdom of his Excellency can I reform my thoughts and become a better servant,’ McCully told reporters, speaking from a pool of mud outside his home where he has kneeled prostrate since receiving the rebuke yesterday. ‘I am chastened but also joyful and eternally grateful.’ …

… ‘We thank McCully for his good and faithful assistance in enlightening Dr Norman’s speech,’ the Ambassador said in his statement. ‘With great perseverance and skillful self-discipline the Snail will once again enjoy the favor of the Dragon.’

To ensure widespread coverage of the censure Chinese Embassy officials decreed that publication of the statement was mandatory for all media outlets. The Dim-Post is joyful to be of service in this matter.

I trust all blogs will comply with the mandatory reporting.

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Council for International Development

June 10th, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

No Right Turn blogs:

The Council for International Development is an umbrella organisation for aid groups operating from New Zealand. Last year, it criticised the government’s disestablishment of NZAID and shift in the focus of aid from poverty reduction to business growth. In retaliation, Murray McCully has just cut all their funding, resulting in 10 of its 11 staff being laid off.

This is a vicious, brutal, vindictive act of political thuggery. But its also stupid. Those staff perform a vital role in coordinating the efforts of relief groups during disasters. Without them, aid money is likely to be poorly spent. And when the government’s preferred response to disasters is to channel relief funding though NGOs, that will have a direct impact on the effectiveness of that spending.

I disagree of course. First of all I am staggered that the CID has somehow grown so it has 11 staff. I recall the days when it was around 1 to 2 staffers.

Secondly it is nonsense to say they perform a vital role in co-ordinating relief groups during disasters. I worked at the Red Cross for four years, and co-ordination was done globally or bilaterally. This is not to say the CID hasn’t been a group which provides some value, but it is massively hyping it to say they co-ordinate relief efforts and nonsense to say without them aid money is likely to be poorly spent. That is in fact insulting to the Red Cross and Save the Children Fund who are global leaders in effective relief. The demise of some CID staff will not affect the quality of their work in my opinion.

The CID, while providing some useful stuff, was partly a lobby group, and I regard it as improper for the Government to fund lobby groups. It is in fact anti-democratic. The health sector is full of these groups also.

What Idiot/Savant has overlooked is that if CID really does play such a vital role with aid agencies, then the aid agencies themselves can choose to fund CID, rather than the taxpayer. Taxpayer funding go on actual aid and relief, not Wellington lobbyists.

Look at their 2008 manifesto to see that they were very much a lobby group. Now nothing wrong with that, but don’t expect taxpayers to fund it.

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Labour on Burma

April 22nd, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Labour seem to have multiple spokespersons and policies on engagement with Burma.

The Dom Post reports:

Three government officials from Myanmar’s repressive military regime are studying English in New Zealand, funded by the taxpayer.

Why, we wonder?

Mr McCully said he had allowed the officials to study here after a review of Myanmar’s involvement in the English Language Training for Officials scheme. That was in line with an international move – led by United States President Barack Obama – to increase engagement with Myanmar in preparation for what were hoped to be democratic elections this year. …

In 2008, Mr McCully – then in opposition – criticised Labour for allowing government-owned company Kordia, formerly BCL, to work in a joint venture doing engineering work on cellphone tower installations in Myanmar. He called the Myanmar government the “Butchers of Burma”. Asked to justify his apparent change of heart, Mr McCully would only say it was “consistent with the international community”.

He said the three studying in New Zealand worked in the civil service in Myanmar. “We don’t do it for people who hold controversial roles.”

Okay – makes sense.  So what does Labour say on it. First their foreign affairs spokesperson:

Labour foreign affairs spokesman Chris Carter said it was important to show the Myanmar officials how democracy should work. “It’s about political education in a way.”

Goodness I am agreeing with Chris. Training up civil servants on how to do a good job, seems worthwhile.

But Labour MP Maryan Street disagrees:

Burma Cross-Party Parliamentary Group chairwoman Maryan Street, a Labour MP, said: “We should not be doing anything to prop up that administration.”

She said the officials – studying in Wellington, Napier, and Nelson – could spy on refugees in this country, leading to possible persecution of families in Burma.

“This is not the same as providing humanitarian support and assistance and training for people who are going back to help develop their country.”

So who speaks for Labour on this issue, and what is their policy?

Finally I wonder if this is a new initiative:

Mr McCully said each participant in the English Language Training for Officials scheme cost about $35,000 to educate over six months – paid for by the New Zealand Government. About 35 officials had visited from Myanmar since 1998.

Guess not.

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Anonymous smears

February 24th, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

One of the anonymous authors at The Standard tried yesterday to smear Murray McCully over, well doing the right thing.

In a post they filed under the “corruption” category, they revealed that Murray McCully has shares in Widespread Portfolios. Except they did not in fact reveal it – McCully did in the MPs Annual Register of Pecuniary Interests. He’s declared every single year since the Register started in 2006.

Then in a piece of detective work worthy of Sherlock Holmes, they went to the homepage of Widespread Portfolios and managed to dig up (I a being sarcastic – it is at the top of their main page) the statement:

Widespread Portfolios Limited (stockmarket code WID) invests primarily in overseas-based mining and mineral exploration companies.

So this so called corrupt behavior from McCully was to declare he had shares in a company that declares it invests in mining companies.

Now not only has McCully behaved entirely appropriately, the value of his shares turns out to be $31.63. McCully has followed the PM’s lead and mooted giving the shares to the young Max Key. Poor Max must be wondering why he is becoming the target of unwanted share parcels. He should suggest to his Dad that he would rather have one of those Ministerial credit cards that Ministers have been disposing of :-)

Phil Goff looks stupid when he says:

Opposition leader Phil Goff said any shares in a mining company working in New Zealand represented a conflict of interest.

“Whenever there was a conflict of interest of any sort in the Cabinet I was part of, a minister was expected to remove him or herself from the room immediately and not participate in those discussions.”

What nonsense. Did half the Labour Cabinet remove themselves when they debated monetary policy, because they were owners of investment properties? Their interest was vastly more than $31.

A conflict of interest is generally about a decision to favour a specific company, not about policies that support a sector of the economy. Do farmers get excluded from decisions about primary production?

Exclusion on a conflict happens only when there is a direct beneficial interest, such as granting a contract to a company you have shares in – and even then, it has to be significant. If your super fund has lots of Telecom shares, that doesn’t mean you can’t ‘t be involved in decision on Telecom – again I suspect most of the Cabinet would have an indirect interest.

The major requirement around conflicts of interests is transparency. And McCully has complied 100%. As it happens, he had not even been present at any discussions on mining, but it is ridicolous of Goff to suggest he can’t be, because of $31 of shares.

But what really annoys me over The Standard’s labelling of this as corruption (the category they assigned to the story) is the immense double standards – and this applies to Phil Goff’s comments also.

Think back 18 months to Winston Peters. Here are the key facts in two cases:

  1. Winston knew of a $100,000 donation from Owen Glenn to his lawyer to cover his legal fees.
  2. Winston never ever declared this, as he was required to do so.
  3. Winston lobbied for Mr Glenn to be given a diplomatic appointment

But the more important case:

  1. Racing interests donated money to Winston Peters personally by paying his costs to Bob Clarkson.
  2. This personal donation of tens of thousands of dollars was never declared by Peters, and only exposed by the SFO
  3. The same racing interests also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to NZ First.
  4. Peters was the portfolio minister for racing under Helen Clark, yet never disclosed the personal donations, or the party donations. Arguably no need to disclose the party ones, but he was required to disclose the personal one.
  5. Peters advocated for more money for the racing industry, including having the taxpayer pay for bigger prizes for races.
  6. Officials strongly advised against doing this, but Cabinet agreed to the extra funding advocated by Peters, unaware that Peters was receiving large donations from racing interests.

Now one can argue Peters was genuinely motivated to help the racing industry, and the donations did not influence him. That is not the issue today.

The issue is that this was the most serious breach of the conflict of interest regime we have seen. A personal donation which directly benefited a Minister (by paying off his damages to Clarkson) was not declared, and that Minister directly lobbied for money to be given in prizes to the racing industry.

So this puts Phil Goff’s holier than thou statement about practises in the last Government in perspective. And remember Phil Goff voted against the Privileges Committee report, as Labour insisted Winston had not broken the rules.

But back to The Standard, what did they have to say about Winston’s conflicts at the time:

On 22 July:

For my part, I don’t see the big deal in all this Peters donation stuff. Transparency in election funding is important (and it’s something that National and ACT have constantly opposed) but there is no evidence of Peters has been purposely secretive.

So no big deal. And even better:

As for the Dompost’s ‘revelations’ today – various members of the Vela family and companies owned by the family gave amounts that may have totalled $150,000 to New Zealand First over a period of five years. So what? The donations are legal and, as long as NZF didn’t receive more $10,000 from any individual person (legal or natural) in one financial year, they didn’t have to be declared under the law of the time.

However the donation to pay Winston’s legal costs to Clarkson was required to be disclosed, but more importantly back then The Standard had no concern about sums 1,000 times greater than $31 going to parties or politicians, and the party leader directly advocating for policies that will benefit those donors.

And again on 23 September:

So, the committee found what everyone knew: Peters story doesn’t add up. But it also shows that this story isn’t really about anything significant. Oh, no, a politician didn’t make the efforts he should have to find out what benefit he may have gained from a legal donation, his form was wrong as a result, and he made up a story to try to cover himself. Shoddy behaviour to be sure but nothing that actually impacts on the substance of government.

So as Winston supported Labour, there was nothing of substance wrong. Never mind he didn’t declare the personal donations to cover his legal costs to Clarkson, and never mind the Labour Cabinet had no idea when Peters was advocating more money for racing prizes, he was receiving these donations from companies that are likely to benefit.

Peter’s conduct was probably the biggest breach of standards since the marginal loans affair. Yet to Phil Goff and The Standard, it was all okay.

Now let us admit that we all are coloured to some degree and see things more rosy for the side you tend to support. That is natural, and expected. We’re not neutral reporters.

But I find those who blog anonymously stretch that to breaking point – there is almost no misconduct they won’t defend for their own side, and they will label as corrupt basically anything that moves from the other side.

The Standard suggest McCully is corrupt for following the rules and declaring his $31 of shares (yes they did not know the amount, but the issue is McCully has acted entirely appropriately) yet they defended Winston time and time again over horrendous breaches of the conflicts of interest regime.

I regard myself as a mate of Phil Heatley. Have even stayed at his house and he is one of the nicest guys you can meet. But when the Dom Post published their story yesterday, I described the use of the ministerial credit card as totally unacceptable with no ifs and no buts.

Those who blog anonymously tend to use extreme language to smear people. They call them corrupt, crooked or racist or bigoted. They do so, because they don’t have to defend their comments in real life.

So here is my challenge to Eddie. Stop the extreme language against people just because their politics are not your own, or have the guts to blog under your real name.

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A thaw with Fiji

January 13th, 2010 at 7:54 am by David Farrar

The Dom-Post reports:

New Zealand’s influence in the Pacific region country had been “chiselled away” to the point that “the viability of our operations was under threat”, Mr McCully said yesterday.

The two countries had agreed to post a new diplomatic counsellor in each other’s respective capitals. Deputy heads of mission would be added later.

“We’d got to a point where our viability was under some threat. This will give us the ability to conduct closer to a normal range of activities,” Mr McCully said.

Neither country has top level representation in place after a third New Zealand high commissioner was deported from Suva in November last year and Wellington followed suit, sacking Fiji’s representative here.

New Zealand representation in Suva has dwindled to an acting head of mission, two immigration officials and two NZ Aid officials.

The small staff had put “a huge limit” on what New Zealand could do in Fiji and compromised its historical position as a regional hub for the Pacific, Mr McCully said. …

The new appointments did not signal a change to New Zealand’s substantive policy on Fiji, including continuing sanctions.

“But it does signal the determination to improve the relationship and in particular to be able to agree to disagree about some things,” Mr McCully said.

Agreeing to disagree is always important.

This is a productive step forward. I’m not sure whether it will last, as my reading of the situation is that when one of the Commodore’s appointees comes up against the Australia and NZ travel bans, he has a temper tantrum and starts expelling people.

But the Commodore is the person in charge there for now. He has given himself a ridiculously long time-frame of 2014 before he calls elections. The one good thing about such a ridiculously long period of time, is that if he then refuses to stick to the 2014 schedule, it will be proof that he never plans to surrender power.

What many are now looking for is actual progress towards those elections. Detailing of a process for adopting a new constitution. A timetable for the census etc.

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Spend aid money on aid

September 29th, 2009 at 5:55 am by David Farrar

The Herald report:

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has been accused of acting vindictively towards overseas aid agencies which criticised his changes to the direction of the aid programme earlier this year.

Labour’s associate foreign affairs spokesman, Phil Twyford, said funding had been cut to the Council for International Development (CID), an umbrella organisation of aid groups, by $650,000 over the next two years.

However, Mr McCully’s spokesman said Mr Twyford was not correct. No final decisions about the funding had been taken and the figures quoted were indicative at this stage.

I’d ask why the Government is funding the CID at all? Shouldn’t it be funded by its 94 members?

One would think that Labour would support spending overseas aid money on well overseas aid, rather than lobby groups in Wellington.

Mr Twyford said he expected the minister to say that he wanted to spend the money overseas instead of in New Zealand.

“The funding of CID is a tiny fraction of the $32 million NZAID spends each year on aid delivered by NGOs.

“It builds the professional and administrative capacity of the NGOs so they can be more accountable for taxpayer funds.”

The cuts threatened to undermine the NGOs’ efforts to be more effective and accountable, Mr Twyford said.

Don’t you love the double speak here. Twyford (the parliamentary spokesperson for aid NGOs) claims that the taxpayer has to pour money into the CID so that NGOs are more effective. In my experience the removal of taxpayer subsidies is what causes NGOs to be more efficient.

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MFAT

May 9th, 2009 at 10:16 am by David Farrar

Two good articles on MFAT and NZ Aid. Fran O’Sullivan has a look at MFAT and what the (yet to be announced) appointment of John Allen means. Fran says:

The commission’s panel was encouraged to look at the top MFat job in an “expansive way” and select a new chief executive who could (and this is the most important point) provide leadership for New Zealand – not just the Foreign Affairs Ministry – to help propel a much more aggressive approach offshore.

Fran says it is about getting less silos and better co-operations from not just MFAT, but also NZT&E, Immigration Service, Education NZ, and Tourism NZ.

Meanwhile in the Dom Post, Nick Venter looks at NZ Aid:

He starts with why NZ Aid was made semi-autonomous:

Eight years ago an independent review of New Zealand’s  aid programme raised major  concerns about the way aid  money was distributed.

The reviewers reported that the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry, which administered the aid programme, regarded aid as “an instrument of foreign policy”, that almost a quarter of the total aid budget of $250 million was spent on tertiary education scholarships – despite poor completion rates and the failure of many students to return home.

The ministry had used $500,000 of aid money to relocate the Samoan Department of Lands, Surveys and Environment so a new New Zealand high commission could be built, that the ministry used its development agency as a “dumping ground for non-performers” and that there was no “formal documented system of analysis or defined criteria used for determining the annual allocation process”.

McCully says:

“You don’t make changes like this if you don’t have to,” he said. “But in terms of the audit reports that have been brought down and some of the examples that I have looked at, over months now, I made up my own mind that I wasn’t going to carry the can for those things.”

Mr McCully has publicly questioned NZAid’s priorities, the amount of money it puts into “unproductive” regional bureaucracies, the size of its staff (281) and the proportion of the aid budget spent on internal overheads (about 8 per cent), but concern about accountability persuaded him to put it back under the umbrella of the ministry.

He says the agency, headed throughout its existence by former diplomat Peter Adams, wrongly assumed that being a semi-autonomous body entitled it to operate outside the normal state sector controls. “NZAid looked at the word autonomous and ignored the word semi.”

One of the consequences was that NZAid did not tell the ministry things it needed to know, “sometimes involving large amounts of money or serious matters of national interest”.

McCully also seems to think overheads were too high:

Mr McCully said he had also been concerned by NZAid’s response to questioning of its overheads. “I was annoyed to find that we were running overheads that were about 8 per cent of the total budget and that NZAid regarded themselves as being immune from any sort of scrutiny in that respect.

At a time when I was putting MFAT through the wringer, I was being told that NZAid were not open to that degree of scrutiny because we just gave them a bulk number and they decided how much of it was going to be overheads . . . . When I said, ‘Okay, presumably that will go down quite a lot when the budget goes up to $600 million,’ I was told, ‘No, it will go up to 9 per cent.’ I said, ‘How is that?’ They said, ‘That is just what we have decided.’ “

The story also focuses on what the goal should be:

He is also sharply critical of Mr McCully’s decision to abandon the poverty alleviation focus favoured by other Western governments as well as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

“Economic development is an important contributor to poverty alleviation, but it’s a means to an end, not an end itself.

“The key to poverty alleviation is benefiting those most in need. Traditionally the elites benefit when money is pumped in with an economic development focus. You achieve poverty alleviation through investment in education, health, literacy and governance.”

Mr McCully, who has described poverty alleviation as a “rather nebulous concept”, says the success of the new focus will be measurable in, among other things, improved trade statistics.

“It is unacceptable that we should be exporting a billion dollars worth of goods to the Pacific and having empty ships coming back here. It shows that we are spending too much of our money on stuff that might help alleviate poverty this year but it does not do anything about next year and the year after.”

One thing is for sure – all eyes will be focused on NZ Aid for the next few years.

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Dim-Post on McCully

April 24th, 2009 at 10:28 am by David Farrar

The satirical Dim-Post having fun:

Foreign Minister Murray McCully has vowed to fight a decision by the Liquor Licensing Authority to ban his office from selling or serving alcohol for up to five days. The ban follows a pre-dawn raid by police on the Cabinet Minister’s office in which a large number of underage and highly intoxicated persons were taken into custody.

The raid took place following numerous noise complaints from neighbours including Agriculture Minister David Carter and Attorney General Chris Finlayson who reported loud music, screams and alcoholic beverages leaking through the ceiling….

McCully has rejected the accusations, explaining that the teenage girls dispensing alcohol were senior advisers within his department and that they were performing their roles as outlined in their job descriptions.

‘It is the role of key staff within my office to dispense tequila and lime juice to the minister and visiting dignitaries as requested,’ McCully said. ‘Although it is not mandatory that they allow salt to be licked from their stomachs it is expected and will be noted in performance reviews.’

Heh heh heh – read the whole thing. I of course make no comment at all about the good Mr McCully’s hospitality :-)

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Q&A

April 20th, 2009 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I thought Q&A yesterday ws pretty good with interviewees being Murray McCully and Don Brash.

Was was glad there were no spouses being interviewed this week. I’m still not sure though about having MPs as panelists. Having said that Keith Locke made some useful contributions. In fact one exchange was remarkable for its agreement:

PAUL So we’ve seen Murray McCully he seemed in command of his portfolio, we have to discuss him, any surprises from Murray McCully people what do you think?

KEITH LOCKE – Green MP. Oh it was a pretty standard response and not much there I could disagree with.

Now just think about this. You’ve just had a National Party Minister of Foreign Affairs on, and Keith Locke has said he didn’t hear much he would disagree with!

Murray’s aim is to remove foreign policy as a partisan issue. Looks like he is achieiving that. Mind you good to see, there are stil disagreements on some issues. McCully today announced we will join the US, Canada and Australia in not attending the World Conference Against Racism Review Conference. The original was a nasty unashamed Israel bashing exercise (by countries with far far worse records on racism I might say), and also tends to turn into an attempt to stifle criticism of religions by portraying this as racism. So well done McCully.

Audrey Young thought McCully did well on the interview, blogging:

The interview with Guyon Espiner showed what a strong command McCully has of his portfolio and that he can articulate the values that underpin the Government’s policies.

Also of interest was Keith Locke’s comments on Mt Albert. It sounds like the Greens are going to go all out and seriously try to win it:

THERESE I think we’re all sort of fascinated to watch what happens with the Mt Albert bi-election, I think that’s gonna be a very interesting bi-election, a safe Labour seat but how safe, how much of it is a personal vote for Helen Clark, I mean there was a sizeable comfortable gap for Helen Clark but…

KEITH That’s right and if the Greens win it that’s an extra seat for us.

THERESE You may cost Labour it if you’re right.

KEITH Yes well it’s not gonna change the government so it’d be great for the Greens to have an extra seat and it’s really set up for us because you’ve got the Labour supporting 2.7 billion dollars on 4.5 kilometres of tunnel motorway, National supporting about the same amount a bit less than an over ground version, it’s gonna wipe out a whole pile of houses in Waterview in the electorate and the Greens saying well look put all that aside for a few years and spend it on public transport, I know which way the Mt Albert voters are gonna go. …

THERESE Another day and National also claims that they have increased party membership in the electorate but I do think in bi-elections it comes down to turnout, who can get the vote out, and vote splitting, the Greens running a strong candidate may well cost Labour.

KEITH Well it’s not vote splitting if we win, if we make it a three way race we could win.

It will be very interesting who the Greens choose as theri candidate.

The Don Brash interview was a goodie also. I think we can all accept future tax cuts are gone, when even Don says so:

PAUL What about tax cuts in the medium term tax cuts next year the next round of tax cuts they’re surely a goner?

DON I expect they are, I don’t think the government wants to say that quite yet, but I suspect they are a goner. …

PAUL What about the Super Fund, might they not pay in this year?

DON I think they probably won’t pay in this year, and I think that makes good sense, I mean the Super Fund was a device to ensure that some of the budget surpluses were set aside for the future. If you’ve got a budget deficit the logic of that doesn’t exist.

While I’m sad about future tax cuts probably off the radar for no, the 2008 and 2009 tax cuts combined come to a lot more than those yet to occur. I’m going to blog on this in more detail once I have had some data confirmed.

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NZ Herald on Fiji

April 16th, 2009 at 12:18 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald editorial makes an astute judgement:

Nothing foreign diplomacy can do, however, could be as effective as the regime’s economic destruction. The arrest of Reserve Bank Governor Savenaca Narbue has been described as an “act of vandalism”. It is certainly an act of idiocy. Nobody can have the slightest confidence in the currency or the resilience of the desperately declining economy if the soldiers have usurped the country’s financial management.

In the absence of an explanation for his arrest it can only be assumed Governor Narbue was being ordered to take steps he knew to be economically disastrous. Commodore Bainimarama’s monetary expertise is probably no better than his diplomatic sense, which we know to be inept.

Exactly. The Commodore is now determining monetary policy.

Changes of government in Australia and New Zealand presented him with an opportunity to reconcile them to his coup. Sanctions applied by previous Governments had brought no sign of progress towards a restoration of democracy. The Key Government was plainly prepared to try a different approach. But it was barely in office before the commodore was threatening to expel New Zealand’s ambassador over a refusal to renew a study visa for an official’s son.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully’s response was notably mild, but the threat was carried out. Even now, in his comments on the country’s constitutional destruction, Mr McCully’s remarks do not ring with the righteous indignation that used to be heard from Helen Clark and Phil Goff.

The change of Government gave Bainimarama an opportunity to get sanctions lifted. All he needed to do was make some minor steps twoards elections – such as set a date for the census.

Instead he throws out the NZ High Commissioner over nothing. And now he rules elections out for at least five years.

It is easy to criticise Australia and NZ’s responses. But I don’t actually think the Commodore is entirely rational, and am not sure any policy change from NZ or Australia would in any way change what he does.

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Henry vs McCully

April 2nd, 2009 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

This is very funny – Paul Henry taking the mickey out of Murray McCully.

Hat Tip: Whale Oil

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Yay – we are free

April 1st, 2009 at 10:56 am by David Farrar

I blogged two days ago that there was a potential huge win-win if NZ withdrew from the race for a place on the thoroughly discredited Human Rights Council, as the Obama administration was clean to re-engage with it, and reform it (I doubt anyone can but good on Obama for trying).

Murray McCully seemingly agrees, and has announced NZ is withdrawing to make room for the US.

New Zealand has decided not to pursue its candidature for election to the Human Rights Council in 2009, Foreign Minister Murray McCully announced today.

Mr McCully said the decision had been made to avoid four nations contesting three positions, following the United States’ indication that it would seek a Council seat.

This will gain us some serious kudos with the Obama Administration. They will repay the favour at some stage. So we gain a big IOU from the most powerful country on Earth, and best of all the concession is something we should have done anyway.

“The Human Rights Council has been widely criticised. It was our intention, in seeking election, to provide a force for change and improvement. However we believe that US membership of the Council will strengthen it, and make it more effective.

“That is in the interests of all those who, like New Zealand, want to see the Council respond robustly and effectively to human rights violations wherever they occur.

“Frankly, by any objective measure, membership of the Council by the US is more likely to create positive changes more quickly than we could have hoped to achieve them.

“This decision was not taken lightly but we see New Zealand’s standing aside as being in the best interests of the advancement of international human rights at this time.

The best interests of international human rights would be to kick all the dictatorships off the Council. But failing that, the US is going to be have a higher chance of sucess than a minnow like NZ. In some areas like the Security Council (and there I support our bid 1000%) we can play a very constructive role. But the Human Rights Council has far too many vested interests with countries actually wanting to use it to supress the right to criticise religions.

So for someone like me who saw our bid as misguided, this is an absolute win-win. But even if you are one of those optimists who thinks we could have done some good there, there is no doubt we gain far more kudos for letting the US back on and having Obama owe us one.

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A potential huge win-win for NZ foreign policy

March 30th, 2009 at 7:07 pm by David Farrar

The Tailor of Panama Street blogs:

As we have posted before, New Zealand is currently running for a seat on the 57 member UN Human Rights Council.  Elections will be held in May and New Zealand is currently one of three candidates for three vacancies that will come in the Western European and Other Group (WEOG).  The other declared candidates are Norway and Belgium.

Now this is not a good thing. The HRC is just as bad as its predecessor that was abolished because it was a repulsive joke. The current Council is more into taking rights away than defending them. It is trying to make it compulsory for countries to ban virulent criticism of religion.

There are signs President Barack Obama may be about to reverse another George W. Bush policy and take a fresh look at the HRC.  Bush shunned the Council, arguing it was biased against Israel and ignored flagrant human rights abusers (indeed, many of its members fall into this categrory).   However, as part of a campaign to improve the US’s image in the world, Obama seems to be taking a more cautiously supportive line.  On 1 March, the US announced it was sending an observer to the Council’s current session, to “use the opportunity to strengthen old partnerships and forge new ones.”  Now, UN scuttlebutt suggests that the US might be looking to run for a spot on the Council in the May elections.

This is a golden opportunity.

So far, so good. There is no doubt that the Council can only benefit from having the US actively engaged. But with four candidates for three WEOG spots, someone is going to miss out.  The Progressive Realist suggests that the US has already sounded out the Belgians to see if they would step down to let Washington run unopposed. No word on this yet, but is it too cheeky to speculate whether New Zealand might offer to step aside for Washington? From Minister McCully’s point of view, wouldn’t this advance two foreign policy goals: improve relations with the new US administration and get out of the foreign affairs equivalent of a “polar bear hug”?

That would be a brillant move. It is the best of all worlds. We escape having to serve on the Council (imagine the shame as we have to explain vote after vote), the US rejoins it (the only country that can temper it a bit) and Uncle Barack and Aunt Hillary owe us a big favour.

Hopefully McCully will make the offer to withdraw to make room for the US to stand, when he meets Clinton.

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