Stiching up

April 23, 2014

Photo of the day:

Prime Minister John Key at Kilt clothing in Napier.
Who wants one?

Captions are welcome – wit is encouraged, abuse is not.


Unholy mess

April 23, 2014

Prime Minister John Key says Easter trading laws aren’t working well and need to be changed.

He’s right on both counts, the law is an unholy mess.

Anyone can trade in Queenstown and Taupo but only some can in neighbouring Wanaka and Rotorua.

Outside the designated tourist areas a petrol station or dairy can sell magazines and milk but a book shop and supermarket can’t.

We were in Wanaka at the weekend, the town was full and almost all shops were open every day.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has released a statement saying it doesn’t discuss its enforcement approach with external parties and that it takes a reactive approach to trading laws, only investigating when complaints are made.

As of 1pm today, MBIE had received 18 complaints, most of them in the North Island, but one from Wanaka. . . .

At least we now don’t have the ridiculous situation of MBIE staff working to police those who shouldn’t be working, but having some busy-bodies reporting businesses doing what they shouldn’t in one place when they could in another isn’t much better.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean has been trying to get some sense into the situation but it’s a conscience vote and with the left block voting the union way she hasn’t been able to get the numbers.

But one of the guests on RadioNZ’s panel last week came up with a compromise that might work – treat Good Friday and Easter Sunday like Anzac Day – have all businesses close in the morning but able to open in the afternoon.

This would be a compromise which won’t please everyone, but it would be better than the unholy mess we have now.


To be seen or not to be seen

April 16, 2014

Campbell Live wanted to do a series on party leaders at home.

It is the sort of publicity politicians can’t buy and an opportunity to show voters the people behind the politics.

John Key was first up last week.

Peter Dunne and Winston Peters declined to take part.

David Cunliffe was scheduled for Monday evening this week  but he pulled out.

. . . Mr Cunliffe has also cancelled an invitation for a second time to have television cameras in his home for an election year leaders series. Mr Parker says Mr Cunliffe has a young family and a right to privacy. . .

His family does have a right to privacy but if last week’s session at home with the Keys was anything to go by, there would have been no need for the family to be involved.

It is much more likely he doesn’t want people to see he doesn’t live in a modest house, in a modest suburb.

The family was a silly excuse and his decision an error of judgement similar to turning down the invitation for a weekly interview on the Farming Show.

It has been compounded by his not turning up in parliament at Question Time, choosing to address some business leaders instead.

We’re not hearing him on the Farming Show, we’re not see him on TV and we’re not seeing him in the House yet only last week he was complaining because he wasn’t going to be seen enough with the Royals.

Does he want to be seen and heard or doesn’t he?


Any publicity . . .

April 8, 2014

Labour leader David Cunliffe has been struggling to be heard above the noise of the Dotcomana dalliance but finally he’s got some attention:

Labour leader David Cunliffe has taken a swipe at John Key over the royal visit, suggesting the prime minister is milking the extra “facetime” with Prince William and his wife, compared with his own limited meetings.

He also described a possible visit to the White House as “pre-election PR from the prime minister ” who was “stage managing the calendar of the year as it suits him”.

But he conceded “it may not be the first time prime ministers have stage managed international visits”.

Cunliffe said it was very  important that the treatment of the royal visit was as even-handed as possible between the government and the opposition, and also that the visit was well-spaced from the election.

The split between the government and the opposition should be as even as possible – but it wasn’t, he said.

Labour was positive about the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and they were very welcome in New Zealand.

“We are not going to play politics with it,” Cunliffe said. He would  “leave it for New Zealanders to decide” if there was sufficient gap between their visit and the election.

Apart from a one-on-one meeting with Prince William, Labour would be part of only one other event, a trip to Blenheim on Wednesday.

Cunliffe repeated he would let the people of New Zealand draw their own conclusion if that was fair or if he was getting enough “facetime”.

Any publicity isn’t good publicity.

Cunliffe sounds like a child with his nose out of joint because an older sibling is getting more attention.

It also shows a warped view of what matters to and influences voters.

Key said that he would not be at the “vast, overwhelming” number of events on the royal visit schedule and did not believe he was milking the event.

“I don’t actually think anyone’s going to vote National, Labour or any other political party because we’re seen standing next to the royals when they’re in New Zealand,” Key said.

“They vote on the economy, law and order, health and education. As soon as David Cunliffe starts talking about that and not this sort of rubbish, he might do a little bit better.”

Quite.

If Cunliffe really thinks someone who’s going to notice who’s spending time with the Duke and Duchess in April will let that influence their vote in September, he’s needs to get out more.

Political tragics might be interested in the election now but few others I’ve spoken to recently are remotely interested.

When, and if, they start thinking about it the royal visit is very unlikely to be a factor.


Political playground

April 8, 2014

Trans Tasman takes politicians back to school:

Hone Harawira, one suspects, used to specialise in Chinese burns and other playground tortures when he was at school. The Mana Party leader has the kind of air about him redolent of such schoolyard antics. John Key was probably the cheeky kid who cracked enough jokes to be popular with the other kids but who nevertheless did his homework assiduously and kept on authority’s good side. David Cunliffe was the greasy goody two shoes, bright, geeky and probably a bit of a sneak. Peter Dunne – swotty pants. Russel Norman – ditto, but a more argumentative version of the same. Metiria Turei: the slightly flaky party girl (a bit like Paula Bennett, in fact).

We had classic playground diversion stuff this week when it was suggested Harawira is the lone electorate MP Kim Dotcom has signed up to his party. It’s not me, sir, Harawira protested – pointing indignantly to the class swot Peter Dunne sitting quietly in the corner. Key of course has rubbished the idea his support partner might be in talks with the Internet pirate who has promised to bring the Prime Minister down. “Not a dog show,” the PM laughed, which prompted a few to remember the Country Calender spoof about the remote controlled sheep dogs, and to ponder Dunne’s resemblance to a slightly affronted Scottish Rough Collie.

Former Labour leader David Shearer – the decent kid  everyone used to pick on – is the other candidate who has been suggested, but this looks even less likely than Dunne. Dotcom has historically held a somewhat awkward relationship with the truth which has occasionally brought him to the attention of the authorities. This looks like another of those occasions. . .

An awkward relationship with the truth, may or may not apply to the 2000 members his Internet Party claims to have.

It’s applied to register as a political party.

. . . Following registration the Internet Party will need to submit its rules providing for the democratic participation of members and candidate selection within the time period specified by law. . .

It’s constitution is here but Russell Brown raises questions on whether they allow for democratic participation by members:

1. There is a special role called ‘party visionary.’ This is defined as Kim Dotcom, or a person selected by Kim Dotcom. THis visionary has the automatic right to sit and vote on the party’s executive and policy committee and cannot be kicked out by the membership.
2. To stand for election to the party’s executive, in addition to being nominated by current members of the party you’ve got to be nominated by a current member of the National Executive. This locks in the incumbents.
3. The party’s executive has nearly unfettered control over the list: they put together an initial list, send it out to the membership to vote on, and then they ultimately decide what the final list should be having regard to the member’s choices.
4. The national executive chooses who stands in what electorate. No local member input at all.
5. The party secretary has a very important role (eg they get to solely arbitrate over disputes; they set out the process for amending the constitution, they decide the process for electing office holders; they’re a voting member of the National Executive). The only problem is they’re legally an employee of the party’s shell company, meaning that it is very hard for the members to exercise democratic control over the secretary (you can’t just fire an employee).
6. On a related note: the way the Internet Party is structured is so all its assets are kept in a shell company (Internet Party Assets Inc), away from the party itself. I don’t know what the purpose of this one was TBH. (the rules of this company were meant to be attached to the constitution in a schedule, but as far as I can see they’re not there)
7. They’re using the old ‘vote in Parliamentary caucus’ decides leader method. To be fair, most parties use this though. There is a bit of a quirk though that until we know their list we don’t know who their party leader is, because if they’re outside of Parliament their party leader is just whoever is at number 1 of the list. (I also note there’s no way to remove a leader if they don’t have representation in Parliament).”

Not so much of, for and by the members as of, for and by Dotcom.

But the silver lining to the Dotcom cloud is that every bit of media attention he’s getting – and he’s getting a lot – is less for the rest of the opposition.


Barbara Kuriger Nat candidate for TKC

April 7, 2014

National party members have selected Barbara Kuriger, who was the inaugural Dairy Women of the Year, as its candidate for Taranaki King Country.

 . . . Mrs Kuriger said she was honoured to receive the nomination to contest the seat.

 “It’s a tremendous privilege to be able to contest the seat for National and for Taranaki – King Country communities,” said Mrs Kuriger.

 “John Key and National are delivering real opportunities for regional New Zealand. I will be working hard to ensure our communities keep a strong voice in National at the election.”

 Barbara is a shareholder and Director of 3 family owned farming businesses.

 Focused succession planning has created the opportunity for Barbara to transition from full time farming to follow her passion for the Agribusiness industry into the roles of governance, coaching, and leadership.

 In 2012 she was awarded the Inaugural Dairy Women of the Year which came with a Fonterra scholarship to participate in the Global Women’s Breakthrough Leadership Program, from which she graduated in September 2013.

Barbara is currently on the Board of Directors for DairyNZ, Dairy Training Limited, Primary ITO, New Zealand Young Farmers, Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre, Te Kauta, Venture Taranaki Trust, and the Dairy Women’s Network. She is Chair of the Primary Industries Capability Alliance.

She is highly regarded in the agricultural industry and is seeking more opportunities to collaborate with other industries to promote regional growth. 

Barbara is a sought after speaker for conferences and events both within New Zealand and internationally, and is involved in many community activities. She is also a regular columnist with the NZ Farmers Weekly and does regular opinion pieces on radio.

There’s more on her website.

Rural electorates are supposedly more conservative but members in TKC have, like those in Waitaki (held by Jacqui Dean), Rangitata (Jo Goodhew) and Selwyn (Amy Adams)  in earlier years, selected a woman in a safe blue seat.

Anyone reading her biography will realise that she was chosen on her merits and has the skills and experience to make a positive difference to her electorate, in parliament and for the country.


No lolly scramble from National

April 3, 2014

If you’d been through several tough years in your household or business, were getting your head back above the water and had a little extra money, what would you do?

Pay down debt and put away something for the next crisis, or splash out?

If you were sensible you’d take the first option and that’s what National will do if it’s returned to government this year.

Prime Minister John Key said that in a speech which told us there will be no election year lolly scramble.

. . . Budget forecasts will show that in the coming financial year the Government is going to post a surplus, albeit a small one.

Once that has been achieved, we can start getting our debt down.

The Budget will show that we remain on track to reduce net government debt to below 20 per cent of GDP by 2020.

At the same time – over successive budgets – we have set out on a longer-term path to repair the damage to our economy from the excessive borrowing, consumption and government spending of the mid-2000s.

That path has involved reforms like the tax switch of 2010, that significantly reduced personal income tax rates across the board, and encouraged savings and work.

As I’ve said, the worst times are now behind us and the risks of another global crisis have lessened considerably.

So the Government’s focus has moved from managing our way through a recession, with persistent budget deficits, to managing a growing economy.

Initially, growth in the economy has been driven by low interest rates, high prices for our exports, a catch-up in housing supply and the rebuilding of Christchurch.

But this momentum has now turned into a much broader recovery where consumer and business confidence has lifted, employment is rising and wages on average are increasing faster than the cost of living.

Our focus is on sustaining economic growth over the medium term, so the economy doesn’t just burn brightly for a couple of years and then run out of oxygen.

Because when we talk about the economy – about things like GDP and the balance of payments – we’re ultimately talking about people’s jobs, their wages, and the costs they face in going about their daily lives and raising their families.

Therefore, it’s hugely important to continue the progress we’ve recently been making.

Over the past year, for example, 66,000 more people have got a job.

Average weekly wages have gone up 2.8 per cent, compared to inflation of only 1.6 per cent.

And the economy as a whole has grown 3.1 per cent – one of the faster growth rates in the developed world.

The Budget will show that this employment growth is forecast to continue and the unemployment rate is expected to fall.

Wages are forecast to continue rising faster than inflation.

And economic growth is forecast to continue.

So we are setting out to manage the growing economy with a five- to 10-year view in mind.

Our task is to take the opportunity of a reasonable growth outlook to deepen investment, upgrade skills, intensify and diversify our export base and become more competitive.

Firstly, on the Government’s fiscal strategy:

We have had an on-going commitment to discipline around government spending and that will continue this year, next year and for as long as we lead the Government.

One way to illustrate our approach is this – in the last five years of the previous Labour government, new operating spending each budget averaged $2.7 billion a year.

But in the five budgets of our government, new operating spending has averaged only $250 million a year.

So that’s less than a tenth of the rate of new spending under Labour.

In the last five years of Labour, government spending in total went up 50 per cent.

Bill English often describes that period as a kind of experiment to determine if indiscriminately spending large amounts of money would solve social problems.

Turns out it didn’t.

Spending more doesn’t necessarily get better results.

In contrast, we’ve had a different approach, which is to focus on what is really driving social outcomes like crime, welfare dependency and underachievement at school, and address those underlying causes.

That approach is delivering real results, without breaking the bank. In fact, over the longer term it saves money.

In prisons, for example, we have focused very strongly on literacy and numeracy, skills training, treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, working prisons and reintegration of ex-prisoners into the community.

That is giving offenders the opportunity to turn their lives around and stay away from crime.

Already this approach has reduced reoffending by 12.6 per cent, which is halfway to the target we’ve set ourselves of a 25 per cent drop.

So far, it has meant around 2,300 fewer offenders and 9,300 fewer victims of crime each year.

In welfare, we have focused on getting people off benefits and into work, because that is the best way to lift people and their families out of poverty.

This has involved an upfront investment in case management and support, but it’s expected to have a considerable pay-off as people leave life on a benefit to get established in full-time work.

Addressing these and other issues hasn’t meant big increases in spending.

In fact, we’ve found that the possibility of more spending can be a distraction from a growing focus in the public sector on solving complex problems rather than throwing money at them.

Government spending has actually been declining as a proportion of the economy, at the same time as we have been achieving these results.

In 2008/09, government spending came to 34.5 per cent of GDP. In the coming year it’s forecast to be 30.6 per cent before going under 30 per cent and staying there.

That is hugely important when the economy is on an upswing because – as the Reserve Bank regularly points out – on-going spending restraint from the Government helps to dampen the interest rate cycle.

The Reserve Bank has already begun to raise interest rates from the historically low levels they’ve been at, towards more neutral levels that aren’t going to over-stimulate the economy.

But keeping government spending under control means that, over the course of the cycle, interest rates will be lower than they otherwise would have to be, and for longer.

In turn, that helps to keep the exchange rate lower than it would be, which is important for the overall competitiveness of the economy.

If you want a real live example of the relationship between government spending and interest rates, think about what happened in the mid-2000s, when the Labour government was putting large cash injections into the economy.

Government spending overheated the economy so much that the Reserve Bank was forced to keep putting up rates, higher and higher, to get on top of it.

By 2008, households faced mortgage rates of almost 11 per cent. Business lending rates were also very high.

In the end, the country went into recession in 2008, well before the global financial crisis.

The National-led Government will avoid repeating the glaring mistakes made in the previous economic cycle.

While some increase in interest rates is an inevitable consequence of a healthy and growing economy, we need to do everything we can to help keep rate rises to a minimum.

And we believe we have the support of New Zealanders who can remember the dashed hopes of debt-fuelled growth and floating mortgage rates above 10 per cent.

So there is not going to be a lolly scramble in this year’s Budget. And we also won’t be doing that in the election campaign later this year.

In this year’s Budget we will be sticking to our new spending allowance of $1 billion.

Together with some sensible savings, this allows us to focus new spending mainly on health and education – which are always at the heart of our budgets – and on families and children.

And sticking to the allowance will enable us to post a small budget surplus in 2014/15, which we have long promised.

In future budgets, we will be posting consistent and larger surpluses. Those surpluses will allow us to begin reducing debt as a proportion of GDP.

This is what sensible and responsible fiscal policy is all about.

In difficult times, governments run deficits and built up debt, to support the economy and jobs. In good times, they run surpluses and pay down that debt. . .

Labour did use some of the tax windfall of the noughties to reduce debt but it also increased spending unsustainably.

Policies it’s announced so far show it hasn’t learned from that mistake.

This gives voters a very real choice in the election – fiscal prudence and responsibility from National or higher taxes and higher spending from Labour and its fellow travellers on the left.


EU-NZ free trade deal on table

March 26, 2014

Prime Minister John Key has more good news for trade:

New Zealand and the European Union are to pursue a free trade pact – but don’t expect any action until at least 2015.

Prime Minister John Key made the announcement in The Hague after meeting European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council president Herman Van Rompuy. He described it as “quite an important” meeting

Two-way trade between New Zealand and the 28 members of the EU totals $16 billion a year.

Key said the EU has, for the first time, agreed to consider a free trade agreement.

But he admitted an ambitious EU-US trade deal, as well as a pact with Canada, will take priority for the Europeans. 

Further progress is also not possible until after European Parliament elections this year, but officials will undertake a scoping study.

“We are actually seeing progress and a breakthrough that historically hasn’t been a option available to us,” Key said.

The deal has the support of both the British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who he met on the sidelines of the major international summit. . .

Some of the credit for this must go to the good relationship between them and Key.

Two-way trade between New Zealand and the EU is worth about $16bn a year and has the potential to rise to $20bn by 2020. 

But exporters are hamstrung by hefty tariffs – including 8.2 per cent on kiwifruit. By comparison, Chile pays nothing because it is already signed up to an FTA with the 28-country bloc.

“It is easy to look at Europe and think Greece and Spain and some of the well pronounced debt problems,” Key said. “But sitting in amongst that are hundreds of millions of very wealthy consumers who earn a lot, spend a lot and fundamentally are the target market for what we sell.” . . .

A free trade deal with the EU won’t happen quickly but it would bring benefits for producers and their consumers who are paying far more than they need to for our produce because of tariffs.

The EU is our third biggest trading partner in spite of the handicaps we face from duties imposed on our products.

Spain is our biggest market for kiwifruit, even with that 8.2% tariff. The only other New Zealand produce I’ve seen there was apples.

It’s not hard to find New Zealand lamb in the UK and our venison in Germany.

A free trade deal would make it easier for our produce to compete on price and give people their more choice at a lower cost.

It would allow us to put our trading eggs in more baskets which would give better security and bargaining power.


1 + 1 – disaffected = ?

March 25, 2014

Dim Post does the maths on a possible Mana and Internet Party alliance:

. . . I guess both parties are going into this with the fantasy that 1% of the vote plus 1% of the vote will give them 2%, thus an extra MP. But if the merger costs each party more than 50% of their potential voters because the complementary party is anathema to them then they’ll go backwards.

What Dotcom, who is bankrolling the Internet Party, and Mana have in common is an extreme dislike of John Key and National. But the enemy of you enemy isn’t always your friend, nor one your other friends will stomach.

If you’re an adviser to Kim Dotcom or Harawira then a merger must look awful attractive, because it’ll make your life a whole lot easier. But voters don’t vote for parties on their track-record of making life easier for their MPs and staffers.

Most voters also dislike naked opportunism and tend not to like extremists. This Facebook Post from Jevan Goulter introduces several of those from the radical left:

Guys, MANA DOTCOM!
Ok so we would be helping a rich fella with a bunch of money, but it would obviously help MANA to! I’m not saying I think it’s a good idea either, and it’s only my opinion, I speak on behalf of myself, just wanna be clear! The parties would not merge, we would share a list, and guaranteed MANA would have the top spots to start! If we did it, the difference could be 2 or 3 MANA MPs, and we remain our own party! It’s not all doom and gloom ! Could be the difference of having say John Minto and Te Hamua Shane Nikora in the House! Didn’t mention Annette Sykes cause she will already be there. . .

The though of those radicals in parliament is enough to drive centre voters to the safe haven of National.

There is a chance that an alliance of the Internet and Mana parties could get more of their MPs into parliament than either could achieve alone.

But the risk of butchering their own support and frightening enough swinging voters to the centre right is greater.

One plus one, minus the disaffected from the individual parties could deliver less support for both and more for the party which can be depended on for stability.


Rural round-up

March 24, 2014

New evidence that A1 relative to A2 beta-casein affects digestive function – Keith Woodford:

A new paper has been published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition titled “Dietary A1 beta-casein affects gastrointestinal transit time, dipeptidyl peptidase-4 activity, and inflammatory status relative to A2 b-casein in Wistar rats”

The key findings are:
1. A1 beta casein slows down transit of food through the digestive system relative to A2 beta-casein and this is an opioid effect.
2. A1 beta-casein induces a pro- inflammatory effect in the colon which is also an opioid effect.
3. A1 beta casein relative to A2 beta-casein causes up-regulation of the enzyme DPP4 in the small intestine and this is apparently a non-opioid effect.
4. In contrast to the A1 beta-casein, there is no evidence of opioid effects from the A2 beta-casein in relation to either food transit times or pro-inflammatory effects. . . .

Benefits of collaboration - Sally Rae:

Collaboration and partnerships.

Two words mentioned often during a Federated Farmers high country field day in the upper Waitaki last week.

It was a fitting location for such an event, with what could be dubbed the ”green versus brown” debate a very hot issue in both the upper Waitaki and neighbouring Mackenzie districts.

Starting in Twizel, about 140 people travelled in a convoy of vehicles through Doug McIntyre’s dairy farm operation, on to Ohau Downs, where Kees Zeestraten is battling to bring irrigation to his property, then through Ribbonwood Station and into the Ahuriri Valley before viewing irrigation development at Tara Hills near Omarama. . .

Millions spent but no irrigation yet - Sally Rae:

Kees Zeestraten has spent close to $3 million trying to get water to irrigate Ohau Downs.

He admitted he was ”gutted” it had cost so much to get to that point – and still not have water.

Meanwhile, the flats of the 5200ha Omarama property, where he intended to do his irrigation development, were, as North Otago Federated Farmers high country chairman Simon Williamson said, ”pretty depleted”, with hieracium taking over and tussocks struggling to survive.

”In general, you would not say it’s in great health. It’s certainly not knee-high tussocks waving in the wind,” Mr Williamson said. . .

Green hues advancing in the high country - Sally Rae:

‘You wouldn’t get a better landscape. Green is as much a part of it as the tawny brown landscape in the background. What are they worrying about? It fits in.”

That was the comment of High Country Accord chairman Jonathan Wallis, after viewing the result of irrigation development on Tara Hills at Omarama.

The contrast between the green, irrigated flats of the property and the surrounding brown hills was vivid.

The 3400ha station, best known as a research property, was bought by Dave Ellis two years ago. . .

Sorting out key issues – Bryan Gibson:

Prime Minister John Key will hope his visit to China last week will have done the trick in terms of reassuring the government in that country and the buying public that our milk products are safe and our food-safety regime is robust.

A report, covered in this week’s Farmers Weekly, says New Zealand’s infant formula industry is in pretty good shape, but faces many challenges as China looks to tame the “Wild West” market that has taken shape there.

Audits of this country’s processing plants by Chinese authorities are under way and there will be many eager to know the results. . .

Foundation’s Australian links pay off:

The Foundation for Arable Research says its foray into Australia last year is paying off.

Foundation chief executive Nick Pyke said the link with Australia enables it to leverage off the much larger investment in cropping research being carried out across the Tasman.

“We have had some involvement in programmes which are quite different for them (Australia) because of the way we grow crops here in New Zealand, so they have learnt from that”. . .

Auckland Hauraki Dairy Winners Dominant:

The major winners in the 2014 Auckland Hauraki Dairy Industry Awards, Bryce and Rosemarie Costar, have well achievable goals to keep them focused and heading in the right direction.

The Onewhero couple were named the region’s Sharemilker/Equity Farmers of the Year at an awards dinner in Pukekohe last night . Ngatea contract milker Simon Player was named the 2014 Auckland Hauraki Farm Manager of the Year and Paeroa dairy farm assistant Marion Reynolds won the region’s Dairy Trainee of the Year title.

Bryce and Rosemarie Costar are 55% sharemilking 300 cows on a family farm owned by Bill Costar. They won $20,200 in prizes. . .


Wrong side of the line

March 23, 2014

Opposition parties have to tread a fine line between attacks aimed at the government and those which could damage anyone, and anything, caught in the crossfire.

Has Labour got on the wrong side of the line with their on-going fuss over Judith Collins and Oravida while Prime Minsiter John Key ahs been in China?

But the Opposition has been determined to try to ensure Key does not get to politically bank the positives from the deepening bilateral relationship.

This is a mistake, especially given Labour’s own groundbreaking role in forging bilateral ties with China.

Helen Clark – with her profound understanding of international politics and intuitive approach to cementing deals with political leaders of a vastly different ideological mindset – played the diplomatic pathfinder role.

It was Clark’s Government that took the political risk of hurting New Zealand’s relationship with that other great power, the United States, by making significant concessions over China’s “market economy status” to negotiate the free trade deal. Clark Government ministers Phil Goff and Jim Sutton were at the cutting edge. Their negotiations enjoyed bilateral support from then Opposition trade spokesman Tim Groser.

It is a great pity that this “New Zealand Inc” approach has now been deliberately thrown out the window by Opposition politicians out to make domestic political advantage in election year. . .

National and Labour used to have a fair degree of consensus over trade and its importance. In the past week Labour has put political opportunism first.

New Zealand exporters were pleased Key was able to make time after his Xi dinner for photo opportunities with their Chinese clients at Wednesday night’s Celebration of Dairy dinner.

The event kicked on – as they tend to – elsewhere at the Four Seasons hotel and in various nightspots around Beijing.

Here’s the thing: New Zealand exporters are scathing of the Opposition’s timing of the Oravida revelations. Beijing expats retain deep suspicions that in the first place, some “low-level” Foreign Affairs official leaked details of Cabinet minister Judith Collins’ off-schedule meetings with Stone Shi’s Oravida in October, and that the Opposition sat on the issue until the eve of the Prime Minister’s China trip to inflict maximum political damage while he was overseas.

Political foes might be fair game but exporters are not and this timing looks suspiciously like it wasn’t a coincidence.

The upshot is that, yet again, a positive diplomatic foray by Key has been overshadowed by domestic politics.

Collins’ links with the company of which her husband is a director needs to be examined.

But Labour’s decision to rain on Key’s parade is not only short-sighted but mean-spirited.

If Labour wins the next election it will be the beneficiary of Key’s China-related diplomacy in the same way that the Prime Minister has benefited from Clark’s visionary moves.

Reflect on that.

There’s not just political benefits for whichever parties are in government after the election, there’s trade gains to be made with the economic and social gains that come from that which political opportunism from the opposition could have derailed.


Rural round-up

March 22, 2014

Chinese trade target sky-high – Hugh Stringleman:

Prime Minister John Key and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed to aim for $30 billion of bi-lateral trade between New Zealand and China by 2020.

That would be an increase of 65% over the total of two-way trade last year, when NZ sold China almost $10b of exports, mostly from the primary sector, and imported $8.2b.

In a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing they also agreed to modernise the free-trade agreement between the two countries.

“We have great confidence that the coming years will see trade between us increase at a very fast pace,” Key said. . .

No time to penny-pinch on TB – James Houghton:

Looking at the week that was, we have seen Fish & Game come out with a survey full of leading questions, three of our top agricultural science centers lose Government funding, and the Ministry for Primary Industries taking Fonterra to court. One might take that as a bad week, but this is a standard one for agriculture.

What is important to note is that we deal with a lot of negativity on a day-to-day basis and part of that is because we hold ourselves to a very high standard. However, looking at an average week you can get drowned in the negativity and lose sight of the bigger picture. All these things that are happening around us can seem like a blur of madness, some are but some things are for the big picture, for our children, and theirs.

Locally, we are dealing with the Waikato regional draft Annual Plan, which the council are looking to withdraw their direct funding from the national strategy of pest eradication. The National Pest Strategy, funded by the Animal Health Board, has been focusing on high-risk areas, such as Waikato, to rid the country of TB. The work is achieved by eradicating possums, with TB, from the province, and is spear headed by TB Free New Zealand and OSPRI. . .

The nitty gritty of the nitrate debate –   Lynda Murchison:

We are a part of the water quality discussion in some shape or form, and we get our information from many sources.  A major focus has been on nitrogen losses from farming. If nitrogen is one of the key ingredients in this national conversation, it ought to be explained beyond the notion that it is all about cows in streams.  The science can be complex and the explanations mind-boggling; here’s my simple geographer-farmer take on it.

Why should we care how nitrogen loss is managed? Farmers care because their future flexibility and thus viability is at stake, and like most New Zealanders they want a sustainable future that allows for agricultural growth whilst enjoying healthy waterways. The rest of the population should care because the flexibility and productivity of farming, our ability to feed the world, is what makes New Zealand tick.

Recently, the Ministry for Primary Industries revised their projections for earnings in the primary sector for the 2013-14 year, up another $4.9 billion to $36.5 billion. From that, the direct economic contribution farmers make to the Christchurch economy is estimated at $750 million per year, an impressive feat. One can only assume that contribution is even more significant in smaller provincial cities and towns. . .

Let’s Broadcast Rural New Zealand – Jamie Mackay:

It was the only option available but watching the excellent on-line live stream of the Golden Shears Open final was yet another salutary reminder of how  mainstream media in this country, most notably television, pays lip service to farming and rural New Zealand in general.

Country Calendar is an institution on New Zealand television, only bettered by Coronation Street for longevity. Heck, its most loved voice Frank Torley would probably give Ken Barlow a run for his money for length of tenure on the telly.  

I don’t wish to sound dismissive about the iconic Country Calendar because it is a rural flagship and rates well in its 7pm Saturday spot.  However, I would argue it’s a show designed more for townies than rural folk, as can be attested by the prevalence of quirky lifestyle stories it features.

But what Country Calendar does prove is there’s an appetite out there for television featuring rural New Zealand.  However, this message is not getting through the solid craniums (euphemism for thick skulls) of television programmers. . .

Homewood Run – Lashings of meat right way to eat -Alan Emmerson:

Those who have read my columns will know my philosophy of not getting to the top of the food chain to be a vegetarian.

I can remember, as a relatively young journalist, of the panic over saturated fat, the health risks associated with eating meat and dairy products.

Back then the doomsayers were trying to convert the world to mung beans and the like, for the good of their health of course.

Fortunately few listened and we continued eating meat, butter, and cheese.

Now, according to an article in the New York Times, the myths have been dispelled. . .

The Peterson Farm Bros’ Beef with Chipotle (Part 1)  – Greg Peterson:

Many have probably seen or heard about Chipotle’s commercial, “The Scarecrow” and their recent video series, “Farmed and Dangerous.” Chipotle claims these spots are shedding light on the “inhumane” and “unsustainable” nature of “industrial farming.” They try to use the videos to inform people of the perceived problems with the current food system, such as the difference between meat that is ethically raised and meat that isn’t. Their approach seems genuine and sincere at first and is attracting a lot of attention from consumers. I’m certain that Chipotle is doing a lot of positive things with their “food with integrity” approach and to be clear, I do agree with the general ideals Chipotle claims they are supporting:

  • The consumer does deserve healthy meat from humanely raised animals
  • The family farmer is who should be raising their food
  • Ethical behavior should be of greater concern than profit.

What I don’t agree with is Chipotle’s definitions of family farmers, humanely raised animals, and ethical behavior. . .


Front page news

March 21, 2014

It’s not unusual for Prime Minister John Key to be front page news in New Zealand.

It is something of an accomplishment, and an honour, to be front page news in China, a country with a population of 1.3 billion.
Making front page news in China – not bad in a country with 1.3 billion people

The Prime Minister also had a dinner with President Xi Jinping and the visit has helped strengthen links between our countries:

Prime Minister John Key says agreements entered into with China at his meeting with Premier Li Keqiang highlight the continuing strength of the relationship between our two countries.

Mr Key and Premier Li Keqiang met at the Great Hall of the People. Mr Key’s visit to China marks the third time the countries’ top leaders have met in less than 12 months.

The meeting emphasised the value both countries place on the political, trade and economic relationship which, has continued to grow rapidly.

New Zealand and China are well on track to achieve a shared goal, agreed by the Prime Minister and Premier Wen Jiabao in 2010, to double two-way trade to NZ$20 billion by 2015. Two-way trade is currently worth over $18 billion.

“My meeting highlighted the mutually beneficial nature of the bilateral trade, with China becoming our number one goods export market, and remaining the number one source of imports for New Zealand,” says Mr Key.

The Prime Minister said that he was pleased to see the particularly strong growth in dairy exports to China, which reached nearly NZ$5 billion in 2013, an increase of 75 percent.

“My meeting provided the opportunity to brief Premier Li on the outcomes of the Whey Protein Concentrate Contamination Incident Government Inquiries, emphasising that they underline that New Zealand is a producer of high quality food, with world class regulatory systems,” says Mr Key.

The Prime Minister and Premier Li discussed New Zealand and China’s shared interest in strengthening financial sector cooperation, as well as cooperation in the areas of agriculture and food safety.

Six new initiatives have been agreed at the meeting, including:

  • The launch of direct trading of the New Zealand dollar against the Chinese Renminbi.
  • Agreement to renegotiate the 1986 Double Tax Agreement.
  • Implementation of an electronic equipment Mutual Recognition Agreement that will enable New Zealand to become the first country in the world to test, inspect and certify electrical products outside of China.
  • Enhanced agricultural cooperation in dairy herd improvement, agricultural management, veterinary training scholarships and professional development exchanges.
  • Improved food safety cooperation including the launch of a scholarship programme in food safety and risk management.

“The financial sector offers great potential for further cooperation between New Zealand and China. Today’s announcements will make doing business with China easier by reducing compliance costs and contribute to the wider expansion of the economic and financial cooperation between the two countries,” says Mr Key. . .

This visit and a stronger relationship will bring benefits to New Zealand:

China is important to New Zealand. We are on track to achieve the goal of doubling two-way trade to $20 billion by 2015. This week President Xi Jinping and I set an ambitious new goal for trade to reach $30 billion by 2020.

Our growing trade with China is a shot in the arm for New Zealand exporters and industry. It is one of several reasons the New Zealand economy continues to grow strongly.

Figures released today showed GDP increasing by more than 3 per cent in the past year – making New Zealand one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

This is great news for families.

A stronger economy means more jobs, higher incomes, and more opportunities for young people. It means we can invest more in important public services like schools and hospitals.

If we continue with National’s successful programme, New Zealanders can lock in the economic gains we’re starting to see.

That if depends on another National-led government because as  Bill English said during Question Time yesterday, the job isn’t finished:

. . . New Zealand’s growth rate is better than that of quite a few developed countries, but, of course, the real measure of its success is whether it is providing more jobs for New Zealanders and higher incomes for New Zealanders. The good news is that forecasters are generally expecting that New Zealand’s growth rate will be maintained through 2014. This, however, is no cause for complacency or for a fiscal lolly scramble. This country has a lot of work to do yet to ensure that every New Zealander who can work can get a job, and that all those New Zealanders who have a job are paid in a manner that they regard as appropriate. . .

The economy is growing and the free trade agreement with China, has played an important role in that.

With growth improvements in other indicators which depend on that including education, employment and health  are following.

But there is more to do.

The government has laid a strong foundation and it needs another term to build on that.


Another poll confirms the trend

March 18, 2014

Support for he Labour Party is below 30% in the latest Herald DigiPoll survey:

Labour’s support has sunk nearly six points and it is polling only 29.5 per cent in the Herald-DigiPoll survey.

The popularity of leader David Cunliffe has fallen by almost the same amount, to 11.1 per cent. That is worse than the 12.4 per cent worst rating of former leader David Shearer.

National could govern alone with 50.8 per cent if the poll were translated to an election result.

The popularity of John Key as Prime Minister has climbed by 4.6 points to 66.5 per cent. That is his best rating since the election but not as high as he reached in his first term when he often rated more than 70 against Phil Goff.

The increases in support for National and the Greens since December put them at their highest ratings since the 2011 election.

The Greens are up 2.3 points to 13.1 per cent and with Labour would muster a combined 42.6 per cent.

New Zealand First is down slightly to 3.6 per cent but leader Winston Peters’ ratings as preferred Prime Minister at 6.5 per cent suggest the party could still top the 5 per cent threshold required to get MPs under MMP without requiring an electorate seat.

Other polls have shown a decline in Labour’s fortunes this year but today’s is the first to have Labour in the 20s since Mr Cunliffe took over the leadership from Mr Shearer in September last year. . .

Polling began on March 6, in the midst of the fallout over his use of trusts for donations.

But it continued through last week when Mr Key condemned minister Judith Collins for her failure to declare a dinner in Beijing with her husband’s business associates. . . .

The last fortnight was dire for Labour and last week wasn’t good for National, but maybe it’s only political tragics who are really interested in these issues.

Mr Key said the poll was a confirmation that a majority of New Zealanders believe the country is heading in the right direction “but clearly there is a lot more work to be done if we are to create the jobs and increase the living standards that New Zealanders want to see”. . . 

Asked if the issue of Mr Cunliffe’s of Ms Collins non-declarations would have affected the poll, he said: “Voters weigh up a great many factors when considering who to support but I continue to believe the strongest motivation is when a political party is focused on the issues that really matter to voters.” . . .

Individual polls bounce around but this one confirms the trend which shows National and its leader are popular, Labour and its leader aren’t.

There’s just six months until the election.

That’s time enough for National to slip a few points and make it difficult to form a coalition.

But it’s not a lot of time for Labour to climb out of the doldrums and convince voters it could offer good governance and stability with the collection of support parties it would need.


Unhappy campers

March 14, 2014

Richard Prebble is back.

He’s running Act’s campaign and he’s also put out a newsletter in which he writes about some unhappy campers:

Unhappy campers

Only Labour insiders knew David Cunliffe had two secret trusts. The leak came from within Labour. Who are the secret donors? Mr. Dotcom and Owen Glenn would have outed themselves. It has to be donors whose names would shock. Was David Cunliffe’s primary funded by American businessmen he met when he was a “capitalist” at Boston Consulting? It is illegal for a foreigner to give over $1,500 to a political party though not to an MP. The speculation will not stop until Mr. Cunliffe fesses up. Offering to pay it back is as useless as a bank robber saying he is giving the money back.

There is more to come

The Letter has learnt that another candidate for the Labour leadership also received a significant donation from a businessman. We do hope the MP remembers to declare it or would he like us to do it for him?

If some in the Labour camp are unhappy now, they might be about to be even unhappier with the new chief of staff:

He is a wrecker

Matt McCarten’s appointment as Labour’s chief of staff is very significant. He is a hater. Matt has fallen out with everyone he has ever worked for. If McCartten decides David Cunliffe is the stooge of the nameless businessmen who funded his primary campaign Matt will lead the coup. On second thoughts, Matt does not need a reason to plot a coup. It is what he does.

Parliamentary Services Concerned

Parliamentary Services has issued strict instructions that parliamentary staff are employed by the taxpayer to assist MPs and must not engage in party political campaigning. All commentators agree McCarten has been hired for his campaigning skills. No doubt the Commission will be sending a please explain letter.

Why employ him as a chief of staff if he’s wanted for his campaign skills?

Is it because Labour’s short of money?

If the chief of staff is running the campaign who’s running the leader’s office and what’s whoever is supposed to be the campaign manager doing?

Why appoint McCarten?

Labour believes that if only the “missing one million” who did not vote last election had gone to the ballot box they would have won. McCarten has been employed to get out the non-vote in South Auckland.

Will it work?

Maybe voters stayed at home because they like John Key. McCarten ran the Mana Party campaign last election and they failed spectacularly. Matt thinks everyone in South Auckland is a homeless out of work Maori or Pacifica. Actually South Auckland is diverse; most people have jobs and their own home. Most Labour voters think McCarten is an extremist. For every vote McCarten gets Labour will lose two voters.

Lonely Hone

Under McCarten’s campaign direction Hone Harawera has found he is leading a “class war” party. Hone is so irrelevant in parliament he rarely bothers to attend. Now Matt is directing the campaign to defeat the Mana Party. Hone must wonder why he left the Maori Party. . .

This is a conundrum born of MMP.

Labour needs to maximise its vote.

To do so it needs to mop up voters from its left and right flank.

Some could well be people who for a myriad of reasons didn’t vote three years ago. But some will also have voted for other parties on the left.

If Labour mops them up, it butchers its potential coalition partners. In doing this it will make some very unhappy campers among its supposed friends.

Worse for its election chances, it does nothing to grow the total left vote and scares moderate voters in the centre away from it towards National or its potential coalition partners.

 

 


Not all over yet

March 12, 2014

Chris Trotter thinks the election is all over bar the counting:

UNLESS SOMETHING HUGELY DRAMATIC HAPPENS between now and polling day, 20 September, the General Election of 2014 is all but over. The National-led government of Prime Minister, John Key, looks set to be returned for a third term by a margin that may surprise many of those currently insisting that the result will be very close. What may also surprise is the sheer scale and comprehensiveness of the Left’s (especially Labour’s) electoral humiliation.

By which dark paths must one travel to reach these gloomy (for the Left!) conclusions? Simply stated, one has only to follow the basic precepts of psephology (the study of elections and electors).

No matter whether you approach the forthcoming election from the perspective of the socio-economic context of the contest; contrasting styles of political leadership; the policies of the major players; the parties’ organisational heft and their respective financial resources; or the many factors influencing turnout; the advantage lies decisively with the National Party. . .

The advantage does lie with National.

It can campaign on its achievements, Prime Minister John Key is the most popular leader in recent political history, National’s caucus is united, several retirements mean the new one will be refreshed, and it will be presenting some big new ideas with small price tags.

The unity isn’t only in caucus, the membership is also united and supportive of the parliamentary wing of the party.

Photo: Election date: September 20. Like and share if you back John Key and National for #3moreyears http://nzyn.at/3moreyears

Labour by contrast has achieved little in opposition, has a leader who is less popular than the unpopular one he replaced and who doesn’t have the confidence of his caucus which is divided. With only one retirement announced it looks old and stale, and policies presented so far have been botched in their presentation and come with big price tags.

If we were voting under First Past the Post, National could be looking forward to a landslide.

But under MMP, it’s not enough for the major party to do well, it will almost certainly need coalition partners and none of those who might fit in a National-led government are particularly strong.

It hasn’t happened yet in New Zealand, but the smaller of the big parties could cobble together enough votes to trump the bigger one and lead a government, albeit a potentially very unstable one.

The six months to the election isn’t long for a divided and dismal Labour to climb higher, but it’s plenty of time for even a very popular government to falter.

If a week is a long time in politics, six months is far longer.

National has the record, the talent and the policies to win a third term and Labour does not.

But there is no complacency about the election outcome.

Good things might come in threes, but there’s absolutely no guarantee enough voters will support  a third term.

The omens are good for another National-led government, but there’s no certainty.


Labour on sinking sand

March 12, 2014

Labour MPs trying to criticise National for price rises have very short memories:

Hon David Cunliffe: How does the Prime Minister expect everyday New Zealanders to keep up with the cost of living when many of them will be paying 7 or 8 percent more for their power and some face increases of up to 24 percent in this year alone?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: One of the hallmarks of this National-led Government that is in contrast to the previous Labour Government is that, in fact, wages have been going up faster than the price of inflation. It is worth remembering that in terms of electricity prices, they make up less than 4 percent of the CPI. So in overall terms, when one looks at the CPI, some things go up and some things go down. For example, car prices went down, clothing and footwear prices went down, and household contents went down. So in many categories lots of things went down; the odd things went up. Overall, most consumers have not actually faced power increases of that level.

When wages increase faster than inflation, as they have recently under National, people have more purchasing power.

When, as happened under Labour, inflation beats wages, people have less purchasing power and end up worse off,

Hon David Cunliffe: If that is all so rosy, why did the Prime Minister try to blame Transpower when Transpower’s charges make up less than 10 percent of electricity prices and Transpower stated that its increases are likely to be less than $1 a month on average; and is the truth of it not that the power price increases are going to the privatised companies and enriching the foreign buyers that he is in league with?

Hon Bill English: What a load of nonsense.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: To quote the Deputy Prime Minister, what a load of nonsense. If you look at what has been driving up power prices insomuch as there have been rises at all for consumers, it has been a combination of Transpower increases and lines companies, if one looks at those two together. Interestingly enough, though, if we look at, say, for instance, the last 5 years of power price increases—

Dr David Clark: Out of touch—5 long years.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, 5 long years with half the power increases, because they have been 19.7 percent as opposed to 39.1 percent for the 5 years under Labour.

Increases of 19.7% might seem high but they’re about half the 39.1% increases that happened during Labour’s last term.

There’s no hope that they will be lower should Labour return to government when they’re ETS policy will add hundreds of dollars to power bills.

Louise Upston: Do official measures of the cost of living include electricity prices, and what does this tell us?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, a very good question. The electricity prices in the CPI differ slightly from those that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, but they tell the same story. Over the last 5 years, going back to December 2008, electricity prices in the CPI rose 19.7 percent, and in the 5 years before that they rose 39.1 percent. So it is no wonder people think that power prices are high—in 5 years under Labour, electricity prices went up by 40 percent. That is why you cannot trust Labour when it comes to power prices. . .

The only thing you can trust Labour with is that their policies will be costly for us all.

Hon David Cunliffe: When will the Prime Minister listen to New Zealanders who are facing median house prices that are up by 8.6 percent on last year, when first-home buyers are now being shut out of the market, which he has made safe for speculators?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: One of the things that the Government has been doing is working hard to ensure, actually, that first-home buyers can get into the market. There are a few ways of doing that. Firstly, the release of land will have a substantial impact. But let us just ask any first-home buyer we like what they would prefer to pay for their floating mortgage rate. Would they prefer to pay around 5 percent at the moment under a National-led Government, or 11 percent under Labour, which is what it was when we came into office?

Hon David Cunliffe: Speaking of interest rate rises, given that wholesale rates appear to be on their way from 5.75 percent to 8 percent, can he confirm that a household currently paying $500 a week in mortgage costs will face another $136 a week by the time that mortgage hits 8 percent?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: For a start off, it is likely—I think the interest rates will make a gradual return towards a slightly more normalised level, but it is worth understanding that we have interest rates that are on a 50-year low. Secondly, if we want to talk about individual consumers, I am surprised that the Leader of the Opposition is worried about them at the moment, because he showed absolutely no worry about them when interest rates were at 11 percent. When the Government was putting so much pressure on spending, it was forcing up inflation and forcing the Reserve Bank to raise rates. In fact, let us just take that household that has a $200,000 mortgage. That household, in comparison, is paying $200 a week less today than when Labour left office. You see, when we go to the polls on 20 September and the voters ask themselves who they can trust with the economy, it certainly will not be Labour that will be the answer coming from their TV sets.

We can’t trust Labour to run themselves, they’re certainly not ready to be trusted with running the country.

Hon David Cunliffe: When the Prime Minister said in 2008 that New Zealanders should “not be fearful of their next bill”, why are so many people now fearful of their housing, power, and other bills, under this uncaring National Government?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: For a start off, the member is wrong. I did not make that statement, and he will never actually be able to demonstrate that I did. I was asked about the definition of poverty, and I said that the definition, at least of being well off, is that you are not fearful of a bill. But if it comes to bills, then I say this to New Zealanders. What would they rather have: a 19.7 percent increase in power prices under National, or a 40 percent increase under Labour over 5 years, and 72 percent? Would they rather have interest rates at about 5 and a bit percent, or would they rather have them at 11 percent? Would they rather have an economy under a National-led Government that is growing in excess of 3.5 to 4 percent, with 1,500 people a week coming off welfare and going to work?

Would they rather have an economy that most people around the world have envied? And would they rather have an economy that is actually going to be back into surplus?

Labour are standing on the sinking sand of their poor record in government compounded by expensive and impractical policies should they be returned.

That contrasts with National which can stand firm on its record for restrained spending, lower taxes and economic growth in spite of the financial and natural disasters it’s had to face.


Flag discussion and vote next term

March 11, 2014

Prime Minister John Key has outlined a plan to hold a public discussion and vote next parliamentary term on New Zealand’s flag.

In a speech at Victoria University today, Mr Key said it was his belief that the design of the current flag symbolises a colonial and post-colonial era whose time has passed.

“I am proposing that we take one more step in the evolution of modern New Zealand by acknowledging our independence through a new flag,” he says.

He outlined a plan for a cross-party group of MPs to recommend the best referenda process, and a steering group to ensure the public has the opportunity to engage in discussion on the flag and to submit design ideas.

“It’s really important that consideration of a new flag includes genuine input from New Zealanders.  All voices need an opportunity to be heard,” he says.

“A flag that unites all New Zealanders should be selected by all New Zealanders.  This decision is bigger than party politics.”

Mr Key says he wants to give a clear assurance and commitment that retaining the current flag is a very possible outcome from the process, and there will be no presumption in favour of a change.

He says New Zealand retains a strong and important constitutional link with the monarchy that he did not see a groundswell of support to change. 

“Our status as a constitutional monarchy continues to serve us well,” he says.

Mr Key says that should he have the privilege of remaining Prime Minister after the general election in September, he would write to leaders of all political parties represented in Parliament asking them to nominate an MP to join a cross-party group to oversee the flag consideration process.

The group would recommend the best referenda process to follow, and also be involved in nominating New Zealanders from outside Parliament to form a steering group which would be primarily responsible for ensuring the public has the opportunity to engage in the debate.

“One of the tasks of that steering group will be to seek submissions from the public on flag designs.

“I would like to see the referenda process completed during the next Parliamentary term, so it does not intrude on the 2017 elections.”

I welcome the opportunity to discuss a new flag and am pleased it is not being rushed to take place in this election cycle.

Cross-party oversight, a steering group outside parliament and plenty of opportunity for public engagement is a sensible process.

My preference would be for a two referenda.

The first would allow us to choose the preferred option if there was a change, the second would allow us to choose between that and the existing flag.

I support the idea of a new flag in principle, the existing one isn’t distinctive nor is it easily recognised – even by New Zealanders.

The announcement came in a speech at Victoria University:

Anzac Day is approaching and, as you know, next year we will commemorate the centenary of that fateful landing by the Anzacs on the Gallipoli Peninsula on April 25, 1915.

In the struggle, the sacrifice, and the wretchedness of Gallipoli, an Anzac reputation for courage, endurance and mateship was forged that has endured long after those who survived that campaign have passed on.

Each year, on Anzac Day in particular, we remember our fallen as we should and as I hope we always will.

But once the centenary has passed, I think it will be time for us to take some decisions about how we present ourselves to the world beyond 2015.

For more than a hundred years the New Zealand flag has served us well, and we in turn have served it well.
It has given us an identity.

We have given it our loyalty.

But the current flag represents the thinking by and about a young country moving from the 1800s to the 1900s. A time before commercial air travel. A time when we had less of a role in the Pacific, and a time before Asia registered in our consciousness. That was a time before the rise of superpowers and before we had forged a formidable reputation on the battlefields of Europe. It was prior to the first tour by the New Zealand Rugby Union to the UK, and when our forebears thought their colonial protector would always be there for their descendants.   

When you think about it, those who had a hand in the flag’s design did well to include symbols that have endured for more than a century.

But it’s my belief, and I think one increasingly shared by many New Zealanders, that the design of the New Zealand flag symbolises a colonial and post-colonial era whose time has passed.  

The flag remains dominated by the Union Jack in a way that we ourselves are no longer dominated by the United Kingdom.

We retain a strong and important constitutional link to the monarchy and I get no sense of any groundswell of support to let that go. Nor could we or would we dispose of the cultural legacy which gave us a proud democracy, a strong legal system and a rich artistic heritage.

Each of these we have evolved and interpreted in our own way as an independent nation.

I am proposing that we take one more step in the evolution of modern New Zealand by acknowledging our independence through a new flag.

Some people say that we should look at the flag only if we’re also reviewing our wider constitutional arrangements.

I don’t agree.

Our status as a constitutional monarchy continues to serve us well.

It’s an arrangement that provides stability, continuity and keeps our head of State above party politics.

However, this country, the way we see ourselves in the world and the way others see us, has changed dramatically in the past century. Our flag does not reflect those changes.

I acknowledge that New Zealanders have a range of views on the idea of changing the flag. I also acknowledge that significant change can be difficult and unsettling for some people so this is not a debate to undertake lightly, or quickly.

But my personal view is that it’s time our flag reflected that we are a sovereign and successful nation that rightfully takes its place among developed economies in the 21st Century.

We are in a tremendous position to enjoy the benefits and challenges that our inter-connected and globalised world offers.  

We are a country of travellers. Overseas experience is a rite of passage for many young Kiwis.

We are an open economy. Initially we were forced into it when Britain joined the Common Market but now we embrace the challenge of selling our goods, our services and our ideas into some of the most competitive markets in the world.

We do business all over the globe and, every year, 100,000 of the world’s young people come here to learn. In doing so they become part of the next generation of connections with the countries to which we are closely linked. 

We are fiercely protective of our independent foreign policy, and rightly so. That does not mean we don’t act in concert with other like-minded countries over many things. Of course we do. We are a constructive and engaged nation always willing to work either behind the scenes or at the top table in international negotiations.

We stand ready to respond, when asked, to international emergencies, to contribute to international peace-keeping when appropriate and, from time to time, to serve in a military capacity in potentially hostile situations.

So we are independent, but in no way isolationist.

It’s my contention that when we engage internationally, in forums ranging from secondary school debating to the United Nations, or from age-grade representative sports teams to the Olympics, we should be represented by a flag that is distinctly New Zealand’s.

A flag that is only New Zealand’s.

A flag that is readily identified by New Zealanders, and with New Zealanders.

I believe the current flag is not that flag.

I believe that not only can we do better, but that this is the right time to get on with it.

At the same time, I acknowledge there may be many New Zealanders who want to retain the existing flag, and that will be one option.

I have given careful thought to this.

Back in 1965, Canada changed its flag from one that, like ours, also had the Union Jack in the corner, and replaced it with the striking symbol of modern Canada that all of us recognise and can identify today.

Fifty years on, I can’t imagine many Canadians would, if asked, choose to go back to the old flag.

That old flag represented Canada as it was once, rather than as it is now. Similarly, I think our flag represents us as we were once, rather than as we are now.

By law, the flag can be changed by a simple majority of Parliament but, as I’ve previously said, I do not believe that such a decision is one that MPs should take for themselves.

A flag that unites all New Zealanders should be selected by all New Zealanders.

This decision is bigger than party politics.

I would like us all to talk about it, but I do not think that it should dominate or distract from the other debates that occur in an election year.

The Government certainly has a lot to talk about in 2014. When the country goes to the polls, National will be asking New Zealanders for their continued support for our programme – a programme that has put New Zealand back on the right track.

The progress we have achieved has not come about by accident, and continuing that progress will not be achieved by chance.

We came into office with the country in recession, finance companies toppling and a Global Financial Crisis paralysing financial markets.  

But our careful stewardship of the Government’s own finances, our Business Growth Agenda, and the determination of our strong team of ministers to get better value for New Zealanders and their families from public services, have been the right choices at the right time.

As Finance Minister Bill English says, we go into this year’s election focusing on managing growth, rather than on managing recession.  Managing growth gives us far more choices about how we support New Zealanders and their families, particularly the most vulnerable.

We have a lot to do, a lot of ideas, and a lot to talk about, so the Cabinet has agreed that we should look at the steps that New Zealand would need to follow if it were to formally consider whether to change the flag. However, we will leave the real work until the next term of Parliament.

That also means that it will be under our existing flag that we will commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli landings.

At dawn on April 25, 2015, here, and on the Gallipoli Peninsula, and at New Zealand diplomatic posts around the world, we will lower to half-mast the same flag under which our forefathers fought so valiantly, so far away, a hundred years ago.

It is under the existing flag that we will remember the sacrifices made by New Zealanders in battle, and the sacrifices made by their families.

I do not under-estimate the significance of the flag to New Zealand’s servicemen and women and their families, but being respectful of our history does not lock us permanently in the past.

Organisations like our armed forces have undergone significant change over the generations. What does not change is their willingness to defend on behalf of all New Zealanders the values that define us and which we cherish.

Those values and our commitment to uphold them will not be compromised or eroded in any way by a change of flag. From time to time, countries do change their flags. If we do it, we won’t be the first and we won’t be the last.

If New Zealanders choose a new flag, it will serve us in times of celebration, and in times of mourning.

It will be the flag that is hoisted at a medal ceremony as we celebrate the achievement of an individual or team that has done our country proud.

And it will be the flag that is lowered to half-mast as we mourn together the passing of a New Zealander who has made a significant contribution to the affairs of our nation.

It will be the flag that serves us on every occasion because, in the end, the flag is a symbol of our unity. Our allegiance to it symbolises the bond we share for each other, and for this country that we have the good fortune to call home.

If we choose well, it will become internationally recognisable in a way that our current flag is not, despite more than a hundred years of use.

As I say, change can be difficult but it’s also remarkable how quickly the new becomes familiar.

A flag can never be all things to all people. As we consider alternative designs, there might be some people who want a stronger representation of our Maori heritage, or of our flora and fauna. The colours we might choose to represent us are, right now, far from certain.

Long decades of sweat and effort by our sportsmen and women in many codes over countless competitions give the silver fern on a black background a distinctive and uniquely New Zealand identity, and a head start in our national consciousness.

For example, it’s our silver fern, rather than our flag, that’s etched in the crosses marking the final resting place of all New Zealanders who are interred in Commonwealth War Graves overseas.

Interestingly, it’s the maple leaf that’s etched in the crosses of Canada’s fallen in those same cemeteries.  

I admit to liking the silver fern but I’m also open to other ideas and designs.

So I come to this debate advocating change, and with a personal leaning towards the silver fern, but I also want to listen to the debate, and see the possibilities before making up my mind on my preferred design.

I urge others to do the same.

For people who have doubts or concerns, I want to give a clear assurance and commitment that retaining the current flag is a very possible outcome of this process, and there will be no presumption in favour of a change.

I would like us to enter this discussion with open minds and a shared sense of purpose and privilege about our task. 

Most important, I think, is that the designs from which we eventually choose are unique, confident and enduring. 

We want a design that says “New Zealand” in the same way that the maple leaf says “Canada”, or the Union Jack says “Britain,” without a word being spoken, or a bar of those countries’ anthems being heard.

We want a design that says “New Zealand,” whether it’s stitched on a Kiwi traveller’s backpack outside a bar in Croatia, on a flagpole outside the United Nations, or standing in a Wellington southerly on top of the Beehive every working day.

It’s really important that consideration of a new flag includes genuine input from New Zealanders. All voices need an opportunity to be heard.

It’s also important, in my view, that these discussions and debates happen outside party politics.

So next term, should I have the privilege of remaining as prime minister, soon after Parliament re-commences I will write to the leaders of all political parties represented in Parliament. I will ask them to nominate an MP to join a cross-party group to oversee the flag consideration process.

That cross-party group will have the task of recommending the best referenda process to follow. For example, it would look at the question, or questions, that would need to be asked in a referendum.  

The cross-party group of MPs will also be involved in nominating New Zealanders from outside Parliament to form a steering group, which will have primary responsibility for ensuring that the public has the opportunity to engage in the debate.

One of the tasks of that steering group will be to seek submissions from the public on flag designs.

As I said, the role of the MPs’ group will be to make recommendations on the best way to proceed so I can’t give you more details about the process just yet.

But I can make the commitment that there will be genuine public engagement, including the opportunity for people to submit designs and suggestions, and that ultimately the decision on whether or not to change the flag will rest with New Zealanders themselves.

I would like to see the referendum process completed during the next Parliamentary term, so it does not intrude on the 2017 elections.

Cabinet has asked officials to give advice on the best way to set up these various processes.

Finally, I want to say that I am not putting the flag debate on the table today.

It’s already on the table, and it’s been there quite a long time.

But until now the debate’s been mostly conducted via letters to the editor, editorials, opinion polls and by a few passionate adherents of designs that some people happen to champion.

My purpose today is to say that this debate is too important for it to continue rumbling on in such a casual and ad hoc fashion.

The time has come to discuss the flag formally, carefully and respectfully, allowing all New Zealanders to have their say.

Only by doing that will we arrive at a point where we have an answer that we will all then be bound by for a long time.

If together we support a new design, then it will be with the understanding that it will serve and represent us for the rest of our lives.

If, on the other hand, we reject change then my view is that the people will have spoken and the idea should be shelved for a good long time.

I have raised this now because as Anzac Day approaches, and we turn our minds to the countdown to next year’s centenary, we will reflect on our past but also think about our future.

In my view, that’s an appropriate time to write one small but significant new chapter in our national story by re-considering the flag.

It’s my observation that each generation of New Zealanders is becoming more confident about asserting their Kiwi identity. That’s because we’re increasingly comfortable in our Kiwi skin.

When we go out in to the world, we do so with a strong sense of where we come from.

Our flag should reflect that. 

I urge you all to think about it, and to have your say when the time comes.

For my part, I will embrace the opportunity for us to come up with a New Zealand flag that reflects and celebrates our New Zealand-ness, and that inspires us to do the same.

Then, I think, the flag will be serving us in the same way that we serve it.

(The bold is mine).
Photo: Today I invite New Zealanders to discuss our flag. Everyone will get a chance to have their say: www.beehive.govt.nz/speech/speech-victoria-university-0


Knowledge is power

March 11, 2014

Prime Minister John Key has called on the wee parties to be upfront about which party they might support after the election.

. . . Announcing the election date on Monday, Mr Key said he is the only New Zealand prime minister to have been so upfront about an election date – and he challenged the minor parties to be, in his words, equally forthright about who they would work with post-election.

He said New Zealand First leader Winston Peters could announce right now that he would go with the largest party, but he won’t.

Mr Key said all the anecdotal evidence he has heard is that Mr Peters would partner with Labour and the Greens: “That’s what I hear,” he said, “so that’s what I’ve got to work on.”

For his part, Mr Peters says the Prime Minister is scaremongering. “He’s never talked to me on the matter,” says Mr Peters, “and whatever his planning skills are, mind-reading is not one of them.” . . .

Peters always insists that who he’ll support will be up to voters.

It will of course, but without telling us which party or parties his would support he’s leaving voters in the dark and expecting them to vote blind.

Knowledge is power – giving voters a clear indication of their intentions helps them make an informed decision.

Peters’s refusal to be clear is simply playing politics.


With respect

March 11, 2014

Prime Minister John Key gave plenty of notice for the 2011 election and he’s done the same for this year’s:

Prime Minister John Key has announced the 2014 General Election will be held on Saturday 20 September.

“I’m announcing the election date well in advance as I believe this gives New Zealanders some certainty and is in the country’s best interests.”

“It is my practice to be up-front with the New Zealand public and provide plenty of notice about election timing.”

National will be campaigning on its strong record in Government and its plans to continue the good progress New Zealand is making over the next three years.

“I am proud of the work we have done to protect vulnerable New Zealanders and help strengthen families and communities through difficult times.”

Mr Key says, “I have already contacted the Governor-General to advise him of the election date.”

The Government’s intention is that the House will rise on Thursday 31 July and Parliament will be dissolved on Thursday 14 August.

Writ day will follow on Wednesday 20 August, and nomination day will be Tuesday 26 August.

He is not indulging in the gaming previous Prime Ministers did in an attempt to give themselves an advantage over the opposition.

By going early he’s treating the election and the public with the respect they deserve.

He’s putting all parties on an even footing in giving politicians, would-be politicians and party volunteers the date around which they’ll need to plan and execute campaigns.

It also helps political tragics plan whatever else we might have going on in our lives.

The early announcement makes  life easier for the Electoral Commission and others involved in the administration of the election too.

It would be easier for all involved if we had this certainty every election year, as we would if there was a set date for an election:

. . . His personal view was that elections should permanently move to a “September to September” cycle as international summits tended to be held in November. The time it took for coalition agreements to be struck meant the House could be required to sit in January, he said. . . .

A September election does mean campaigning through winter and early spring when calving and lambing are underway.

But a set date which avoided the late September/early October school holidays would give plenty of time for coalition negotiations before November and allow the house to sit and a new government to get down to work well before the end of the year.

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