Going, going, almost gone

August 28, 2008

Colin Espiner thinks Helen Clark has run out of options.

True to her natural style of caution, Clark has given herself the night to sleep on it. She will take advice tonight on the likely impact on her government of cutting Peters adrift, and take some soundings from NZ First about what may happen to Labour’s relationship after the election if she sacks or suspends him.

It’s understandable that Clark doesn’t want to sack her Foreign Minister. It’s a bad look. It will make him very angry. It may derail the third and final reading of the Emissions Trading Bill. It could end her hopes of a fourth term.

But she simply no longer has any choice. The Prime Minister has given Peters as much rope as she can afford to without being dragged under in the same whirlpool currently sucking the NZ First leader beneath the waves.

What are her options? She could argue that the SFO investigation is only into NZ First, not Peters himself. Except that the SFO specifically mentions the involvement of ”a minister in the government” in its press release. She could argue that the investigation has nothing to do with Peters’ job as Foreign Minister. Except that as Foreign Minister Peters is the representative of New Zealand abroad and it’s difficult to have someone under investigation for fraud in such a role.

She could argue natural justice. That has got her through so far with the privileges committee – just. But the SFO is a whole different kettle of fish. The privileges committee is the proverbial wet bus ticket. The SFO is the big time. Clark cannot have a minister of the Crown signing ministerial warrants while under investigation from the SFO.

The positives for Clark are these: Sacking Peters will make her look decisive. It will end John Key’s short but triumphant occupation of the moral high ground. It will disassociate her and her government (partially) from further fallout, for it looks as though there certainly will be further fallout. It will not bring down the government.

In some ways it’s a sad end for Peters. He has been a reasonably good Foreign Minister. Labour could not have governed without him. But he has brought this entire controversy upon himself. Peters has no-one else to blame. Clark knows she must sack him. And sack him she must.

The alleagions are still just allegations and Peters as an individual is innocent until anything is proved to the contrary. But the role of Foreign Minister is one of the most important in the government and while questions are raised over him personally it reflects on the position he holds.

Clark has to accept that Peters is not just damaging himself, his party, her and her government, he’s risking New Zealand’s reputation in the international community.


Why come clean today?

August 28, 2008

John Armstrong  asks why Helen Clark chose to admit that Owen Glenn told her in February that he’d given a $100,000 donation to New Zealand First.

Another day, another bombshell. The Owen Glenn donation saga just keeps getting worse and worse for the Prime Minister.

Her gobsmacking admission today that Glenn had told her earlier this year that he had given $100,000 to New Zealand First drags her right into centre-stage of this debilitating mess when she has preferred to sit in the wings from where she would ultimately pass judgment on Winston Peters.

The big question is why she has revealed this information now and not earlier. She has had ample opportunity previously to do so.

Her answer is that she has been consistently assured by Peters that Glenn was mistaken. She had to accept Peters’ word.

Helen Clark certainly faced an invidious choice. Had she made this information public, it would have embarrassed Peters, possibly forcing his sacking and thereby destabilising and potentially endangering her minority Government.

She will thus be accused of withholding the information in order to both protect Peters and protect her administration.

And rightly so too because the important question is not why did she chose to come clean today, but why she opted to say nothing before.


ETS passes 2nd reading

August 28, 2008

The Bill which will introduce the Emissions Trading Scheme passed it’s second reading with 63 votes in support and 56 against.

Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First and the Progressive party voted for it. National, United Future, Act, the Maori Party, Gordon Copeland and Phillip Field opposed it.

The Maori Party  media release on the Bill makes interesting reading:

We remain strong in our belief that, fundamentally, the ETS is still just an Emissions Trading Scheme, when what is required is an Emissions Reduction Programme,” said Co-leader Tariana Turia.

“A 2% reduction in emissions over ten years is simply fiddling while Rome burns. The time for scheming is over. Now is the time for a programme of action,” said Mrs Turia.

“A real Emissions Reduction Programme will require significant changes in our lifestyle, but the alternative, of doing almost nothing, will be a lot worse,” she said.

Doing something is not always better than doing nothing – this something will sabotage the economy for little or no environmental gain

“A sound programme would be comprehensive, covering all industries and all gases. The government’s scheme is on the right track in that respect.

“But a scheme worth supporting would also be fair to all industries and consumers, and transparent, so everyone can see how the costs and credits have been allocated,” she said.

“Pollution is a cost of business that should be identified at source, and that business must be held responsible. Any cost they pass on to consumers will at least encourage environmentally responsible choices. The principle must be that polluters pay, because the purpose of the programme is to cut emissions.

But there’s no point in levying what is effectively a tax on primary production when science has yet to come up with much in the way of effective ways to counter emissions.

“Instead we have deferred liability and masses of free credits going to the biggest industries and the worst polluters for years to come. This negates any incentive for them to make changes. This is not ‘polluter pays’ – it’s ‘pay the polluters’,” said Mrs Turia.

“Credits to assist export-exposed industries to adjust to the new regime should be allocated on the basis of need – not by blanket donations and exemptions to huge corporate lobbyists.

“Those free credits could be invested by the government in speeding up energy savings and moving to renewable sources, in building resilient and sustainable communities, and supporting poor and vulnerable people who will be worst affected by the social and economic upheaval,” said Mrs Turia.

“The government is not willing to fully explain the disastrous consequences of doing so little to save the planet, for fear of a voter backlash. We have to know the truth, so we can make the tough decisions that are needed right now.

Of course there would be a voter backlash if it was understood that the ETS will impose such huge costs for little or no gain.

“We are told the Green Party and NZ First have signed up to it. I predict that the concessions won by them will seem like a mere thirty pieces of silver, once the full impacts of climate change start to be felt,” she said.

“We maintain our original position – that we need a radical rethink of the whole approach. This scheme represents a failure of leadership.

The need to make drastic changes to curb greenhouse gas emissions is what defines this moment in our history. We have no time to lose. The common interest must prevail in the pursuit of environmental justice, and social and cultural wellbeing,” said Mrs Turia.

Regardless of the science, the politics requires action. Good leadership would have achieved cross party consensus which balanced costs and benefits. But bulldozing through this legislation will do economic and social harm with little or no environmental good to show for it.

Hat tip: The Hive


Women are better drivers

August 28, 2008

A survey by AA Insurance  suggests women are better drivers than men.

The survey of more than 2500 drivers found men are more inclined to speed, show aggression, fall asleep at the wheel and be impatient.

Learning to drive is tough no matter what your gender, but for those who have left the ‘L’ plates behind, who makes the better driver?

New figures suggest women. The AA’s insurance company asked motorists to describe their own driving behaviour.

The survey found less than 20 percent of women described themselves as impatient drivers, compared with a quarter of male drivers.

Women were also less likely to speed. Under 10 percent admitted they often exceeded the limit, compared to 15 percent of men.

And when it comes to driving while tired, only 13 percent of women said they had momentarily fallen asleep at the wheel, compared to a whopping 25 percent of men.

I wouldn’t use “only” in front of 13%  who admit to falling asleep at the wheel; and the cynic in me notes this survey relies on self-assessment so the results could just show men are more honest about their failings. 🙂

The findings are supported by Ministry of Transport statistics which show women drivers are less likely to be killed or injured on the road.

Is that measured in time and/or distance driven or just numbers driving?

But they do make six percent more insurance claims than men.

“The accidents for men tend to more collisions, possibly a little higher speed,” says Mr Fox. “Whereas with women they tend to be more smaller accidents in the car park, perhaps difficulty judging a distance, so they are smaller claims.”

Ah yes, there was that incident with a flowering cherry…

Smaller claims mean women in general pay less for their car insurance.

But there is one area where the sexes are as bad as each other. Just over half of both women and men admitted abusing another driver for doing something they saw as rude or dangerous.

Guilty – but only under my breath after severe provocation.


SFO to investigate Peters

August 28, 2008

He asked the Serious Fraud Office to put up or shut up and go away – and they’re going to do the former.

The Serious Fraud Office has decided to launch a full investigation into Winston Peters, and will use its powers to find out whether donations from Sir Robert Jones and the Vela brothers reached his New Zealand First party as intended.

SFO Director Grant Liddell said he had enough information to suspect the investigation may reveal “serious and complex fraud” the threshold for the statutory powers which can force documents to be produced or people involved to answer questions.

Mr Liddell has been assessing a complaint from Act leader Rodney Hide for the past month.

He said he did not believe there was enough evidence to use the SFO powers on the Owen Glenn donation, because it was clear from both men’s accounts the money was donated to Mr Peters’ legal costs.

And while the allegations concerning the scampi select committee were serious, Mr Liddell said “seriousness of allegation alone is not enough”.

He said it may be that further information was uncovered on these allegations that gave him “reason to suspect” and use the powers.

Keep in mind though, as Matthew Hooton pointed out on The Panel  this afternoon that legislation abolishing the SFO is pending; and that if an election was called the priviliges committee would go too.

But even Helen Clark wouldn’t rush through the legislation then call the election so that both inquiries were aborted, would she?


Head & heart

August 28, 2008

Idealog asked New Zealand Institute chief executive David Skilling why economic growth is important. He said:

It matters in terms of the quality of health, education and social services that we can afford in this country. Also, importantly, it gives a sense of confidence and momentum.

If you look across history and across countries, periods of sustained economic growth go hand in hand with improvements in welfare, better treatment of immigrants and minorities and more generous attitudes towards social and environmental issues.

And we’re losing 70,000 New Zealanders permanently each year, and we have done for quite some time.

Simple really – it’s not economic growth or social services, it’s both. We need economic growth to pay for social services. 

A stronger economy sustains a better society which in turn helps the economy fuelling a virtuous cycle of head and heart.

The full interview with Skilling is on Idealog TV here.


Who’s the best pilot?

August 28, 2008

Michael Cullen says New Zealand is facing the most challenging financial times since the 1987 share market crash.

“New Zealand is facing a serious economic challenge generated by the global credit crunch and steep rises in global commodity prices,” Dr Cullen said.

“These are the most complex and challenging set of economic forces we have confronted in at least two decades.”

And who would you want to pilot you through this economic storm?

A couple of academics who have squandered the good times or a couple of people who have succeeded in the real world in good times and bad?


Conduct unbecoming

August 28, 2008

Is this appropriate  behaviour for a cabinet minister?

Rt Hon Winston Peters has told the Serious Fraud Office to either lay charges against him or to shut up and go away.   

Mr Peters today said the SFO had been creeping around back doors dropping hints and providing media speculation but not finding any evidence of wrongdoing or illegality on his part.       

“I am prepared to wait on the court steps for them and if they don’t turn up they can go away for ever,” said Mr Peters.
It’s certainly neither right nor honorable.

Clark knew what, when?

August 28, 2008

Helen Clark said that Owen Glenn told her in February  that he’d given a $100,000 donation to New Zealand First.

The Prime Minister then put that information to the party’s leader Winston Peters at the time and he gave her an assurance that the party had not received money from Mr Glenn.

This new information this morning means Helen Clark has known for months of the conflicting sides of the story which were publicly revealed yesterday in letters to Parliament’s privileges committee.

And yet she stood by her man.

Helen Clark said the question of donations to New Zealand First was on the front page of the paper when she and Mr Glenn were at Auckland University to open its new business school, on February 21.

“Mr Glenn on that occasion said to me pretty much what he said to the Privileges Committee,” the Prime Minister said this morning.

“As you would expect, the first thing that I did was go away and ring Mr Peters, and Mr Peters has consistently maintained that he never made that phone call to Mr Glenn,” she said, referring to the solicitation of the donation.

“So, there’s always been a conflict of evidence.”

Helen Clark said that at every time the issue had arisen, she had rung Mr Peters and asked for his word.

And every time she took his word rather than that of Glenn.

One of the first things I learnt at journalism school was the importance of asking the right questions. Another lesson was the importance of verifying information.

Asking for the word of a man who has repeatedly shown he can’t give a straight answer is not enough. Clark should have asked more questions and, given the conflict between what Glenn and Peters told her, she should have done all she could to verify the facts.

Not doing so while the allegations not only swirled but multiplied was either stupid or she was turning a blind eye for political opportunism; and she’s not usually stupid.

The Prime Minister also criticised Mr Peters’ handling of the issue since it arose, appearing to try to put some distance between herself and her Foreign Minister.

Too late for that, they’re welded together because he needs her support and she needs his votes.

While she said she wanted to see the matter “dealt with”, Helen Clark said she felt she had a duty to be fair.

What about her duty to be fair to her colleagues who are treated with a lot less leniency; or to the public or to New Zealand which has had a proud reputation for a lack of corruption?

“I have not known Mr Peters to lie to me, and I have to take people as I find them,” she said.

“He is utterly convinced that he never made that call.”

And how difficult would it be to prove if that was true? If you’ve got what it takes to run the country you need what it takes to get the truth.

Hat Tip: Keeping Stock


EFA confuses Minister

August 28, 2008

The August September issue of Primary News turned up in the mail box on Tuesday.

I take it that means there have been previous issues and while I don’t remember seeing them that could be because junk mail often goes in the round wicker file in the office before it gets to the house.

If the contents of this issue are anything to go by I haven’t missed much – it’s really just a brag sheet for Jim Anderton and the government.

But a couple of things intrigued me. 

The first was that, on the presumption that you and I paid for this newsletter it ought to have a parliamentary crest. It does have the New Zealand coat of arms but no crest.

The second thing I noted was this:

This statement is issued by Hon. Jim Anderton. His newsletters are part of the normal course of business of Cabinet Ministers and elected representatives. We do not believe they are election advertisements within the Electoral Finance Act , and nor was the Act intended to apply to them. However, because some people are confused about the Act and Jim Anderton is proud to confirm his responsibility for what he says, this statement is authorised by Phil Clearwater, 5 Sherwood Lane, Christchurch.

Call me a nit picker if you will, but this appears to authorise the statement not the newsletter. But whether or not I’m right about that it does indicate that Anderton is as confused as the rest of us about the application of the EFA.


Blind justice

August 28, 2008

 Busted Blonde  pointed me at the Chicane cartoon in this morning’s Southland Times.

It’s a cracker.


Sweet rewards from honey dressings

August 28, 2008

Waikato University’s honey reserach group is about to strike gold.

Wound dressings made from biologically active manuka honey and a seaweed gel have gone on sale in New Zealand, and are about to hit international markets, Waikato University researchers say.

The university’s honey research group, led by Professor Peter Molan, put together the blend of honey and a seaweed extract as a dressing for leg and foot ulcers, burns, and similar infections, a market estimated to be worth $12 billion by 2012.

The technology has been licensed as a Medihoney antibacterial honey gel sheet, which has won regulatory approval to be sold in Europe, and Food and Drug Administration approval for the United States.

The sheets hold the antibacterial honey in contact with a wound and at the same time absorb the pus and other liquids draining from the wound. Decades of work by Prof Molan went into showing antibacterial agents in some specific types of manuka honey are effective at healing wounds. He created prototypes of the wound dressing about six years ago. The patch contains manuka honey gelled with sodium alginate, a food ingredient extracted from seaweed which helps the dressing absorb moisture.

The patch is dry, and does not stick to the skin: Prof Molan said the dressing would be particularly useful for chronic wounds resulting from diabetes. Type two diabetes often leaves patients with foot ulcers and other wounds on limbs with poor circulation.

“It means diabetic wounds can be actually healed, rather than just offering palliative care,” Prof Molan said. “It could mean fewer amputations which are often necessary when these wounds won’t heal.”

Non-healing wounds were an expensive burden in the health system, and the honey dressings could save money because they would need less frequent changing.

This is good news for the University, health sector – and farmers with enough manuka to make a home for beehives.

Stands need to cover at least 50 hectares and be well clear of other plants bees might find attractive such as gorse because they can fly about 1.8 kilometres.

And it must be manuka not kanuka which produces honey with a similar taste but without the activity level which is were the value of manuka honey lies.

 

We visited a company making manuka products in March and were told the honey is analysed to determine the activity level on bacteria. The unique manuka factor – UMF – is calculated from that and the higher the activity level the better the UMF and the more valuable the honey – up to $24 a kilo.

 

 Farmers could get up to $50 from beekeepers with hives on their properties. Although like any other primary industry returns are subject to weather. Bees like warm, humid conditions and won’t fly at all if it’s under 12 degrees. And it’s not just a matter of putting hives out and collecting the honey, the bees have to be fed when there’s not enough nectar to sustain them.

 

 However, if the manuka dressings are successful, farmers may well find they can make money from what many regard as scrub.


Dairying drives building boom

August 28, 2008

Southland is benefitting from a building boom based on dairy conversions.

Southland District Council issued building consents for a total value of $12.3 million, a large increase on last July’s $7.4 million.

During July, the council approved the most consents for dwellings since records began in 2000.

There were 33 dwelling consents, an increase from 14 a year earlier. Farm buildings, additions to dwellings and cow sheds were also well up.

While driving round Southland last weekend we noticed fewer sheep, more cows and several recent conversions.

New houses are not confined to farms, the small towns which support them also had buildings in progress or recently completed showing that the money from the white-goldrush is spreading round the District.


Keeping half the promise

August 28, 2008

Another reminder this morning that Labour has kept only half the 1999 pledge card promise to take more tax and fix health.

Hard-drug addicts are lapsing into lives of crime and prostitution while waiting up to eight months to access “poorly resourced and overburdened” treatment programmes, experts say.

 

A report from the National Addiction Centre, obtained exclusively by The Press, estimates that crime by opiate addicts awaiting treatment costs the country $286 million a year.

A 12-month course of addiction treatment with methadone costs about $5000.

Addiction doesn’t just have an economic cost, it has a very high social cost for the addicts, their families and the vicitms of crimes they commit to get the money to feed their habits.

The full story is here.


Connell resigns

August 28, 2008

Rakaia MP Brian Connell  is leaving parliament early to begin work in Brisbane.

Mr Connell had advised Speaker Margaret Wilson that he was resigning as an MP as of August 31.

The MP is suspended from the National caucus as a result of challenging former National leader Don Brash about an alleged affair. He had hoped that new leader John Key would allow him back into the fold, but it never happened.

He said he was going to work for a multinational consulting company for a “substantial” salary” and the move was in the best interests of his constituents.

A by-election is not necessary because the vacancy occurs within six months of a general election.

It wasn’t what Connell did but the way he did it that was wrong and Key was right not to reinstate him. That  sent a much-needed message that MPs whose actions damage the party have no place in caucus.

However, Connell’s behaviour since Key became leader has been exemplary and he’s found himself a good job in the real world.

Contrast that with Georgina Beyer who announced her resignation but didn’t step down for several months so she continued receiving her parliamentary salary over the summer break. In that time she was rehearsing for a play at the Fortune Theatre but she pulled out just before opening night leaving the theatre with the costs. And now she’s complaining because her former colleagues haven’t appointed her to a well paid job.

Aoraki MP Jo Goodhew  is standing for National in the new Rangitata electorate and Amy Adams  is the party’s candidate in the new electorate of Selwyn which cover most of what was the Rakaia seat.


Peters promises to reveal all – again

August 28, 2008

Another day another promise from Winston Peters. He’ll reveal all – but not yet.

Shunned by the National Party and fighting for his political life, Winston Peters is again promising to reveal evidence that will clear his name.

But not just yet. He told Parliament last night he would hold his fire until the privileges committee meets on Thursday next week.

This man is a living, breathing Tui billboard.

Parliament was stunned yesterday by two events which put Mr Peters under intense pressure and cast doubt on his future as an effective politician.

The first was the release by the privileges committee of a letter from Owen Glenn in which the billionaire said Mr Peters solicited a $100,000 donation during a personal conversation, and later thanked him for it.

Mr Peters has persistently denied asking for any money, and has said he did not even know about the donation, made in 2006 to help pay his lawyer’s fees, until last month.

The second was National Party leader John Key’s announcement that he would not make any deals with Mr Peters after the election unless the NZ First leader came up with a “credible explanation” about the donation.

“I am ruling out Mr Peters,” said Mr Key.

“He simply doesn’t have the integrity in my view, unless he can somehow change that.”

Mr Key said he thought it was highly unlikely Mr Peters would be able to prove Mr Glenn was wrong and he was right, and Mr Key called on Prime Minister Helen Clark to stand Mr Peters down as foreign minister, or sack him.

Miss Clark said she still had confidence in Mr Peters, the evidence was contradictory and she would wait for the privileges committee to report to Parliament.

Mr Peters launched his counter attack in Parliament, saying Mr Key had made “a very, very silly decision” that he would live to regret.

He said he now knew the details of a conversation he held with Mr Glenn, and the information came from his ministerial travel diary.

“I’ve had a conversation this afternoon that tells me exactly what time this conversation happened, why it happened, who it happened with and what Mr Glenn said,” he told Parliament.

“I know the dates and the times, and I’m going to be telling the select committee, in public, all the details about that.”

He knew the dates yesterday but Whaleoil found evidence he’d “misrembered” here  and here.

It is the fourth time Mr Peters has promised to reveal the facts about the donation.

He was overseas when it first came to light two months ago, and he said he would clear it up when he returned. Then he said he would reveal the facts in Parliament, and then he vowed to go public with all the details at last Monday’s privileges committee hearing.

He did speak on those occasions, but nothing was resolved and the situation is now even more incendiary than it was at the beginning.

Just like the boy who cried wolf, he’s promised and not delivered too many times and even if he did actually manage to answer a straight question with a straight answer he’s misfired so many times he’s shot holes in his own creibility.


Will Peters take Labour down too?

August 28, 2008

Dene Mackenzie  notes the political danger in delay:

Prime Minister Helen Clark faces a dilemma: sack New Zealand First leader Winston Peters as Minister of Foreign Affairs or face a growing perception she is prepared to hold on to power at any cost.

National Party leader John Key raised the stakes yesterday saying Mr Peters would be unacceptable as a minister in a government led by him unless Mr Peters could provide a credible explanation of the “Owen Glenn saga”.

Imminent opinion polls are expected to show that Miss Clark’s continued support for Mr Peters has hurt Labour and is damaging her chances at the forthcoming election.

The longer Miss Clark ties herself to the fortunes of Mr Peters, the more she could be handing the election to National.

It’s catch 22. She stood down several Labour ministers while much less damaging allegations swirled round them. Now she’s putting politics before principle because she needs his votes now but that lengthens the odds on Labour’s winning the election.

And yet, if she does sack him, the potential damage to his standing could seal Mr Peters’ political future and scupper any chances he has of making it back into Parliament.

In that case, Labour is unlikely to be able to count on NZ First as a coalition partner after the election and would be less likely to be able to form a fourth-term government.

Peters would do anything for power, if he’s still in parliament he’d do a deal if it was sweetened with sufficient baubles. But New Zealand First is a construct of its leader, once he goes the party goes.

Labour did everything it could to protect Mr Peters in Parliament yesterday, delaying question time through Police Minister Annette King reading a ministerial statement on the police use of tasers.

National was outraged and continually questioned Speaker Margaret Wilson on her various rulings.

When Mr Key finally got to ask Miss Clark whether she continued to retain confidence in Mr Peters, the Prime Minister replied she did and deflected questions on the issue of whether Mr Peters personally solicited a $100,000 donation from expatriate billionaire Owen Glenn.

Mr Peters repaid Miss Clark by later in the day supporting the Government’s emissions trading scheme, ensuring it will be passed before the election.

Miss Clark has made no secret that she regards the scheme as a cornerstone election policy for Labour.

And because of that it is no secret her support for Peters is the cost of getting his votes on the ETS.

She’s tied Labour to New Zealand First and John Key tightened the knot yesterday making it quite clear a vote for New Zealand First is a vote for a Labour led government.

There’s a danger in that for National because it cuts off another potential coalition partner, but it’s a principled stand and voters might appreciate that.


%d bloggers like this: