Winston in Wonderland


Winston Peters attacked journalists today and said the media, like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, believed impossible things.

His reference to the Mad Hatters’ Tea Party today reminded me he is like another Lewis Carol character who delights in obfuscation:

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. ‘They’ve a temper, some of them – particularly verbs: they’re the proudest – adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs – however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!’

‘Would you tell me, please,’ said Alice, ‘what that means?’

‘Now you talk like a reasonable child,’ said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. ‘I meant by “impenetrability” that we’ve had enough of that subject, …

Update: The transcript of Peters’ speech in parliament yesterday is here.

Paua project waits five years for funds


An East Coast paua hatchery was forced to wait five years for a grant from the Ministry of Agriculture’s Sustainable Farming Fund.

The SFF approved the $230,500 grant in 2002 but the money wasn’t paid over until November last year.

National’s agriculture spokesman David Carter  attributes the delay to “bureaucratic ineptness”.

The grant was for the development of a commercially viable paua production system. The project was to study yellow-foot and virgin paua so seed stock production methods could be developed; to develop a selective breeding system across these two species and common paua to provide superior stock; and to test and develop a recirculating sea water system.

The applicant, Te Runanga o Turanganui a Kiwa, wrote to MAF, MAF’s director general, the Minsiter of Maori Affairs and Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton seeking answers.

Carter has obtained an internal memo  which states:

” ‘all failings – and there has [sic]been many of them – were at MAF’s end’ and that it was ‘extremely embarrassing’ for MAF.”

The Minister should also be embarrassed but as Phillipa Stevenson points out at Dig ‘n’ Stir he avoided the issue when Carter questioned  him in parliament this week.

Five years of ineptness deserves more than obfuscation. Does nobody in government know how to say, “sorry we stuffed up”?

Hat tip: Dig ‘n’ Stir

Yule wins Local Govt Presidency


Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule has been elected president of Local Government New Zealand.

Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast, who contested the presidency too, is the new deputy.

Bob Harvey, Waitakere mayor had earlier criticised local bodies supporting Yule’s nomination:

“It’s a brainless stand as the largest urban authority in New Zealand to not think through what the job entails and I’m surprised and amazed at their decision. Local government will be in serious trouble if they don’t come to their sense and realise that the job is beyond the mayor of a small rural district.”

Obviously enough of those who voted realise that size doesn’t matter and a president with an understanding of provincial issues and a deputy who knows about urban issues should ensure the views of all local authorities are understood and represented.

Update: I stand to be corrected on this but I think Yule was electorate chair for Michael Laws when he (Laws) was a National MP. The skills he’d need for that job will be very useful in his new role 🙂

Mainland betters NZX-50


We call it the Mainland with our tongues in our cheeks but now we have the numbers to prove we’re weathering economic tough times better than the north.

The Deloitte South Island Index measures the market capitalisation of 33 companies with head offices or the majority of their business in the South Island and puts them into an index relative to their size.

For the first six months of this year, the index was down by 8.5 per cent, beating New Zealand’s benchmark NZX-50 index which fell 21 per cent. Over the last quarter (April to June) it has risen into positive territory, growing 3 per cent versus the NZX-50’s drop of 8 per cent.

However, doing better isn’t the same as doing well as Deloitte partner Paul Munro points out:

At a headline level it shows South Island companies are doing better than the rest of the country, but we need to balance that out with the fact that of the 33 companies measured 61 per cent saw a drop in their market capitalisation.”

Munro said the strong performance over the last quarter had been boosted by larger companies like PGG Wrightson and NZ Farming Systems Uruguay.

PGG Wrightson, the second largest company on the index, grew its market cap by $127 million, boosted by a higher share price and $5 million in bonus shares being issued, while NZ Farming Systems Uruguay saw its market cap increase by $83 million on the back of a rising share price driven by predicted increased earnings. Munro said their strength followed the boom in the dairy sector with record milk solid payouts.

He said this sector was having a positive impact on other businesses and because a greater proportion of business in the South Island was linked to dairying it was helping to hold up the economy.

It’s not all down to dairying, but the record payout from Fonterra and the continuation of conversions from sheep to dairy farms are pouring money into rural communities. That in turn is insulating the provinces from the worst effects of the recession.

WTO talks fail again


The latest Doha Round  of trade negotiations have failed which deals a blow to New Zealand’s hopes for better access to overseas markets.

Charles Finny of the Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce said the deal on the table at the WTO wasn’t perfect but everyone would have been better off with it than without it.

“For New Zealand it offered the end of agricultural export subsidies, caps on domestic agricultural subsidies, and improved market access for agriculture, fisheries, forestry and manufactures. More work was needed on services but signs there were positive that some forward movement could be achieved also. It is therefore a tragedy that a small number of WTO members were trying to unpick elements of this package.”

The New Zealand International Business Forum also expressed its deep disappointment that the WTO meeting had failed to agree on a way forward for the Doha negotiations.

“Failure in Geneva is bad news for everyone” said NZIBF executive director Stephen Jacobi. “Bad for New Zealand because the opportunity to reduce tariffs and export subsidies once again eludes us.

“Bad for the developing world because they need improved access to developed country markets to promote growth and address poverty.

“And bad for the global economy that desperately needs the boost in confidence that conclusion of the Doha round would bring”, said Jacobi.

Everyone gains from free trade and the ones who lose the most from trade restrictions are those who can least afford it.

Hide takes Peters’ complaint to SFO


Act leader Rodney Hide  has lodged a complaint about Winston Peters with the Serious Fraud Office.

Mr Hide said in a statement today: “It is my considered opinion that issues raised by the Dominion Post and the new Zealand Herald require proper and independent investigation.

“The Serious Fraud office is the appropriate Government department capable of carrying out an independent, thorough and competent investigation   more so with its current powers.

“It is vital that such an investigation be seen to be unfettered by any suggestion of political interference, real or imagined.”

Serious allegations require serious consideration.

Act with flaws replaced with flawed Act


Several commentators are using the NZ First funding debacle to defend the Electoral Finance Act.

I don’t recall anyone who attacked the EFA saying the previous Act was perfect. I twasn’t and a change was overdue. But replacing an Act with flaws with a badly flawed Act has created more problems than it solved.

Yes Minister approach to funding


Yes-Minister  approach to funding means Dunedin women are not getting treatment for post-natal depression.

Women with postnatal depression in Dunedin are missing out on support because a $140,000 service which should have gone ahead last September has not received Otago District Health Board funding, Plunket says.

Plunket Society operations manager for Otago-Southland Barb Long says lack of the service, which will proceed only in a limited way next year with private funding, is a huge gap in services.

She said the society, which had been identified by the board as the preferred provider for the service last July, was only advised in May that the board would not be funding it.

Board chairman Richard Thomson said while he understood Ms Long’s disappointment, it would have been irresponsible for the board to introduce services it could not fund in the long term.

He describes the board as being stuck in a “Yes, Minister” situation (a reference to a British television programme which highlighted the foibles of bureaucracy) where it may get money to start up a service but not be funded to sustain it.

This is not the only Yes-Minsiter aproach to funding in the region.

Oamaru Hospital bought a CT scanner last year but the ODHB which holds the contract for scans will not pass over payment for North Otago patients. This means North Otago patients who qualify for ACC are getting scans locally but other people have to travel to Dunedin Hospital for publicly funded scans or pay to have them in Oamaru.

This is a ridiculous situation when Oamaru has the equipment and the expertise to provide the service while Dunedin has a waiting list for scans and it is a three hour return journey from Oamaru to the city. 

If people require a scan funding shouldn’t be dependent on where they get it.

He never was the best man


The Listener  editorial gives us a timely reminder of how Winston Peters came to be Foreign Minsiter:

 … the knowledge that Peters was not necessarily the best man for the job, but rather had the right number of MPs to enable Labour to form an MMP government, remains a taint on his appointment.

Fears about how bad a job Peters might do as Foreign Minister haven’t been realised, but the events of the last couple of weeks show he’s still not the best man for it.

Peters’ image is affected, too, by revelations in the past fortnight of secret donations to his party. There are good reasons that donors to political parties should be able to remain anonymous in both their own interests, and to prevent corruption. But there are far too many unanswered questions around these particular donations for public comfort.

So far, Peters has maintained the cautious backing of Prime Minister Helen Clark, mostly because the pair have a mutually dependent political relationship. However difficult the current situation is, it is in both parties’ interests to keep going unless Clark decides Peters has become so much of a liability and distraction that Labour must cut its losses.

Even if the arrangement survives – and MMP makes such deals not only possible but often necessary – all political parties will be tarred by public distaste for what has been revealed. New Zealand First and its leader may have broken no rules, but the obfuscation, and Peters’ Muldoon-like accusatory, bullying and vindictive tactics against individual reporters and the media in general have done him no favours.

On occasions, Peters likes to give a cheeky grin, as though he and reporters know the interview process is little more than part of the great game of politics. But serious questions have been raised that demand answers. This is not a game. The unanswered questions go to the heart of public confidence in the integrity of the political process.

Peters would be the first to blame the media for the low opinion in which the public holds politicians. But his actions and his continued obfuscation only serve to prove that, in his case, that view is more than justified; and questions about the inegrity of an MP then leads to doubts about the integrity of the political system.

Herald poll of polls


The Herald  poll of polls shows NZ First has an average of 3.6% support. At a similar time in the 2005 election cycle the party was registering 9 to 10 per cent.

Whether the party can clear the 5 per cent party vote hurdle it needs to stay in Parliament looks to be touch and go, even with a better timed campaign than the premature peak in 2005.

Interesting that there’s no mention of the possiblity of Winston Peters winning Tauranga. 

The Greens’ average since the 2005 election has only once dipped below 5 per cent and then by only 0.1 per cent. Their latest four-poll average is 5.9 per cent.

The Maori Party, which draws its strength from the electorate vote in the Maori seats, does not need to clear 5 per cent on the party vote. In 2005, it won one more seat than its party vote entitled it to. That “overhang” seat lifted Parliament’s total from 120 to 121 MPs.

That was on 2.1 per cent of the party vote, exactly the latest poll of polls average. If it adds to its haul of Maori seats this election, its “overhang” would likely rise.

Even at 3 per cent of the party vote, it would get two “overhangs” if it won six Maori electorate seats.

Act’s and United Future’s most recent poll-of-poll averages have been 0.9 per cent and 0.4 per cent respectively. They will stay in Parliament if their leaders hold their electorate seats. Jim Anderton is at 0.1 per cent – a level which would make him an “overhang” if he holds Wigram.

Isn’t it time someone told him a one-man band is not a party?

The gap between the major parties has narrowed slightly since the last poll of polls published on July 1. National is down from 53.9 % to 51.6%, and Labour up from 30.5% to 34%.

Too many questions too few answers


Another day but still no answers to the qeustions about donations to NZ First and its leader.

The Dominion reports: Would that be acceptable for any other Minister, or any other MP responsible to her?

Five days after NZ First leader Winston Peters promised to return to New Zealand and answer questions about donations to the enigmatic Spencer Trust in an “orderly fashion”, its purpose and funding remain secret.

 At a 45-minute meeting yesterday with Prime Minister Helen Clark, Mr Peters gave an assurance that he and NZ First had done nothing illegal. Miss Clark’s chief of staff, Heather Simpson, Mr Peters’ lawyer and a NZ First staffer also attended the session.

It appears even Miss Clark remains in the dark over how the trust operates; she told Parliament yesterday Mr Peters’ word was good enough for her.

That wouldn’t be enough for any other MP responsible to her let alone a Minister.

The Herald notes another day, another promise.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters insists that there is a “massive” difference between his party getting funding from corporate donors via secret trusts and other parties getting it. He won’t say what, but is promising to spell it out in Parliament today.

But he failed in Parliament yesterday to give answers about Sir Robert Jones’ $25,000 donation to the secret Spencer Trust in 2005, despite having promised during the weekend that he would.

Sir Robert yesterday would not rule out calling in the police if he did not get a satisfactory response about what happened to his money.

Outside the House, Mr Peters was asked what the difference was between his party getting large donations from corporate donors via secret trusts and other parties getting it.

Mr Peters said the difference was “massive”, but that the reporters were not capable of understanding it. He said he would explain it today.

Another Tui moment from the master of manipulation, but manipulation is not acceptable for a Minister.

If there is ever a time we should be grateful that we are a tiny nation on the edge of the world it is now. Imagine what this behaviour from a Minister of Foreign Affairs would do to our reputation as a country relatively free from corruption if other countries noticed or cared.

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