Republic inevitable – McKinnon

April 7, 2014

Sir Don McKinnon, former deputy Prime Minister and Commonwealth Secretary General, says it’s inevitable that New Zealand will become a republic.

“I think it’s inevitable. I don’t know when and I’m not going to campaign actively one way or the other. I have a great respect for Her Majesty the Queen. I had so many meetings with her, and I have respect for Prince Charles. We had him here a little over a year ago and he proved very popular with the people. But it’s a debate that will continue, it’s important we have a good debate about this and about the flag.

“I think we have been for a long time, and I’m quite certain the Royal Family understands that completely. Look, 54 countries in the Commonwealth, only 16 are realms, and I can tell you now, one Caribbean publicly and three Caribbean privately are probably going to give up that relationship with the monarchy when the Queen dies. So it is a diminishing group of countries, and the important thing is for us to openly and candidly debate the issue.”

I think he’s right that it’s inevitable but unless there’s a big change of opinion it won’t be happening soon,

Recent polls show no burning desire for change.

I am agnostic on the issue.

I don’t like the idea that someone has power, albeit titular, and prestige through an accident of birth rather than their own efforts.

However, what we have works, is stable and relatively inexpensive.

Sir Don’s comments were made during an interview on Q & A.


Left’s jiggery pokery won’t work

March 17, 2014

I find it difficult to understand the headless chookery that’s going on about the very small increase in the official cash rate from a historically low level.

People with income from interest-bearing investments will be pleased and while the rest of us who are paying more for loans might not like it, we knew it was coming.

It was well signalled and anyone with the slightest bit of financial acumen would have known the odds of a rise were far greater than a fall or keeping the rate at its historic low of 2.5%.

In spite of this the opposition and some commentators are playing at Chicken Little, acting like the sky is falling and inevitably calling on the government to do something.

Well, the government is doing something.

Finance Minister Bill English told TVNZ’s Q+A programme that the Government is doing all it can to help households affected by interest rate rises:

“There isn’t some kind of magic solution her like jiggery-pokery with the Reserve Bank Act, or pretending prices are lower than they are, which is what the Greens and Labour are promising. It’s about the kind of diligent hard work we’ve all been doing, not just this government but households and businesses, becoming more productive, more careful with our spending, getting debt down, a bit less consumption, and good control of inflation. So we have the opportunity here for a sustained economic recovery, and if we work on keeping our costs down, increasing our productivity, we could have four or five years where there are more jobs and higher incomes, and that’s what helps households get on top of increases in interest rates.”

The government’s careful management and strict control on its spending are two reasons interest rates have been so low for so long.

The need to keep on that path is just as great now the economy is growing because a government splashing cash around would fuel inflation which in turn would put pressure on interest rates.

He said this week’s OCR increase is due to the relative strength of our economy

“The small increase in interest rates that was announced the other day is an indication of the relative strength of our economy. There’s a lot of economies around the world would like to see some signs that interest rates were reflecting the fact that the economy’s growing. The other job we have is to support households and businesses by doing everything a government can to reduce pressure on what are inevitably rising interest rates and we’re pretty clear about that where we can influence that pressure, it’s around the housing market where we spent two or three years working on improving supply to the housing market. It’s around the labour market where we’re doing our best to align our training systems and migration with the skills that are needed in a tight labour market. . . 

If there was a magic solution every country in the world would have employed it.

There isn’t – there’s the jiggery pokery the opposition are threatening us with which won’t work, or the careful management and restrained spending which the National-led government is doing that is working.


Opposition rhetoric on regions wrong

October 28, 2013

The Opposition has decided there’s rich political pickings in saying the regions are in decline.

But once more their rhetoric isn’t supported by the facts:

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce has told TV One’s Q+A programme that the regions are not in decline despite what Labour is saying.
 
Mr Joyce told deputy political editor Michael Parkin: “With the greatest respect to my dear friends in the Labour Party, they’re trying to talk this up. The reality is the regions are lifting NZ out of the GFC (Global Financial Crisis). So, regions like Taranaki, Waikato, West Coast and Southland. The West Coast has the highest average income after the housing costs of any region in the country. That’s the reality of the situation.”
 
He says the government’s move to promote oil and gas exploration, and the Ruataniwha dam project, which is before a board of inquiry at present, would have a “massively positive impact on Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay if they proceeded”.
 
“In Northland, the opportunities are similar there. There’s minerals opportunities, there’s opportunities, frankly, with the Treaty settlements that Chris Finlayson has been working very hard on, opportunities to maximise the productivity of Maori land in Northland, which is being closely worked on with the Ministry of Primary Industries and various Maori landowners in the region,” he says.
 
Mr Joyce says providing good infrastructure to support this regional economic investment is also vital.

Labour has only a couple of electorate MPs outside the main centres, none of the other parties have any.

If they had MPs who lived in, and served, the regions they’re talking down, they might have a different, and more positive, view than the one they get by cherry-picking bad news stories as they pop in and out for photo opportunities.

Some other points from the interview:

. . . 15 out of the 16 regions grew in the population census that’s just happened. The incomes of those regions is going up. There’s lower unemployment in just about every region bar three than there is in Auckland, and Auckland gets a lower share of government spend on per head of population basis than the rest of the country. . .

MICHAEL       You’ve got unemployment. The reality is that the unemployment levels in Gisborne, Manawatu, Northland are increasing at an incredible rate.

All three of these regions were hard hit by last summer’s drought yet the Opposition isn’t supportive of irrigation which would provide significant protection from dry weather.

 
STEVEN         Yeah, you’ve picked the three regions I agree with you, and we can talk about those regions, but, actually, most of the rest of the country, including the whole of the South Island and the lower North Island and Waikato and Taranaki have all got lower unemployment rates than Auckland. And also the average income across NZ is one of the lowest differences between regions as it is in anywhere in the OECD. Now, this doesn’t mean to say there isn’t work to do, so let’s come to those regions. So, in the Gisborne/Hawke’s Bay area, for example, the government is focused on a couple of things that I think would really move the dial, if they were successful, in terms of opportunities for those regions. One is the oil and gas exploration and the other is the Ruataniwha dam project which, of course, is going in front of a board of inquiry at the moment. Now, those things undoubtedly would have a massively positive impact on Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay if they proceeded, and that’s the sort of things I think we have to look at in those resource-heavy regional economies. In Northland, the opportunities are similar there. There’s minerals opportunities, there’s opportunities, frankly, with the Treaty settlements that Chris Finlayson has been working very hard on, opportunities to maximise the productivity of Maori land in Northland, which is being closely worked on with the Ministry of Primary Industries and various Maori landowners in the region. And, of course, there are other opportunities in the primary sector as well and agricultural opportunities. So all the things the government is doing-
 
MICHAEL       You mentioned Hawke’s Bay and Taranaki there. Like, I mean, are we too focused on this resourcing, this petroleum, the mining? Are we putting all our eggs in one basket?
 
STEVEN         No, I don’t believe so, Mike. The reality- No, with the greatest respect, you just need to look at the numbers. The Taranaki is the most successful region in the country over the last few years and there’s a reason for that, and if you don’t want to learn the lessons of that, then you just stick your head in the sand and forget about it. But the reality is it’s about exploring all our opportunities. Now, not every region has similar opportunities to Taranaki; they have different ones. But the government’s priority is to open up those opportunities. You mention Shannon, for example, and I think it’s very sad what’s happened to those people in Shannon. So, what’s the opportunity there? Well, Shannon is in a place called the Horowhenua, which is not far north of Wellington, and Wellington is one of our largest cities-
 
MICHAEL       So move to Wellington. Is that what you’re saying, Minister?
 
STEVEN         No, no, not at all, and don’t get me wrong. But we have a lousy transport link between Wellington and the Horowhenua. You open that up, just like we’re doing with the Waikato Expressway south of Auckland, and suddenly businesses can develop along that highway in those towns leading to the capital city. The National Party’s very focused on that. We have actually got a number of projects underway – the Kapiti Expressway, Transmission Gully – but there’s a whole lot of people on the left who have got their heads in the sand about this, and I think it’s actually very sad, because they’re focussing on the area closer to Wellington, but I want to focus on those regions in Horowhenua and the Manawatu who would have great economic benefits out of that one piece of infrastructure. That’s very important. . .

Another point is that jobs are lost and gained all the time:

STEVEN         Well, it is difficult. There’s no doubt about it. But, actually, we lose a quarter of a million jobs in the NZ economy every year, and we create a quarter of a million jobs in the NZ economy every year, and there are industries that are having struggles for various reasons. So, if you take the meat and beef industry and the fellmongery which is associated with that, there’s a long-term over capacity because of a decline in numbers because the dairy industry’s growing. The dairy industry in the Manawatu, you just have to look around, is a much more successful industry currently. So those industries are rationalising. Now, you can’t stop that, and Mr Cunliffe wandering around saying you can is actually dead wrong, and most of the public know that. It’s the same with the postal industry. The reality is we’re not all offering to go out and post more letters to keep NZ Post afloat, so it actually does have to change. The opportunity there is to attract more investment and do more things that attract more investment, and the difficulty that those on the left have, particularly the Greens but also the Labour Party, is they sit there and try and pretend that’s not what’s necessary-

What’s needed is to make business easier:

STEVEN    . . .. What you have to do to make a difference is let people explore the economic opportunities in each region, and that means freeing up the RMA so that people can make calls. You took the West Coast there, Tony Kokshoorn on the West Coast. It’s a travesty the time it’s taken for Bathurst Resources to actually get the ability to open an open-cast mine on the West Coast right next to the Stockton Mine that would employ 225 people, and that’s why we’re making the RMA changes that we’re making so that doesn’t happen again, so those people would have jobs to go to on the West Coast. Now, that is a very significant economic opportunity. It’s finally got the go-ahead, and Labour and the Greens have been opposing it the whole way through, and that’s where there’s a real lack of understanding of what’s really required for regional development.

The Opposition appear to think more of the things which make business difficult – regulation, tax, inflexible employment law – will help.

They won’t and any policies they’ve announced so far will make business growth and the jobs which flow from that, more difficult in cities and the regions.


ACC levies down, pay up

October 21, 2013

Finance Minister Bill English says ACC levies could drop more than first thought and pay rates will increase:

The Government is planning to reduce ACC levies by as much as $2 billion over the next two-three years, Finance Minister Bill English said today.

Speaking to Corin Dann on TV ONE’s Q+A, Mr English said that ACC has “by combination of things, including just doing a better job of rehabilitating people sooner” given the Government the opportunity to reduce levies substantially – “the equivalent of a four cent cut in the company tax rate.”

Mr English also told Corin that in the same two-three year time-frame, New Zealanders can look forward to higher pay increases.

““The good news for the punter is that business confidence is at the highest it’s been at for many years.  That indicates that in their workplaces, there’s growing confidence that they can sell more, that profits are going to be up, that pay rises are coming.             

“There are some things that will force them to do it.  One is just their need to get hold of skilled people.  We’ve already got skill shortages in some areas.  As employment— As new jobs grow, you’re going to see more of that,” Mr English says.

ACC levies and pay rates are related. Lower levies leaves more money with businesses which makes them better able to afford wage increases but the positive outlook is based on much more than that.

The economy is growing and businesses are doing better.

They will have several priorities for increased earnings including reducing debt and investment in their businesses. Included in that investment will be pay increases for staff.

The full interview is here.


When the ex comes back

August 7, 2013

In even the best relationships it can be a bit difficult when the ex comes for a visit.

It’s hard for the new partner not to feel second-best and that the ex is more articulate, more respected, more popular.

Labour leader David Shearer would be forgiven for feeling a bit like this when Helen Clark, the woman he succeeded, returns to New Zealand and is fêted by the media.

This week he has even more reason to feel that way because in the interview on Q & A she undermined the opposition to the GCSB Bill.

. . . Helen Clark told Corin Dann that there is a need for a GCSB and she’s urging dialogue across the political divide.

“The answer is yes, you do, because you need that foreign intelligence, and not least for safety and security reasons. I think the real issue is, is there a gap in the law, which the Kitteridge Inquiry apparently found that there was, and if so, how do you deal with that and do you take the opportunity at the same time to write in more controls to protect the privacy of the individual? That, as I see it, is the debate raging at the moment.”

Ms Clark says when her government brought in the 2003 GCSB legislation ”that actually took GCSB out of the shadows and made it a government department with its own Act, which was good. But, you know, in retrospect, as Miss Kitteridge has found, perhaps there was a gap in the law. So that has to be dealt with, but I think it’s really important to try to reach across the political divide when you’re dealing with these issues.”

Ms Clark says, “Try and take the politics out of it and look at what do we as Kiwis need to protect our interests and how do we protect the privacy of individual Kiwis who should never be caught up in a giant trawling exercise across their communications.”

Shearer and Labour had the opportunity to be the grown-ups in opposition by acting like a government in waiting on this issue.

Instead they’ve just been playing political catch-up to the Green Party and Winston Peters who know they’ll never have to lead a government.

They’ve missed their opportunity to get better legislation and because of that have been wasting their time and our money filibustering on the Bill which will eventually pass anyway.


Their problems not necessarily ours

July 21, 2013

Visiting academic Robert Wade made the most of his opportunity on Q&A last week to opine about inequality in New Zealand.

He was alter forced to admit he’d been a bit sloppy and shouldn’t have included New Zealand in his view about the 1% ruling for the 1%.

He was wrong about growing inequality too. Brian Fallow writes:

The idea that New Zealand has become one of the most unequal societies in the developed world is just not supported by the data. . .

A standard measure of income inequality is a thing called the Gini coefficient; the higher it is, the greater the inequality.

Since the global financial crisis New Zealand’s has whipped around – it fell in the latest survey, reversing a jump in the one before – but the trend line through it is flat at a value of 33.

That is similar to the Gini scores of Australia, Canada and Japan, which ranged from 32 to 34, well below the United States’ 38 and a little above the OECD median of 31.

Another way of measuring income inequality is to look at the income of the top decile or 10 per cent of households (when ranked by income) and compare it with the bottom decile’s.

The average over the past four household economic surveys is that the top decile have received 8.5 times the income of the bottom one, after tax and transfers.

That puts us in the middle of the OECD rankings, and lower than Australia and Canada (8.9 times), Britain (10 times) and the United States (16 times).

The definition of income here is household disposable (or after-tax) cash income from all sources. So it includes transfer payments like New Zealand superannuation, Working for Families tax credits and welfare benefits.

The tax and transfer system dramatically reduces income inequality among the working age population compared with market incomes alone, reducing the Gini score by 22 per cent.

Again, this is similar to Australia (23 per cent) and not much worse than the OECD norm (25 per cent). . .

“For many OECD countries, lower income households tended to lose more, or gain less, than high income families,” the report says.

For New Zealand, however, there was a small gain for bottom-decile households of 1 to 3 per cent and a net fall, of around 8 per cent, for the top decile.

These facts don’t fit the narrative of a crisis of inequality which the left keep labouring.

There is poverty here but Rob Hosking points out that won’t be solved by importing solutions to other people’s problems .

Visiting academic Robert Wade brought in all the rhetoric about the “austerity” and “top one per cent” to these shores and imported them, holus bolus, into the New Zealand context.

Professor Wade later backtracked from his comments, but the important point is not a “sloppy” – to use his own description of his language – sermon from a British academic.

Rather, the important point is the way local “progressives”, as they like to call themselves, lap this stuff up. . . .

This goes further than the colonial cringe – it’s a kind of colonial S&M. Oh please humiliate us, the local anti-colonist progressives plead to their lofty offshore masters. Tell us how bad we are. Beat us, hurt us, and make us feel cheap.

Bring in all that guff about austerity measures, the top 1% of the country holding most of the wealth and making all the decisions and we’ll all just pretend we’ve got the same issues as the US or the UK.

It would not matter – apart from perhaps being a fascinating if rather hilarious study in group psychology – if it were not the fact this group then advocate importing their favourite solutions from their colonial, tenured masters northern hemisphere academia.

Fortuitously, the same week Professor Wade was titillating his local progressive followers with how dire New Zealand is the latest figures on inequality here came out.

And New Zealand is pretty well OK. Inequality isn’t growing – in fact, it has shrunk a bit in recent years – and the top 1% here get 8% of all taxable income – comparable with Sweden, Norway, France and Australia, and much lower than the UK (14%) and the US (17%). . .

So our colonised progressive movement is rather off the beam on this one and it is probably why the left in New Zealand is just not connecting with voters at present.

If you want to get elected you need to demonstrate you understand the concerns of the people you want to elect you, and that you have solutions to deal with those concerns.

Pretending the issues here are the same as the UK or the US, and getting academics in to pontificate about the solutions to deal with those other countries’ problems, is perhaps not the best way to go about this.

Nor does it seem particularly progressive.

That the left has to import other countries’ problems and solutions shows things aren’t nearly as bad here as they’re trying to paint them.

If they were they’d have plenty of local examples, supported by facts and figures and wouldn’t have to rely on those from foreign academics who have little knowledge of how things work here.


No good reason to vote for Labour

April 8, 2013

Anyone tuning into Q+A yesterday in the hope of finding a good reason to vote for Labour would do would have been disappointed after listening to David Shearer.

Shearer said:

” Well, what we had been saying before is a whole programme of economic development, capital gains tax, and in the short term-

. . . Well, what I’m saying is that what we need to do is to grow the economy in a way that it’s not growing at the moment, and we’ll be talking about Tiwai Point in a little while…one of the big problems about – no, no, let me finish – one of the biggest problems about that is that the exchange rate is so low that we’re seeing many of our businesses actually going out of business because they’re not being able to succeed. We’re not putting our money in the profitable sector; it’s going into the property market because we don’t have a capital gains tax that will help us direct money into those areas. And if you’re wanting to raise money, then at least put money into businesses- invest in businesses through the incentives of capital gains, and that brings, obviously, money into the government as well.

The low exchange rate was a slip of the tongue. The capital gains tax wasn’t and increasing tax is not going to help economic growth.

Wood’s final question was was what Labour would do for a 26 year-old woman living in Auckland earning $65,000 a year, paying off a student loan and renting.

To which he replied:

Well, two things – first of all, we would have a healthy home guarantee to make sure that where she’s living, in the rental accommodation that she’s living in, is actually up to scratch; it’s both heated and it’s insulated. The second thing that we would do is we’re building 10,000 houses, affordable homes, a year, and that would enable her to have an opportunity to get on to the housing ladder. So there are two specific things that I believe that would help that case.

That’s at best underwhelming and would be even less attractive with a capital gains tax which has done nothing to stop house prices rising steeply anywhere else.


Not in the same league

April 8, 2013

Quote of the day:

SUSAN          So you’re not a rich prick?

DAVID            I’m- Obviously, as a New Zealander, I’m fortunate, but I’m not in the same league as our prime minster, no.

That comes from David Shearer on Q+A  yesterday.

Not in the same league as the Prime Minister, David Shearer isn’t in the same league as John Key, and not just in terms of personal wealth.


Is his money our business?

April 8, 2013

Susan Woods pressed David Shearer to reveal on Q+A yesterday how much money is in the account he omitted to declare in his register of pecuniary interest.

SUSAN          Much made this week of the Prime Minister’s memory loss. You, of course, have had your own memory loss over that $50,000 US or more, how much was it?

DAVID            I’m not going to say. It’s my family business. I don’t talk about my savings online, but I do-

SUSAN          Tony Ryall said in the house it was a couple of hundred thousand dollars US. Is that correct, or is it more than that?

DAVID            I’m not going to say. It’s my family business.

SUSAN          Didn’t you lose your right for privacy around it when you forgot to declare it? When you broke the rules and did not declare it?

DAVID            No, I absolutely did not. I said that I made an error. I myself came forward and corrected that error. I took it on the chin and said ‘here it is’. And I expect that to be the standard by which all politicians operate if they do make a mistake.

SUSAN          That’s what John Key did this week. He said he’d made a mistake and he fessed up. Exactly the same scenario.

DAVID            I think what John Key was doing this week-

SUSAN          He came forward.

DAVID            No-

SUSAN          Yes, he did. He came forward and he said, ‘Actually, I’ve checked by records and I did call Ian Fletcher.’ He came forward.

DAVID            What he was doing this week was that he was deliberately trying to move opinion away from and deflect opinion away from his friendship and relationship with Fletcher.

SUSAN          Is your problem with this money- Is your problem with this more than $50,000 US in the bank, is your problem that there is so much money there that it would not resonate? You would not resonate? I mean, Michael Cullen very famously called John Key a ‘rich prick’. Are you, Mr Shearer, a rich prick?

DAVID            Look, I worked for my money working for the United Nations in Iraq. I put it in the bank. It’s my family’s savings. I didn’t put it on my pecuniary interest. I declared that and I came forward and I was honest about it.

SUSAN          And you were very well paid in that job, sometimes up to half a million Kiwi dollars a year.

DAVID            No, I think you need to do your research on that, quite frankly, Susan. But, look, working in Iraq, where we lost 25 people, there was a- people do get paid hazard money in those situations.

SUSAN          What’s the money sitting there for?

DAVID            Look, it’s my family- Look, people put money in the bank for any- Look, this is my private savings, my family’s savings. Do you ask John Key what he does with $50 million when he comes on to your show?

SUSAN          John Key actually does have scrutiny over his money all the time. There are reports about how much money he has; he’s on the NBR Rich List – all those sorts of things. So, yes, he does have the same sort of scrutiny.

DAVID            Well, I haven’t heard you asking the same sorts of questions-

SUSAN          I haven’t had him on the programme yet, but when I do, I will ask him. So, are reports that it’s around $1 million correct or incorrect?

DAVID            Look, I am not going to put a figure on it, and I resent the fact that you are asking me to reveal how much is in my bank account. Nobody needs to do that. I have done-

SUSAN          You do need to.

DAVID            I have done what I was obliged to do under parliamentary rules, which is to declare any account that had more than $50,000 in it. I did do that. I regret, obviously, not putting that on my pecuniary interests, and that’s where it stops.

In the normal course of events it is none of our business exactly how much money MPs have.

They have to declare anything more than $50,000 and Shearer didn’t.

That he could forget he had that much when filling in his register of pecuniary interest although his memory didn’t fail him when filling in his tax return is peculiar.

Even if the account has $50,000.01 which requires it to be declared, it is more than a great many people would ever have saved and a lot more than most would ever forget they owned.

Shearer has opened himself up to questions. Many people will be very interested in exactly how much is in the account he forgot about. The greater the amount, the stranger his memory lapse, but is it in the public interest to know the total?

Woods says she’s going to ask the PM the same questions but Shearer’s memory lapse and refusal to divulge the amount in the forgotten account doesn’t give her any reason to dig into anyone else’s personal finances.

Providing it was made legally and anything that has to be declared is, how much an MP has, is not our business.


Drought “kind of snuck up on us”

March 18, 2013

It’s only Monday but it would be difficult to beat this from Dr Raymond Miller on Q+A yesterday for the stupidest comment of the week:

Admittedly, the drought kind of snuck up on us, to a certain extent, and I think the fact that the minister responsible for agriculture happened to be in Latin America for nearly two weeks when farmers were crying out for help suggests that the government may not have anticipated what was happening.

Droughts don’t sneak up.

Farmers, their advocacy groups, weather watchers, local, central government politicians and all the people who’ve noticed just how good summer has been for recreation and those with even a passing interest in current events are only too aware that there hasn’t been nearly enough rain for months.

As for the comment about the government and the Minister.

The government will be getting constant updates on the weather and will be in no doubt about its impacts on farmers and the people who service and supply them directly; provincial towns and cities and the economy as a whole.

He knew how dry it was before he went and that it was likely to get worse while he was away. He would have been only too well aware of what was happening – or when it comes to rain – not happening back in New Zealand and ensuring anything the Ministry of Primary Industries could have been doing was being done.

Jamie Mackay asked Barry Soper on the Farming Show whether the Minister should have stayed home.

He said he was far better occupied opening doors and making the most of opportunities in South America, that he was on top of what was happening in New Zealand bud didn’t need to be here.


Is anything of note happening here?

March 10, 2013

Many years ago a British TV programme lampooned New Zealand television for the items carried in the news.

I’m a little vague on the details but I think something to do with the theft of a few sheep had been a leading story at the time.

The implication was we were just a quaint little country where nothing of note happened.

Anyone whose been looking for serious current affairs on television could be forgiven for thinking this still applies.

Seven Sharp didn’t promise to be serious and has failed anyway.

I’d hoped for much better from TV3′s 3rd Degree. It promised much but delivered so little I stopped watching after a very few minutes.

I take it from several reviews, including One Guy too Many from Cactus Kate and why TV3 should hang its head in shame over ’3rd Degree’ and why I suspect Duncan Garner and Guyon Espiner would agree with me from Brian Edwards, that I was wise to do so.

There’s one last chance for television this morning. Q & A starts at 9am.

A media release from TVNZ says:

We speak to the Government’s Mr Fix It, Steven Joyce, about the deals with Novopay and SkyCity, and question how committed the government is to creating new jobs.

Also on the programme, should marriage be solely between a man and woman; we hear from a gay couple who question why they’re being treated as second class citizens. We debate the same-sex marriage bill with Labour MP Louisa Wall and Conservative Party Leader Colin Craig, and ask if gay couples should be able to adopt.

On the panel this week is political scientist Dr Raymond Miller, publisher Ian Wishart, and former Labour party candidate Josie Pagani.

Join host Susan Wood and political editor Corin Dann on Q+A at 9am this Sunday on TV One.

I probably won’t be. I have other things on my agenda this morning – as do most other people at 9am on Sunday. But I will try to catch up with what happened on MySky later in the hope that maybe one little corner of television thinks there is something happening in New Zealand which people ought to know about.


Longer would be better

December 3, 2012

Why can’t we have longer parliamentary terms?

That was the question put by Mainfreight Managing Director Don Braid on Q & A yesterday.

Three years is too long with a government with which you disagree and not long enough for one you support, but a longer term would give us better governance.

Shorter parliamentary terms lead to short term thinking and short term policies.

In the first year in power a government is finding its feet and beginning to implement policy. In the second it starts making progress (or not depending on your point of view) then everything slows down for election year.

This is frustrating for anyone who has to deal with government and the public service.

It’s not just businesses which find the stop-start-stop of the three year cycle frustrating.

The CE of a charitable trust which gets contracts with a ministry said it is very, very difficult to do much in election year, especially in the last few months of the term.

A four-year term would also reduce costs – every 12 years there would be one fewer election to finance.

That would be good for taxpayers and for the volunteers who fund raise for political parties.

It would also help ratepayers because if parliament went to a four-year term then local government would too.

The idea of a four-year term has not in the past found majority support from the public. I think that is at least in part due to a suspicion of politicians.

But it is one of the matters under discussion the constitutional review which is taking place.

If that group of non-politicians recommended it, the idea might gain traction.


What have they learned?

April 16, 2012

The world’s still in a very uncertain financial state and New Zealand is still too deeply in debt.

So what have the politicians learned?

Labour MPs are already planning to spend money we haven’t yet got which shows they’ve learned nothing.

Bill English showed on Q&A yesterday that National has learned the importance of decreasing debt and carefully directing spending where it will do most good:

Look, we have to be determined.  We are one of the most indebted countries in the world.  If you want the future of this nation subject to Labour and the Greens trying to buy votes with lolly scrambles, then we will get in a lot of trouble.  So we’re using the veto so we’re clear—  . . .

. . .   We’ve looked at the most vulnerable mothers and babies in New Zealand, and that is the young mothers under the age of 18.  There’s 2600 of them, and at the moment, they up until recently, they’re just left to sink or swim.  Children having children with no— not necessarily any support.  Some have it; most don’t.  Subject to all sorts of pressures, creating all sorts of intergenerational problems.  Now, the Prime Minister announced in August last year and then we put in the detail this year a package of measures to help those mothers and babies because we believe they’re the most vulnerable members of our society.  If we’re going to crack the cycles of dependency, that’s where we need to crack it.  . .

. . .We haven’t sent the wrong signal.  What we’re demonstrating is that we’re balancing the determination to get New Zealand out of its significant debt problem, because if we don’t do that, everyone’s entitlements are at risk.  Look around the world, seeing what’s happened to the entitlements of those countries where they don’t have their debt under control, they’re all being cut. . .

. . .We’re spending considerable money on it, but every time we make those decisions, we have to find the money somewhere else, and that’s the weakness in the Labour bill.  They want to be able to spend the money, but they don’t want to take responsibility for where the money comes from.  . . .

. . . Well, if the economy picks up and we get back to surplus sooner, then of course there’s room for discussion about all those things that people want us to have more of, but fundamentally we need a growing economy with less debt.  We’re achieving those things at the same time as supporting our families by increasing their Working for Families payments, increasing their early-childhood education and maintaining the paid parental leave.  I think we’ve got the balance about right. . .

. . . But I think the point here, Paul, is the government finances will get in a mess if we allow Parliament to go around spending up large with no responsibility for how to manage where the money comes from— . . .

Spending too much contributed to the debt we’ve got.

National understands that and is doing its best to get public spending under control and direct spending from the unproductive sector to the productive one, without scaring the horses too much.

Labour is still showing it’s the party that is still putting more thought into spending money than working out where it will come from.


Oh for some science on Crafar farms sale

April 9, 2012

When the Prime Minister announced the mental health package last week his chief science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman explained how it had been based on science.

If only a similar process could be applied to foreign ownership of land, in particular the sale of the Crafar farms.

In yesterday’s Q&A interview by Shane Taurima of Land Corp chair Jim Sutton tried to give the facts but Russel Norman mostly used emotion.

RUSSEL         Well, we certainly don’t need this foreign investment. I mean, all it’s doing in this case is driving up the price of rural land, because they’re paying a very large price for it in order to pay off an Australian owned bank who are the ones who are exposed because they leant too much money to Crafar.

The banks will get their money before anyone else. Those who miss out will be the unsecured creditors, most if not all of which, will be small, locally owned businesses. Each day the sale is delayed the costs increase, eating in to what will be left for creditors.

So we don’t need this money.

No? It’s better for us to have more foreign debt than equity?

This farm was going to be developed one way or another. It would be producing food one way or another. The key thing for New Zealand is we have this tremendously valuable strategic asset, which is arable land with access to water, food-producing land. That food-producing land will only become more important as time passes, and for us to hang on to that strategic asset is critical to our economic future.

It’s not one farm but many. If they’re not developed by a foreign owner they might be developed by a local one, or ones, but there will be no oversight of that nor recourse if they’re not. And if the development is undertaken it will be funded by borrowing from foreign lenders.

SHANE           Mr Sutton, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, he says that if the deal goes ahead, it will mean Landcorp will end up paying about $18 million a year to the landowner. In other words, he says a New Zealand SOE will end up being a tenant of a foreign company here in New Zealand. Is that true?

JIM                 No, that is not true, and I think what is important to realise is we as a sovereign nation are perfectly entitled to make rules for foreign people wishing to buy farmland in New Zealand, and if we want to do that and have more restrictive rules than we have got, let’s do it, let’s make it clear what they are, and let’s apply them without fear or favour to everybody who comes from overseas and wants to buy a farm in New Zealand.

Exactly, we should make the rules and apply them fairly.

SHANE           Can I just clarify – so Landcorp won’t be paying any rent at all?  

JIM                 No, we won’t be paying rent. We’ll be a share-farmer. A share-milker. SHANE           Mr Norman?  

RUSSEL         Clearly, what a share-milker does is they hand over a proportion of the production to the owner of the land in lieu of rent. It’s a kind of rent. So without mixing words, clearly they’ll be paying rent. They’ll be a tenant in the land, which is effectively what a share-milker does.

By Norman’s reasoning, the land owner is paying rent for the cows, machinery, animal health products and other inputs the share-milker funds.

SHANE           Mr Norman, don’t you have to be careful that you’re not encouraging an anti-Chinese feeling? After all, we’ve had a number of other nationalities buy land without the same reaction. Don’t you have to be careful?

RUSSEL         Yeah, I think that’s a fair comment. Um, the Greens have had a very consistent approach. I mean, we think that New Zealand land should stay in New Zealand ownership, um, and we don’t care the nationality of the person applying – whether they’re Australian, American or European or Chinese.

Just a teeny bit of irony when this is said in an Australian accent.

JIM  . . .  If I were Chinese looking at this and wondering whether New Zealand really had its heart in building the economic partnership with China, I would wonder why Canadians, Americans, Italians, Germans, Australians, Brits, can come into parts of New Zealand, buy farm after farm after farm after farm and nobody in Wellington blinks an eyelid. But when the first Chinese…

RUSSEL         The Greens do.  

JIM                 …company comes along for this, all of a sudden it becomes a threat to our sovereignty, and I just think,‘How would I feel about that if I were Chinese?’ And I know what I would feel about it. 

We know how the Chinese feel about it from another Q&A interview with David Mahon, managing director of Mahon China Investment Management who has lived in China for 25 years.

SHANE      Do we run the risk of having that reputation being tarnished if the deal doesn’t go through?  

DAVID       We do. Certainly this would be something that not just in China, but throughout Asia with our major trading partners and these sizeable economies – India, Indonesia – would look upon this as being New Zealand as a narrow country after all, that New Zealand actually is racist in terms of its view of who it would like to be its business partners, which I think would be a sad misreading of New Zealand, because I don’t believe that New Zealand is actually racist. I think that this particular Crafar deal has triggered some unfortunate debate in lesser media, and I think it has become politically useful to some in New Zealand, given the fact that, um, you know, we have a very dynamic democracy. And so, in a sense, the real issues, I think, have been lost. But if this doesn’t go through, New Zealand will have a lot of repairing to do across Asia and certainly in China.

There wasn’t a whisper when a controlling interest in Turners and Growers was sold to a German company, even though it owns the iconic ENZA brand.

There was some, but not nearly as much, murmuring about land sales to people from Germany and the United States. But there has been much more about this particular deal and it appears to be not just because the buyers are foreign but because they are Chinese.

I wrote last month about our visit to farms owned by a Swedish family which showed the good it can do.

If we shut the door completely on foreign ownership, we will be the poorer for it.

The rules on foreign ownership were tightened recently. If there is a need for further tightening, let them be tightened but base any change on sound reasoning not emotion and definitely not on xenophobia.


No new spending

April 2, 2012

Political tragics have been exercised by sideshows in the past week but the government is concentrating on what matters.

On Q&A yesterday Prime Minister John Key said there is unlikely to be any new spending in this year’s Budget:

 It’ll be either a zero budget or very close to zero. What that means is we will spend more money in health and education, but all other ministries will be expected to save money. Why are we doing that? Well, because we need to get NZ back into surplus so we’re not racking up more debts and more deficit so that future generations aren’t continuing to pay for debts that we would be racking up today. So in the four years we will have delivered budgets, we will have spent about $2 billion worth of new money over that four-year period, effectively, of new expenditure through the budget process. Michael Cullen and Helen Clark will have spent $12 billion at the same time. That’s $10 billion of taxes you’re not having-

Individuals, households and businesses which have got the message that spending less and saving more is a priority will be encouraged that the government is continuing to swallow its own medicine.


Performance-based pay good for teachers and pupils

March 26, 2012

Who hasn’t had experience of teachers across the performance spectrum?

I can remember a few excellent teachers, a mercifully small number of really bad ones and a lot spread between the two extremes.

This is of course a subjective view. Finding an objective system of measuring teacher performance is no easy matter, but it is vital if we want to improve teaching standards and pupils’ performance as Education Minister Hekia Parata said on Q&A:

I think the single biggest challenge we have is to raise achievement, and improving teacher quality is going to directly contribute to that.  . .

. . . I think the first thing that has to be on the table is having a robust and reliable appraisal system that allows us to make those kinds of differentiations. If we want to raise teacher quality, we have to identify who is delivering successful practice and make that common practice. We have to identify where we need to improve the professional learning and development so that teachers can engage with students successfully and our students’ achievement is raised. . .

. . . And the point of an appraisal system is not to punish or blame but to identify where the best practice is occurring, how we get that happening across all schools and where improvement needs to occur and how we get support in. . .

Once a good appraisal system is found, performance based pay is a logical next step. The Minister is neither ruling it in nor out but she does identify a problem with the current system of pay for teachers:

Well, at the moment the starting salary for teachers is, I think, just over $50,000, and it can range through to over $200,000 for principals, so there is a broad range, but what I think the workforce taskforce reported last year was that we needed to look at the structure of the career pathways so that excellent teachers aren’t forced to become leaders or managers – in other words taken out of the classroom situation – because that would be the only way they could get a pay increase. So we have to look at that. We have to look at what the structure of career progression is and how we pay that.

The best way for teachers to improve their pay under the current system is to get out of the classroom and into administration.

That means that really good teachers aren’t paid what they deserve if they keep on teaching and not-so-good teachers get paid the same as better ones.

That isn’t good for the profession or the pupils.

Poor quality teaching is one of the contributing factors to the long tail of under-achievers in our education system, paying good teachers more could be part of the solution.


Prisons aren’t designed to create jobs

March 19, 2012

The announcement that some prisons are to be closed ought to be good news.

In an interview on Q&A yesterday Finance Minister Bill English said:

  BILL       Well, look, we’d be better not having to lock more people up, but the fact is there are bad people out there who should be locked up. There are also very old prisons that we can’t continue to use because they’re not effective and they’re, in some cases, inhumane. So it’s an expenditure we have to have. The good news is that where we were told a couple of years ago we’d need two or three new prisons, there’s going to be one, and that’ll be it.

SHANE  We’re told you’re going to close down two prisons to build a new one.

BILL        Well, there’s a number of prisons that should be closed because they’re so old and they don’t work to help with dealing with recidivism and just humane treatment of prisoners.

SHANE  But can you confirm to us this morning that there will be two prisons closed down?

BILL       Uh, no, I can’t confirm that. There’s work going on now. What I can say is there are likely to be the closures of some prisons.

I take it from this transcript that old, inhumane prisons which aren’t effective are to be replaced by something better; and that instead of the three that were forecast now only one is needed.

But what makes the headlines in the news: prison closures could lead to job losses.

Prisons aren’t there to provide jobs. They are there to punish people who’ve committed crimes. protect us from them and rehabilitate them.

The possibility of job losses will be upsetting for those effected but it isn’t an argument for keeping prisons which either aren’t needed or are no longer fit for purpose.

 


There’s good reasons for returning to parliament . . .

April 3, 2011

. . . but the opportunity to deliver a valedictory speech and wanting to stick it up David Farrar and Cameron Slater  aren’t among them.

She might just take up the seat, she said. She would rather like the chance of a dignified retirement and to make a valedictory speech. . .

. . . So she says she has reasons to return: unfinished business, the salary, supporting colleagues in their first opposition election, offering institutional knowledge and support. Acting as camp mother, essentially.

Those reasons … and to “stick it up them”.

Stick it up who? Phil Goff?

“I was actually thinking of David Farrar and Cameron Slater, et al. I wasn’t thinking about my former colleagues,” she says. “I don’t think it’s a particularly worthy thing to say, but I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t.”

Having no good reasons for going to parliament hasn’t stopped people before but to Judith Tizard’s credit she’s just announced on Q&A that she will not take up the list seat vacated by Darren Hughes.

Her interview with Guyon Espiner will be on the link above later and if you missed the broadcast it is worth a look.

Her comments are definitely not a vote of confidence in Phil Goff, Andrew Little or the Labour Party hierachy.


More political tragics needed for strong democracy

December 15, 2010

The good news is that The Nation and Q&A are going to be funded to broadcast next year.

The bad news is they will probably screen at inconvenient times as they did this year.

Do few people watch these programmes because they’re broadcast at unpopular times, or do they get those time slots because few people watch them?

An ABC interview of  Dr Sally Young, senior lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne,  by Mark Colvin might have the answer:

 Sally Young:  . . . Who is the political news audience?  . . . basically the people who are really political news tragics – people who watch Parliament Question Time or subscribe to Crikey, for example, or watch Sky News press conferences and so on live – that’s about 0.5 per cent of the Australian population. So they’re your real political tragics and it’s a very small percentage.

MARK COLVIN: And so politicians have a real dilemma there. I mean, they’re speaking on two levels and if they engage too much with the Twitterarti etc, then they’re in danger of ignoring the vast majority of the population.

SALLY YOUNG: Mm, that’s right and I mean, even just broadening it out. When I looked at the percentage of people who buy a broadsheet in Australia, it’s about 2 per cent of the adult population. So, you know, it broadens out to things like, if you count people who watch ABC or SBS news and current affairs that’s about 10 per cent, or 12 per cent might listen to ABC Local Radio. So it’s somewhere between 0.5 to 12 per cent. That’s the core audience you think are interested in detailed information about politics, that sort of public affairs.

MARK COLVIN: So you’re left with 80 to 90 per cent who get everything they know about politics from the first couple of minutes of one of the commercial channels’ news bulletins.

SALLY YOUNG: Exactly. That’s right. And one of the findings I was looking at in the book as well is that those people who are reliant, as you say, particularly on commercial television news programs, those news programs will devote possibly two minutes a night to the election…

If it’s only political tragics like you and me who watch, read and listen to serious political analysis, what do politicians do?

MARK COLVIN: Alright so put yourself in a politician’s shoes. Or let’s say, the communications director of one of the major parties. How do you deal with this?

SALLY YOUNG: Well you can see one of the ways they deal with it is that they try to, if they’re brave enough, that the politicians will go on some of the more popular news programs as with Kevin Rudd going on Rove, for example. You know, that they’ll try and engage that audience and reach that audience that isn’t the hardcore political news junkies. They’ll try and get to them through the media they actually use. So that’s one of the ways.

MARK COLVIN: As a professional journalist, we tend to see that as “Oh, they’re trying to avoid the hard questioning”. But you’re saying that it’s just a logical reaction to what’s going on.

SALLY YOUNG: And it would be anti-democratic if they didn’t try to engage those people who don’t access that sort of hard news media, really. I mean, I know that journalists do – especially in those elite media, if you want to call them that – don’t like it when politicians avoid them to go on popular media like FM radio or comedy shows or whatever it is.

This explains a lot about why politics has become much more about personalities and why election campaigns are much more presidential with so much resting on the leader.

But it doesn’t mean there isn’t still a place for hard news journalism and political analysis. The problem is, if not many people are interested in it, advertisers won’t be keen to pay of it which is why New Zealand On Air is helping to fund both The Nation and Q&A.

 Hat Tip: Larvatus Prodeo   who got it from Trevor Cook who concludes:

Twitter, Facebook etc are only going to be important when they break stories. Sure they are entertaining, but they are not journalism . . .

To paraphrase Colvin, I think we will be left with 80 to 90 per cent of the population getting their political news from the first two minutes of the evening bulletin unless Mark Scott, or some other saviour, can turn some of that social media into (research-driven) journalism, rather than turning journalism into social media.

The challenge isn’t just how to fund serious  media, it’s also how to turn more people into political tragics. That will not only ensure a bigger audience for political news and analysis it will engender more participation in the political process and membership of political parties.

Both are important parts of a strong democracy.


Conspiracy theory

October 18, 2010

Labour’s conference was a chance for the party and its leader to give the public reasons to vote for them.

Q & A interviewed Phil Goff who looked like he was trying, and failing, to defend the indefensible.

The Nation chose to interview Russel Norman and do a feature on Winston Peters.

If I was trying to draw up a list of reasons to vote for a Labour-led government neither Norman nor Peters would be on it.


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