Hypocrisy alert

March 24th, 2009 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

I almost choked as I read in the Dom Post:

Labour leader Phil Goff said the moves were “a witch-hunt” against board members simply because they were not National Party supporters.

“National is determined to go back to the old days when you needed to be a card-carrying National member to get appointed.”

There is standard hypocrisy and then there is this. Did Phil Goff remember voting to appoint Mike Williams to six different boards? Did Phil Goff remember appointing Di Yates to three or four boards as the “price” for getting her to leave Parliament?

And we won’t even talk about the the fact that the reason Wellington got called Helengrad is that because anyone who dared to disagree with Labour was put on a blacklist. Not only would they not get board appointments – their firms would be ineligible for any government contracts. This was all common knowledge. Dozens of business leaders said they would never publicly criticise the Labour Government as they would be shut out.

And what is Goff complaining about anyway:

A spokesman confirmed yesterday that State-Owned Enterprises Minister Simon Power had written to “a number” of directors telling them that when their terms ended on April 30 they would not be reappointed.

Oh my God. How dare National not reappoint directors that Phil Goff and Helen Clark personally chose. This is not a “sacking” as with the ACC Chair. This is just a normal expiry of term. Of course that doesn’t prevent the hsyterical claim:

National has launched its night of the long knives on state boards, with a range of mostly Labour-leaning directors being told they no longer have a job.

Now most readers are educated people and know what the night of the long knives was, but for those who do not it is when Hitler had his political opponents (in his own party mainly) killed. Personally I think a reference to Nazi executions is somewhat over the top, Vernon. Again these are not sackings – just terms expiring. And who is not being reappointed:

It is understood the casualties include Meridian Energy director Polly Schaverien and former Labour staffer Tony Timms from the board of Quotable Value.

Tony Timms is the former Labour Party General Secretary and senior staffer in Helen Clark’s office. Polly Schaverien has been a staffer both in the Labour Party Research Unit and in Trevor Mallard’s office.This does not automatically disqualify them of course, but you know the outrage from Goff is just so hypocritical.

What is amazing is the sense of entitlement that Goff exhibits. How dare National not reappoint people he and Helen Clark selected.

One saw in Canada the same culture of entitlement in the Canadian Liberal Party after they were in power for many years. They had such a sense of entitlement that they handed out government advertising contracts to their mates, who agreed in turn to donate a portion back to the Liberal Party.

Incidentially NZ Labour once considered doing something similiar. Their general secretary in the late 80s floated the idea of having the Government give some contracts to Labour’s advertising agency, as Labour owed them lots of money and was having trouble paying. Luckily the idea was never taken forward but it shows the danger of having that sense or culture of entitlement.

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Vernon Small says Cullen to quit soon

February 25th, 2009 at 8:53 am by David Farrar

Vernon Small seems to have an exclusive at Stuff:

Former finance minister Michael Cullen is expected to quit politics in the next two months. …

But party sources said Dr Cullen’s departure was imminent, and would certainly be before the May 28 Budget.

Former Tasman-West Coast MP Damien O’Connor is next on Labour’s list and would be first in line to take Dr Cullen’s seat.

Miss Clark’s resignation would trigger a by-election in Mt Albert. List MP Phil Twyford is seen as the front-runner to be Labour’s candidate. Next in line to replace him would be former Auckland Central MP Judith Tizard.

Everyone assumes Damien will accept the list spot. I certainly think he will. I do wonder if anyone has actually asked him?

There may be one small complication for Damien. The Taito Philip Field trial is in April I think. Now I don’t know if Damien will be a witness, but it is possible. And there could be some embarrassing stuff come out on two fronts. The first is why Damien approved such a massively high proportion of requests from Field. The second is his insistence he was not warned about what Field was doing, despite numerous warnings sent to his office.So Labour may want to delay Cullen going until after the trial.

Judith Tizard returning, would be of course wonderful. Every party in Parliament has edged away from her daft s92A law. But wonderfully Judith was on radio yesterday giving it her full support.

At some stage I’ll write the “eulogy” for Michael Cullen – probably when he does announce his resignation. The term “flawed genius” is what most comes to mind as the theme.

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Campaign 08 on Winston

October 21st, 2008 at 8:12 pm by David Farrar

For professional Winston watchers, the Campaign 08 discussion on Peters is worth a watch – just click play on the main page. Peters refused to appear but Phil Kitchin, Duncan Garner, Vernon Small, Bill Ralston and Barry Soper discuss his highs and lows.

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MPs survey of the media

September 29th, 2008 at 3:20 pm by David Farrar

Last week I set up an online survey for MPs, asking them to rate various media organisations and senior gallery journalists on a scale of 0 to 10. Just under one quarter of MPs responded, and the results are shown below.

As the media often rate how well MPs are doing, I thought it appropriate to reverse this and ask the questions in reverse. The media are a hugely powerful filter, and it is appropriate (in my opinion) to have some focus on how well they are perceived to be performing.

The questions were:

  1. For each media organisation please give them a rating from 0 to 10 for how well you think they do in their parliamentary reporting. This should take account of all relevant factors – accuracy, fairness, thoroughness, relevance, substance etc.
  2. Now for some individual senior members of the press gallery, please rate from 0 to 10 how well you think they perform at proving fair, accurate, unbiased and informative reporting on Parliament. You can skip any that you do not feel able to rate.
  3. Finally can you indicate your party grouping as National, Labour or Other. Your individual identity is not sought by us, and we have no way or interest in identifying individual respondents. However we would like to summarise results for all MPs and by the three groupings to see if they vary by party grouping.

It is important that these be read in context, so make the following points:

  1. This is the opinion of MPs only. It does not set out to be an objective rating, and should not be seen as such.
  2. MPs get reported on by the gallery. While this makes them the group of NZers potentially best able to have an informed opinion on the media (which is why I surveyed them), it also gives them a conflict of interest. MPs may score journalists lowly due to personal run ins with them, or the fact they are too good at their job! This should be borne in mind.
  3. I only e-mailed the survey to the 121 MPs, but it is possible that one or more responses was filled in by a staff member who has access to the MPs mailbox. I think this is unlikely, as most staff are very professional. However MPs were not required to prove their identity to vote, as confidentiality of individual responses was important. You need to know the Survey URL to be able to vote.
  4. National MPs made up 43% of responses, slightly above their numbers in Parliament. Minor Party MPs were also slightly over-represented, Labour MPs under-represented and some MPs did not give a party identification.
Media Mean Median Mode Minimum Maximum Range
NZ Press Assn 6.1 6 6 4 9 5
Newsroom 5.8 6 5 1 10 9
Trans-Tasman 5.5 6 6 0 8 8
NZ Herald 5.3 6 6 0 8 8
Scoop 5.2 5 5 0 10 10
Newstalk ZB 5.1 6 7 1 8 7
Listener 5.0 5 3 1 8 7
NBR 4.9 4 4 1 8 7
Radio NZ 4.8 6 3 1 9 8
Radio Live 4.4 5 1 1 8 7
Sky/Prime News 4.3 5 5 0 7 7
The Press 4.2 5 1 1 7 6
TV Three 4.1 5 6 0 8 8
Dominion Post 4.1 4.5 1 1 7 6
TV One 3.9 5 5 0 6 6
Maori TV 3.7 4 5 0 6 6
Herald on Sunday 3.5 3.5 7 0 7 7
Sunday Star-Times 2.7 3 3 0 5 5

NZ Press Association tops the rankings with a mean or average 6.1 rating – and received no very low ratings from anyone. The two Internet agencies were in the top five, indicating MPs like the fact their releases are carried in full. Trans-Tasman also does well.

Television generally gets ranked lowly with all four stations in the bottom half. Sky News actually ranks highest.

Radio is middle of the field with NewstalkZB being the highest ranked radio broadcaster.

The newspapers range the spectrum. The NZ Herald is up at 5.3, Press at 4.2 and Dom Post at 4.1. I would have them all higher, but this is a survey of MPs, not of my views.

Now the sample sizes are of course very small (but of a limited population) but let us look at how National MPs ranked media compared to all the other MPs:

Media All Mean Nats Mean Others Mean Difference
TV One 3.9 6.3 2.2 4.2
TV Three 4.1 6.2 2.6 3.6
Maori TV 3.7 5.2 2.5 2.7
Sky/Prime News 4.3 5.5 3.3 2.2
Sunday Star-Times 2.7 3.5 2.1 1.4
Radio Live 4.4 4.8 4.2 0.6
Radio NZ 4.8 5.0 4.6 0.4
Dominion Post 4.1 4.2 4.0 0.2
Herald on Sunday 3.5 3.5 3.5 0.0
Newstalk ZB 5.1 4.8 5.4 -0.6
The Press 4.2 3.8 4.6 -0.8
NZ Herald 5.3 4.2 6.1 -1.9
NBR 4.9 3.3 6.1 -2.8
Listener 5.0 3.3 6.3 -3.0
NZ Press Assn 6.1 4.3 7.4 -3.1
Trans-Tasman 5.5 3.3 7.1 -3.8
Scoop 5.2 2.8 7.0 -4.2
Newsroom 5.8 3.0 8.0 -5.0

National MPs ranked the four TV channels much higher than other MPs did. Maybe this is minor parties upset that they do not get on TV much?

Despite the generally accepted lean to the left of Radio NZ, National MPs ranked Radio NZ higher than other MPs did. And while some on the left attack the NZ Herald at favouring National, National MPs actually ranked them lower than other MPs did. The Listener and NBR also get accused of leaning right, but again get ranked lower by National MPs.

The Nat MPs also rated the online media very lowly.

Now the journalists. I decided not to list all members of the press gallery, but only those who are relatively senior, and are more likely to have a reasonable number of MPs have formed opinions about them. Looking back I could have included more.

If any journalist is unhappy about being missed out, happy to include you next year. Now again it is worth remembering these are only the opinions of those MPs who responded to my survey – it is not an objective rating.

Journalist Mean Median Mode Minimum Maximum Range
John Armstrong (NZH) 6.4 7 2 2 10 8
Peter Wilson (NZPA) 5.8 5 5 3 8 5
Audrey Young (NZH) 5.7 6.5 7 0 10 10
Ian Templeton (TT) 5.6 7 7 0 9 9
Jane Clifton (Listener) 5.6 6 6 2 9 7
Barry Soper (Sky & ZB) 4.9 5.5 7 1 9 8
Ian Llewellyn (NZPA) 4.9 5 5 1 8 7
Vernon Small (DP) 4.6 5 6 1 8 7
Colin Espiner (Press) 4.5 5 6 0 8 8
Guyon Espiner (TV1) 4.4 5.5 7 0 7 7
Tim Donoghue (DP) 4.1 4.5 2 1 9 8
Brent Edwards (RNZ) 4.1 4 4 0 7 7
Tracy Watkins (DP) 3.8 4.5 6 0 7 7
Duncan Garner (TV3) 3.7 3.5 3 0 8 8
Gordon Campbell (Scoop) 3.6 5 5 0 7 7
Ruth Laugeson (SST) 2.7 2.5 2 0 6 6

John Armstrong tops the ratings, followed by the NZPA Political Editor Peter Wilson. Generally MPs ranked journalists slightly higher than media organisations. As can be seen by the minimum ratings showing, some MPs were very harsh handing out zeroes. Did WInston multiple vote? :-) (Note I have no idea if Winston did vote)

And once again we compare responses between National MPs and other MPs.

Journalist All Mean Nats Mean Others Mean Difference
Laugeson 2.7 4.2 1.6 2.6
Clifton 5.6 7.0 4.5 2.5
Soper 4.9 6.2 4.0 2.2
Campbell 3.6 4.8 2.8 2.0
Edwards 4.1 4.8 3.5 1.3
Llewellyn 4.9 5.2 4.7 0.5
Young 5.7 6.0 5.5 0.5
Garner 3.7 3.5 3.9 -0.4
Espiner G 4.4 4.2 4.6 -0.4
Wilson 5.8 5.5 6.0 -0.5
Armstrong 6.4 6.0 6.8 -0.8
Watkins 3.8 3.0 4.4 -1.4
Donoghue 4.1 3.2 4.9 -1.7
Small 4.6 3.2 5.6 -2.4
Espiner C 4.5 2.8 5.8 -3.0
Templeton 5.6 1.8 8.5 -6.7

Again very interesting. The SST is generally seen as hostile to National, but Ruth Laugeson is ranked much higher by National MPs, than by other MPs. Likewise the Gordon Campbell and Brent Edwards (both left leaning) are ranked higher by National MPs than other MPs.

Also for some reasons National MPs ranked Ian Templeton very lowly. Maybe they don’t like his weekly chats with Clark and Key, ignoring the lesser MPs?

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Cactus Kate on hot male journalists

September 5th, 2008 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I’m sure all the media will be reading Cactus Kate’s comments on what she calls the Soper Syndrome – hot aging male journalists.

Kate proclaims the following as hot:

  • “Baron” Barry Soper
  • “Gorgeous” Sean Plunkett
  • “Pitt-Clooney” Stephen Parker
  • “Chess Champion” Vernon Small
  • Richard Long
  • Richard Griffin

The only one she marks down is Duncan Garner who gets “not hot yet”.

I think Kate is protesting too loudly here. Those of us who knew Kate before she was a blogger recall a small period of time when she had a small crush on Mr Garner. And when I say small crush, I mean raging stalker like obsession. Luckily Duncan got married, and Kate got distracted!

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Blog Bits

August 8th, 2008 at 2:47 pm by David Farrar

Four interesting blog pieces – all from “professional” journalists also. First off is Nick Stride, editor of The Independent:

Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen was on even shakier ground when he tried to paint National leader John Key’s debt raising and infrastructure investment strategy as a ruinous policy designed to hide borrowing to fund tax cuts.

If memory serves, it wasn’t so long ago Labour was attacking National for the speed with which it was pushing national debt levels down to 30% of GDP.

Now it’s on the attack over plans to lift that ratio from 20% to 22% a rise so insignificant it will barely register at the sovereign rating agencies.

The fact is, New Zealand ranks high among OECD countries in terms of its debt-to-GDP, and in the bottom half in terms of its infrastructure. It therefore makes perfect sense to allow the two to come a little closer together, to everybody’s benefit.

It’s true, as Vernon Small points out in his column on page 24, there’s no free lunch; the extra debt envisioned by National will have to be serviced, reducing the amount government can spend elsewhere.

But it’s not a zero-sum business in which a dollar spent on infrastructure is a dollar that must be taken from health or education. According to research conducted in 2004 by Macquarie Research Economics, every 1% rise in infrastructure spending can be expected to lift GDP 0.5%.

This is what the debate should be about – whether the return on the capital and the interest on borrowing is a good investment – will it lead to higher economic growth. Instead we have had a near Taliban like mentality – that any extra borrowing is madness and Muldoonism.

The Dom Post’s Vernon Small also blogs on this issue:

Yes, National’s plan to increase gross debt to 22% of GDP is conservative. But maintaining it two percentage points above Labour’s target does bend the party-political continuum.

Since when did centre-right parties run a looser fiscal regime than centre-left ones?

It is somewhat ironic. My non serious answer is since Labour started believing in tax cuts. My serious answer is that centre right parties see a difference between borrowing and expenditure on social spending, and borrowing for expenditure on capital works.

No, National cannot credibly say it is raising $750 million in borrowing only for infrastructure and not for tax cuts. Residual borrowing is the net impact of a complete revenue raising and spending programme, though there are good accountability reasons why politicians should explain how new programmes affect the mix.

Finance Minister Michael Cullen is also happy to let debt rise over the next few years, driven by a tax-cut programme. So it is a relativist, not absolutist, debate. They may as well argue they are borrowing to cover the impact on government revenue of the current recession.

Yes if National is borrowing for tax cuts, so are Labour. As I did a long winded post on last weekend, you have a current account and a capital account, and the cashflow funds both those things.

He isn’t a blogger but Keith Rankin writes in support of infrastructure spending:

Helen Clark and Michael Cullen are describing National’s proposal to borrow in order to fund infrastructure projects “incredible”, meaning foolhardy and irresponsible. (“Key unveils plan to borrow, PM dubs it ‘hilarious”‘ – NZ Herald August 4, 2008.) All Clark and Cullen are doing is showing how out of touch they are with economic reality.

Financial crises happen when lending slows down significantly in financial markets. The problem usually is a lack of credible borrowers. This is precisely the time that borrowers such as governments funding infrastructure need to step up to the plate.

Governments need to spend more and borrow more precisely when the private sector is spending less and borrowing less. This was the most important lesson of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Ben Thomas writes on the so called secret agenda:

All of which is a roundabout way of saying the scandal that did erupt – the audio files of English and the Smiths, Lockwood and Nick – was outrageously overplayed by the media and National’s parliamentary opponents.

The story was as follows: an unknown person, who claimed later to be unaffiliated with any political party, attended the Friday night social event posing as a National Party member and engaged the three senior MPs in conversation around left-wing touchstones: state ownership of Kiwibank, nuclear power and Working for Families.

The conversations were recorded and played on the broadcaster as evidence suggesting that National had a “secret agenda.”

Fine. Except the recordings disclosed no such thing. They were evidence of absolutely nothing except a slightly looser verbal style than MPs would present in a formal media interview or Parliament. This is a story about language.

The Smith & Smith conversations especially were hyped up massively. They were quite unexceptional.

At it’s most basic, there is syntactic precision: there was little effort made in the media to differentiate a secret recording of a conversation (as in this case) from a recording of a secret conversation (which may have yielded something much more interesting).

A useful point.

English conceded he would eventually prefer to sell off Kiwibank “but not now.”

In fact absolutely nothing in English’s comments was inconsistent with National’s declared policy. Lockwood Smith was accused of revealing the hidden agenda when he said “Once we have gained the confidence of the people, we’ve got more chance of doing more things.”

He even said, “We may be able to do some things we believe we need to do, perhaps go through a discussion document process – you wouldn’t be able to do them straight off.”

In other words, National may have a secret plan to, er, consult with the community and gauge public opinion before implementing new policy.

Yes, how a public policy consultation process is proof of a secret agenda, I do now know.

The reality is the secret agenda meme is all about trying to associate a negative brand with a party. I will touch more on this next week, but is is the equivalent of the “Have you stopped beating your wife” question.

There is a very relevant example of a major political party in government pursuing a deeply unpopular policy in the face of public opposition, and refusing to abandon it despite repeatedly being told it is not what voters want. It is the Labour government’s push for state funding for political parties.

Labour has never campaigned in an election on this policy but it is a fond wish of the prime minister and her party.

It’s also a policy that is widely detested by the public, and has been soundly rejected every time its prospect has been floated either through official comments or strategic leaks.

Labour’s secret agenda for state funding – indeed. They don’t have the guts to make it a manifesto promise, because they know it is as popular as anthrax.

Finally back to Vernon Small again, who asks where the dividing line is between bloggers and journalists, with the catalyst being my accreditation as media at the National Party conference. It is an interesting issue (especially to me), but somewhat academic. This is the fourth or fifth National conference I have attended as media. I’ve also been in budget lockups as media, attended tax conferences, spoken on media panels at media conferences, and get invited to cover conferences and seminars on a very regular basis.

I’ve commented over on Vernon’s blog on a couple of issues he raises.

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Latest from Dom Post

July 31st, 2008 at 2:50 pm by David Farrar

I’ve been in meetings up until now, so only catching up with the latest from the Dom Post.

First we have the undisclosed $20,000 deposit in 1999. If the deposit was all from the same donor it has to be declared. Now possibly it was made up from a number of different donors. The Dom Post doesn’t specify – I assume they may have more than they have published to date.

Then we have the wonderful audio file of Phil Kitchin phoning Winston for comment. The whole clip is 12 seconds long of which six seconds is the phone ringing, three seconds of Kitchin saying who he is and then three seconds of Winston saying

“Phil, I told you I’m not talking to a lying wanker like you. See you.”

and hanging up.

They also have a story on the explanation Peters had walking into the House:

“Let me just say, any moron who knew anything about political parties and election expenses would have known exactly what that was about.”

Vernon Small is unimpressed with the bluster:

There are signs in his behaviour in the past week that he is beginning to believe his own legend, that all he has to do is bluster, attack the messenger and flash his smile to rise above any and all allegations, even those of hypocrisy. He cannot and he has not. …

Of course, the trust fund, and Mr Peters’ refusal to engage with any questions about it, is not an issue of ministerial responsibility but is one of his own credibility with his supporters – but still an area of legitimate interest to the media.

Not accusations, but legitimate questions that deserve answers from an elected representative so the jury in the court of public opinion can come to a verdict.

Labour’s delay of the confidence and supply vote from today until next week is not a coincidence. There are growing concerns in Labour about how their final weeks leading up to an election campaign could be tainted by association with Peters’ tactics.

If the SFO do decide to investigate (and in 2002 they investigated National over similar allegations), then Clark will be under real pressure to suspend Peters. He would react very badly to being suspended and this is why the timing of the confidence vote is increasingly important.

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A mess

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Armstrong makes a fair point:

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

Vernon Small also makes a similiar point:

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

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

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

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Will Dr Cullen increase taxes on some?

May 8th, 2008 at 4:21 pm by David Farrar

Vernon Small from the Dom Post blogs his speculation that Dr Cullen may do what he did in 1999, and bring in a new top tax rate, to help pay for tax cuts elsewhere.

How does he stop the highest paid getting the most? Well a threshold movement is better than a rate cut in that regard. Given that all those above any new threshold will get the maximum benefit, it is still limited. For example, if you lift the top threshold from $60,000 to $70,000 then everyone earning more than $70,000 gets 6c X $10,000 a year = $600. Between $60K and $70k they get lesser amounts. Compare that with a cut to the top rate of 39c where the more you earn the more you benefit.

If you want to cut the rates, then the only ways to limit that effect is to cut a rate further down the progressive scale – either the 33c rate that starts at $38,000 or the 21c (effective) rate below that threshold.

Or – and here’s a bit of speculation to send a chill through the blood of the very well paid. Remember that comment about redistribution and the imposition of the 39c rate in 1999?

What if he introduced a new top rate, to apply after the election of course, say 40c or 42c on income above a new threshold? A threshold of $150,000 might do it, and would annoy precious few voters. That would cap the benefit and even start to claw some tax revenue back. National could fulminate, but might look like protecting “its rich mates” – a trap Cullen is constantly baiting for John Key and Bill English.

There are those who would argue the top personal and company rates should be aligned, but with business tax at 30c and two personal rates higher than that now, the roof hasn’t fallen in. So “why not be hung for a sheep as a lamb?” as my mother would say.

This certainly can not be ruled out. Cullen hates rich pricks, and the thought of taxing them even more is not impossible. He did the same in 1999.

Cullen knows he will probably never get their votes, so you do some wedge politics and take more off the “rich pricks” so you can reduce tax for people who might still vote for you.

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The $600 million mistake

March 18th, 2008 at 2:52 pm by David Farrar

My God. The January Crown Accounts had a $600 million error in them. IRD failed to update the provisional tax take, which is why tax revenue was around $700 million below forecast.

Vernon Small blogs that Cullen is furious. I would be also. This is not a minor error. And the fact that the tax figures were below forecast for the first time ever, is all the more reason why it should have been triple-checked.

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Auckland Airport Roundup

March 5th, 2008 at 9:10 am by David Farrar

Lots written on Auckland Airport today. I’ll divide it up into the legal, political, and economic. First of all look at this story by Audrey Young:

On Monday night, after the Australian sharemarket closed, the Government changed overseas investment rules ensuring that if even the Overseas Investment Commission approved the sale, the two ministers with the final say, Clayton Cosgrove and David Parker, would be able to say “no” and withstand judicial review.

I would not be so confident about it withstanding judicial review. Despite attempts to isolate the two decision making Ministers, it is obvious that the issue has been pre-determined for them. And as Chris Carter found out with the Whangamata marina, the Courts do not like Ministers pre-determining issues.

On the political side, Vernon Small blogs:

Labour is cock-a-hoop today over the Auckland Airport (we-won’t-let-it-be-bought-by-a-Canadian-pension-fund-but-don’t-want-to-say-it-that-blatantly) regulation change.

Just a day after Prime Minister Helen Clark predicted the ‘fun would begin’ once National started debating policy John Key has looked surprisingly leaden-footed in response to the change – a popular move with the electorate, I would imagine, but one which National would instinctively reject.

National’s response hasn’t been particularly well-targeted it seems to me. The issues I would focus on are:

  • One shouldn’t change the rules at the last second – moves like that destroy investment and jobs and push up interest rates
  • The rules should be clear as to what is and is not allowed, and this change means no one will be sure now what the ground rules are

Tracy Watkins has an article in the Dom Post, with the headline being “Nats will not ban airport sale”. Now please bear in mind Tracy does not write the headline even though it is her story. The headline though is a misleading one as it suggests Labour is banning the sale, and they are not. They are changing the rules, but they are not banning it.

On the economic front NZ Herald economic editor Brian Fallow looks at the dangers:

The Government is running risks with New Zealand’s reputation as an investment destination by suddenly turning Overseas Investment Office approval, long a rubber stamp, into a serious hurdle for the Canadian bid for Auckland Airport.

It has changed the rules in the closing minutes of the game.

And it does this reckless thing at the worst possible time.

The country has for 20 years enthusiastically taken advantage of the opportunities globalisation provides to access foreign capital.

Had we not, had we relied on what we ourselves are prepared to save and invest, the economy would be a lot smaller than it is.

Indeed.

Fran O’Sullivan counts the cost:

Helen Clark’s Government has wiped hundreds of millions of dollars off Auckland Airport’s value in a vainglorious move to exert “local control” over an asset that passed into majority private ownership more than a decade ago. …

The upshot is that New Zealand’s hard-won reputation as a “fair dealer” that welcomes foreign investment has now been carelessly hammered by a Government which is bent on milking the Auckland International Airport takeover for political advantage.

What Helen Clark and Finance Minister Michael Cullen forget as they blatantly ramp up the foreign investment bogey during election year is that the 50,000 retail shareholders in Auckland Airport also have votes.

The NZ Herald Editorial labels the move xenophobia:

This is populist politicking, pure and simple. An administration reeling in the polls has stooped to courting xenophobia. Only that explains the timing of the intervention. If the Government genuinely viewed this as the right policy, it could have acted when the airport first attracted overseas interest.

Andrew James in the Dom Post reports:

More than $300 million was wiped off Auckland International Airport’s market value after the Government introduced a late rule change …

$300 million wiped out.

And The Press editorial weighs things up:

… But it is doubtful if it is much more amenable to the national interest — whatever that is — under its present ownership than under Canadian ownership. Both owners would be subject to the same laws and regulations, and liable to the same pressures from governments local and national. Both owners would seek to maximise their profits and returns to shareholders. Materially, the only difference to occur under Canadian ownership would be a larger flow of profits offshore.

New Zealand does not have the capital or human resources to fuel its development, but it does not like the large foreign inflow of people and finance that development needs. The way to solve the conundrum is not to pass regulations but to upskill New Zealanders and make them more wealthy. Then they could own and manage their assets.

The Press gets it somewhat wrong with saying more profits would flow overseas. Because the domestic money freed up from any sale could well result in more money flowing to NZ from overseas.

The Visible Hand  in Economics deals with this and other economic issues. Gives a nice list of benefits and costs of foreign investment.

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