Editorials 5 April 2010

The Herald focuses on the SFO:

Helen Clark’s Government threatened to abolish the SFO and merge its functions with a police unit.

Having survived that, the SFO is now facing a renewed barrage of criticism and an overhaul that seems likely to comprehensively change its mode of operation.

Judith Collins, the Minister Responsible for the SFO, has talked of rebuilding “its capabilities after years of political neglect”. …

The upshot appears to be that five senior staff with more than 70 years of fraud investigation experience among them, including Gib Beattie, the present assistant director, are unlikely to reapply for new roles.

All have been involved in high-profile cases, including, most recently, that of ASB Bank fraudster Stephen Versalko. If they depart, the SFO will lose a huge fund of institutional knowledge.

It will surely face a greater struggle to combine with other regulators to ensure the “speedier, united response to cases of suspected fraud” demanded by Ms Collins.

Too much of the criticism of the SFO has been over the top. It should not be the whipping boy for the finance-company debacle and nor should it be restructured in such a way that valuable experience is driven away.

If a wiser approach is not adopted, white-collar criminals will be the only winners.

In the end, the SFO will be judged on its results.

The Press calls for goodwill on the foreshore & seabed issue:

In recent New Zealand political and social history, few issues have been as divisive as the foreshore and seabed. This controversial debate was triggered by the Court of Appeal ruling in the 2003 Ngati Apa legal action, which suggested that in some narrow cases iwi might be able to convert customary title into freehold title.

For the then-Labour Government, this raised the spectre that Maori could end up controlling sections of the coastline and limiting public access. Labour over-reacted by passing legislation that placed the foreshore and seabed in Crown ownership, albeit with a process for recognising customary rights, and this triggered the formation of the Maori Party.

Now, National has offered an olive branch to iwi and the Maori Party. It is, inevitably, a compromise solution but, with goodwill on all sides, it does have the potential to heal the lingering sore that has been the foreshore and seabed issue.

People should not be surprised that most Iwi will say they want more, than what is in the proposed solution. To some degrees, this is like any other commercial negotiation. You never have one party say “Oh well actually I think we have enough money/resource, so we won’t try and get any more”. Of course you do.

But this tension is not the only reason why the Maori Party has been circumspect in its reaction to National’s foreshore and seabed proposal. Maori leaders will want to be seen as pushing for the maximum concessions possible.

The party will be acutely conscious that within its ranks are those who would agree with its MP Hone Harawira’s view that Maori should have full ownership, rather than just customary title.

And that is a view some may have. But that is not what the Court of Appeal ruled. In fact, it is a million miles from what the Court of Appeal said.

But this would be totally unacceptable to National, and Prime Minister John Key has delivered a blunt warning that if he cannot forge a consensus around his party’s proposal, then the status quo will prevail.

Given that the Maori Party was originally formed to get rid of the hated foreshore and seabed legislation, the chance to achieve this and to get customary title through the courts is one which, while not ideal for all iwi, should still be firmly grasped.

And so far, there does seem to be goodwill.

The Dominion Post looks at Labour’s plans for Wellington City Council:

The Labour Party has announced it will relaunch itself into local body politics, and put up a slate of council candidates as well as, perhaps, someone for mayor.

So Labour want to take over the Council. I’m tempted to joke that at least it makes it easy to know who not to vote for, but in fact I don’t vote purely on ideological lines for local bodies. I regard (for example) that Ray Ahipene-Mercer does a good job as a Councillor, and he is left of centre. Celia Stephanie Cook also does a reasonable job, and she is Green.

Does Wellington want local body politics to return to tribal affiliations? Would that be good for the city?

The answer is “maybe”. Having a stance thrashed out at caucus meetings – which MPs hold regularly – before council meetings might mean that the fractious debate that so marks Wellington City Council disappears. Arguments would happen within the caucus instead.

That might improve the council’s public reputation.

On the other hand, councillors who represent a political party would be subject to the party whip – that is, be forced to toe the party line – or risk being dropped from the party ticket at the next election.

The same might be true, of course, of those who rely on Sir Robert’s patronage when or if they stand in October.

Party politics have their place. That might be around a council table. But cleaving to rigid ideologies is no substitute for considered thought, which is what ratepayers vote councillors into office to provide – especially when Wellington’s future is at stake in a post-Auckland super-city environment.

The over-riding concern of any councillor must surely be what is best for the city they have the honour to represent.

That is not possible for Labour Councillors. I agree a ticket can sometimes be of value, to get a coherent agenda through. But tickets are best as groupings of like minded people, but not as a party that bans Councillors from voting against the majority.

Labour has specific rules on local body elections.

  • Rule 87 bans party members from standing as Independents if Labour contests the election
  • Rule 91 requires candidates to sign a pledge that they will vote in line with the Caucus for that local body

So be aware, if you vote for a Labour candidate, you are voting for candidates who are forbidden freedom of opinion on any issue that comes before Council.

The ODT focuses on land in Africa and New Zealand:

During the past two or three years, as many as 20 million hectares of African land, an area equivalent to all the arable farming land in France and worth about $US20 billion-$US30 billion, have been acquired by countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and China.

These vast tracts have been either bought or leased to grow staple crops, or biofuels, which are then repatriated, says a 2009 Economist magazine article. …

It is partly against this background that attempts to buy up large parcels of New Zealand land should be considered.

The latest such move came to light on Wednesday when it was reported that a company, Southern Pastures, registered in Auckland, is seeking $500 million from local and offshore investors either to buy outright or controlling shares in farming concerns thoughout the southern hemisphere, but with a bias towards New Zealand. …

Leadership is required, and care needed, to devise policy on how New Zealand will play its part in the food supply chain over the next several decades.

On the one hand, the country requires inward investment to develop further aspects of food production infrastructure; on the other, once the land is gone, it is gone forever.

Measurable gains from such sales will need to be demonstrably substantial and long-lasting before they can be permitted.

If we ban Chinese firms from investing in NZ farms, then we can’t complain if China bans Fonterra from investing in Chinese dairy operations.

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