New Chair for Ag Research

July 5, 2008

Hawke’s Bay sheep and beef farmer  Sam Robinson is the new chairman of crown research institute AgResearch.

Robinson, who farms near Waipukurau,  was chairman of Richmond when it was taken over by PPCS, now Silver Fern Farms.

He is a member of the Prime Minister’s Growth and Innovation Advisory Board and a former member of the Government’s Food and Beverage Task Force.

He is a director of the Port of Napier. Until recently he was chairman of the Agricultural and Marketing Research and Development Trust.

Former chairman of textiles research company Canesis Network, Andrew MacPherson has also been appoitned to the board.


Curefew Polls

July 5, 2008

The ODT recalls that in 1999 National slumped to 28% in an opinion poll. But the party led by Jenny Shipley slowly regained support while Labour lost it and was just able to form a minority coalition government on election night with the Alliance Party.

At times during the previous months, Labour’s polled support had led to speculation it would be able to govern alone; often, New Zealand First was cited as the crucial factor in the formation of any government.

The point of these reflections is that whatever opinion polls may indicate before an election, gaps between parties tend to close before the real poll – and the real poll is a long way off yet – and the coalition deal-making afterwards can have the major influence on the final determination.

The trend since 2002 has shown steadily increasing support for National and a similar decline for Labour, but what happens to support for the wee parties may determine the shape of the next Government.

Long-term trends in opinion polls of more recent vintage show that having enjoyed an average lead over National of 10 percentage points early in 2005, Labour is now 25 percentage points behind.

It is also seemingly out of favour in the community generally, at a time when economic conditions are biting some voters and their families quite hard.

This means Labour will go into the election with little to offer but its record of management, whereas a majority of people, indifferent to the record, may simply want to bid for a new manager as a form of punishment or an expression of their anger.

It won’t be the first time that voters have been motivated by anger.

Economic forecasts for the immediate future do not look likely to help Labour and its allies. The economy has contracted for the first time since 2005, led by the housing market. Interest rates are higher, as is inflation.

The outlook for our exports is also problematical in the short term, with rapidly rising fuel prices somewhat counteracting higher food prices. But this year’s drought has not helped export production in the agricultural sector.

In the first three months of the year, primary-sector output contracted by 4.1%, the worst result since the Clark Government was elected. The construction and manufacturing sectors have also declined, by 5.2% and 1.2% quarter on quarter respectively, reducing growth by half a percentage point between them.

Private consumption has fallen by 0.4%, for the first time since 2004, and the labour market is deteriorating, experiencing its steepest decline in the first three months of 2008 since the late 1980s. Investment is weak and so is the sharemarket, and to judge by the failures of numerous investment companies, confidence is not likely to improve in a hurry.

The appreciation of the New Zealand dollar in the past two years has added to the general woes and has not been helpful to our tourism sector. The opinion of the Reserve Bank that consumer price inflation will peak at 4.7% in the September quarter (from 3.4% in the quarter to March) means the Government has little prospect of directly improving the situation it faces, despite holding out the prospect of tax cuts which, in most households, will have long since been swallowed up in extra costs.

Then there’s the power crisis concern over the power supply, steep increases in the price of necessities and the many signs of third termitis plaguing Labour.

In medieval villages, the ringing of a bell prompted the curfew requiring people to extinguish fires and lights as night fell and, if we judge the country’s present mood and the pathetically juvenile conduct of its members in Parliament this week to represent one and the same thing, then the opinion polls are tolling a curfew of some kind.

It is increasingly hard to detect that this is a country with confident, optimistic people forging ahead. It is rather beginning to resemble a kindergarten where everyone is throwing a tantrum, including the supervisors.

If Parliament this week was a portent of the election campaign, then people in their present frame of mind will want nothing of it. And that will serve nothing for the betterment of our way of life and nation.

Surely, our politicians have noticed that in the United States election campaign, running parallel with ours, truth-telling politics that stands above party political bickering has been identified as the chief desire of the electorate and principal ambition of both Mr Obama and Mr McCain.

Negative politics at a time of considerable anxiety and strain on families is profoundly frustrating for voters, and debilitating for the country. It is time it ceased.

Mud sticks to the hand that throws it. If Labour continues with its personal attacks on John Key it will be the one that ends up covered in dirt.


Hager’s Hollow Horror

July 5, 2008

John Roghan  says Nicky Hager is carving out a new career in disingenuous political naivete.

Not content with a book based on Don Brash’s emails, since brought to the stage and soon to be a movie too, Hager is running a sequel on the discovery that some of the same “hollow men” are consultants to John Key.

The fact that someone in the National Party must be passing this material to Hager is far more interesting than the use he is making of it, and I have no objection to his using it.

I agree that where the material comes from is the more interesting, and for National, more serious point.

…email, I think, is fair game. A fair reporter, though, could reveal what he learns without feigned horror at the fact that people running for public office hire consultants who try to conceal some of their intentions during an election campaign.

Parties of all stripes are coy on some subjects before an election for good reasons.

The public interest can be greater than the sum of personal interests, sometimes even in conflict with direct personal gains. It is easy to sell benefits to a section of the electorate, harder to explain how the benefits hurt a country in the long run.

Some are minority interests that should be advanced in the national interest. Hager should ponder how much progress Maori would have made in recent decades if every step in their recognition had been an election issue.

Quite.

Public debate usually favours the status quo. Not much could ever be done if every decision was put to the electorate for a prior mandate.

Take the present Government’s biggest economic moves, KiwiSaver and, this week, KiwiRail, which I don’t remember being canvassed, with all their costly implications, at elections beforehand.

Had Labour given an inkling at the last election of the premium they have had to pay to re-nationalise the railway, and the fortune it is going to cost to cover its likely losses, National’s last campaign would have feasted on the information.

If only.

But now that the deed is done, the politics have changed. The purchase is the status quo and National will not dare put re-privatisation before the electorate this year, though that may be what it ultimately does with the trains if not the tracks.

Yep – once something is underway it is difficult to change it, even if it’s because sometimes bad policy is good politics.

Likewise KiwiSaver, a year old this week. At the last election the savings scheme was an essentially voluntary proposal. The following year it was to become compulsory for employers and acquire some costly enticements of dubious economic value.

Not long ago my employers wound up my company super fund. I couldn’t blame them; from April they had to contribute to KiwiSaver if staff favoured it. And who of us were going to turn down Cullen’s $1000 handout and tax credits?

The scheme celebrated its first birthday on Tuesday with 718,000 members – more than double the number predicted in the first year. The only people complaining about it are those annoying economists who see the difference between individual gains and the national welfare.

They fear the scheme will not add to total personal savings, merely displace previous savings schemes.

In the Herald last weekend Maria Slade reported an estimate that as little as 9 per cent of the money in KiwiSaver accounts so far is new saving, a percentage the researcher reckoned would not cover the administration and compliance costs of the scheme.

Is anyone surprised by this?

Westpac economist Dominick Stephens said KiwiSaver had cost the taxpayers $497 million in its first 11 months, an amount that could have added to national savings if it had been left in the Budget’s fund for future public pensions.

Even that fund is questioned by some savings professionals who point out that a superannuation scheme is only as good as the future economy that will have to pay out. From that point of view, the best retirement insurance is the investment made in the economy today.

And not just retirement – health, education and every other service will be more secure in the future if we strengthen the economy now.

Anyone who believes that the best investments are made by those who stand to lose if they get it wrong would argue the economy would be stronger in the long run if the KiwiSaver incentives were turned into personal tax cuts.

And yes again.

Nevertheless, National will have to keep the scheme now that it is replacing private savings on such a scale. The best the party can do is continue to avoid saying whether it will keep the incentives.

It will not be easy, and should not be easy; it is the job of political opponents and the press to pin all policies down. But adroit tacticians can keep the options open and enable a government to come to power with room to move in the national interest. Voters, I think, understand this. They don’t need horrified disclosures that it happens. It is the horror that sounds hollow.

Exactly. National has learnt from the damage done by stupid promises made by Jim Bolger before the 1990 election; and Helen Clark has too which is why she keeps trying to under promise and over deliver.

Parties should be upfront about their philosophy, principles, general  policy, and – sometime before an election – some detailed policy. But they can’t be specific about everything because, once a party is in Government it must have room to adapt to events and circumstances.


Freedom to Choose Brings Happiness

July 5, 2008

A World Values Survey has found that the freedom to choose brings happiness.

The surveys’ main conclusion is that the most important determinant of happiness is the extent to which people have free choice in how to live their lives.

If you want a single reason for Labour’s poor showings in the polls and the public support for the truckers’ protest this is it. We are sick of Labour and its allies telling us what to do and how to think.

Politics is similar to parenting with bigger numbers. Happy children have boundaries for physical and moral safety but within those boundaries they have a lot of freedom. That includes the freedom to make mistakes which is not without risks, but the risks from over-control are greater.

Labour doesn’t understand this. They are continually interfering in our lives, our work places, our communities and our homes. 

They keep trying to save us from ourselves by exerting control when we’d be much happier if they just left us alone with the freedom to choose for ourselves.


SFF Meat Jobs Safe in the South

July 5, 2008

Plans for all-year round processing should safeguard jobs at Silver Fern Farms’ Finegand freezing works in Balclutha and Waitane near Gore.

SFF chief executive Keith Cooper said:

“This is a high-level strategic view to keep costs down, utilise plants better and attract employees by getting away from seasonal work to become a longer-term employer.”

Multi-species plants which operate all year round make sense because of ever-increasing compliance and maintenance costs, and difficulty sourcing seasonal labour.

There will be economic and social gains for the community too because fulltime employment brings more regular and secure income than seasonal jobs which can leave large numbers of people with low incomes and little work in the off-season.

A judge I interviewed for an alcohol awareness week years ago told me he thought there was a relationship between freezing works and alcohol problems because there were a lot of people on high incomes during the killing season but low incomes and too much free time in the off-season.


Old Boy recounts old days

July 5, 2008

The oldest Old Boy at Waitaki Boys’ High School’s 125th anniversary celebrations Sid Hurst told yesterday’s assembly about school life in the 1930s:

Mr Hurst, who is “just on 90” years of age, recalled travelling each day to school by train, arriving just in time for assembly.

The first week of school was always “barracks week” – which concluded with a mock battle using blank ammunition against St Kevins – when pupils were taught military values and “to keep in step with each other and society”.

“It was only years later that I realised how important that military training was,” he said.

Discipline was paramount. Every teacher and even the head prefect had the right to cane pupils.

In those days, pupils had to swim in the school pool without swimming togs and Dr Hurst said it was plain to see who had been in trouble.

These days Waitaki and St Kevins confine their battles to the sports field and Waitaki won the annual rugby match 16-13 yesterday.


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