Political story of the day

June 20, 2014

While sideshows and mud slinging are getting attention, the government is getting on with business as normal which includes working hard to progress freer trade.

Time to get down to business on tangled trade deal - Audrey Young:

At 3am tomorrow, New Zealand time, John Key will have the second most important meeting of his visit to the United States.

It’s a lunch meeting with US Trade Representative Mike Froman at the New Zealand Embassy, where ambassador Mike Moore, a former World Trade Organisation director general, will also be present.

Froman is effectively leading the Trans Pacific Partnership talks, which are in a parlous state.

Rescuing the deal from a pitiful result is Key’s top priority for the trip. . .

New Zealand already has very open borders which means we have little to lose and a lot to gain from any free trade deals and the TPP would be particularly helpful if it includes agricultural produce.

But negotiations are painstakingly slow.

 


Political story of the day

June 19, 2014

The round-up of political stories while Politics Daily is taking a break seemed  like a good idea but it was taking too much time.

Instead, I’ll feature a political story of the day and welcome you to add others.

My pick won’t necessarily be the most important one, and today’s isn’t:

Politics. It just IS cricket: Sports diplomacy at the UN – Audrey Young:

The United Nations hasn’t seen so much fun in ages.

The Palestinian chief diplomat at the UN tried out his first game of cricket.

The Prime Minister told risqué jokes about his wife.

And Foreign Minister Murray McCully was stumped, possibly for the first time in his life.

Cricketing legend Sir Richard Hadlee was the draw card on the East Lawn of the United Nations at an event to promote the Cricket World Cup next year jointly hosted by New Zealand and Australia, starting February 14. . .

Make cricket, not war?


Contagious excellence

January 24, 2014

Th Post Primary Teachers’ Association is ‘cautiously optimistic’ about proposals for new, and better paid, roles for teachers and principals announced by Prime Minister John Key yesterday.

PPTA President Angela Roberts said she was “cautiously optimistic” and welcomed the extra resourcing to support teachers, as well as greater collaboration between teachers across schools.

She said its ability to work as intended would depend on how it was implemented, but welcomed Mr Key’s promise that the profession would be involved in implementing the new roles. . . .

She said it provided the potential for good teachers to advance their careers without having to leave the classroom to take up leadership positions.

“It feels like what they have done is not just recognise and reward the great teachers, but once they’ve recognised those great teachers they will treat them for what they are, which is a great resource, and enable them to support their colleagues.”

That’s high praise from the organisation which normally opposes anything from National on principle.

Principals’ Federation President Phil Harding said the announcements were significant for both principals and teachers.

“It’s hard for me to say it but I’m pretty damned impressed. It is a huge amount of new money and I have never seen such a transformation of ideas and discussion into policy and money in my life. It has gone from a theoretical discussion about how the system needed to evolve and change just last year to the appropriation of significant resource.”

He was hopeful it would work as intended and believed the $50,000 financial incentives for good principals to take on challenging schools were sufficient. . . .

Why it’s hard for him to say he’s impressed has a lot more to do with politics than education, but at least he’s said it.

The School Trustees’ Association, which is more focussed on the impact on pupils than teachers, is less guarded in its enthusiasm:

Keeping great teachers in the classroom and investing in better career pathways for our teachers and principals is a great way to start the new year, says NZSTA President Lorraine Kerr.

“We’ve been talking about finding better ways to boost collaboration between schools for a long time.

It’s exciting to see the talk being converted into action,” she says. “This is a really good initiative.”

Providing better career pathways for our teachers and principals is an idea that that we fully endorse, as is developing a better way of supporting teachers and principals to continually improve their professional practice. Boards will be enthusiastic about the message this sends about valuing our principals and teachers. We will need to work through the practicalities of how Executive Principals

and Expert Teachers being off-site two days a week will shake down in their own schools, but boards are generally very proud of the expertise their staff have, and will be eager to share that expertise with other schools in a structured way as long as their own staff and students don’t lose out as a result.

It is good to hear the commitment to working through the practicalities through consultation with the sector, and NZSTA is looking forward to playing a constructive part in those discussions. We have all shown a lot of good faith over the last year or so, including principals’ groups and teacher unions, by engaging in open discussions with Minister Parata. The Ministerial Cross-Sector Forum is a good example. It hasn’t always been easy, so it’s good to see that investment in relationship-building bearing fruit.

If we do this right, there is potential for these new positions to make excellence contagious through all our schools. That will be our opportunity for 2014.

Challenge accepted.

The NZEI is sceptical which means it can’t see past its politics to the benefits this will bring to teachers and more importantly pupils but Audrey Young writes they and the opposition:

will look as though they are opposing it for the sake of opposing it.

Key has identified an age-old problem in schools that really good teachers often leave the classroom to progress their careers.

Credible research over the years has linked good teaching to good results by pupils.

Most of us know that anecdotally because we’ve experienced it.

We don’t need credible research to know that good teachers can lift achievement and that good principals can have a huge impact on the school environment, the expectations and teaching quality. . .

It’s difficult for unions to argue against this without shooting holes in their arguments about how important teachers are.

. . . Teacher unions have found it difficult to accept performance pay because it necessarily implies some teachers are not performing well. They fear it could undermine the collegiality among teachers that is vital to successful schools.

But the way that Key has outlined the new teacher positions however looks less like a policy to divide and rule teachers and more like something all teachers should aspire to becoming. Hopefully it will also lift the status of the teaching profession in society.

The teacher unions need to accept that plans to improve teaching need not be an attack on their members. . . .

Rather the opposite is the case.

Improving teaching, rewarding good ones, helping all of them getting and treating them like the professionals they should be is good for them and those they teach.


Not Judge Judy

December 3, 2013

Tweet of the day:

 


Top two in step

November 7, 2013

John Armstrong marks the fifth birthday’ of John Key’s government with an interviewing showing how National’s leader and his deputy and Finance Minister Bill English have forged a successful working relationship.

Bill English is talking about electric fences. But not the kind used on his Southland farm.

Sitting at the other end of a couch from John Key in the Prime Minister’s Beehive office, the Minister of Finance is explaining the complex and delicate dynamics which drive the most important relationship in the corridors of power – the one between Key and himself.

He is referring to the boundaries which Key – a moderate conservative with a dread fear of losing the hearts and minds of election-determining middle-income earners – establishes around what he considers to be no-go areas for reform-minded ministers like English.

“He [Key] is very good at making it clear when those boundaries are infringed … It’s like electric fences. You hit the electric fence.”

It seems that does not happen very often. By this stage of proceedings both politicians know exactly what is and is not acceptable to the other.

Success in any relationship requires an understanding of, and respect for, boundaries.

Strenuous efforts are made to kill any suggestion of disagreement around the Cabinet table. The idea that there might be even a sliver of daylight between the stances taken by the two most powerful figures in the country can shake public confidence in a government.

In 2005, the Herald came under huge pressure not to run a story which intimated that Helen Clark and Michael Cullen were not seeing eye-to-eye over the timing of tax cuts.

When a prime minister and finance minister are in harmony, the governing party can be a formidable creature slaying all that dare cross its path. . . 

John and Bill might have disagreements round the margins but they are in step on everything that really matters.

The lingering question is how this pairing has avoided the pitfalls which have seen governments paralysed when the two pockets of power have stopped trusting one another and started undermining one another.

Told, the Herald wants to focus on their partnership before and after National was returned to power in 2008, Key turns and looks at English and exclaims “Okay, love” and laughs. English replies in typically droll fashion: “As a loyal deputy, I can assure you, it is not a partnership.” He means not that sort of partnership.

The humour, however, has an edge which leaves the listener wondering just how well the two men actually get along. . . .

Anyone who has seen them together knows they get along well.

Both have keen senses of humour and often use the other as the butt of that. Being able to do that without threatening their relationship requires genuine and mutual liking and respect.

English’s approach to reform is to make incremental changes, rather than doing it all at once.

As a young backbencher in the 1990s, he watched Richardson’s big-bang approach blow up in her face. National’s opponents claim English’s incrementalism is all about keeping the punters in the dark about his real objectives.

English denies this. “[It's about] taking the public along, not just for political reasons, but because it’s how you win the arguments.”

Bulldozers don’t win arguments, a slower, more careful approach which allows people to see results does.

What the pair both say is that the success of their partnership is in part because they occupy the same “ideological space”. More likely, English is more ideologically focused. But – like Key – he is also a pragmatist.

Refusing to offer up examples which would be swooped on by opponents, Key says differences of opinion occur over “nuances” rather than over the Government’s direction – the case with the open warfare between Lange and Douglas.

Key says he cannot imagine how Lange’s and Douglas’s Beehive offices became so isolated from one another. In contrast, his and English’s staff are constantly in and out of each other’s offices on the ninth and seventh floors of the building. . .

It’s not just the leader and deputy who are in step and communicating properly, their staff are and do too.

English – who is careful not to talk over Key throughout the 45-minute interview – notes that important matter of “distinct hierarchy”.

“If a prime minister says ‘this is what we are going to do’, whether I might completely agree is irrelevant, particularly with a successful prime minister. If he says ‘I want this’, then that is what happens.”

That doesn’t however mean who can’t be persuaded to change his mind as Audrey Young gives some examples.

Prime Minister John Key has admitted he had to be persuaded to back off his bid to press the Reserve Bank into exempting first-home buyers from the banks’ new rules on loan-to-value ratios (LVRs) by Finance Minister Bill English. . .

But in a joint interview with Mr English this week – marking five years in power for the National-led Government – he indicated that Mr English thought taking on the independent bank would be more trouble than it was worth.

“So I took a step back from that and said ‘yeah, okay, well fine’. That’s the way it goes.” . .

“I’d be the first to admit I was a bit nervous about raising GST thinking can you actually politically sell all of that,” he said.

“Actually after we did all the modelling and we worked on it together, we were absolutely convinced it was fair and would actually work and it would deliver the sort of policy outcomes we wanted. And actually it’s definitely delivering results for the economy.” . .

People in any relationship have different ideas, it’s how differences are handled which matters.

Mr Key said the measure of any decent relationship was that you worked your way through all sorts of issues and respected each other’s views.

Mr English made much of what he described as Mr Key’s instinctive ability to communicate with the public and maintain its support, and knowing how to set boundaries in terms of policy constraints.

They cited the example of state tenants’ entitlements.

Mr Key said successive Ministers of Housing and Housing officials had wanted the income that any state tenant received from boarders to be received to be counted as income in terms of calculating entitlements.

“But my view is well that would be seen as a step too far for large families or families that are trying really hard to make ends meet.

“And in the end if they are prepared to go the extra mile of having someone live in their home and cook them a meal, they are just good New Zealanders trying to get ahead.

“It’s like the carparking [dumped fringe benefit tax] issue.

“In the perfection of the IRD officials, we should have carried on with putting an FBT on those carparks – but that’s how you lose the public,” he said.

Mr Key also indicated that he had put constraints on labour market reforms.

Both men are pragmatic and that’s one of the reasons for their success and the continuing popularity of the government.

They’ve built up trust by saying what they’ll do and doing it and taken a good percentage of the public with them.

The strong relationship between the two of them, their mutual trust and respect, and understanding of their differences and different roles have also played an important role in that.

Armstrong finishes with a couple of quotes on how they see each other:

Bill on John:

• “(John) has more ideas than we know how to handle. My framework is a bit more conventional so I spend a lot of time just dealing with issues in a reasonably predictable way but the PM is always stretching the boundaries.”

• “He’s endlessly capable of everything, I assure you – catching fish, cooking pasta, making up policy, being friends with the Queen. There is nothing this man can’t do.”

John on Bill:

• “They are quite complementary skills. I do a lot of going around the country opening things and cutting ribbons and being the kind of face of the party that’s interacting with the public. And Bill is doing a lot of the long term thinking, heavy-lifting and policy design, all the things that involve ministers … I’m kind of the retail face.”

I think John is understating the important role he plays in policy development and ensuring the government is working well.

But that ‘retail face”, the man the public see and like is a big part of his role and an important ingredient in the positive view the public still have of the government after five years in power.

#gigatownoamaru is in step to become the Southern Hemisphere’s fastest town.


Diplomacy in words

January 14, 2013

It’s far too early to award the diplomatic line of the year award, but this from Rotorua MP Todd McLay has to be a contender:

I don’t think anybody could do Tim Groser’s job but I would love an opportunity to do more in an area I have done a bit of work in before.

He was replying to Audrey Young who asked him if he would like Trade Negotiations Minister Tim Groser’s job.

 

 


Finlayson tops Herald’s ministerial rankings

November 12, 2012

Attorney General and Minister for Treaty Negotiations and Labour Chris Finlayson has number one spot in the NZ Herald’s ministerial rankings.

Audrey Young dubs him the Minister for results:

Chris Finlayson has emerged as one of John Key’s most valuable ministers in National’s second term. He has scored the highest rating of all ministers in my report card on the Executive prepared with colleagues in the Herald press gallery team. . .

Mr Finlayson is Attorney-General and Treaty Negotiations Minister. He is also Labour Minister since Kate Wilkinson resigned after the royal commission’s damning report into the Pike River disaster.

On the face of it, that may not seem a natural fit – and it may be just a temporary appointment until the next reshuffle. But Mr Finlayson’s skill set may be the right one to keep the job for the rest of the term. He gets results. He has a big intellect and has a good head for detail. But he is also emotionally intelligent, and was a good choice to send to the West Coast to discuss the report with the Pike River families.

His achievements in Treaty Negotiations are the most notable. Who would have imagined two years ago the Government concluding a deal with Tuhoe?

He doesn’t make a fuss but gets things done and the number of Treaty settlements successfully concluded is worthy of praise.

Health Minister Tony Ryall and Justice Minister Judith Collins scored highly as well. The Opposition has been able to inflict few dents on the Government in health, such is Mr Ryall’s control after four years in the portfolio. Labour has had three spokespeople over four years. . .

At the other end of the ranking was education Minister Hekia Parata.

Education is always a tough portfolio and always seems to be tougher for National ministers.

That is partly due to the strength of teacher unions which are ideologically opposed to the party regardless of the merit of its policies.

Let’s not forget that for all the bad press, the Minister has kept an unrelenting and much needed focus on improving standards, especially for that long tail of under achievers.

Then there’s the Ministry of Education which has obviously learned nothing from the debacle over school closures udner Trevor Mallard in the last Labour government’s first term .

Closing or merging schools is always going to be fraught. Doing it in Christchurch which was already dealing with so much after the earthquakes required extra sensitivity which it didn’t get.

How some of the really silly suggestions, merging Avonside and Christchurch Girls’, and Christchurch and Shirley Boys’ for example which even the minister admits was crazy,  was ever mooted, let alone presented for discussion, is difficult to understand.

And a ministry which says it didn’t gives schools information because it was too complex requires radical surgery.

The full ranking (in Cabinet order) is:

John Key – 7
Prime Minister, Tourism, SIS, GCSB

Bill English – 8
Finance

Gerry Brownlee – 7.5
Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, Transport

Steven Joyce – 7
Economic Development

Judith Collins – 8.5
Justice, ACC

Tony Ryall – 8.5
Health, State-owned Enterprises

Hekia Parata – 3
Education

Chris Finlayson – 9
Attorney General, Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, Labour

Paula Bennett – 7
Social Development

David Carter – 8
Primary Industries, Local Government

Murray McCully – 7
Foreign Affairs

Anne Tolley – 7
Police, Corrections

Jonathan Coleman – 8
Defence, State Services

Tim Groser – 8
Trade, Climate Change issues

Phil Heatley – 5
Housing, Energy and Resources

Kate Wilkinson – 4
Conservation, Food Safety

Nathan Guy – 6
Immigration, Veteran’s Affairs, Associate Primary Industries

Craig Foss – 6
Commerce, Broadcasting

Amy Adams – 7
Environment, Communication and Information Technology

Chris Tremain – 6
Internal Affairs

Maurice Williamson – 7
Building, Customs, Land Information

Jo Goodhew – 6
Senior Citizens, Women’s Affairs

Chester Borrows – 6
Courts, Associate Justice, Associate Social Development

Simon Bridges – 7
Consumer Affairs, Associate Climate Change, Associate Transport


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