The Press on Labour

March 4th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Labour leader David Cunliffe perhaps scored one or two electoral points last week when he visited – in her damaged home – an 85-year-old widow who told him she had been “pushed from pillar to post” in her dealings with EQC. …

Unfortunately, it was no substitute for a cohesive and well-articulated earthquake recovery policy from Labour, which continues to look lacklustre when it comes to explaining how it would handle the rebuild.

Cunliffe followed up his photo opportunity with a pledge to set up, if elected to Government, a $2 million fund to help individuals bring test cases against EQC and insurance companies, to “clarify the law, remove blockages and help get things moving”.

There is an immediate perception problem with the amount, which seems almost insignificant given the scale of the problem.

While Cunliffe talks of millions, the Government in election year is bound to keep repeating its mantra that it is funding $15 billion of a $40b rebuild.

Cunliffe’s rhetoric almost invites critique. If elected to Government, it would be better for Labour to clarify the law itself, even if that involves seeking its own declaratory judgments from the courts, rather than relying on citizens bringing test cases.

Paying people to take EQC and insurance companies to court might also create blockages, rather than remove them, at least in the cases of those who become involved in litigation.

It seems to be one of their more stupid policies. We’ll pay people to take our own insurance company to court.

And, given the length of time such cases take to be heard and adjudicated, then potentially appealed, it is hard to imagine how this scheme will help to get things moving to any significant degree.

A great way to delay things. Will they fund cases all the way to the Supreme Court?

It would be inviting them, in some cases, to sue EQC, a government department. What Cunliffe is saying, essentially, is that “if elected to govern, we will give you some money so that you can take our own officials to court, so that they can have a better idea of how they should be handling your case file”.

This is not what electors are looking for in a credible opposition party campaigning in election year.

It sounds like a policy a 22 year old staffer dreamt up the day before the visit. The key word in the editorial is credible. The policy is not credible, and neither is the party promoting it.

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A fail for the press editorial

February 27th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press says:

Cynics would say that the latest rise was an easy move for the Government to make. When the minimum wage rises by 50c, the Inland Revenue Department gets nearly 9c extra for every hour worked by a minimum- wage earner as the income tax liability increases. For workers with children, the Government’s Working for Families liability will decrease at the same time. All of this money will be funded by employers directly, and indirectly by the consumers who use the goods and services that those employers provide.

A number of people make this mistake. Putting up the minimum wage decreases the tax take for the Government. They have ignored the fact companies pay tax, and at a higher rate than individuals on the minimum wage.

A full time minimum wage of $13.75 an hour is $28,679 a year. Going to $14.25 an hour is $29,721. An increase of $1,042.

Tax on the former is $4,039 and the latter is $4,221. So an increase in tax of $189.

However the employer pays tax at 28%. Their profit will drop by $1,042 and hence the tax they pay drops by $292. That means a net reduction in tax to the Government of $103.

So a rather big fail for The Press editorial.

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Editorials on “gentlemen’s agreement”

February 26th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull is defending the agreement under which former Dunedin North MP Pete Hodgson was paid by Cull’s council to lobby the Government to retain the core functions of AgResearch at Invermay. Hodgson was paid $3400 for duties which included advocating on the council’s behalf, contributing to a letter to Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce and writing a 10-page report for the board of AgResearch.

The council says that Cull was its main point of contact with Hodgson, but it could not locate a single email, contract or any other document relating to the agreement. Cull said: “I could describe it as a gentleman’s way of doing business in the south.” …

In matters involving public money, it is absolutely essential that the principles of transparency and accountability are upheld. There are sometimes good commercial reasons for withholding some information, but they don’t apply here. Cull has done Dunedin ratepayers a disservice with this handshake deal and his cavalier attempt to explain it.

Also an editorial in the Southland Times:

Could you smell the port and stale cigar smoke on Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull’s breath as he defended the “gentleman’s agreement” under which his council paid former MP Pete Hodgson for lobbying?

Mr Hodgson was paid $3400 for his work helping the council advocate that Invermay retain its core Ag Research functions. He was plausibly the best person for the job. But it was done on a handshake with nary a contract – and all that tedious accountability that goes with it – in sight. …

Mr Hodgson says the fact that nothing was written up “would probably reflect their trust in me”.

As far as the public is concerned, what this should reflect is the untrustworthiness of all involved.

A council, a mayor and a former minister of the Crown should collectively and individually know full well that this was dodgy and then some.

The Taxpayers’ Union, while acknowledging that it isn’t an eye-watering amount, detects that the council isn’t applying the most basic internal controls.

It is the principle, not the amount. But when it involves public money with one politician awarding it to another politician, you need to be absolutely transparent.

The good news is that while there was no contract, there was at least an invoice. The Taxpayers Union is pleased with this, but asking the question who then authorised the payment. The Mayor keeps insisting it had nothing much to do with him, while the Council says he was the primary point of contact. So who signed it off?

The ODT reports:

Chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose said yesterday invoices should have been included in the OIA response, but the staff member writing the response ”was simply answering the question ‘was there a contract?’ and the answer seems to have been no”.

It was also a ”mistake” not to write a contract for Mr Hodgson’s services, she said.

”It appears that there have been more than one of these mistakes and it appears that there is a small number of managers who were not aware [of council policy].”

The council did not use ”gentlemen’s agreements” and had reiterated to staff all employment transactions, no matter how small, should be covered by contracts.

Good to see.

As readers will know, I helped found the Taxpayers’ Union. On a modest budget and limited resources we’ve already made a lot of impact with both local and central government in attacking wasteful or sloppy spending, including the $19 million spent by ACC which by their own accounting was at best returning 14 cents in the dollar.  You can join the union for just $5, subscribe to newsletters for free, and/or donate to help keep us going. The board members are all volunteers. As we head into election year expect more of a focus not just on wasteful spending, but making the case for taxes to be reduced as the crown accounts head back into surplus.

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The Press on education reforms

January 25th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Prime Minister John Key, in his first big speech of the year, yesterday chose to focus on a subject that has traditionally been a political minefield and one on which the Government has come a cropper in the past. In choosing to unveil some radical new measures, and substantial new spending, with the aim of raising standards and bringing about what he called “a step change in achievement” in schools, Key also went into territory that Labour has regarded itself as having an ascendancy.

But first reaction from teachers, professional bodies and the teacher unions welcoming the proposals – something that must be unique for a National Party policy – indicates that they will likely be accepted and may be smoothly put into practice. They appear to be a serious-minded attempt to to bring about better performance from teachers and schools, one of the most important issues for the performance of the economy and the long-term good of society generally.

Few things could make a bigger difference to inequality than improving the performance of the tail of those in the education system. No amount of law passing or minimum wage hikes is going to make life particularly good for a kid who leaves school unable to read or write.

It is now widely recognised that school achievement is more strongly related to good teaching than to almost any other factor, including, within certain limits, class sizes. Recent studies have also been able to measure the effect of good teaching on the outcomes for pupils’ lives. A good teacher, the studies have shown, makes a measurable impact on pupils’ incomes (according to one American study up to $250,000 over a lifetime) and also produces better, happier citizens.

Recognising this, the changes announced yesterday aim to improve teaching with significant financial incentives and opportunities for the best principals to supervise more schools and improve their results, and for the best teachers to stay longer in the classroom, rather than move on to management, and to pass their skills to their colleagues. Collaboration across schools so the best practices get spread more widely will be encouraged.

One of the reforms will provide for up to 20 so-called “change principals” to earn an additional $50,000 a year for up to five years running schools that are struggling. This idea of trying to attract the best people to such schools to try to turn them around is obviously far better than allowing them to hobble along producing poor results and sometimes eventually falling over and having to be rescued anyway.

Our tolerance for poor results should be low.

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The Press on Mayoral accessibility

January 18th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

With the announcement this week of the appointment of a press secretary for Mayor Lianne Dalziel, along with a number of other appointments, the make-up of the mayor’s office is now complete. The mayor had earlier announced the appointment of a chief of staff to run the office. The mayor will have nine people working directly for her, more than twice the four that the former mayor, Bob Parker, had.

It would be interesting to compare the size of the various Mayoral offices to the sizes of their Councils.

In addition to a chief of staff and a press secretary, the mayor now has a senior adviser, a community adviser, a visits and ceremonials co-ordinator, two information officers and two executive assistants (one of them shared with the chief of staff). It must be hoped this staff will be committed to ensuring robust performance from the mayor’s office. It must also be hoped they will be committed to the greatest possible transparency and openness about the mayor’s work.

The mayor’s community adviser is Nicola Shirlaw, who was Dalziel’s campaign manager for the council election. That political connection is of no great significance by itself but the mayor must take care not to allow her office to become highly politicised or excessively inward-looking.

Of course it will be politicised. The job of the Mayor’s office is to get the Mayor re-elected. There’s nothing wrong with that per se. A Mayor who is doing a good job is more likely to be re-elected, so part of what the Mayoral office does is help the Mayor perform well. But they also of course promote the Mayor and try and get favourable coverage.

The office must also not become a barrier between the mayor and the media and public. Parker was commendably available to the media – replying with remarkable diligence and promptness to emails, texts and phone calls, even at the height of his political travails when there was little benefit to him from doing so. Dalziel is proving to be less accessible.

I didn’t know that about Parker. Good on him.

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The Press on oil exploration

January 9th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

It is a long way from the exploration of a promising-looking gasfield and the development of a productive operation, and the outcome is far from certain. But the news that a well-resourced international consortium has committed $200 million to explore the Great South Basin, off the southeast coast of the South Island, is very welcome. Oil and gas production from wells in the Taranaki basin are already our fourth biggest export and generate hundreds of millions in revenue for the Government. The industry has made Taranaki one of the most prosperous regions in the country and created more than 3000 jobs. Finding another such productive area has long been sought. The areas with the greatest potential at present are in the Great South Basin and off East Cape. A successful result in either would be an enormous boost to our prosperity.

Yet one a Labour/Green Government would be against.

The search did not begin again in earnest until three years ago, when Dutch energy giant Shell along with the Austrian company OMV began to explore. Those two companies, along with the Japanese industrial conglomerate Mitsui, believe the seismic results are good enough to warrant the $200m commitment. Good enough means they believe there is 30 per cent chance of a commercial discovery.

30% is pretty high.

Green groups have predictably objected. Last year a meeting in Dunedin at which Shell was to talk about its plans with business owners was abandoned because of interruptions from anti-oil drilling protesters. Their objections are deeply misguided.

I would have thought Green groups would welcome NZ producing more of its own energy, rather than importing it from other countries.

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The Press on whaling

January 8th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

The annual antics of the anti-whaling activists Sea Shepherd in the Southern Ocean are under way again.

The routine seems the same every year and is familiar. Japanese whaling ships arrive in the Southern Ocean to begin hunting whales. The pretext for the hunting is that it is for “scientific research” although that is almost universally disputed.

Most impartial observers believe the real reason for the hunting is to keep what remains of the Japanese whaling industry going.

Each year Sea Shepherd vessels track the whalers and aggressively attempt to disrupt the hunting.

Sea Shepherd and the whalers feed off each other. There is almost no commercial market for the whales anymore in Japan. The whalers carry on, because they don’t want to be seen to be buckling to pressure. I suspect if one ignored them, they’d stop within a decade.

This year the Green Party has taken up Sea Shepherd’s cry and called on the Government to send a naval vessel to the area to demonstrate New Zealand’s disapproval of the Japanese behaviour.

It may strike some as strange to hear the Greens promoting a show of military force but in any case the idea is foolish.

Even if the Japanese were breaching some law, New Zealand has no jurisdiction in the area and could do nothing about it.

Normally the Greens insist that military have no role in international disputes, but when it comes to whaling they want to send in a frigate!

Governments, both Labour and National, have said repeatedly that they do not accept Japan’s cover story used to justify its whaling and have called for the Japanese to end the practice.

That is the line taken consistently in international forums such as the International Whaling Commission for many years.

Last year, the present National Government went further and joined an action brought by the Australian Government in the International Court of Justice to have Japan’s whaling declared illegal. New Zealand’s case was strongly argued by Attorney-General Chris Finlayson.

The court’s decision is expected about within two or three months.

That will be eagerly awaited. Hopefully NZ and Australia win.

As Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said yesterday the whaling is being carried out “substantially for the purposes of pride and we’ve got to try and negotiate a way to get past what is a pointless activity . . .”

New Zealand is fully involved in that diplomatic activity.

Sea Shepherd’s Southern Ocean publicity stunt does nothing useful to advance it.

I think Sea Shepherd know that the practice would probably stop, if they were not there highlighting it. But then they would have no reason to exist. They and the whalers have a symbiotic relationship with each other – both needs the other to stay relevant.

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The Press on referendum

December 16th, 2013 at 7:35 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

There was never any chance the present Government was going to take any notice of the latest one.

In any case a botch-up by the organisers meant it was delayed so that by the time it was held, the programme it was meant to influence was almost over.

Incredible they had such a high proportion of duplicate signatures.

The latest referendum was not strictly a citizens’ initiated one.

Unlike earlier referendums – on the number of MPs there should be in Parliament, on the proper punishment for violent offending, and on smacking of children – it was not led by any great popular groundswell.

Instead, it was largely promoted by the Green Party.

It spent a significant sum organising the petition for it.

Not sure the Greens spent any of their own money on it. They used their taxpayer funded parliamentary budget. The main purpose of doing so was to collect e-mail addresses from the petition.

To the loaded, if muddled question, a clear majority of voters signalled their opposition to asset sales, although not in such large numbers as some had expected.

In all the previous referendums, the vote for the position supported by those promoting the issue has been won by majorities of at least four to one, and in one case (in the poll on violent offending) by nine to one.

In the latest poll the margin was two to one.

Considering the concerted campaign run by those supporting the no-vote, who would have been expecting better, it was not a striking result.

It was a confusing question. Some of those who voted no might want more than 49% of assets sold. Some might want four of the five companies sold, but not all five. And yes the margin was way less than most expected.

Referendums are a crude instrument for influencing public policy. They require simple yes-no answers.

Most political questions are more complex than that and involve trade-offs.

It is for that reason that few countries bother with them. The latest one was a prime example.

The issue it dealt with was decided with the result of the last general election. Whether voters are still happy about that will be properly judged at the next one.

Labour declared the last election was a referendum on asset sales. They were right.

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Disagreeing editorials

December 13th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post says the MFAT leaks were justified:

That is why the leakers could argue they had a wider duty than their narrow duty of loyalty to the Government. Of course bureaucrats should not and must not leak willy-nilly. A broadly impartial public service should be able to be trusted with certain kinds of information. Leakers know they run a risk if caught. They must be quite certain that the public benefit of the leak outweighs the duty of confidentiality. And they must be prepared to face the music if caught.

In this case there was a wider public duty and therefore the leak was justified. No government has the right to demand silence from the victims of a misbegotten purge. No government should expect the “debate” to be confined to the victims and their executioners. No government should seriously expect this sort of thing not to leak.

I note the Dom Post was the recipient of many of the leaks.

The Press has a different view:

The proposed restructuring, which had been ordered by the new head of MFAT to better align the ministry with New Zealand’s evolving trade promotion and diplomacy needs from Europe to Asia, aroused enormous opposition within the ministry. MFAT people had, of course, every right to oppose the changes. But, as Rennie observes, at that stage the correct and professional way to do that was through the proper process, which had then barely begun. In this case, the public servants concerned were not blowing the whistle on any impropriety but were seeking rather to shortcut and sabotage a proper process.

This is key. The Tier 3 managers resorted to sabotage before the process had barely begun.

The motive, at least so far as the leaker of the Cabinet papers is concerned, was ultimately to discomfit the Government. That person could not be identified with certainty but there was a strong suspicion it was a former member of the Labour Party research unit. Other MFAT individuals may have been trying to protect themselves and their own positions in MFAT.

The point about leaking and whistleblowing is that they are justified as serving the public interest by the need to protect the integrity of an institution or a system. In this case, the leakers undermined the system by taking on what amounted to a party-political role. They also undermined the honourable cause of whistleblowing.

I agree with The Press.

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Christchurch planners v developers

November 11th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Friction between property developers and local body planners is to be expected.

Developers want to be able to get on with their separate projects, doing what they need with the minimum of bureaucratic oversight.

Planners are concerned not just with the outcome of any individual project but also with its impact on the bigger picture of what is going on in the city.

Planners also want to see that rules, which have been adopted through appropriate processes for good reasons, are properly applied.

The two groups’ aims are not necessarily in conflict – developers want to get stuff done, planners (ideally) want to let it be done (provided the rules are followed). 

The statement that planners want to let things be done is highly contestable!

After the debacle earlier this year of the Christchurch City Council building consents process, which led to the council losing its status as an accredited consenting authority, it is alarming to hear home builders complaining that red tape and “design palaver” in the council planning process are holding up the construction of apartments and units.

The council has rejected the complaints, saying any delays come from developers failing to come to grips with new, tougher design rules.

But when a developer of the prominence of Mike Greer – owner of the region’s biggest house building company and who presumably runs a sophisticated operation capable of understanding any regulatory requirements – says the council’s bureaucracy is making it nearly impossible to build affordable housing, the complaint must be taken seriously.

As Christchurch has a serious housing shortage, you would think they would be doing what they can to make it easy to build more housing.

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The Press on Cunliffe

October 29th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

But the poll has brought home the harsh reality that it was always going to take more than just the replacement of the maladroit, tongue-tied Shearer with the clever, experienced, articulate Cunliffe to improve Labour’s fortunes. And for all his touted virtues and supposed preparedness for the role, Cunliffe, in his first few weeks in the leadership, has been less than assured.

He has not got the better of Key in the House. A publicity stunt designed to highlight difficulties young people have buying an affordable house in Auckland backfired when the chosen example was a 23-year-old complaining about not being able to afford a pricey house in one of the more salubrious suburbs that he was not sure he was going to live in anyway.

Yeah I loved how Labour campaigned for the right of 23 year old property investors to buy a half million dollar home with a less than 10% deposit.

In a speech to trade unionists, Cunliffe was heard breathing fire as he told them what they wanted to hear on industrial policy, which he shortly afterwards cooled down considerably for more general consumption. Skirmishing with the Government over the SkyCity convention centre deal, he has been studiously evasive over what Labour would do.

Say one thing to one audience, and another elsewhere and hope no one notices.

None of this may be particularly significant but it points up a shallow opportunism and an unsettling lack of substance in what Cunliffe has so far offered.

National’s continuing high ratings in the opinion polls are almost certainly attributable to satisfaction with the Government’s handling of the economy, the core issue in any general election. On that score, the Government has done well, with growth, inflation, unemployment and the country’s finances looking good, certainly by international standards, and likely to remain so. Cunliffe has not yet presented any reason for voters to believe a Labour-led government would do any better.

As far as I can tell Labour’s economic policies are for more tax, more spending, more debt and more inflation.

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The Press on English

September 6th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

But perhaps it should not have been because widespread respect for English, following his steady, careful performance as minister of finance through the worst financial crisis of the past 80 years, has been growing. A complimentary remark by a respected American economist on English’s performance at a conference in Sydney recently, was not untypical and it prompted a highly regarded New Zealand economist, Matt Nolan, to comment: “This is not the first time I’ve heard people overseas sing Bill English’s praises [it is probably in double-digits now] . . . we have a finance minister who understands the issues and tries to communicate them clearly.”

English came to office with an economy that had already been in recession for almost a year, when the global financial crisis hit. He had a measure of luck – there was no housing bust and although there were nervous moments, the New Zealand banking system did not buckle. But English responded to the crisis pragmatically and skilfully, avoiding severe retrenchment but focusing determinedly on reducing government debt and balancing the budget. Contrary to opposition propaganda, the government did not bring with it any dogma or hidden agenda.

A shock could, of course, upset things. The balance of payments deficit and overseas debt continue to be relatively high and to cause concern. But English’s overarching goal of getting the Government’s books in order, which looked hopelessly remote five years ago, now seems achievable, if only by a whisker, next year.

No surprise that I agree. Bill English has had the most challenging circumstances of any Finance Minister, and done very well. On top of that he is pushing a micro-reform agenda across Government that is making a difference.

While David Shearer was ultimately brought down as leader of the Labour Party by his woeful public communication, the role of weak, ill-thought-out policy in his downfall has probably been underestimated.

It is a factor the three contenders for the Labour leadership – Grant Robertson, David Cunliffe and Shane Jones – do not seem to have cottoned on to. In the beauty-contest meetings held so far, they appear mostly to have been diverted by essentially trivial issues such as the so-called “man-ban” or by seeing how far they can go in outbidding each other in implausible left-wingery.

The Labour leadership contenders have, in some areas, moved to the left of the Greens. That takes some doing!

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The Press on CIRs

September 5th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

When the act allowing for citizens initiated referendums to be held was passed in 1993, it provided that they could only be started after a petition to Parliament signed by 10 per cent of registered electors within 12 months.

The provision was designed to be, and has been, an effective deterrent to single-issue cranks getting their pet obsession on to a ballot paper. It means that anything that does make it to a referendum has some public support already.

It has not, however, prevented the four referendums held so far from being a waste of time and money. All four have produced the answer their proponents wanted and all four have, quite properly, been ignored by the governments of the time, both Labour and National-led.

People should keep asking those who claim a CIR should trump an election, when they will vote to amend the anti-smacking law in line with the 87% vote in that referendum.

The referendum is even more pointless than usual. Not only will it have no influence on the Government’s stance on the issue, it is also on a matter on which the Government undoubtedly gained a mandate at the last election – the fate of state assets was one of the foremost issues of the election campaign. The partial sale of state assets is, furthermore, an issue for which the Government will be answerable at the general election just over a year from now.

That is how it should be. You put up a policy at an election. You keep your word and implement it. You get judged on your record at the next election.

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The Press gives Tim Carter top marks

July 29th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Press reports:

A first-term councillor has emerged as the top performer in The Press pre-election assessment of Christchurch City councillors.

Cr Tim Carter has been awarded an A- grade for his tenacity in questioning the council’s business-as-usual approach and for pushing for greater transparency and accountability.

Despite only being elected to the council in 2010 Carter has made a big impact, but he looks set to depart local body politics in October as he has indicated he is unlikely to seek re-election for personal reasons.
 
The three next highest performing councillors, as ranked by The Press after hundreds of hours of observation, were councillors Sue Wells, Claudia Reid and Peter Beck, all of whom earned a B+.

The article has a useful feature where you can see how various Councillors have voted on different issues. Would love the Dom Post to do that for the WCC.

Their overall ratings are:

  • Tim Carter A-
  • Peter Beck B+
  • Claudia Reid B+
  • Sue Wells B+
  • Ngaire Button B
  • Aaron Keown B
  • Jamie Gough B
  • Glenn Livingstone B
  • Yani Johanson B
  • Barry Corbett B-
  • Jimmy Chen C+
  • Sally Buck C
  • Helen Broughton C
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GCSB views

July 26th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Contrary to the assertions of opposition parties, the changes Prime Minister John Key has made to the Government Communications Security Bureau bill are not merely cosmetic.

Among other things, the changes will require the GCSB to make an annual report on the number of warrants and access authorisations it gets and pro-actively tell the inspector-general of intelligence, whose post has itself been beefed up, whenever it has acquired a warrant to spy on a New Zealand citizen or resident.

In addition, while rejecting the opposition call for an inquiry now into the GCSB, the bill will require a review of its operations, and those of the Security Intelligence Service, the domestic spy agency, a couple of years from now and thereafter every five to seven years.

The GCSB will also have to make an annual report on the number of times it has been called on to help the police, the SIS and other agencies use its specialised surveillance equipment.

If any expansion is required of the agencies that can call on the assistance of the GCSB, new legislation will be needed rather than, as had been proposed, merely executive action. The Prime Minister has also promised to make it clear that the collection of metadata – information about the time and location of a call rather than its content – will be treated as communication and require a search warrant.

All these changes make substantial modifications to the bill as it was first presented to Parliament. While they have not been enough to persuade opposition parties to support the bill, they are sufficient to satisfy Peter Dunne, formerly a strong critic of the bill, which means it will pass.

I agree that the changes are not inconsequential. I note that Labour seem unable to articulate what actual changes to the bill would make it acceptable to them. I think they just hope this will be finally be the silver bullet that gets them out of the poll doldrums. Bit sadly for them, people are more interested in policies on jobs, hospitals and schools than this.

Pete George points out the recent protest action against the bill was organised by Mana’s Martyn Bradbury and Greens’ Max Coyle. I think it is safe to conclude both fall into the camp of would never ever support something done by this Government. The meeting they organised was interesting though:

Labour MP David Cunliffe sat in the front row last night. His party leader, David Shearer, watched unnoticed from the rear of the hall with Labour’s finance spokesman, David Parker.

However the Herald disagrees with The Press and wants more changes. However they also say the changes are substantial:

The Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill will be an improved piece of legislation when it is amended by Parliament. The changes go much further than the “cosmetic” tag attached by the Greens. Two stand out. The first dictates that the country’s foreign intelligence agency will be the subject of an independent review in 2015 and an automatic review every five to seven years after that. A five-year review echoes the situation in Australia. It also goes quite some way towards satisfying the call by Labour and the Greens for an independent inquiry into the country’s security services, even if they wanted this to precede the passage of the legislation.

The second important alteration states that if a government wants to expand the domestic agencies which the GCSB will be able to help beyond the police, the Security Intelligence Service and the Defence Force, it will have to get the support of Parliament for another amendment bill, rather than Cabinet simply ticking it off via regulation. That negates the possibility of the likes of Customs, the Immigration Department or Inland Revenue using the GCSB’s sophisticated cybersecurity equipment without a considered debate on the ramifications. 

I think that last change was very important.

According to the Prime Minister, the bill represents “a balancing act between national security and doing our best to keep New Zealanders safe, and the privacy of New Zealanders”. Considerable reservations voiced earlier this month by the Privacy Commissioner, the Human Rights Commissioner and the Law Society confirmed the first draft fell far short of this objective. The changes in the bill as reported back yesterday and those achieved by Mr Dunne improve that situation somewhat. It is a real shame, however, that they do not go further. The public deserves stronger reassurance.

In another story the Herald notes a further change:

The activities that the GCSB undertake in assisting the police will be subject to review by the Independent Police Complaints Authority under changes to the GCSB bill, which was reported back to Parliament this afternoon by the Intelligence and Security Committee.

It is one of the few changes to the bill in the committee’s report that has not been previously announced.

A further useful addition.

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Gender quotas still go for Labour

July 10th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Vernon Small at Stuff reports:

David Shearer has pushed the Labour Party into dumping its controversial “man ban” proposal that could have preserved some electorates for women-only candidates, but a related move to ensure that by 2017 at least 50 per cent of its MPs are women is set to go ahead.

This is the policy that if used in the past, would have seen Labour gain no male List MPs in 1996, 1999 and 2002.  Michael Cullen would have failed to be elected as an  List MP, under this proposal. Daft.

But the party’s stance on the party list remit appears to have caused confusion among MPs with some saying the effective “quota” had also been dropped, while others said there was no change to the proposal.

A spokesman for Mr Shearer later confirmed it was unchanged at this stage.

It says a lot when Labour’s own MPs don’t even know what the situation is.

Mr Shearer announced the U-turn on the “man ban” rule ahead of the party’s weekly caucus of MPs that insiders said was at times acrimonious, with supporters of the move targeting list MP Shane Jones in particular over his comments.

That would be the gelding comment.

That, in turn, sparked a flurry of rumours late on Monday about a possible leadership spill, emanating from both the Left and the “blokes” wings of the party.

Labour has more factions than MPs!

The Press editorial comments:

To hoots of derision from almost every quarter, the Labour Party’s proposal to exclude men from consideration for selection as candidates in some electorates – the so-called “man ban” – has been ditched.

The wonder, of course, is not that it was ditched, but rather that an proposal so maladroit ever saw the light of day with a party endorsement in the first place, and, having done so, that it took some time before Labour leader David Shearer could find his voice and move to quash it.

They’ve known about this for eight months!

The whole fiasco surrounding the proposal was another indication of division and disarray within Labour. It somehow gained the endorsement of the party’s national council as an idea for discussion at the national conference without Shearer, who is a member of the council, being aware of it. Even if he was not present at the council meeting that discussed it, he should have been able to rely on the good sense of his colleagues to scupper an idea that was such an obvious non-starter.

Then, by some unexplained misfortune, the idea leaked into the public arena by way of a popular blog deeply unsympathetic to Labour. Then, rather than seize the initiative and rapidly scotch the proposal, Shearer ducked reporters’ questions, dodged television interviews and dithered until yesterday, when the matter was finally laid to rest.

It is hardly original to note that if this is the way the party conducts its own affairs, it will need to work a lot harder to present itself as a potential alternative government.

Could you imagine them having to respond to a disaster like the Christchurch earthquake? Would it take them five days to agree to comment on it?

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The Press on Shearer

July 1st, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Shearer’s concerns are the more immediate. An opinion poll last week delivering a dismal ranking for both the party and Shearer personally was devastating to Labour. With National halfway into a less than easy second term, Labour was hoping that by now it would be shaping up much better. Shearer is not helped by his backers saying that if the poll results were converted to seats the party would be doing a little better than it had at the last election, because, as the critics point out, that election was a catastrophe for Labour.

Inspired by the brutal rolling of Julia Gillard across the Tasman, and keenly aware that the procedure here for Labour to remove its leader is much more drawn out and cumbersome, some in the party are saying that Shearer must start to do better by spring or be replaced.

We know this because one or more Labour MPs has spoken to both the One News and 3 News political editors. In fact it looks like more than one MP according to Q+A:

JESSICA Some of the MPs that we’ve been talking to behind the scenes this week have said two months is-

DAVID Well, nobody’s spoken to me about it, and I can tell you, I’d like to know who the MP is.

Not a good look to have to ask a reporter who is briefing against you!

JESSICA Is it hard not having the support completely of your caucus?

DAVID Look, I have the support of my caucus. I mean, the fact that you’ve spoken to one anonymous person, and I haven’t heard of any-

JESSICA I’ve actually spoken to several people.

That should ring some alarm bells. However I think Shearer will remain safe, so long as the ABC faction thinks there is a chance Cunliffe could win a ballot in case of a vacancy.

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Who is The Press scaring off?

June 20th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press Deputy Editor writes:

Lianne Dalziel is good for Bob Parker, and vice versa. It seems an odd argument, but each needs the other to validate whatever comes of the Christchurch mayoral election.

The point was made eloquently by city councillor Peter Beck when he announced in March that he would soon retire, and expressed a wish that the coming contest should be a “two-horse race”.

“My hope is that there is one, and only one, seriously credible alternative [to Mayor Parker] so that the city has a clear choice,” Beck said then. “That is good for democracy. It is good for both candidates. Whoever is elected will then hopefully carry a real mandate of the people.”

With respect, Cr Beck said that because he didn’t want Parker winning against a split vote. Nothing to do with mandate.

Voters should not pay too much attention to the party politics in this election.

Good God. Just ignore the fact she has spent two years demanding the Minister resign.

Both Parker and Dalziel have considerable strengths. The real danger here is that a credible third candidate will declare and deny ratepayers the chance to make a proper decision between the two. It would not help the city if a mayor was elected at this important time who did not command a clear majority of votes cast.

Such a credible third candidate would be perfectly entitled to stand, but should carefully consider his or her motives for doing so before declaring.

This is the bizarre part. I’m not sure I can recall a NZ newspaper before imploring people not to stand for office, let alone almost threatening them that they will be seen as having bad motives if they do stand.

How incredibly arrogant to declare that Parker and Dalziel must be the only choices and that a credible third candidate is a “danger” who will hinder a “proper” decision. I’d suggest many people in Christchurch would love to have a credible third candidate as they are so thoroughly depressed by the prospects of either Parker or Dalziel.

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Editorials lash Norman

June 5th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

If Russel Norman’s purpose in likening John Key to former prime minister Sir Robert Muldoon was to demonstrate that the Green Party is now as eager to make personal attacks as other political parties, his speech to the Green Party’s annual conference in Christchurch should be judged a triumph.

And their problem is one you lose a brand attribute, it is very hard to get it back. If the Greens ever again proclaim they don’t do personal attacks, people will and should laugh.

If, on the other hand, the Australian-born and educated co-leader of the environmental party was attempting to convince voters he shares their experiences, it was an abysmal failure.

When Muldoon was Prime Minister, Norman was running around Australia promoting Marxism.

However, to suggest Mr Key’s personal style is akin to that of Sir Robert is to do nothing but betray ignorance.

The two could not be more different. Sir Robert was a micro-manager; Mr Key delegates. Sir Robert snarled; Mr Key smiles. Sir Robert banned journalists from press conferences, insulted foreign leaders and once punched a demonstrator outside a meeting. Mr Key occasionally gets a little tetchy.

“Divisive and corrosive” Sir Robert certainly was, although, ironically, his command and control approach to running the economy was probably closer to Green Party policy than anything seen since he was voted out of office in 1984.

That’s a good point. Many of the economic policies of the Greens are Muldoonist.

The curious thing about Dr Norman’s attack is that it is he who has resorted to the Muldoonist tactic of attacking the man and Mr Key who has responded by playing the issue.

The Press editorial is similar:

The strident personal attack by the co-leader of the Greens, Russel Norman, on Prime Minister John Key at the weekend may have gone down well with the 100 or so faithful he was addressing at a party conference in Christchurch.

But to most others, even those on the Left, it will have seemed strikingly ill-judged. It introduced an unpleasant personal note not heard since the days, oddly enough, of Robert Muldoon, the man whose name he invoked to make an invidious comparison with the present prime minister.

Both editorials have concluded that it was Norman, not Key, who was exhibiting Muldoon type qualities. That’s some political genius to achieve that.

Norman can perhaps be forgiven for not understanding the truly corrosive nature of many of Muldoon’s actions – the nasty personal attacks on political opponents, the shatteringly divisive Springbok tour, the disastrous economic policies, the final unwillingness to relinquish power after political defeat. Norman did not come to New Zealand until five years after Muldoon’s death and 23 years after he fell from power. But the memory of the toxic nature of much of what happened under Muldoon is still strong to those who lived through it, and to many who heard of it later. And they know perfectly well that nothing done by the present Government can remotely be compared.

So why did he do it? Desperation?

It suggests, too, that Norman is not entirely confident that he can make electoral headway on policies alone. The Greens in recent months have made a lot of the running on Opposition policy, particularly economic policy, so much so that a pollster asked a question suggesting that Norman was Bill English’s opposite number on finance rather than Labour’s finance spokesman, David Parker. Much of this (a radical loosening of monetary policy, a government-run electricity market) along with Labour’s own policies (government housing projects), has been seen by many analysts as taking the Opposition on a lurch to the Left.

The latest opinion polls, which showed little reaction to the policies, disappointed the Opposition. The answer to that disappointment should not, however, be a resort to personal attack. That really would be an undesirable step down the slippery track toward Muldoonism.

Imagine what he would be like if he got to be Finance Minister!

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Was the Parker rumour a dirty trick?

June 3rd, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

NewstalkZB reports:

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker says a report he is standing down at this year’s local body elections is a ‘complete fantasy’.

Today’s Sunday Star-Times suggests Mr Parker will exit the mayoral race.

So far, he is the only candidate to confirm he’s standing.

Bob Parker says while he enjoys a work of fiction, he believes in Christchurch and wants to be part of its future.

There are two questions here.

The first is whether the rumour just started as organic speculation, or was it a destabilising dirty trick?

The second is why the The Press ran the story? Parker denied it on the record to him. If a rumour is denied emphatically, how is it newsworthy?

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The Press on the next 1,000 days

May 31st, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Press has two nifty features on this story.

At the top of the page they have  a recovery meter showing the percentage completed for various recovery tasks such as home reparis, EQC claims and payouts, infrastructure rebuilds, demolitions and opening of the red zone.

Down the bottom they have a calendar of likely future events.

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Press says Parata listened

May 24th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

The proposal that the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, put forward yesterday for changes to five schools in the eastern suburbs is a compromise and will not please everyone.

It does, however, demonstrate that the minister has been prepared, as she promised, to listen to the submissions made to her from the community and to change her mind in some areas. The consultation process will continue – the schools still have 28 days to respond to this interim proposal before Parata will announce a final decision.

I’d say the Government has been very flexible and accommodating with its decisions around Christchurch schools. Around 25% of initial decisions have changed.

It is a pity that this level of consultation was not undertaken before rather than after the appallingly mishandled initial announcement for the reorganisation of Christchurch schools was made last year.

Yep. That poisoned the well. The primary fault lay with the Ministry, but the Minister is responsible and should not have just left it to the Ministry to do.

So far as the eastern suburbs were concerned, Parata originally proposed that five schools – Aranui School, Avondale School, Wainoni School, Chisnallwood Intermediate and Aranui High School – be combined at the Aranui High site to create one school that would take pupils from year 1 to year 13.

The idea was to take account of the fact that many of those schools had facilities and grounds that were damaged and had suffered sharp declines in enrolments that were expected to continue, probably for several years.

Parata’s new proposal is to combine four schools, leaving Chisnallwood Intermediate to continue to operate separately. This compromise, if it goes ahead, will please Chisnallwood, which strongly opposed the original proposal, but will disappoint Avondale, which also did not want to join with the other eastern schools.

It should also please Aranui, Wainoni and Aranui High, since it largely reflects their submission to Parata that they have a similar spirit, were a natural fit and should unite at the Aranui High School site.

Leaving Chisnallwood out of the new proposal makes sense. A very large proportion of its enrolment already comes from outside its zone. If it had been combined with the other schools, most of those pupils would almost certainly not have gone to the new site.

Does seem sensible.

Yesterday’s announcement leaves 17 still to hear final decisions on whether they will merge or close by the end of this month.

After the uproar at the beginning, the ending is much less tumultuous. To some degree, that must be because of the intensive discussions that have taken place in the interim.

If Parata deserved blame for the botchup at the beginning, she deserves some credit for being prepared to listen and if necessary change her proposals since then.

A fair editorial.

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The Press on Judging the Judges

May 11th, 2013 at 9:38 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

The new website developed by the Sensible Sentencing Trust inviting the public to “judge the judges” has attracted more alarmed comment than it warrants.

Critics of the site worry about its focus on individual judges and fret that it may encourage contemptuous or defamatory attacks on judges. These concerns are overwrought.

As it is set up at present, the site is relatively innocuous and to the extent that it gives greater publicity to judges’ decisions and sentencing notes may do some good. …

Instead, the site presents a number of criminal cases in which, in the opinion of the site’s organisers, judges have given either particularly lenient or particularly commendable sentences to offenders.

Along with the Sensible Sentencing Trust’s critique of the sentence, the site also presents a link to the Ministry of Justice website so readers can form their own opinions from what the judge has said in his or her judgment and sentencing notes.

Those readers who bother to follow the links and read those documents will gain as good an insight as possible into the many competing, and often irreconcilable, factors that judges must take into account in trying to produce a just result in the cases before them.

I agree that the links to the case notes are a useful service.

While the website itself may be an incentive to redneck, talkback-style instant outcry about the leniency of this or that sentence, by making the official documents more widely available it also provides some antidote to it.

The silliest argument against a site critiquing judges’ decisions is that judges cannot answer back. The response to that is that they do not need to – their judgments speak for themselves, which is why judgments should be promptly available.

If further publicity is needed to protect a judge from unfair criticism, the Ministry of Justice has a large enough PR department to see it is done and in extreme cases there is nothing to inhibit the Attorney-General or Minister of Justice from speaking.

It will be interesting to see how many more cases end up on the site.

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The Press on a serious offenders register

May 8th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

The suggestion by the Minister of Justice, Judith Collins, that public registers be set up to provide open and easy access to the criminal record of serious offenders is one that will be welcomed by many people. Such information is widely and freely available already from the proliferation in the last decade or so of websites including news and information sites, and by organisations like the Sensible Sentencing Trust. But, because of the limited resources of those news and other organisations, the information those sites contain is inevitably piecemeal and patchy. An authoritative and accurate official record would plainly be of much greater benefit.

I agree. Perhaps the threshold for inclusion could be a strike offence?

Criminal convictions are already a matter of public record. Access to the record, however, is not easy. The police, for instance, in most circumstances cannot, because of rules governing the disclosure of information from police computers and concerns about privacy, reveal them. A properly maintained official register would cut through the thicket of difficulties to provide the information more readily.

It may be argued that a register of convictions, by being forever available on the internet, would make it harder for a criminal to live down his or her past and become rehabilitated. The fact is that that is occurring to a certain extent anyway. The register, as Collins suggests it, would be concerned only with serious offences, the kinds of things already covered by news media and suchlike websites. Those websites are very long-lived and can be searched without much trouble by Google. But the media cannot cover everything, even serious crime. An official register would remove the randomness in them in that it would cover all serious offences, not just those the media deem newsworthy, and it should be less subject to error.

If the Government does not set up a register, then those run by groups such as the SST will become more and more authoritative in the absence of anything else.

It may also help deter offending. Contrary to popular opinion, criminals respond to incentives as much as anyone else. Offenders, once they come to know that it will not be so easy to conceal their past crimes, will be less inclined to commit them in the first place.

Fewer crimes and fewer victims would be a good thing.

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The Press Power List

May 4th, 2013 at 9:18 am by David Farrar

The Press has published its power list for Christchurch. As with all lists, they are just the opinions of the four people who compiled the list (two of whom are constant critics of the Government) but nevertheless an interesting list:

  1. PM John Key
  2. CERA Minister Gerry Brownlee
  3. Ngai Tahu Chairman Mark Solomon
  4. EQC CEO Ian Simpson
  5. ECan Chair Dame Margaret Bazley
  6. CERA CEO Roger Sutton
  7. The Press Editor Joanna Norris
  8. IAG CEO Jacki Johnson
  9. Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce
  10. Education Minister Hekia Parata
  11. Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings
  12. Cant Employers CEO Peter Townsend
  13. Chch Central Dev Unit Director Warwick Isaacs
  14. Civic Assurance CEO Tim Sole
  15. Chch City Council CEO Tony Marryatt
  16. Chch Mayor Bob Parker
  17. Chch East MP Lianne Dalziel
  18. SCIRT Chairman Mark Ford
  19. The Gough Family
  20. The Carter Family

As the Government is spending $15 billion of taxpayers money on rebuilding Christchurch, it should be little surprise that central Government figures are more influential than usual.

 

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