Experience will count


You don’t have to be a teacher to be Minsiter of Education nor have a medical background to be Minister of Health.

You don’t have to have been a beneficiary to be Minister of Social Development either, but Paula Bennett’s experience on the DPB will mean that no-one can accuse her of not knowing what it’s like to live on a benefit.

Promoting Paula, just entering her second term as an MP, to cabinet and in one of the most demanding roles is a big call but as Tim Donoghue’s  profile shows she’s not one to be daunted by challenges.

I’ve met Paula several times and have been impressed with both her intelligence and her compassion.

The Herald recalls her presentation to the 2006 party conference:

She told the mainly older delegates that mums on the DPB should not all be lumped together.

She said there were some solo mums who needed to be persuaded back to work through “mutual obligations” such as work testing and training.

But about a quarter of mums were off the DPB within a year and another 37 per cent were off within four.

For most of these mums welfare was only a temporary backstop they were keen to leave behind.

She said National was committed to giving those mums the tools to re-enter the workforce through re-training and employment schemes.

“There are many that if we gave them the opportunity and if we gave them the inspiration and belief in them and showed them the way then they actually would be getting off more.”

The Social Development portfolio will be an especially demanding one given the gloomy economic outlook but Paula has both the head and heart to cope with it.

TV3 profiles Paula  here and TV1 profiles her  here.

New party serious about sex


They’ve got a name and slogan that are sure to get attention:

‘We are serious about sex’ is the slogan of a new political party to be launched on Thursday.

With four million Australians accessing pornography, The Australian Sex Party, says it has a real chance of winning seats in state and federal parliaments.

Its platforms include a national sex education curriculum, reducing censorship, abolishing the government’s proposed internet filter and supporting gay marriage.

Sex sells and the party is already getting attention. But will it get memb supporters and will it get votes?

Trotter returns to Bowalley Road


Just days after retiring from Policy Blog, Chris Trotter has returned to the blogosphere at Bowalley Road.

It’s named after the road leading to the North Otago farm where he lived until he was nine. It’s in the Otepopo district, so I presume Chris started his formal education at the school of that name in Herbert.

Herbert (so small it should really just be Herb, Jim Hopkins quipped in a celebrity debate) isn’t known as a hotbed of socialism. But Chris wouldn’t be alone in his leftwards leanings if he returned because every election year a large Labour hoarding sprouts outside a cottage in the township.

Hat Tip: Jaffapete

What’s in a number?


Commentators are analysing Naitonal’s new cabinet and it won’t be long before someone looks at the numbers.

One is important, so too are those which follow it closely and you have to have a front bench.

But I don’t think there’s anything to be achieved by close analysis of where Ministers are ranked.

They can’t all be number one or on the front bench. Where they are in the rankings may help or hurt their egos but it’s not necessarily a reflection on them or the importance of the portfolios they hold.

While no-one would argue that racing is as important as health it’s more difficult to differentiate between most of the roles so there’s nothing to be gained by anguishing over the rankings.

It’s not the number in front of their name but the job they do with the ministry after it which really matters. Good ministers will ensure their portfolios are important and get the attention they warrant regardless of where they’re ranked.

Some thoughts on the new ministers


Bill English has a big workload as Deputy PM, Minister of Finance and Minister of Infrastructre.

Federated Farmers has been pressing for irrigation to be included under infrastructure. Agriculture Minister David Carter has always been supportive of that so I hope he convinces Bill and his associate Steven Joyce of its importance too.

Whether or not you accept the science for climate change, it’s a political issue which needs careful handling and we will be very well served in that area by Tim Groser. He’ll be a very able Trade Minsiter too.

I’m also pleased to see Richard Worth as Minister for Lands.

Farmers have very strong feelings over the mishandling of tenure review by the previous minister and Richard will be welcomed for the new and more reasonable perspecitve he’ll bring to this area.

For everyone pleased to be in cabinet, or a minister outside it, there will be more than one MP disappointed to have missed out.

However, John Key has made it clear that some appointments will not run the full term. The experience of longer serving MPs, especially those who’ve been Ministers before, will be appreicated in the interim. But there are plenty of talented MPs waiting to take over and at least some of the senior MPs must know their tenure as Minister will not be for the full three years so that National can present a refreshed line up for the next election.

New cabinet


John Key says his government will be focused on growth to deliver prosperity for all New Zealanders when he announced his new Ministry.

 “The National-led Government takes office at a challenging time for the country.  The growth outlook is weak, and international and domestic difficulties abound.

 “This Government will concentrate on boosting economic growth because that is what will lead us out of these challenging times. 


“Part of the right response is to tackle the infrastructure blockages. . .  “


National will nominate Lockwood Smith for Speaker.


The new cabinet is:


1 John Key – Prime Minister, Minister of Tourism, Ministerial Services, Minister in Charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service, Minister Responsible for the GCSB


2 Hon Bill English – Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, Minister for Infrastructure


3 Gerry Brownlee – Minister for Economic Development, Minister of Energy and Resources, Leader of the House, Associate Minister for the Rugby World Cup


 4 Simon Power – Minister of Justice, Minister for State Owned Enterprises, Minister of Commerce, Minister Responsible for the Law Commission, Associate Minister of Finance, Deputy Leader of the House


5 Hon Tony Ryall – Minister of Health, Minister of State Services 


6 Hon Dr Nick Smith – Minister for the Environment, Minister for Climate Change Issues, Minister for ACC


7 Judith Collins – Minister of Police, Minister of Corrections, Minister of Veterans’ Affairs 


8 Anne Tolley – Minister of Education, Minister for Tertiary Education, Minister Responsible for the Education Review Office


9 Christopher Finlayson – Attorney-General [Includes responsibility for Serious Fraud Office], Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage 


10 Hon David Carter – Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Biosecurity, Minister of Forestry 


11 Hon Murray McCully – Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister for Sport and Recreation, Minister for the Rugby World Cup 


12 Tim Groser – Minister of Trade, Minister of Conservation, Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs, Associate Minister for Climate Change Issues (International Negotiations)


13 Dr Wayne Mapp – Minister of Defence, Minister of Research, Science and Technology, Associate Minister for Economic Development, Associate Minister for Tertiary Education


14 Steven Joyce –Minister of Transport, Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Associate Minister of Finance, Associate Minister for Infrastructure


 15 Hon Georgina te Heuheu – Minister for Courts, Minister of Pacific Island Affairs, Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control, Associate Minister of Maori Affairs


16 Paula Bennett  – Minister for Social Development and Employment, Minister for Disability Issues, Minister of Youth Affairs 


17 Phil Heatley – Minister of Fisheries, Minister of Housing


18 Pansy Wong –  Minister for Ethnic Affairs, Minister of Women’s Affairs, Associate Minister for ACC Associate Minister of Energy and Resources 


19 Dr Jonathan Coleman – Minister of Immigration, Minister of Broadcasting, Associate Minister of Tourism, Associate Minister of Health 


20 Kate Wilkinson – Minister of Labour, Minister for Food Safety, Associate Minister of Immigration



21 Hon Maurice Williamson – Minister for Building and Construction, Minister of Customs, Minister of Statistics, Minister for Small Business 


22 Dr Richard Worth – Minister of Internal Affairs, Minister for Land Information, Minister Responsible for Archives New Zealand, Minister Responsible for the National Library, Associate Minister of Justice 


23 John Carter – Minister of Civil Defence, Minister for Senior Citizens, Minister for Racing, Associate Minister of Local Government



Rodney Hide – Minister of Local Government, Minister for Regulatory Reform, Associate Minister of Commerce 


Heather Roy – Minister of Consumer Affairs, Associate Minister of Defence, Associate Minister of Education 


Dr Pita Sharples – Minister of Maori Affairs, Associate Minister of Corrections, Associate Minister of Education 


Hon Tariana Turia – Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, Associate Minister of Health, Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment


Hon Peter Dunne – Minister of Revenue, Associate Minister of Health


The list is here.


Cabinet announcement to be broadcast live


John Key’s announcement of his cabinet is to be broadcast live by both TV1 and TV3 at 3pm.

UPDATE: Well I had a media release saying that was what was going to happen, but it didn’t.

Bull Pen


If like me you’ve been missing Philippa Stevenson’s contributions over at Dig n Stir and Rural Network mourn no more – she’s back on the blogosphere at The Bull Pen.

She’s also freelancing for The Country Channel which screens on Sky (it was free in October but now costs $14.50 a month).

Pip does a weekly segment in their news porgramme, Farmgate, which is an agri-media panel discussion on the ag issues of the week, called The Bull Pen and the blog provides a forum for further discussion.

I’ll confess I rarely watch TV and saw only a few minutes of The Country Channel when it screened last month which is not enough to make a judgement on it. But the concept is a good one and it’s a welcome addition to the sparse coverage of agricultural and rural matters on TV.

So quiet



Meat up veg down


There was a very small decrease in food prices  in October, the first time there hadn’t been a monthly increase in more than a year.


Food prices overall decreased by 0.3% last month.

Fruit and vegetables decreased by 6% helped by a 50.7% drop in the price of lettuce and a 24.9% fall in the price of tomatoes. However, these were offset by a 20.6% increase in the price of potatoes.

Vegetarians were better off than meat eaters because, the price of meat poultry and fish increased by 2.4%. Beef prices rose 5.4% and prepared meat and smallgoods icnreased by 6%.

The lower price of international dairy products filtered through tot he supermarket with a 4% decrease int he price of cheese. However, bread was 3.2% more expensive and grocery food as a whole increased by .6%.

Food prices increased 9.9% in the year to October.

Grocery prices increased 11.9% , meat, poultry and fish prices rose 11.0%, fruit and vegetable went up 12.5%, restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food increased 6.4%, and non-alcoholic beverages rose by 4.7%.

Within these subgroups the price of chedder cheese went up 39.2% and potatoes increased in price by 41.7%.

These figures explain why gardening shops report increased sales of vegetable seeds and plants, although from my experience of vegetable gardening – which is admitedly haphazard – growing your own isn’t necessarily cheaper.

Home grown vegetables definitely taste better and it’s lovely to be able to pop outside and pick a good part of a meal.

But by the time I take account the cost of seeds and plants, tools bought then replaced because they go out on the farm never to be seen again, hoses and sprinklers which do the same thing, the fence to keep the rabbits out and the failures I’m not sure that I’m saving any money.

Who understands MMP?



“National doesn’t understand MMP” was a criticism made of it by other parties and commentators.

But deals with Act, The Maori Party and United Future show National and its leadership not only understand the system, they also know how to make it work.

With 70 votes on confidence and supply the National-led government headed by John Key is potentially the most stable we’ve had since MMP was introduced.

Key acknowledges that the agreements by themselves don’t guarantee a smooth ride. He describes them as being like marriage certificates which provide foundations for relationships but the partners need to work on them and they won’t  succeed without commitment and good communication.

However, recent history shows what happens to individuals and their parties when they destabilise a government. All parties realise they have a lot to gain from making the deals work and a lot to lose if they sabotage them.

The speed with which the agreements have been made is also impressive – nine days comapred with the 32 it took Labour after the last election.

That’s set the tone for a government of action rather than reaction and with the economic storm clouds gathering it’s reassuring to know we’ve got a government that, as John Key told Breakfast this morning, isn’t going to muck about.

And a footnote on who understands MMP: The Greens are a product of it but by marooning themselves on the left they show they’ve failed to grasp the fact that the power is in the centre.

Parties must stick to their principles and they must have bottom-lines to keep faith with their supporters. But they must also be prepared to make concessions and that’s particularly so for the wee parties because their size reflects their support. Theirs are minority views and in a democracy that puts them in a position of weakness so they have to give more ground.

The Greens had a choice of making concessions and achieving something or staying in the wilderness. Because they’ve failed to understand MMP they took the latter position. That doesn’t mean National might not be prepared to talk to them but as the cartoon from No Minister  shows they’re not in a strong position for negotiating.

Farm prices falling


The boom in farm prices couldn’t last and the value of farm land is now expected to drop by about 10%.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand has warned of the possibility “of a sharp decline in farm values” and Errol Saunders , the managing director Canterbury-based Ford Baker Valuation, said a 10% contraction would not surprise him, due to stable prices, an increase in farms for sale and a longer time to sell them.

Fuelled initially by demand for dairy land and latterly by a resurgence in the fortunes of the cropping sector, land prices reached unprecedented levels, with $55,000 a ha paid for some of the premium farms.

Mr Saunders said prices for those same farms could ease to between $40,000 and $50,000 a ha in the next year.

Grazing land prices peaked at between $600 to $800 a stock unit, not the $1000 a stock unit some were expecting, he said.

A fall in the value of land by itself  isn’t a problem if the owners can meet their mortgage commitments and aren’t wanting to sell. However, capital gain has always been a factor in farm viability.

Farm accountants said that some sheep and beef clients were going backwards last season because higher costs and lower returns meant their annual losses were outpacing the gains in the value of the land so their equity was decreasing. While returns for meat are looking brighter for the coming season they’ll be negated by falling land values.

The Real Estate Institute of New Zealand rural spokesman Peter McDonald said a lack of finance was preventing some sales being completed, but despite that the national median price of farm sales in the three months to October was $1.5 million, compared to $1.3 million from August to October 2007.

Fewer farms sold between August and October this year: 390 compared to 582 in the same period last year and 470 in 2006

While the median price for sales nationwide rose slightly, the median price of Otago and Southland farms sold fell last month.

REINZ figures show the median price for the 30 farms sold in Otago was $1.83 million for the month, down from $2.2 million in September for the 40 farms sold . . . 

The median farm price in Southland fell from $2.2 million in September to $1.75 million in October.

Sales in the region slowed too. Last month 66 farms sold, 6 fewer than in September and well down on the 112 farm sales last October.

Rising prices in recent years made it difficult for new entrants but falling prices may not improve affordability because credit will be harder to get.

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