Other Valedictories

July 31st, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

There were five other valedictories yesterday. Some extracts from each starting with Paul Hutchison:

As science * spokesperson in 2005 and 2008, I was alarmed that New Zealand was well below international benchmarks for research and development both from public and especially private industry investment. The only snag was that by the 2008 election, and the sense of the * global financial crisis, Bill English had said that there was no extra money for science. I cunningly introduced John Key to * Peter Gluckman at his home on several occasions and lobbied hard for science to have greater recognition. The 2008 science policy had some modest but profoundly important changes. There would be greater funding for basic discovery research. A chief scientist would be appointed. Sir Peter Gluckman has been outstanding. Not only has his massive talent and experience informed the shape of our science system since, but he has introduced the idea of having a scientist in each government department in order to achieve evidence-based policy.

I’m all for more evidence-based policy.

In terms of the ** Inquiry into how to improve completion rates of childhood immunisation, I was a bit alarmed when the * Dominion Post captioned an article I had written on this subject “A prick in the right direction.” I did not take it personally. It is hardly conceivable that here in New Zealand, as recently as 2007, our completion rates for 2-year-olds were third world at less than 70 percent. Today, rates are over 90 percent and for 12 out of 20 district health boards, * Māori rates are higher than non-Māori. 

A great achievement.

 I thank all colleagues across the political spectrum where our committee achieved a cross-party consensus over a range of contentious issues, from reproductive health and education, to optimal maternity care, from the socio-economic determinants of health and poverty, to an all-of-Government approach to improve nutrition and prevent the impending burden of long-term chronic diseases such as diabetes. Every member of the committee made great contributions. I really appreciated the collaboration of Kevin Hague and Annette King, who, although we are miles apart on many political issues, see improving all children’s start in life as a national priority for New Zealand, and I thank that always thoughtful journalist Colin James for his positive commentary. We recommended a proactive investment approach from the work of Nobel Laureate* economist James Heckman. The rate of return for the dollar spent on a child is far higher the earlier the investment is made, from preconception on. 

The first few years are important.

Phil Heatley:

My favourite question time was actually as Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture. Colleagues might recall the death of * Happy Feet the * emperor penguin. Gareth Hughes tried to pin the murder of Happy Feet on me and the fishing industry. What Mr Hughes did not know was that the Ministry and I had been GPS*- -tracking Happy Feet since the day he was released into the * Southern Ocean. We compared his GPS position to that of the fishing fleet in order to keep it well away. Happily, on the day when he accused me of the murder, I was able to declare to the House that the fishing industry was innocent and that, in fact, Happy Feet had quite simply become a * Happy Meal.

And there was a happy shark somewhere!

As * Minister of Housing I updated the rental rules of the * Residential Tenancies Act, I began the insulation of every State house in the country, and I got rid of the decades-long notion of a State house for life. 

State houses should and must go to those with the greatest need, not just to those who got in first.

I recall Lockwood Smith, when we were out at dinner once, talking about his waistline. Lockwood was very body conscious. You are not like that at all, Mr Speaker. I remember Lockwood saying “Colleagues, it’s interesting. My chest and my waist are the same as they were when I was 25.” Quick as a flash, Gerry piped up and said “Same with me.”

Heh.

Eric Roy:

One night I could not eat my tea and later that evening I was walking up Glenmore Street and I collapsed. Sometime later, and I am not sure when, a car picked me up and took me to my flat. That was Thursday night. It was Monday before I could get to the doctor. He pushed and prodded and then got me scanned forthwith, and they found that I had lumps inside me as big as footballs, as my entire lymph system had been taken over by an aggressive lymphoma. The oncologist informed me that I had a 20 percent chance of getting through it, which is a kind of code for “Are your insurance premiums up to date?”. They opened me up, then closed me up, and said that there was nothing they could do. So I went home and I was sitting there—this was Wednesday. So the award for the most surreal telephone conversation I have ever had in my life went something like this. Here I am, sitting at home internalising some reasonably significant issues. The phone goes—ring, ring. “Hello, this is Eric.” “This is Murray McCully.” I think, goodness me. The all-knowing black knight has heard about my predicament and he cares. “What’s on your mind, Murray?”. “Um, I have to give a speech in Invercargill on Friday. It’s July and I’ve got a very bad cold. I don’t think I should be going to Invercargill on Friday. Can you do it for me?”. “Murray—um, do you think I really should be doing this? I’m sorry to hear about your cold, but I’m dying of cancer.” There was a long pause, then “Ha, ha! I’ll send you the notes.”

No one was quite sure if Eric was joking or not.

I believe there is, and I have for some time, and I have an increasing feeling that we should do this and that is, make all third reading votes a personal vote. Note well that I am saying personal vote not free vote. I think increasingly there is some isolation and dislocation by members in this House from the actual meaning of voting and we see when a vote comes along, sometimes the groupings left and right advise the minor parties what they are doing. We are seeing increasing times when there is redress sought to either amend the vote or to record in the record of the House what actually was the intention. Even more recently we are seeing the veracity of proxies challenged by points of order or by interjection. I do not think that looks too credible in the eyes of the public. It is not what they expect from their representatives in the highest court of the land. I do realise that there would be a time factor involved in actually doing this. I think the Business Committee could think about how that might be done. One suggestion would be to have any third reading votes immediately after question time the following day, or even one more extended hour in a session of a Parliament would cover for any of that time that had been taken up in that personal vote situation. 

An idea worthy of consideration.

Shane Ardern:

My biggest regret is not being able to see the same structural change in the meat and wool industry. The question is: was I wrong? If Fonterra had not been formed, could members of this House guarantee that our economy would be growing as well as it is today? The answer is no, they could not. So stop criticising the primary industries, and, instead of looking for alternatives that do not exist, celebrate that we are world leaders in agriculture. Why is it that we unite and support our international sporting teams, but when it comes to primary industries, we think that any small provincial structure will succeed?

A good point.

I want to say to this Parliament that Fonterra earns the money that gives us the ability to have a first-class* social system. It allows us the luxury of enormous investment in environmental sustainability and conservation. Internationally, our farmers are known as one of the lowest carbon producers with the highest food safety standards and the most sustainable farming practices. If members are honestly concerned with the environment, then work with the farmers and approach this with an open mind. If you really care about the future of New Zealand, I beg you to spend time on farms speaking with farmers and observing what they do. Look at the money that Fonterra spends on research and investment in environmental issues, despite Fonterra remaining, by international standards, a small farmer cooperative. For example, in the last 5 years 23,000 kilometres of riparian margin planting and fencing of waterways have been completed. That is further than New Zealand to London. It is a long fence. 

The anti-dairying agenda pushed by some,would see us as a country unable to pay for our education and health systems.

Ross Robertson:

The commentators would have you believe that success in politics is charisma. Well, I was standing in another queue the day they handed out charisma. Rather, I have built my career on the principle famously expounded by US Democrat Speaker * Tip O’Neill, that “All politics is local.” Every Saturday for 27 years I have got up at 6.30 and gone to the * Ōtara market, the meeting place of my electorate, where my team of volunteers sell quick-fire raffles and I meet the people. Then I travel to the sports grounds in my electorate and support the local teams. If parents, players, coaches, and referees can be there every Saturday, so can their MP. Around 4 p.m. I go and visit one of the bowling clubs in my electorate, have a cup of tea and a chat. Members should try it. You will be amazed at what you learn, and your constituents become your friends. On Saturday nights for 27 years I have been privileged to have an electorate engagement, and sometimes two or three—perhaps as a guest of honour at a dinner, a * prize-giving, a wedding, a birthday—and 50,000 constituents soon become 50,000 friends. Sunday is God’s day, and I give it to my family and my church. On Mondays and Fridays I see constituents. Rather than always having constituents come to my office, I visit people in their homes because it tells me so much more. I have a programme of electorate visits, so every year I visit every church, temple, and mosque, and every business. I also see each of the more than 40 educational institutions in my electorate at least once a year.

Very good advice on how to be a good local MP.

 I can say that because I have been an Assistant Speaker under four Speakers—two who were Labour and two who were National. I would like to see the day come when the Speaker is nominated by the backbench, as happens in the United Kingdom. 

I think we’d need a bigger backbench for that to happen.

There will be some new faces in the next Parliament. Retiring at this election are 13 National MPs, three Labour MPs and one Green MP.

Tags: , , , , ,

English goes list only, Heatley retires

November 2nd, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Bill English is to step down as the Clutha-Southland MP next year after 24 years representing the electorate, but has no plans to retire from politics.

The deputy prime minister and finance minister, Mr English will remain in politics, and instead seek nomination for the National Party list at the 2014 election.

Mr English, who lives in Wellington, said representing the large Clutha-Southland electorate had required considerable travel and time away from his family, particularly after he became a minister.

With four of his six children having left home, he wanted to strike a better balance between family life and political commitments.

I note Michael Cullen went list only in 1999. Being Minister of Finance means an insanely busy workload, and balancing ministerial duties, electorate duties and family life would not be easy.

Phil Heatley announced his retirement this week also. Phil’s a legendary campaigner, and what was once an almost marginal seat has become rock safe thanks to his efforts. A damn nice guy, with a great sense of humour. I recall being excited in 1999 when we got an intake that included Simon Power, Katherine Rich and Phil Heatley (and others). A bit sad that they’ll all be gone by the next election but 15 years isn’t a bad spell.

The plus side is that National is showing how to renew itself while still in Government. This is quite critical. There’s going to be quite a few new National MPs in 2014. I hope the party organisation is working hard to make sure we get top quality candidates standing for both electorates and list.

Tags: , ,

A tough week for those affected

January 28th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

This week seems the ministerial reshuffle implemented, and it will be a tough week for many MPs and staff affected.

On the staffing front, you may be unaware that parliamentary staff lose their jobs if their Minister is demoted. But you also lose your job if your MP is promoted to be a Minister (as different employers). Also if your party loses an election you lose your job but also if your party wins an election you lose your job! Some get rehired, of course. But there are few jobs where you can learn at one hour’s notice you no longer have a job – no consultation, no notice, no appeal. As I say often, don’t choose to work at Parliament if you want stability.

It is of course equally tough for the Ministers involved. I know MPs are not the most beloved of creatures (even though most people like the local ones they actually know), but again not the most stable of jobs where you can learn with an hour’s notice you lose your job as a Minister, let alone everything that goes with the job.

Most MPs are pretty sympathetic to those who get demoted, but Hone Harawira was particularly ungracious with his comments on Phil Heatley:

Yesterday, Mr Harawira said on National Radio’s Morning Report that the sacking of Mr Heatley would be a welcome relief for low-income families.

He said Mr Heatley presided over policies which make it harder to access affordable housing and called him a smarmy p**** who put poor people down by making jokes about them.

Mr Heatley wasn’t too concerned about the insult, but said poverty was no laughing matter.

“Local people who know me and who know Hone are quite capable of making their own judgment on our respective characters,” the Whangarei MP said. “That aside, I take welfare policy seriously. Poverty is no joking matter.”

Phil’s one of the nicest guys around, in fact. And the way he (and Kate) has taken the demotion is totally absent any rancour or bitterness:

Mr Heatley’s demotion took everybody by surprise and the MP heard he was to be dropped only that morning.

He said he would now be able to put more time into issues affecting Northland and would be pushing for better infrastructure, including road and rail, better broadband coverage and speeds, electricity supply security and economic development.

Mr Heatley said he would be working closely with Northland MP Mike Sabin to help address those issues.

I have no doubt Phil and Kate are bitterly disappointed. You’d be inhuman not to be. But the way they both have taken the decision speaks volumes about their characters.

Tags: ,

Best reply ever

June 29th, 2012 at 11:33 am by David Farrar

From the parliamentary written questions database:

3061 (2012). Gareth Hughes to the Minister of Energy and Resources (20 Apr 2012): Where, to the best of the Minister’s knowledge, has hydraulic fracturing occured in New Zealand?
Hon Phil Heatley (Minister of Energy and Resources) replied: Underground.
Heh. MPs need to be precise with how they ask questions :-)
Tags: , , , ,

Heatley looks set to make Labour’s housing policy workable

October 25th, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Phil Heatley outlined on Q+A some quite radical changes to Housing NZ, but they are changes that would help those most in need – and in fact are long overdue changes necessary to make the model of state housing reinstituted by Labour workable.

Some on the left will try and whip up hysterical opposition to them, but people should be aware the group that recommended them includes the Auckland City Mission Diane Robertson and Major Campbell Roberts from the Salvation Army. And also to her credit Sue Bradford, who was a panelist, seemed quite supportive. So I suggest people resist knee-jerk reactions.

National introduced market rentals in the 1990s. This was highly controversial and unpopular, ans was reversed by Labour who campaigned on a change back. I don’t want to defend the market rentals but explain why they were done.

The idea behind market rentals was that an income based accommodation supplement was a fairer way to assist low income people into housing. It could take into account your exact level of income, the average rental price in your area etc and most of all applied to every New Zealander on a low income.

The idea was that if two families lived next door to each other on identical incomes and identical family sizes and in identical houses, they would both get the same level of support. Up until then the person in the state house got huge assistance, and the person in private accommodation got very little. Unless the number of state houses was so large as to cover every low income New Zealander, then some families unfairly were getting much better assistance than others. And in fact (as this report shows) it was not always the family with the greatest need who was in the state house.

However the market rentals policy was hugely unpopular, for a number of reasons. One reason was the Government failed to sell it well. People thought it was about increasing rental payments from poor families, and there was almost no focus on the fact that the Government would be helping many more low income families than previously.

It also had the problem in that it created a large number of people (around 300,000) who were modest “winners” and a smaller number of people (around 70,000) who were quite large “losers”, and those who are disadvantaged by a policy change will fight against it, while those advantaged by it not so much.

To be fair there were also some unforeseen consequences also, such as private sector landlords pushing prices up, due to state houses doing the same. That was genuinely undesirable, and possible one reason National has not returned to that policy even though it is clearly less discriminatory.

So we’re left with Labour’s policy which is that if you live in a state house, you get a much higher subsidy from the taxpayer – the SHAG calculates it as worth $8,000 a year compared to $4,000 a year from the Accommodation Supplement. There are a limited number of state houses, and one can not change the number of houses in stock dramatically or quickly. So you want those state houses to go those most in need. But I have always said to do that you need to evict people from their state houses if a more needy family is on the waiting list, and you also need to move tenants from larger to smaller homes as their kids leave home.

The SHAG has recommended pretty much exactly that, but in a gentle way. Their recommendations are what you need to make Labour’s policy better for low income families. It means the greatest assistance goes to those with the greatest need.

SHAG’s report is here. Here are extracts from Q+A:

PHIL HEATLEY – Housing Minister.
Well, that’s certainly a recommendation in the report is that any new tenants coming on from now on would be under the understanding that they may just have the house for three years, five years or 10 years, and then we review that tenancy. So the tenancy wouldn’t necessarily end in that time, but we’d review the tenancy and see if their circumstances have changed.

This seems very sensible. Exiting tenants entered under a policy where their expectation is they can remain in the house for life so long as they are good tenants. I like the idea in future that you set at the beginning an expectation of review at a certain date. If their circumstances have improved and there are much needier families on the waiting list, then logically one would allocate to the family with the greater need.

MR HEATLEY So what would happen is& Well, a good example actually is someone’s in a state house – you know, they’ve had it for 10 years. When they first moved in, they had three kids, they were married, it was a four-bedroom. Now they’re alone or there’s just two of them. They just need one bedroom.

This is one of the real problems. The kids have left and now tenants are in a house with lots of spare rooms, while a family on the waiting list with three kids can’t get a house.

Some people will say the answer is just to build more state houses, but there is no way the state housing stock will increase from 70,000 to over 300,000 (the numbers on the accom supplement).

GUYON OK, the other big mismatch you’ve got is the type of houses that you’ve actually got. You’ve got far too many two- and three-bedroom houses. You’ve got a lot of people rattling around in houses that are too big for them. I think that you said there were 2700 houses with spare bedrooms, and about a similar number with crowded bedrooms. Are you going to have to engage in a large-scale selling and buying programme, in terms of selling houses you don’t need and buying ones that are fit for purpose?

MR HEATLEY That’s correct. In fact, we’ve got two types of mismatch, as you describe. The first one is that we’ve too many three-bedroom houses – in fact, 10,000 too many – and we haven’t got enough one-bedroom houses for very small families – obviously people living on their own – and certainly not enough four- or five-bedroom houses. So what we’re going to do is send a very clear signal that we want to realign all that, so we’re going to need to dispose of all our three-bedroom houses and buy smaller and larger ones.

No doubt some will call this privatisation! This does show the difficulties with the current policy – it is very hard to match the demand with supply.

GUYON Will the numbers stay essentially the same at roughly 70,000? Or will you increase it or decrease it?

MR HEATLEY What we’ve said quite clearly, and we certainly said to the people that drew up the report for us, is that we’re committed to state housing, we’re committed to Housing New Zealand&

GUYON On what numbers?

MR HEATLEY  &we’re committed to income-related rents.

GUYON Yeah, we’ll talk about that in a second. What numbers?

MR HEATLEY In terms of numbers of state houses, what we’ve said is we want to house more people in social housing. We want it to be a combination of state housing and combination of houses provided by others in the community-housing sector. So we are going to move away from counting the number of state houses we own or manage. …

GUYON That’s fascinating. So at the moment, there’s a ministerial directive that says you have to own just over 70,000 state houses by the middle of next year.

MR HEATLEY Um, no, the ministerial directive that’s happened over a number of decades under National and Labour, and it’s continued as they’ve gone in and out of government, is to increase the number of state houses.

GUYON OK, but roughly it’s 70,000.

MR HEATLEY That’s correct. And we’re saying&

GUYON So you’re abandoning that target? You’re abandoning any target or minimum number of houses that you need to own?

MR HEATLEY Yes, what we’re doing&

GUYON That’s a massive change.

MR HEATLEY It is, but what we’re saying now is that we want to increase the number of people housed, and we want to increase the amount of social housing in New Zealand, but we can’t do it alone. The government’s in no position to keep buying state houses the way we have been, so we’re going to slow down and probably stop and go to the community-housing sector, who have put up their hand, and they say this in their report, and say, ‘Look, we want to get into housing the most vulnerable.’ In fact, many housing organisations are specialist in their area – disabled, mentally ill, elderly.  ‘And we actually need capital, cash or houses for you as the government to inject into us to grow.’ And we’re prepared to look at that.

This is quite an important exchange. Shifting the focus from whether HSNZ has 70,000 or 70,500 or 71,000 state houses to a focus on how many people are in social housing, which includes the Salvation Army, some local authorities etc.

MR HEATLEY Well, no. What the panel says& And, you know, we had someone on the panel from Auckland City Mission, someone from the Salvation Army, someone from the New Zealand Housing Foundation. They’ve come back and they’ve said, ‘No, what we would like you to do is transfer a whole lot of housing stock or cash or land into our community-housing organisations, which are not-for-profit organisations&’

GUYON On that sort of level? 20%?

MR HEATLEY They’re suggesting moving very fast. If the ministers make a decision, we’re going to have to consider our tenants, not upsetting people’s lives. But the important thing I’d like to pick up on is this is not privatisation. This would mean a state house was transferred to a not-for-profit community-housing organisation who would have to retain the house. They couldn’t sell it, otherwise it would have to come back to us. And they would have to house the most vulnerable. They couldn’t just get, you know, anyone in that house.

As I said at the beginning, the members of SHAG who recommended this include reps from City Mission, Salvation Army etc. I think they have done an excellent job at analysing the problems with the current policy and proposing some changes which will provide better assistance to those most in need.

Tags: , ,

The Heatley Report

March 30th, 2010 at 2:40 pm by David Farrar

The Auditor-General has published her 20 page report into spending from Phil Heatley’s Ministerial Office.

We found that a total of $1,402 of Mr Heatley’s expenditure – $608 in Vote Ministerial Services and $794 in Vote Parliamentary Service – was outside the rules. In all cases, Mr Heatley thought that the expenditure was within the rules, but he did not understand the rules correctly. In the case of the expenditure in Vote Parliamentary Service, the Parliamentary Service was also administering a rule incorrectly for members of Parliament, and Mr Heatley is not the only member who will have been affected.

That is significant. There may be a few more reimbursements to come.

We found that Mr Heatley generally took care to account for his expenditure appropriately. His Senior Private Secretary took her responsibilities seriously in managing the ministerial office expenditure. On occasion, Mr Heatley’s ministerial office received a reminder from Ministerial Services to submit a late reconciliation of his expenses or invoices or receipts; these were standard reminders that are sent by Ministerial Services to many ministerial offices. The problematic expenditure that we discuss in this report was approved by the relevant officials and was never queried with Mr Heatley or his Senior Private Secretary. For some items of expenditure, it was not clear from the supporting documentation provided that it was outside the
rules, but it was for others.

As in the UK, there has been a culture of parliamentary officials not questioning claims.

We accept that the expenditure outside the rules was not deliberate on the part of Mr Heatley or his ministerial office, and that he had repaid a sum of money before we started our inquiry. He has also personally paid for expenses that are allowed under the rules.

And to be fair to MPs, many of them pay for stuff they could claim, but do not bother to.

Heatley has repaid $2,852, and the AG has ruled that only $1,402 was outside the rules. But

Notwithstanding deficiencies in rules or the systems for administering them, everyone spending public money – in this case Mr Heatley – has a personal responsibility to manage their expenditure appropriately with good judgement. In our view, even though Mr Heatley was sometimes operating under an incorrect understanding of the rules – for example, when his wife and family accompanied him on ministerial business – a more conservative approach that took greater account of how others might perceive his use of public money would have served him better.

I think that is a fair point.

They found five instances of spending outside the rules:

  1. $287 out of $929 spent travelling to Auckland And Queenstown accompanied by family
  2. $251 out of $2,677 spent travelling to Picton and Kaikoura
  3. $70 for wine out of $425 spent attending the National Party Conference
  4. $692 for a child’s travel between Wgtn and Queenstown
  5. $102 for a child’s train and ferry travel between Wellington and Kaikoura

This is a total of $1,402. Note a total of $2,852 has been repaid.

The OAG has clarified that a spouse’s meal and accommodation expenses should only be paid for, if they are attending official functions or meetings with the Minister, but not if they are just accompanying him. This soudns reasonable to me.

For the National Party conference, they ruled that accommodation and meal costs are legitimate expenses as that is part of the parliamentary role of an MP. There was no need to refund the meal. The wine explanation is:

He later wrote “food and beverage” on the eftpos receipt. This was his usual practice when it was not lunch or dinner – it was not necessarily a payment for food and beverage; merely his way of categorising food and beverage-related costs that were not technically lunch or dinner. His Senior Private Secretary assumed that the costs were for dinner and wrote “Minister and spouse – dinner” on the credit card reconciliation form. Mr Heatley certified this form as the card-holder. His Senior Private Secretary told us that there was no intention to misrepresent the situation on the reconciliation form – she had assumed that it was for dinner from what he had written and she did not check it with him. Mr Heatley told us that hedid not read the form carefully before he signed it and that it was a careless rather than dishonest act. …

From our review of Mr Heatley’s expenditure documentation, we can confirm his practice of categorising expenditure on his receipts as “food and beverage” when they were only for beverages such as coffee. However, in our view, Mr Heatley should have taken greater care in ensuring that the description of his expenditure was accurate.

The conclusion seems to be the description was inaccurate but not designed to be misleading.

As for the wine itself:

In our view, the two bottles of wine that Mr Heatley purchased for his table were more in the nature of entertainment costs incurred in the course of parliamentary business. We therefore concluded that the cost of the wine should not have been charged to Vote Ministerial Services. It would have been better to regard it as covered by the expense allowance.

Again I think this is a reasonable approach. This is partly what the expense allowance is for.

Notwithstanding deficiencies in rules or the systems for administering them, everyone spending public money – in this case, Mr Heatley – has a personal responsibility to manage their expenditure appropriately with good judgement. In our view, even though Mr Heatley was operating under an incorrect understanding of the rules when his wife and family accompanied him on ministerial business, a more conservative approach that took greater account of how others might perceive his use of public money would have served him better.

And that sentence is why it is unlikely, in my opinion, Phil will return to Cabinet immediately, or indeed probably this term.

UPDATE: I was wrong. Phil has been reappointed. While I am pleased for him personally, I actually think it is the wrong decision. The thing people hated about Labour was the revolving door nature of Ministerial stand downs.

Tags: , , ,

Blunt on Heatley

February 28th, 2010 at 7:35 pm by David Farrar

Tags: , ,

Editorials 26 February 2010

February 26th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

First the Herald on Heatley:

There is absolutely no question that Phil Heatley had to resign from his ministerial posts. The Prime Minister’s suggestion that the Whangarei MP was being too hard on himself was wide of the mark.

The Dom Post is not so harsh:

The shock at Parliament was palpable yesterday following Phil Heatley’s resignation as minister of housing and fisheries.

Not that a minister had resigned, but that a minister had given up his ministerial home, car and $243,700 salary over such a trifling matter as two bottles of wine. …

Only the stonehearted would not feel a measure of sympathy. There are few who could lay their hands on their hearts and honestly say they have not, at some point, titivated their expenses – which may explain why Labour, despite its blustering, passed up the opportunity to grill Mr Heatley during question time on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, Mr Heatley has done the right thing. …

Mr Heatley is not the first minister to confuse personal and public expenditure. He is just the first to be caught for a while.

He has belatedly shown himself to be an honourable member. Fellow politicians thinking “there but for a paper trail go I” would be wise to open the system to public scrutiny before another of their number falls victim to it.

And the Press says Heatley had to go:

Key discovered that the expenses claim for the wine listed the purchase as “dinner” and that the credit card receipt was notated as “food and beverage”. These were incorrect as there was no food involved.

This inconsistency might seem like a technicality or an inadvertent error, rather than a reason for resigning. But whenever ministers spend public money they must be scrupulous about how they account for it and Heatley had little choice but to tender his resignation.

The ODT focuses on the Euro:

Greece entered the EU in the early 1980s and joined the euro in 2000.

Riding on a wave of national pride and new-found prosperity, capped by the ambitious and hugely expensive 2004 Olympic Games, the Greek people and their government alike went on credit-based spending sprees – living beyond their means. …

For now, the euro-honeymoon for Greece is well and truly over – and other European leaders will be regarding with anxiety the potential for a domino effect in the similarly indebted and stalled economies of Portugal, Italy and Spain.

For observers on this side of the world, the lessons are clear: reduce budget deficits (New Zealand’s tends to run at a high 8-9% of GDP), close tax loopholes, and keep a lid on public sector spending now – or face the prospect of more radical action further down the track.

Labour and the unions should take note.

Tags: , , , , , ,

A snide aside

February 26th, 2010 at 7:30 am by David Farrar

Many people liked Jeanette Fitzsimons because she rarely did snide attacks on other MPs. The Greens boast about how they don’t do personal attacks. However Russel Norman can’t resist a small amount of putting the boot in:

An interesting aside to the Phil Heatley saga.

I have been calling on central govt to consider sewerage systems as important infrastructure and financially support communities like Whangarei to upgrade them. There were 45 raw sewerage discharges last year in Whangarei, many of them in the Harbour. Yuk.

Phil Heatley, the local member, dismissed my suggestion that central government should help Whangarei clean up its harbour with the comment that:

“Russel Norman’s got plenty of reasons to spend other people’s money” (Whangarei Leader 16-2-10).

It turns out that Phil too has plenty of reasons to spend other people’s money. But it seems we have different priorities.

People in glasshouses should not throw stones. Maybe someone should remind Russel about how two of his MPs were illegally both claiming an accommodation allowance for the same house – which happened to be owned by the Greens Super Fund.

Let alone how the whole system of having the Greens Super Fund own the Houses that taxpayers paid for, was designed to maximise their entitlements to the accommodation allowance.

Tags: , ,

All about Heatley

February 26th, 2010 at 6:28 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

It isn’t the amount of money that is at issue; it is that the declaration was inaccurate. Its inaccuracy raises questions of honesty and trust that should never have to be asked of a Cabinet minister.

Rather than immediately sacking him, the Prime Minister intended temporarily standing Heatley down from his portfolio responsibilities. This was a compromise position which made allowances for human fallibility on Heatley’s part, while at the same time calling in the Audit Office to run a fine tooth-comb through all the expenses he had claimed in the 15 months or so that he was a minister.

But John Key was seemingly gazumped by Heatley’s desire to resign altogether. That is the unusual feature of this resignation. Usually the minister is pleading with the Prime Minister to stay in the job.

Key urged Heatley to “sleep on it” before handing in his ministerial warrant. Significantly, that gesture did not extend to refusing to accept Heatley’s resignation. That is telling. It suggests although the Prime Minister is not ruling out Heatley’s return to the Cabinet, there is not much optimism that the Audit Office probe will not reveal further shortcomings with the ex-minister’s expenses.

Heatley’s route back to the Cabinet will require that everything is squeaky clean. It also presumes he wants his job back. Heatley’s statement about needing to spend a long time on National’s backbenches suggests he realises that is not going to happen.

I have commented at NBR along similiar lines;

For Heatley to return to Cabinet after resigning, he would need to have the Auditor-General provide an unqualified report with no finding of any fault at all. It is difficult to believe that the public sector watchdog will find that it is okay to describe a purchase of alcohol only, as a food or a meal.

Claire Trevett observes:

So it is that National finds the full truth of the maxim that “wine and women bring misery”.

Former minister Richard Worth resigned over rumours about women. Now Phil Heatley resigns over two bottles of wine. It was not a pretty sight. …

Small and Watkins in the Dom Post reveal:

But documents issued yesterday show Mr Heatley was warned on several occasions about providing all the paperwork needed.

In July and September, Mr Heatley was told by a Ministerial Services manager: “Due to the scrutiny that credit cards attract we would like to remind you that all records are open to review and should comply with the five expenditure principles … of the Ministerial Office handbook.”

While this was not about the two bottles of wine, it should have still served as a warning to the Minister and his staff, that one had to be very careful in this area.

Colin Espiner blogs:

I don’t think Heatley deliberately tried to mislead anyone, for the record. I think he genuinely didn’t understand the rules, or the political consequences of breaking them. But that’s still his responsibility, and proffering his resignation was the right course of action.

Key will be annoyed and embarrassed by this, but not overly concerned. Heatley was by all accounts a competent and hard-working minister, but there are others in National’s ranks who will do an equally competent job.

My money’s on Chris Tremain, the hard-working and capable Napier MP and chief whip to replace Heatley and take his housing portfolio. I’d leave fisheries with David Carter, since it’s a good fit with agriculture.

The issue of who will be the new Minister is an interesting one. It is possible no appointments will be for a while, but there are three possible courses of actions:

  1. No new Minister is appointed, and portfolios just reallocated. Carter is an obvious choice for fisheries. Housing is a tougher fit, as it is a quite time intensive portfolio.
  2. A Minister outside Cabinet is promoted to Cabinet (almost certainly Nathan Guy) and an MP is promoted to be a Minister outside Cabinet. If this happens, it is possible Guy could pick up Housing (so it is represented within Cabinet) and the new Minister picks up Internal Affairs.
  3. A backbench MP is promoted directly into Cabinet, possibly taking both of Heatley’s portfolios.

It is possible Key will use the vacancy to do a minor reallocation of portfolios also. The main interest however will be on which backbench MP gets made a Minister.

The consensus is it will be one of the two Hawke’s Bay MPs – Napier’s Chris Tremain and Tukituki’s Craig Foss. I think that is quite correct. They both hold one of the twp jobs which almost inevitably leads to becoming a Minister – Chief Government Whip and Chairman of the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee.

There isn’t anything much between the two MPs, and friends. And whichever one doesn’t make it this time, is pretty certain to be the next one through the time after. They are both judged to be “Minister ready”.

If iPredict does a stock on who it will be, I’d probably put a small bit of money on Foss, purely because Tremain’s role as Chief Whip is quite integral to the smooth running of the Government, and his promotion means you need a new Chief Whip, and if Jo Goodhew moves into that role then you need a new Junior Whip, and if they are a Select Committee Chair, a new Select Committee Chair.

A promotion for Foss is less disruptive. The Deputy Chair of the F&E Select Committee is Amy Adams, and she would be more than capable of steping up to be Chair, with Pesata Sam Lotu-Iiga a likely replacement Deputy Chair.

As I said though, it could easily be either one of them.

Tags: , ,

A resignation, not a sacking

February 25th, 2010 at 3:09 pm by David Farrar

I’m amazed. It seems that Phil Heatley’s resignation is a genuine resignation, not a sacking. This is incredibly rare, and I cynically assumed this was the case.

Let me explain what is normally the case. 95% of Ministerial departures are “officially” resignations, but are de facto sackings. Richard Worth in an official sense merely resigned, but in an unofficial sense he was sacked.

A resignation is almost always at the request of the PM. Maybe not directly, but because the Chief of Staff or PM has advised the Minister their situation is probably untenable.

Alastair Campbell in the UK was often the person who negotiated resignations on behalf of the PM.

But in this case, it does appear to be the very rare beast, that a Minister voluntarily went, while the PM was still willing to keep him on. The Herald reports:

Prime Minister John Key says he hasn’t lost confidence in resigning Housing Minister Phil Heatley and wouldn’t have asked him to quit had he not insisted on resigning.

Mr Heatley resigned from his housing and fisheries portfolios this morning over an error in his expense accounts.

Mr Key says he has accepted Mr Heatley’s resignation “with regret”.

“I wouldn’t have asked him to resign. It would have been my preferred pathway that he chose to stand down [during the Auditor-General’s investigation] because I think that’s important, but I wouldn’t have asked for his resignation. It was the minister himself who offered his resignation and I have respectfully had to accept that.”

This also means that Heatley’s exile may not be as permament as I assumed. However Phil himself said that he is not expecting a quick return.

Mr Key did not rule out bringing Mr Heatley back into Cabinet and returning his ministerial portfolios in the future. But he said he would wait for the Auditor-General’s report.

The sad reality for Phil is that unlike the previous Government, there is a fairly talented backbench who are eagerly waiting for their chance to have Ministerial responsibilities.

Last night Mr Heatley told Mr Key that he wanted to resign and hand over his accounts to the scrutiny of the Auditor-General, but Mr Key told him he would prefer that he stand down during the Auditor-General process.

He told Mr Heatley to sleep on it, and he would accept whatever decision he came to in the morning.

Mr Heatley called to offer his resignation this morning, and it was accepted.

While Phil’s actions with the expenses were wrong and not acceptable, his decision to resign, rather than wait for the Auditor-General’s report, does him credit.

Other Ministers will be somewhat nervous, as this effectively lowers the barrier to what one should resign over. I suspect more than two Ministerial credit cards are heading towards the scissors.

Tags: , ,

Heatley stood down

February 25th, 2010 at 11:02 am by David Farrar

No details yet.

UPDATE: Heatley has resigned as a Minister and is now a backbencher. Staying on as MP for Whangarei.

The catalyst was further checking of his expenses and it seems the fatal act was that a $70 expense for food and beverages did not include any food, so it was an inaccurate claim.

According to Radio NZ, Heatley has asked the Auditor-General to investigate his expenses, which is a good move.

It has been made pretty clear that unlike Helen Clark who would recycle Ministers back into Cabinet within 12 months, despite sacking them for very serious stuff such as lying directly to the media, or drink driving, that Heatley does not face a return to the Key Cabinet in the short or even medium term.

It is a bit of a tragedy for Phil Heatley. He is one of the nicest guys around, and has been a superb MP for Whangarei. In 1999 he had a very small majority and has turned it into a massively safe seat for him.

His first couple of term were focused on securing the seat, but then as he turned more to portfolio stuff, he suprised a few people by performing very well, despite his friendly nature. He did good work in Opposition, and as a Minister had done very well as Housing Minister, especially as it was such a nightmare portfolio in the 1990s for National.

A parliamentary career is a harsh one. There are many perks, but mistakes can be fatal, and the lack of judgement shown on expenses has proven fatal.

I expect this will lead to Nathan Guy being moved in Cabinet, and possibly a new Minister outside Cabinet – with Craig Foss being the most likely if they decide to keep the Executive the same size.

Not sure yet who is Acting Minister of Housing and Fisheries, let alone who may get the portfolios permanently.

Tags:

Ministerial credit cards

February 23rd, 2010 at 5:35 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

At least one Government minister has been forced to pay back expenses wrongly billed to his taxpayer-funded credit card and others are scrambling to check their spending.

Housing Minister Phil Heatley will repay Ministerial Services today for the $70 cost of two bottles of wine that he bought for National Party members at AMI Stadium in Christchurch last year and billed to his ministerial credit card.

An embarrassed Mr Heatley admitted, after checking with officials following questions raised by The Dominion Post, that he should never have paid for the wine with his ministerial card.

It suggests officials have been rubberstamping ministerial expenses.

The wine purchase was one of hundreds of transactions by ministers revealed by the release of credit card details in response to an Official Information Act request.

Mr Heatley has also run foul of the rules for running up expenses on his card and later reimbursing Ministerial Services – a practice he acknowledged was against the rules, though he was not aware of that till yesterday.

This is basically unacceptable, no ifs, no buts.

The rules about credit card use are set out in the Ministerial Services handbook. Now yes it is a huge document, but one new Ministers should read upon taking office – and as importantly, one their senior office staff should be aware of.

A Ministerial credit card should be used very sparingly in New Zealand. It is generally on overseas trips that they are needed.

It is a concern that Ministerial Services did not query some of the purchases at time of processing. We’ve seen in the UK what can happen when there is no push back from the authorities on expenses.

I suspect it may have already happened, but the PM needs to remind all Ministers of the need to be like Caesar’s wife when it comes to credit cards and expenses. Otherwise they may share the fate of Pompeia!

Tags: , ,

The worst behaved in Parliament list

December 23rd, 2009 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

United Future leader Peter Dunne has given up on his annual list of worst-behaved MPs, saying Speaker Lockwood Smith’s reign has ushered in a new era of dignity and propriety.

To be fair, I think the absence of Winston helps also. But the House has been a far less toxic place this year.

Mr Dunne did honour Labour’s Trevor Mallard with a lifetime achievement award in bad behaviour “for services to melodrama, fisticuffs, and generally aberrant behaviour”.

When Lockwood orders him to apologise, you can actually see the supressed rage in his eyes!!

The Herald does find a few insults though:

Labour’s Moana Mackey apologised for referring to Hekia Parata as “Lady Parata” and “her royal highness”. National’s Paul Quinn was pulled up for calling Labour’s backbench “monkeys”.

I’d rather be called Lady Parata than a monkey I have to say – well if I was a female Parata that is!

Some apologies:

SHANE JONES
For saying of Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee, “the notion of him and energy is a mathematical impossibility”.

PHIL HEATLEY
For claiming another “fiddled the books” in ACC and Housing; for wishing the Speaker would use a 90-day eviction order on Trevor Mallard.

Heh.

RODNEY HIDE
For North Shore Mayor Andrew Williams’ “madness”, for calling Trevor Mallard “the angry one”.

Isn’t truth a defence?

JOHN KEY
For claiming Green MP Metiria Turei thought Phil Goff was “racist”. She had said his speech was “the worst kind of politics”.

So worse than racism?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Great viewing

June 29th, 2009 at 5:48 am by David Farrar

As people will know Labour has attacked National’s decision to let state house tenants buy the homes they live in. Well some clever sod at National found a report from 19986 when the then Labour Minister of Housing proudly announced exactly the same policy, and raved on about how wonderful it will be.

Who was the Minister of Housing then? Our own Phil Goff. So enjoy the video of Phil Heatley having fun with Goff in the House.

It does reinforce the point I made last week about Goff being an enigma. I’d like to know what he really thinks about allowing state house tenants to buy their own homes. Does he really think what he announced in 1986 was a mistake?

Tags: , ,

Home ownership for state house tenants

June 24th, 2009 at 2:23 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

State house tenants will be able to buy their homes from September.

And all low-income first-home buyers could be in for a boost as the Government considers increasing the cap on Welcome Home mortgage guarantees by up to $70,000.

Housing Minister Phil Heatley said the state house sales scheme would be available to most tenants, with Housing New Zealand instructed to use the proceeds to build new homes where they were needed.

Allowing and encouraging state house tenants to own their homes is a great idea. From dependency to ownership.

Tags: ,

Jobs

April 20th, 2009 at 4:23 pm by David Farrar

Some of the jobs initiatives are starting to work, while others are not eventuating. Phil Goff highlights that he banks are not proceeding with their co-funding of credit in partnership with the Government.And the cycleway has been watered down significantly.

However Paula Bennett has announced that two more firms have joined F&P in the nine day fortnight scheme. You can only be in it for six months, so I am surprised even three firms have already gone into it, as I suspect the worst times are still ahead. I would probably want to go in, if needed, around September 09 and out in March 10 when hopefully the recovery is starting.

One of the new firms going is is Summit Wool Spinners, Oamaru’s second largest employer.

Also better news from Phil Heatley who has 935 people working on upgrading state houses.  Housing NZ is building 86 new homes (on top of the 475 scheduled for this year) and is upgrading 18,000 state houses by July 2010.

Tags: , , ,

The Electorate Battles

November 12th, 2008 at 8:58 am by David Farrar

Over today (and maybe beyond) I’m going to review the 70 electorate battles. Helping me in this will be the nice graphics above done by the NZ Herald.

Northland

On the party vote National was up around 6% and Labour down 5%. The majority for Carter of around 9,500 is unchanged despite Shane Jones being the candidate. A party vote of over 50% for National is quite exceptional for what is a relatively low income area. Of course some peopel going on the Te Tai Tokerau roll makes the comparison not so simple.

Whangarei

NZ First once almost won this seat, but Heatley has made it his own. The party vote for National hit 50% in a first – up 7% and Labour dropped 8%. Heatley’s 9,000 majority has expanded to 13,600 making it one of the safest in the country now.

Rodney

Not too many small handed voters here as Lockwood’s majority climbs from under 10,000 to 14,400. The party vote National goes from 52% to 59% and Labour falls from 28% to 21%.

Helensville

John lifted this party vote from 55% to 65%, and Labour fell from 28% to 18%. And his personal majority went from 12,500 to a stunning 18,500 – the largest in the country I think.

Overall the four seats north of Auckland averaged 56% party vote for National, making it one of the strongest regions in the country for them, if not the strongest.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

National’s Housing Policy

July 23rd, 2008 at 11:30 am by David Farrar

It should be of no surprise to anyone that National is not planning to go back to market rents for state house tenants. It was arguably the most unpopular (yet most misunderstood) of National’s policies in the 1990s. National did not plan to change back in either 2002 or 2005.

Phil Heatley has outlined some aspects of National’s policy.

Housing spokesman Phil Heatley told a Housing Institute seminar in Waitakere yesterday that National would give back to Housing New Zealand tenants the right to buy their houses.

They had this right until the Labour Party won the 1999 election.

Labour call this privatisation but I think allowing state tenants to buy the homes they may have lived in for decades is a great thing.

“If they purchase their state home, we will replace that home within the housing stock so as to lift someone else off the waiting list,” he said.

“We won’t be running down the state housing stock. We acknowledge that we need it.”

If one has income related rents for state houses, then there will be great demand for them and hence stock does need to be maintained or increased. I personally prefer housing assistance being delivered to low income households regardless of who their landlord is – but that is now what the public will accept, so one has to make the current system work.

Labour’s Housing Minister, Maryan Street, told the seminar that 9 per cent of Housing NZ tenants already paid market rents because of their high incomes.

So no social benefit is being generated by those tenants being in Housing NZ houses. In theory they should be evicted to make room for a lower income family. But that is politically unviable. But National’s policy of allowing them to buy the state house will allow a new house to be purchased which can be targeted to low income families.

UPDATE: The Green’s Frog Blog say they support the policy as sensible and a good system for getting people into their own homes.

Tags: , ,