The pre-Privileges PR pitch

The Herald reports:

Green Rongotai MP Julie Anne Genter has admitted she crossed a line when she yelled in the face of a minister in Parliament and says she will receive de-escalation training to recognise when she’s in “fight or flight” mode.

This is a cynical PR attempt to get sympathy ahead of the Privileges Committee hearing.

And trying to put it down to a fight of flight mode is nonsense. That is a physiological reaction to threats and attacks, not something that occurs because a Minister made an interjection you disagreed with.

Drysdale for Tauranga

Mahe Drysdale announced:

Businessman and former Olympian Mahé Drysdale has announced his bid to be the next Mayor of Tauranga at the Tauranga City Council elections to be held on 20 July 2024.

“My vision is that Tauranga is known as New Zealand’s best small city. I want to lead a new generation of strong and accountable leadership that can take our city forward.

“Tauranga has an exciting future. I was raised in Tauranga and I want the city to fulfil its potential.”

Tauranga has had challenges in the past years with governance, but Mahé says his focus is on the future and creating a modern, attractive city.

“We need collaborative and constructive leadership around the Council table. I will lead a team approach that brings voices and ideas from all parts of our community forward.

“My family has a strong tradition of community service and I’m keen to continue that legacy by contributing to the creation of a better city for the next generation.”

“The Council will need to manage the impact of population growth, major infrastructure builds and redevelopment of the centre city.”

“I bring experience in accounting and financial management to the table. I am determined to effectively manage the challenging financial situation that the TCC faces, due to rising interest rates and cost pressures.”

Drysdale is most well known as an Olympian, but he is a registered financial advisor and chartered accountant.

Nominations close on Friday. Candidates to date are:

  • Mahe Drysdale
  • Brian Friend
  • Anthony Goddard
  • Chudleigh Haggett
  • Ria Hall
  • Douglas Owens
  • Tina Salisbury

Guest Post: $90k Debt Day: A Wake-Up Call for Nicola Willis

A guest post by James Ross:

At 10 PM on Sunday 19th May, New Zealand reached the latest in a long string of grim milestones. For the first time ever, government debt will tick up past $90,000 for every household in the country. 

$180 billion is a lot of money to owe. But if we’re being entirely honest, when someone says the country is paying $8.8 billion this year just to service a national debt which is well into the 12-figure range and climbing, the numbers are just too big to comprehend.

The huge numbers might go over people’s heads, but the financial pain Kiwis are feeling at the end of every week certainly doesn’t.

To put the numbers into a little bit of perspective, the average household is now paying almost $4,500 a year just to cover the interest on this debt.

That’s almost $4,500 that can’t be spent on food, or rent or heating. Or that can’t be used to pay down their own debts.

We’re paying more this year just maintaining the massive debt taken out on our behalf than we are on the total budgets for the defence force, police, corrections, and customs combined.

And to just really labour the point, that’s without even starting to actually pay off the debt. It’s just to keep the bailiffs away from the door.

The last six years of economic mismanagement have left us in a bad way, don’t doubt that for a second. Government spending shot up 84% without anywhere near enough economic growth to support the cost blowout. But the problem didn’t go away with October’s election, and debt is still only going one way. 

The Taxpayers’ Union only launched our debt clock about 8 months ago. Back then, your household’s share was 10 grand less than it is now. At this rate, it won’t be long at all until $100k Debt Day.

Government after Government, including this one, keeps spending well beyond their means. Even if the economy was booming at its maximum capacity, the Government would still be spending more than it raises.

But that’s not to say they don’t take enough of your money in taxes. Far from it, the average Kiwi is paying $49 a week more in income tax in real terms than they were in 2010.

The problem is that as a country, far too many of us have just come to accept getting less for more money. 

The Budget comes at the end of the month, and it’ll be make or break for a New Zealand which is listing towards being a poor nation.

The only way out is getting the books back into the black, but Nicola WIllis’ “cuts” so far barely even scratch the surface. New Zealand can’t afford for these not to go much further.

At the moment, optimistic forecasts suggest the next time we’ll see a surplus will be 2026/27, and even then it’s by the finest of margins. That means years more of spiralling debt.

There’s talk at the top that getting back into surplus might not be realistic, but let’s be frank. What’s not realistic is expecting hardworking people to keep finding more and more money down the back of the sofa.

In a few years it won’t be $4,500 you’re having to stump up. It’ll be $5,000, $6,000, $7,000 a year.

Yesterday’s $90k Debt Day needs to be a wake-up call for Nicola Willis. The time for half-measures is over.

James Ross is the Policy and Public Affairs Manager at the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

Kainga Ora needs significant change

Some key facts from the independent review into Kainga Ora:

  • Kāinga Ora annual operating expenditure has grown from $1.5 billion in 2019/20 to $2.5 billion in 2022/23
  • Deficits forecast to grow from $520 million to $700 million
  • Debt expected to grow from $12.8 billion to $23 billion. by 2028
  • Cash deficit of $21.4 billion forecast over next four years, or $4,000 per NZer
  • Redevelopment costs $35,000 more per home than private developers
  • Rent arrears have increased from $1 million in 2017 to $21 million

Simon Moutter has a big job ahead of him!

Impressive service from DIA

The independent report into DIA’s handing of an urgent passport application for a NZ DJ to go to Australia to play with a famous DJ has been released. There’s some minor criticism around some side issues, but the key finding is there was no special treatment.

What I was interested to find out is that there were 61 other urgent passports created that day. And in the last six months, over 14,000 passports produced within 24 hours of an urgent application. That’s a great service.

Very sloppy

The Herald reports:

National’s New Plymouth MP David MacLeod has been stood down immediately from his select committee roles after failing to declare 19 candidate donations.

MacLeod, who held roles on both the Environment and Finance and Expenditure Select Committees, said he had “never, ever” tried to hide donations.

MacLeod received 18 candidate donations worth $168,335 in 2022 when he first became the National Party candidate.

“Because of a misunderstanding that the return was for 2023 only, both the information supplied to the party for my return and my completed return to the Electoral Commission did not include the 2022 donations,” MacLeod said.

This is very sloppy and disappointing.

It is true that party returns are annual, and candidate returns are not. But you should be aware that all significant donations have to be disclosed, and were not previously disclosed.

A stand down from select committees is a robust response from Luxon, especially as this is far from the first MP who has had to do an amended return. The question going forward I guess will be how long the stand down is for.

Terrible poll for Biden

The NY Times published a poll done by Sienna (top rated polling company) in six battleground states. They showed Biden behind in five of the six states by margins ranging from 2% to 14%.

It’s only one set of polls, but the demographic breakdowns are what is fascinating. This is Trump’s lead over Biden in key demographics:

  • Men +15%
  • Women -2%
  • Under 30s +4%
  • Hispanics +0%

Also of note Biden is at only 49% with black voters in those six states, where normally a Democrat would be around 80%. Trump being tied with Hispanics is incredible, and leading with under 30s even more so. Again one poll with margins of error, but it does show that Biden’s coalition is crumbling.

Government still subsidising Te Huia

NewstalkZB reports:

A reduction in funding for the Waikato to Auckland commuter train Te Huia, which was less than expected, may still spell its demise. 

Waikato Regional Council and Te Huia supporters have welcomed news Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) will continue to fund the service at a reduced rate. 

It would do this by progressively reducing its contribution to the funding assistance rate (FAR) from 75.5 per cent to 60 percent, starting on 1 July. 

Supporters are claiming the outcome as a victory, but Waikato Regional Councillor Angela Strange would not be drawn on whether it could ensure the survival of the service. 

That is because the council has to go through its long-term plan budget in the next fortnight and work out where it can find the 5.5 percent in FAR that NZTA will drop next year. 

Strange said the announcement was good news but she did not want to pre-empt the long-term plan outcome and could not conclusively say that Te Huia would continue. 

NZTA’s contribution had been expected to drop immediately to 51 percent by those fighting for the train service’s survival. 

Around 97% of each trip is paid for by taxpayers and ratepayers, and 3% by passengers. This is ridiculous and NZTA funding for Te Huia should be no more than any other public transport service.

Iran’s President and Foreign Minister dead

The Guardian reported:

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi has been killed in a helicopter crash near Iran’s border with Azerbaijan. Search and rescue teams have recovered bodies from the wreckage, and said there were no survivors. 

I have mixed feelings on this. The Iranian regime is a repressive one, but that doesn’t make the tragedy of a helicopter crash a good thing. At the end of the day they were human beings with families.

President Raise was a hardliner who won a dubious election in 2021. He was considered a likely successor to the Supreme Leader. He was a key player in the 1988 purges or executions of political opponents.

The Acting President is now Mohammad Mokhber. He has two PhDs but not that much is known on him.

Biden’s tariffs disastrous for the environment and economy

AP reports:

President Joe Biden slapped major new tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles, advanced batteries, solar cells, steel, aluminum and medical equipment on Tuesday, taking potshots at Donald Trump along the way as he embraced a strategy that’s increasing friction between the world’s two largest economies.

These tariffs are massive. They include:

  • EVs 102.5%
  • Solar cells 50%
  • Computer chips 50%
  • Steel and aluminium products 25%
  • Lithium-ion batteries 25%
  • Minerals 25%
  • Ship-to-shore cranes 25%
  • Medical Products Syringes and needles 50%
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) 25%

It is beyond disappointing to see the US retreat away from free trade in favour of protectionism of inefficient local industries. It is bad for the US economy and bad for US consumers.

The worst impact may be on the environment. Every environmental group in the world should be up in arms that Biden for all his rhetoric on climate is massively increasing the cost of electric vehicles, batteries and solar cells.

Council tries to stop fiscally conservative Cr from participating

The Taxpayers Union released:

Around the country there are some elected officials who are on the ratepayers’ side: asking the tough questions of officials, and determined to deliver rate increases no higher than is absolutely necessary.

One of those centre-right councillors is our former Grassroots and Engagement Coordinator, Grace Ayling.

After leaving the Taxpayers’ Union to become a mum, Grace stood for her local Wairarapa council, in Carterton.

Grace was elected to the Council on a platform of stopping wasteful spending, such as the huge amounts the small rural council was pumping into cycleways that barely anyone was using. As a young family just starting off on the housing ladder, Grace wants her local council to focus on delivering core services and basic infrastructure well (don’t we all!).

Not only was Grace elected, she walked the talk! Grace is known for respectfully challenging Council officials on spending, rates, (and, yes, cycle ways).

Earlier this month, Grace even made a submission on the Council’s Long Term Plan (10-year budget). You can read her submission here – it is totally consistent with her election platform to seek value for money for ratepayers.

It turns out, officials do not like being challenged by a councillor. Instead of allowing Grace to advocate her well known views (and fulfil on her election promises to advocate for prudent spending) the Council CEO and officials have mounted a campaign to exclude Grace from the council hearings that consider the Long Term Plan/10-year Budget.

The officials claim that a councillor who had expressed views on rates is no longer ‘independent’ and has a conflict of interest in terms of decisions about rates and spending.

Yesterday, on the basis of “informal advice” from Local Government New Zealand, the Council kicked Grace out of the hearings committee (which every councillor usually sits on) because, in the Chair’s view, Grace might not be able to accept other views with an open mind and is therefor ‘conflicted’.

It wasn’t even voted on by councillors (in and of itself a breach of the Council’s standing orders). Officials just ‘determined’ that Grace had to leave. 

This is just ridiculous, and an act of censorship.

Deciding the budget is a political process, not a judicial process. Trying to remove voting rights from a Councillor because they have expressed their view that rates are too high is nuts. It’s like saying that a Councillor who wants to stop a library being closed can no longer vote on whether that library closes.

Left hand meet right hand

The Post reports:

An accidentally released memo has revealed at least $5.2 million of “must do” pipework lies beneath $55m worth of new Thorndon Quay bus lanes and cycleways – which could be ripped up if regular leaks persist.

For business owners, who had a new water leak on Tuesday and have seen dramatic pipe failures erupt drinking water on to the street, it is a further blow as they endure months of disruption while a $54.8m bus and cycleway gets put down the stretch.

This is just incompetence. The Council should have a checklist for any roadworks that includes digging, of how to notify so they can take advantage of the work. This would include the water company, lines company, broadband companies etc. You can save tens of millions by just having left and right hands talk to each other.

A PM who believes in measuring performance

The Post reports:

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon’s new “delivery unit” is not just designed to monitor the public sector’s performance, but also his own Cabinet ministers.

Briefings to Luxon, obtained under the Official Information Act, show how the new unit is expected to help the Government hit nine targets across health, education, crime, welfare, and climate, that were announced last month. …

Meeting targets would be the responsibility of a Cabinet minister and department chief executive — such as Health Minister Dr Shane Reti and Director-General of Health Dr Diana Sarfati for meeting targets on reducing emergency departments and elective surgery wait times.

The agencies responsible for targets would have until the end of June to produce “delivery plans”, to be approved by their minister. The delivery unit will then brief Luxon on whether the plans are sufficient.

Ministers will then provide quarterly reports on the target to the Cabinet Strategy Committee, which is made up of Luxon and 15 high-ranking ministers — the first being due at July’s end.

The delivery unit would provide “independent commentary” alongside this about whether the target is being reached — and immediate advice directly to Luxon if targets are not tracking well.

If a target is “high-risk”, Luxon will hold quarterly “performance meetings” with the minister responsible. If the target is tracking well, the meetings will be held every six months.

So the Luxon approach is:

  • Have clear targets
  • Make a Minister and CE accountable for achieving them
  • Require delivery plans on how the targets will be achieved
  • Have independent assessment of the delivery plan
  • Have quarterly reports on progress towards the targets
  • Hold six monthly performance meetings with Ministers if on track, and three monthly if not yet on track

Now this isn’t rocket science, but my God think what a difference it would have made if the last Government had done this.

Guest Post: Medical AI

A guest post by a reader:

We know someone who is a consultant addiction psychiatrist in the state medical system.  He has been looking at how AI can help him. There is apparently a specialised medical AI product. I guess In fact there are several.

He tells us a normal consult is 30-40 minutes and he spends almost as much on paperwork writing up notes on the consult.  With this AI product he fires up the laptop, activates the bot and it does a transcript of the entire episode.  Does a real good job even though it has never heard the patient before.

At the end of the consult he asks the bot to summarise the session. Basically it writes up the same sort of notes that he normally does. He only has to polish this output – It’s pretty good when it comes out. Normally he spends about as much time writing up the notes as he spent talking to the patient. He reckons it saves him 20% of the total  time spent on that consult.  Or to put it another way it would enable him to see 25% more patients …

Given that psychiatrists are not – and unlikely to become – in surplus …. he reckons that TWO should have a look at the various medical AI providers, get a bulk licence and encourage widespread use of the technology.  He is using the free version and a licence cost $US100 or so per month. This would have the same effect as creating 10-15% more psychiatrists which otherwise would take 10-odd years. 

 The system takes care of patient confidentiality issues. It can (optionally) be trained to learn his quirks.  I guess it is some distance away from actually doing the consult – it’s hard to imagine addicts relating to a bot rather than a person across the desk. As it should be.

Some of us have dealt with medics who type the session into the computer as it is happening – personally I find this moderately disconcerting and of course not all medics can touch type. I assume they are sort of summarising it as they go or something like that. I haven’t asked.

A more common approach is for the medic to dictate some notes at the of the session and send them off to be typed up.  Maybe use Word dictate … Our psych friend says the problem with that dictation is an acquired skill and he has never been very good at it.

One does wonder if AI used in this fashion might also improve the throughput of GPs by cutting down on paperwork time. Again – as the skills required are in hugely short supply an unlikely to be resolved anytime soon – anything that gets more bang for buck has to be worth 

Academics want ice cream ads on dairies banned!

Waikato University announced:

Children in Aotearoa New Zealand are being targeted by significant amounts of junk food and drink advertising. A new study shows that children who live and go to school in less well-off neighbourhoods have far greater exposure to advertising, than their peers in more affluent neighbourhoods.  

So what are these terrible ads?

Terrible. Not inly does the dairy have ice cream ads on its wall, but the deliver truck also shows an ice cream!

It is obvious both the diary and the truck must be covered up. Perhaps allow them to have plain black or blue walls.

If we do this, NZ will have fewer overweight people. Honestly.

50 charter schools for less than the cost of moving two schools!

David Seymour announced:

The upcoming Budget will include funding for up to 50 charter schools to help lift declining educational performance, Associate Education Minister David Seymour announced today.

$153 million in new funding will be provided over four years to establish and operate up to 15 new charter schools and convert 35 state schools to charter schools in 2025 and 2026 depending on demand and suitability. 

Hipkins was going to spend $400 million just to merge two schools together in Marlborough. For less than half that amount, the Government will deliver up to 50 charter schools!

DIA says giving people the vote my breach the Bill of Rights!

Stuff reports:

Internal Affairs warned the Government that new Māori wards legislation could conflict with the Bill of Rights Act

So DIA says that giving voters the right to decide whether or not to change their electoral system to have race based wards, may breach the Bill of Rights Act!

Never thought I would see an agency argue that giving people the vote is against the Bill of Rights Act!

The left may help Chung win in Wellington

Tom Hunt at The Post writes:

Already, with almost half the current council term still to run, Chung is confirming he is running for mayor in 2025. This time it is serious and he stands a good chance with the left on council partly to thank – or blame – for it.

Many Wellingtonians, even lifelong liberals, are increasingly frustrated with a council that appears not to be listening. ,,,

It was also last week revealed that government ministers Simeon Brown and Chris Bishop wrote to Whanau in what appears to be extreme frustration in her saying one thing to them – that the council would consult with businesses affected by Golden Mile changes – then her council telling businesses this would not happen … just three days later.

There is a perception, partly founded, that in a city awash with leaking pipes the council is focused on the wrong things. …

Councillors – and the council – need to show they are actually listening. They need to leave their party affiliations at the door when they walk into the council chamber. They need to vote for their communities, not political parties.

They need to stop saying their are listening to people when they only hear the people they agree with.

And they need to find some drastic ways to cut back on rates increases (at the current projected rates increases, a ratepayer charged $4000 in rates last year will face a $11,035 bill within a decade).

Because, if they don’t, a Chung-led council will find some drastic cuts – and they won’t be where the left like.

There is definitely a mood for change in Wellington.

Is it time to take the Interislander away from Kiwirail?

The Herald reports:

KiwiRail’s seemingly endless requests for more money is damning. At one point, KiwiRail assured Robertson when he was the Finance Minister that the worst-case scenario would be an extra $300 million before requesting $1.2 billion a few months later.

Not what most people regard as worst case.

It’s no wonder Ministry of Transport officials have raised the question of KiwiRail’s suitability to run the Interislander business in the medium to long term.

I think that is the real question.

But officials are already investigating how the market might respond to the hypothetical exit of KiwiRail, including whether rival operator Bluebridge could provide more capacity across Cook Strait.

They have mulled over whether the Interislander business could be separated into another SOE or sold via a trade sale.

The ripples of this failed project are already being felt beyond Cook Strait.

It is no longer only a question of what will replace the Interislander fleet but also whether KiwiRail should have anything to do with running the business.

The answer must be no. Ferries over Cook Strat is a competitive enterprise. It is not a natural monopoly like train lines. There is no reason taxpayers need to be paying out billions of dollars for one ferry service, when there are others that actually are profitable.

Sensible compromise on Christchurch Call

Stuff reports:

New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and French President Emmanuel Macron have announced a new non-governmental organisation, the Christchurch Call Foundation, to coordinate the Christchurch Call’s work to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.  

Jacinda Ardern will remain part of the initiative, as Patron of the Call.

New Zealand taxpayer funding for the Christchurch Call will end on June 30, as support functions transfer to the new Secretariat, funded by the new Foundation. The new Secretariat will be up and running under the Foundation from July 1. 

The Christchurch Call Foundation has already attracted pledges from members of the Call Community and philanthropic donors.

This looks to be a very good compromise.

  1. The Call is no longer taxpayer funded
  2. Ardern is Patron, but no longer represents the NZ Government on it
  3. The Call can continue, but will have to prove value to donors